The Nikon D7200 is Nikon’s newly released top-of-the-DX-line DSLR. With the D7200, Nikon is holding firm in their conviction that their flagship DX model should cost $1200, the same price as the D7100 at its introduction. Compared to the D7100, the D7200 has nearly three times the buffer, an improved AF-system, the latest EXPEED 4 processor and a bunch of other nice features, especially for video shooters. Let’s check some specs, but first a warning – Nikon released the D7200 right at prime mating season in Arizona. Birds and bees were being birds and bees. This could be our sexiest review yet.
1) Key Features and Specifications
- DX-format DSLR – 1.5x crop factor
- 24 MP CMOS sensor without an optical low pass filter
- Up to 5 fps continuous shooting in 14-bit RAW
- Up to 6 fps continuous shooting in 12-bit RAW or JPEG
- 1.3x crop mode gives 13.5 MP images and up to 6 fps in 14-bit RAW or 7 fps in 12-bit RAW
- Buffer: 13-22 shots in 14-bit lossless (as tested – Nikon advertises 18 shot 14-bit lossless buffer), 97 shot large fine JPEG (as tested)
- New Multi-CAM 3500 DX II AF system with TTL phase detection, 51 points with 15 cross-type sensors. Center sensor is capable of focusing f/8 lenses
- ISO Range: 100 – 25,600 (full color), boost to 51,200-102,400 (black and white only)
- Metering Sensor: 2,016-pixel RGB (3D Color Matrix) sensor
- EXPEED 4 processor and 14-bit A/D Conversion
- Twin SD Card Slots with SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory card compatibility
- Eye-level Pentaprism Single-Lens Reflex Viewfinder with 100% frame coverage
- Full 1080p HD video recording at up to 30p (1x mode) and 60fps (1.3x mode)
- Up to 9999 shot in-camera time lapse with exposure smoothing
- Detection Range: -3 – +19 EV (ISO 100, 20°C/68°F)
- Body Type and Shutter: Magnesium-alloy body, superior weather/moisture and dust seals and a 150,000 cycle-rated shutter system
- LCD: 3.2 Inch, 1,229K-dot LCD Monitor
- Built-in Wi-Fi with NFC
- US Price: $1,199 – body only
2) Build and Handling
If you shoot with a D7100, D810 or D750, the D7200 will feel familiar. I like how it fits my hands and I always feel like I have a secure grip on it. Most of the key buttons are in the same location and I found I could go back and forth between my D810 and the D7200 almost seamlessly. The biggest difference would be the rear-AF button placement on the D810 that has always driven me nuts. I much prefer having just one button there like on the D7200. I shoot in manual a lot and by assigning the video record button to adjust ISO in still mode, I have shutter speed, aperture and ISO controls all quickly adjustable with my right fingers. In comparison, my D7000 is much slower and clumsier to set the ISO on, requiring that I take the camera away from my face. A check of the D7100 owner’s manual and firmware updates indicates that the D7100 doesn’t allow this either.
The D7200 is better weather-sealed than the D7000, but seeing as my D7000 has lasted 200K+ shots and I usually shoot in very dusty outdoor locales, build quality wasn’t an issue there. At 674 grams (23.9 ounces) the D7200 is reasonably light and balances well with lighter lenses, but not as well with heavier lenses like a 24-120mm, 18-300mm or 150-600mm. The D7200 lacks the crappy low-res plastic LCD cover found on the D7000. It does however have the same eyepiece cover that snaps off way too easily and wants to get lost, just like on the D7000, D7100, D600 and D750. Lastly, my pet peeve about all Nikon DSLRs; the D7200 comes with the painful D-Kapitator neck strap, except this time it doesn’t even have “D7200” embroidered on it. WTF? How will I know how many Nikon’s I’ve owned if I can’t look in my box full of discarded straps and read off all the model numbers?
3) Sensor Performance
3.1) Resolution and Reach
When it comes to resolution, the 24 MP sensor without an AA-filter gives detail so sharp it could hurt your eyes.
Here’s a 100% crop view of a Great Blue Heron. For an equal subject size in final output, this is resolution the D810 can’t even match (given equal optics and distance to subject). This makes the D7200 the top choice in Nikons when it comes to gaining “reach” via cropping. Here’s some examples comparing the D7200 to the D7000, D810 and D4s when it comes to “reaching out” to a distance subject. All of these were taken from the same distance with the same lens then cropped to give the same subject size in final output.
