Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Nikon D7200-A Compromise?

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***6-Month UPDATE and 1-Year UPDATE at bottom of page***

I recently updated my primary camera body to the Nikon D7200 (my first real update in over 8 years!), but before I explain my rationale for that, let me tell you a bit about my DSLR evolution.

One of my all-time favorite cameras was the Nikon N80. This camera was introduced as a buffer between the entry-level N60 and the prosumer F100. In my opinion, the N80 was so great because, even as a compromise camera, it delivered everything that you really needed to shoot outstanding pictures, of virtually any activity. It wasn’t a rugged camera, but it was sturdy; it wasn’t a frame rate killer with industry-best AF, but it wasn’t exactly a slouch (for the time) either.

In fact, this camera body was so popular that Nikon used the chassis and button layout for its first prosumer DSLR, the D100. I owned this camera as well.

Around this time in Nikon’s line-up, you had clear choices to make regarding the camera that you wanted for the particular type of images you desired to shoot: Casual shooter? Go with the D50. Amateur with aspirations? How about the D70? Pro on a budget? D100. Pro with a genie in the bottle? D1x, D1h or both for you. This is somewhat similar to the choices that we have available today with Nikon’s offerings, albeit there are substantially more cameras to choose between in any given segment.

In addition to the Nikon D100, I have owned the Nikon D200 and Nikon D300. I love this series of cameras and have enjoyed their evolution all the way back to the N80, which is why I was willing to wait 8 years (a digital eternity spanning 4 Expeed processor generations!) for a successor.

Naturally, when that successor was finally announced, I pounced on an opportunity to own the camera a notch below it in feature set, that has been out for nearly a year. Wait, what?

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FRONT 1 w/ Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AiS.

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FRONT 2.

NIKON D7200 vs. NIKON D300

D7200 beats the D300 in:

  1. Improved Live View (D300 was Nikon’s original Live View attempt)
  2. Resolution (24 megapixels vs. 12)
  3. Dynamic Range (at least a 4 stop advantage in shadows; 2 stop in highlights)
  4. Low light performance (D7200’s ISO 3200 is as clean as D300’s ISO 800)
  5. Slightly better buffer rate (100 jpeg, 18 RAW vs 99 jpeg, 17 RAW)
  6. No optical low pass filter (sharper files)
  7. Image processor (Expeed 4 vs 1)
  8. Native light sensitivity (ISO 100-25,600 VS. ISO 200-)
  9. Video
  10. Built-in WiFi with NFC
  11. Storage media (x2 vs x1)
  12. Slightly better Back LCD (3.2″ 1,229K-dot LCD vs. 3″ 920K-dot LCD)

 

Nikon D300 beats it in:

  1. Body build and weather sealing (ie. Full Magnesium Alloy Chasis vs. Partial, More vs. Less)
  2. Balances larger, heavier, pro lenses better (beefier cam)
  3. Compact Flash Cards vs. SDHC
  4. Frames per second (8fps vs 6fps, expandable in crop mode to 7fps)

 

Same as D300 in:

  1. Shutter life (150,000 clicks)
  2. Non-CPU Lens functionality
  3. Ergonomics (This is arguable-  While D7200 has less external functionality and features a smaller hand grip, it does improve certain interfaces, including the U1 and U2 settings).
  4. Top shutter speed (1/8,000th second)
  5. 100% Viewfinder
  6. 51-Point AF System (although, D7200’s Expeed 4 processor delivers slightly better low-light AF).

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BACK.

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LEFT SIDE.

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RIGHT SIDE.

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TOP.

AGAINST THE NIKON D500

The Nikon D500 beats or ties the Nikon D7200 in every comparison except two, Price ($2000 vs $1000) and Resolution (20mp vs 24 mp).  I was able to purchase the D7200, a GoPro Hero Session w/accessories, and a Yongnuo flash set (2 flash heads and a trigger), for $500 less than the cost of a body-only D500.  It is also worth remarking that the D7200 nearly matched the D500 in both low light and dynamic range performance, two very important aspects of my decision to upgrade (given that I don’t do it very often, I wanted to ensure that I would have a competitive camera, at least in image quality, for a few years).  Likewise, the D500 really shines in AF performance and frames per second; since I do not shoot sports or wildlife, these were less of a consideration for my needs.