There’s a 1/3 stop difference in ISO in the bottom two shots, but not enough to unjustly skew the findings. The D7200 is the clear winner when it comes to “reach”.
3.2) ISO performance and Noise
The high-ISO performance is pretty darn good for a DX sensor. Even though the D7000 has larger pixel sites, the D7200 still edges it out. Nikon has done well controlling noise with this sensor as the following samples show.
The Cardinals moved to Arizona and here’s proof. This guy is shot at 5000 ISO. I’ve done a bit of post-processing, but no noise reduction to it. In fact there was some added clarity that actually adds noise and to me, the noise in this shot is perfectly acceptable and barely noticeable at final output. This is cropped about 80%. With some masking and selective noise reduction this would look even better.
Here’s another example and instead of a shadowy background we have a light background that does a wonderful job of hiding noise (noise is usually most noticeable in the dark portions of a photo, especially if you are boosting the shadow exposure to reveal details).
This is at ISO 5000 with no noise reduction and ~75% crop giving a 3000mm equivalent view. Even with some added clarity and minor sharpening, both which increase noise, this looks good. As the light faded I cranked it up to 20000 ISO – this is the result.
At this point the noise is obliterating the feather detail.
Here’s the same bird shot with a D4s at ISO 20000.
This is cropped to give a 3000mm equivalent view as well and has additional noise reduction (the bird size is different because it had moved). At this high a crop, this file is being upsampled to get a 2048p wide web resolution. Even with upsampling, the full frame high ISO king kicks butt.
For boring comparison shots at high ISO I needed a subject that wouldn’t move. This mother goose was sitting tight on her nest, keeping her eggs warm. She was nesting on a small island, at a safe distance from coyotes and photographers. The sun had gone down and the light was dim. These were all shot with the same lens at the same distance. I shot with the D7200, D7000 and the D810 in DX-mode. Exposure settings varied some as the sun had set and the light was changing fast during this field test. These have no post-processing other than the ISO 6400 crops.
All three cameras are looking pretty good through ISO 3200. At ISO 6400 they start to show visible differences so I’ve zoomed these in.
And zoomed to 100% here’s Mama Goose at ISO 6400 shot with the D7200, D7000 and D810 and cropped the same final subject size. You can see that when cropping for added reach, then resizing for final output, the D7200 beats both the D7000 and D810. The D7200 has smaller pixel sites, but because it has more pixels left after cropping to final output, it can be downsampled more, helping tame noise.
The D7000 tops out at ISO 6400 but at H 1.0 gives a 12800 equivalent.
And the D7200 and D810 continue on to 25600.
And goofing around at ISO 6400 (with post-processing).
3.3) Dynamic range
Here we have a male Ruddy Duck putting on a show for the ladies by bill-slapping his chest and creating the wave of foamy bubbles in front of him. If he can keep this up for long enough, the females will know he has the endurance and superior genes it takes to father their ducklings.
This is a common scenario in bird photography, where we have a bird with light feathers, some of which are in sun, and dark feathers, some of which are in shade. Exposing not to blow out the white feathers leaves the dark plumage going to black. Looking at the unprocessed file above (other than straightening/cropping) some of the sunlit white feathers lack detail and the black and dark brown feathers of the crown, neck, back and tail have gone nearly to black. Below is the Lightroom processed version, where I’ve knocked the exposure down 1/5th of a stop, pulled back the highlights (-65), pushed the shadows (+82) then added some clarity and vibrance to get rid of the shadow/highlight correction blahs.
We’ve tamed the highlights and got the shadow detail back – the D7200 scored well on this dynamic range test and by the looks of it, this handsome drake will be scoring too.
3.4) High-res Unforgiveness
Will the D7200 make your non-gold ring lenses obsolete and showcase every flaw in your technique? With such a high-resolution sensor (tighter pixel pitch than even the D810) will my cherished 18-300mm Guilty Pleasure Lens be relegated to life as a paperweight?
Hmmm, if I look at my shots at final output they don’t look bad. What the heck, let’s torture ourselves and look at 100%.
Where it’s focused on the eyeball looks reasonably sharp. Not as good as my gold ring 105 macro, but I chose not to pack that brick on my long hike that day. What this shows is that when you zoom to 1:1 on a 24 MP file you zoom in 50% more than if you go 1:1 on a 16 MP file. Of course you can recognize more flaws, just like you would if you zoomed the 24MP file from 100% to 150%. If you’re not cropping your images or blowing them up huge and viewing them from a ridiculously close distance, then the final result will be just fine and you can still enjoy the fun, loving feeling that only a superzoom can give 😉
As far as colors go, they look great.
One thing that gives digital sensors fits is bright reds. I enable my camera monitors’ RGB histograms to make sure I don’t blow out the over-sensitive red channel. This is especially evident when shooting bright red birds like this Vermillion Flycatcher.
This is a juvenile male and will get even brighter as it matures – the “flying ember” as it’s known south of the border. Other than cropping in to show detail, this is unprocessed and the reds, through careful exposure and good sensor/software output, are still showing detail. Bravo.
I didn’t explicitly test for moiré, but I did go all street photographer and grab a snap of this guy’s rad forearm tattoo with t-shirt fabric texture next to it.
Fabrics are notorious for creating moiré banding, but it looks well controlled here. AA filters may soon become a thing of the past. So might my street photography career.
I shoot manual a lot and use histogram data and blinkies to help set my exposures. That said, my starting point is usually set with matrix metering because I find that usually gets very close and I need to do minimal tweaking afterwards (I often point my camera and/or zoom on what I feel is a representative area and lock my test exposure on that – call it “spot-average matrix metering”). Matrix metering seems so good now that I never give a thought to how metering could be improved. The D7200 also has center-weighted and spot metering modes that work as they should. I found the D7200s metering to be accurate.
5) AF Performance
This is where the D7200 really shines and makes me want to take it home. The AF array is nice and wide – it reaches closer to the edges than on the D7000, D810 or D4s. In 1.3x crop mode, it covers almost the entire frame.
The -3 EV sensitivity makes for much less hunting in low light than the D7000 and is even a noticeable improvement on the D4s and D810. I tested this while shooting that Virginia Rail in light so low I was at ISO 20000 and the D7200 really showed its superiority then. The D7000 was hopelessly hunting as the 800mm + 1.25x combo exceeded its f/5.6 maximum capability in low light. The D4s also hunted a bit, but eventually found focus. The D7200 grabbed focus the fastest of the trio.
The D7200 does great tracking subjects.
Here’s an osprey (with a bummed out trout) flying in front of a complex background. The background has a lot of contrast and this can easily fool most AF-systems. Furthermore the bird is somewhat small in the frame (this is cropped in 25%) making for a difficult moving target. I was impressed at how well the D7200 kept focus on the bird once I had it locked in. It’s not foolproof, but it gave me a higher hit rate in such scenarios than my D7000/D4s/D810. (For those interested I keep my AF set on 5).
Here’s another tricky tracking situation with three mallard drakes flying straight at me. The D7200’s predictive tracking did well keeping the lead duck sharp.
The D7200 does not have Group-AF mode. This mode is found on Nikon’s full frame D750, D810 and D4s cameras. I find Group-AF’s five spot spread to be too narrow for fast moving subjects (e.g. birds), but for slow predictable subjects, like humans, I can see why some folks are Group-AF fans.
6) Frame Rate
When I first fired off a burst with the D7200 it felt so slow I thought I had inadvertently put it in continuous low mode. But no, it was in CH and the thing just crept along, obviously slower than my 6 fps D7000. I checked the time stamp data and sure enough it was only firing 5 fps, not the 6 fps at full resolution touted in Nikon USA’s advertising. What kind of wildlife could I shoot with that?
Ah, perfect. This is GT. She’s a Desert Box Turtle and has spent over 30 years in captivity in the blazing Scottsdale desert – this is maxing out her life expectancy. But when your name is GT, it’s a safe bet you’ve had some wheels in your life. I was snapping away when suddenly the wildlife photographers’ worst nightmare happened. There was a brief blink of malice in the reptile’s eye,
The next thing I knew, GT charged.
I was lying prone, helpless, as the rapier claws and flesh-tearing beak sped toward me. It was only when my trusty assistant proffered the killer some earthworms that disaster was averted.
It turns out you only get 6 fps at “full resolution” if you shoot the D7200 in 12-bit mode, not 14-bit. Yes, you’re actually getting all 24mp of resolution with 12-bits, but not getting all the color data, so technically this isn’t a lie on Nikon’s part, but I still find it misleading. I think this should be mentioned in the tech specs available on Nikon’s website so shoppers can make a fully informed decision. Instead, you need to download the owner’s manual and go to page 351 to find out the 14-bit frame rate.
Whether the D7200 is shooting at 6 fps or only 5 fps isn’t the issue here. The frame rate is what it is and if you want a faster frame rate, shoot 12-bit, JPEG or buy a different camera. The issue is that Nikon seems to be hiding this key specification (it’s nowhere to be seen on the Nikon USA website) and this continues the bad precedent they set when they also neglected to include this in the D7100’s online spec table. This is information I’d want to have to make my buying decision. Am I going to have to download every Nikon product manual in the future to get the full specs on other cameras?
7) Quiet mode
Quiet shutter mode can help when shooting skittish subjects. It lifts the mirror an instant before the shutter goes off, making for a somewhat quieter shot. It adds a lag of about ¼ second. The mirror doesn’t descend until you take your finger off the release so you can time when that noise occurs. There is not a continuous quiet option like on the D750 or D810, so you have to just press the shutter release repeatedly if you want to shoot a sequence this way.
Nikon claims an 18-shot buffer in 14-bit lossless mode, but my tests, and those of other reviewers, come up with different numbers. The weird thing is I don’t think the D7200 even knows what its buffer is. When testing in 14-bit mode with three different 32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro95 mb/s U1 SDHC cards, one 32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro95 mb/s U3 SDHC card and one 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro95 mb/s U1 SDHC card I got anywhere from 13-22 shots before buffering out. I tested it over and over and kept getting different values. I tested before Happy Hour and still got crazy results. I tried at varying ISOs, freshly formatted cards versus half full cards, cards with intentional file deletions that might make the processor work more to fill gaps in the architecture… I tried panning in AF-C mode from near to far to tax the processor with more AF decisions and from light to dark in program mode. Even when I repeated the exact same test (manual mode, same scene) I would get different numbers one time versus another.
I wondered if I had a bad copy of the camera, but I found out other photographers were discovering this. Was this a function of scene complexity? This seemed to make some sense as a more complex scene probably had more data to write so I tried some similar tests at 14-bit lossless. And this is where things got a little crazy.
I shot the clear blue sky repeatedly and got 16-17 shots. Then I tried exposing it to the right where the same scene should yield more bits of data. Would this shrink the buffer? Nope. I tried the opposite and put the lens cap on and nailed some great shots exploring the dark side of the human experience (shooting manual at equally high shutter speed). This yielded files exposed all the way to the left with very few bits of data. Viola, I got 22 shots before buffering out. I let the buffer clear, tried it again and got 13 shots. What a heck??? I’ve tried the lens cap test several times since then and got 22 shots. And I repeated the clear blue sky test and got 20 shots, not 17. I tried the 16GB card and got 17 shots of the sky, but only 15 of the grassy yard. Confusing? You bet.
For what it’s worth, here’s some data from my buffer tests, all shot on the SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC 95 MB/s cards.
- 14-bit lossless: 13-23 shots at 5 fps, my most frequent numbers were 16-17 with the U-1 card and 17-18 with a U3 card.
- 14-bit lossless plus fine JPEG: 12 shots at 5 fps, U3.
- 14 bit compressed: 22 shots at 5 fps, both U1 and U3.
- 12-bit lossless: 27 shots at 6 fps, U1, 28 shots at 6 fps, U3.
- 12-bit compressed: 29 shots at 6 fps, U1, 38 shots at 6 fps, U3.
- Fine JPEG 97 shots at 6 fps, U3.
- At 1.3x crop mode and 14-bit lossless I got 32-33 shots, U3, 6 fps.
So what do all these numbers mean in a real life situation? If you don’t shoot continuous action sequences over 3 seconds you’ll never need a bigger buffer and you can ignore all this. This pretty much leaves sports and wildlife photographers to scratch their heads over this. The numbers were pretty consistent in all but 14-bit lossless, so if you don’t mind shooting 14-bit compressed or switching to 12-bit to squeeze out an extra frame per second I think you can be reasonably assured of getting results similar to those above. If you shoot 14-bit lossless then I wouldn’t count on getting the advertised 18 shot buffer – I’d expect 16-17 shots most times. 95 MB/s U3 cards give a tiny increase in buffer performance and you never know when that extra shot could be the winner. Forget trying to juice it up with a UHS-2 card – these cards use extra contacts to transmit data faster and the D7200 doesn’t support this, hence your UHS-2 card will only work at UHS-1 speeds. I did not get to try this with a SDXC card, which writes using a different file format, however this primarily allows greater storage capacity and not necessarily faster write speeds. Another thing to bear in mind is that this might be something Nikon can fix via a firmware patch, but there’s no guarantee of this. Overall, I find the weird numbers confusing, but not a big issue. If you need a bigger buffer then buy a D810 or D4s.
All this said, when shooting 14-bit lossless action sequences I did buffer out several times. Short well-timed bursts can minimize this, but there are some times you just want to jam down the shutter release and spray and pray, like when I shot these ospreys mating.
It only takes 5-10 seconds for osprey to do the dirty and you don’t want to miss any of that action. The D7200 only gave me 20 shots of The Act, buffering out on me, plus at the lethargic 5 fps, I didn’t have that many wing and head positions to choose from.
Contrast this situation with this one from a D4s trained on a pair of Blackhawks. I had 100 shots from this coupling to choose from of which I could pick the one with the perfect wing and head positions.
The fix? Shoot in 12-bit or JPEG and don’t shoot RAW+JPEG. Shoot 1.3x when you’ll be cropping anyway and you get 7 fps in 12-bit RAW which is starting to get respectable for a wildlife camera. As well, in 12-bit and 1.3x even when the buffer fills your frame rate only drops from 7 fps to 4.5 fps as the D7200 keeps chugging along. If you’re not in crop mode and shooting 12-bit, the frame rate goes from 6 fps to 3.5 fps after the buffer fills. In 14-bit lossless the frame rate drops from 5 fps to a bit under 3 fps after the buffer fills.
9) Other Notes
The D7200 uses the same EN-EL15 battery used in my D7000 and D810. Hooray!
The D7200 has User modes. Great again. My D4s and D810 are so envious they’re clipping their green highlights. I’ve set U1 for action, going with 12-bit files to pump up the frame rate.
Scene and effects modes. The D7200 is designed for advanced photographers who want better access to various settings through extra dials and more menu choices. Nevertheless it has a slew of automatic modes, such as “pet portrait”, that will make your decisions for you. If you like these modes then maybe the D3300 or D5500 is a better and less expensive choice for you.
Exposure delay mode. This is not found on the D7000, but is available on the D7100. This is great for landscape work when used with a tripod.
Just press the shutter release and the mirror raises, then camera will wait 1, 2 or 3 seconds (your choice) before raising the shutter curtain. This allows enough time for any vibrations from the shutter release press and mirror flip-up to go away before the shot fires. The D810 goes a step further to reduce vibrations with its electronic front shutter option not found on the D7200
Nikon’s D7200 is a dynamite machine and a pleasure to shoot. It’s nimble, responsive and has good ergonomics.
The D7200 sensor is a terrific performer. If DX sensors get much better could FX and those heavy FX lenses be in danger? If a camera manufacturer decided to produce a full line of DX primes, which would be much lighter than their FX counterparts, it could really shake things up. DX is starting to stand for Darned Exceptional.
The D7200 has the most capable AF system I’ve used with any Nikon DSLR. My D4s is jealous.
For all-around photography it’s a winner. The major changes from the D7100 to the D7200 mainly benefit video and timelapse shooters, with a slight nod to the action shooters with a bigger buffer. It’s the first Nikon DSLR with built-in wi-fi and NFC for those who want to share images on the go. For wildlife and other action photography it’s compromised by a low frame rate and skimpy buffer, making it no match for Canon’s 7DMkii.
Would I buy the D7200? I guess I’ll find out if I yearn for it after returning the review copy. I feel it would be a worthy upgrade to my trusty, but aging D7000. I dig the reach, the detail and the AF performance, but I still foolishly hold out hope for Nikon to answer Canon’s 7DMKii challenge with a pro-DX body of their own.