Still, had I not needed to add the flashes and the GoPro to my kit, I might have splurged on the D500.  Maybe….

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INFO SCREEN.

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IN USE

I usually try to reserve writing these reviews until after a few months of use, but after a few weeks, I think that I have a good feel for this cam.

Coming from the D300, the D7200 feels a little less secure in the hand, and a bit more “toy-like”, which is probably my biggest gripe.  In terms of the button layout, there are trade-offs that pretty much even the playing field.  For instance, I don’t like not having a dedicated ISO button on top of the camera, but the U1 and U2 settings are much more convenient than I had imagined them to be.  After an hour or so of shooting, this camera felt really familiar to me, and I am able to switch between the D300 and the D7200 pretty seamlessly (though not as closely as switching between the D200 and D300).

Though I am not a videographer, the addition of video will be an asset since I do plan to introduce more video to this blog.  The capabilities of the D7200 as a video camera are very appropriate to this type of use, however, dedicated videographers often prefer other cameras over the Nikons for professional work.

All in all, I am a bit reminded of my old N80 in using the D7200.  It is one of those tools that does just about everything you need it to do without any frills.  Highly recommended.

Images taken with the D7200:

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My son Ellison just after arrival (ISO 3200).

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My lovely wife, Mandi Gray, author of Cohabitation With Design.

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Wife and son, Harper.

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Shot remotely using Nikon app for iPhone.

6-Month UPDATE:

As mentioned in my article above, I usually like to reserve my reviews until after several months of use.  Well, I have now owned the D7200 for about six months, and I’d still consider the camera highly recommended (in fact, I just recommended it to a friend this week).

That said, there have been a few quirks that I want to report.

It is unfortunate, but Nikon has developed a bit of a reputation recently with inconsistent quality control (a nice way to put it).  In subsequent years, there have been a number of official recalls for new Nikon cameras, with even more problems reported by users online that are never officially acknowledged by the company.  This is a shame because I have always thought of the manufacturer as having produced very high quality equipment that behaves reliably after years and years of abuse.  None of my older cameras ever had any odd problems or issues, except for the D50 whose sensor eventually died after seven years of service, and are all in fact, quite operable (D50 aside).  In the case of my D300, it was dropped twice, and exposed to all manner of weather in its eight years on the job, and stills functions as new.  Very surprisingly, I’ve had a few odd hiccups or quirks with the D7200 in the short time that I’ve had it.  Nothing to be too alarmed about, and nothing that I’ve been able to repeat, but enough to make sure that I carry a second body for any significant shoots.  I have no idea what these “interruptions” mean, in the way of the camera’s longevity, but the definitely don’t seem to be permanent problems:

  1. First issue that I had was on a very hot day on the Mississippi River.  My wife and I are with a guide on a canoe trip, and I am happily shooting away with my D7200 and 35mm f/1.8G DX lens.  Suddenly, none of the camera’s operations work- no buttons, no dials, nada.  I turn the camera off, but it remains on.  I decide to remove the battery, and then everything returns to normal upon restart.  Granted, it was hot (but no hotter temp than I’ve put my D300 through).  No water touched the camera.
  2. Second issue is on a hike on another warm day.  My autofocus starts acting strangely (also with the 35mm DX lens), and taking longer than normal to work.  It misses focus a couple of times.  I turn it off and on, and the cam is fine.
  3. Third issue is on a portrait shoot with my Yongnuo Flashes and 50mm f/1.8D lens.  This is day two of a two day shoot, and everything behaved fine on the first day.  I press the shutter, but the flashes don’t trigger.   I fire off the test button on the transmitter in the camera’s hotshoe; everything works.  I fire the shutter again, and nothing.  I check the line of sight (though they are radio), and I replace the batteries in everything.  Still nothing when the shutter is pressed.  Dismayed, I pull out my D300 and hook everything up to it.  Everything works flawlessly, so I continue the shoot on the D300.
  4. Fourth issue was with the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G.  On vacation at an aquarium, I try to lock focus on a specimen in a tank.  Focus indicator suggest that focus was achieved, though everything looks blurry in the viewfinder.  I take the picture, and it is likewise blurry.  Immediately, I suspect it is a handhold issue, so I bump the ISO to get the Shutter Speed well over the reciprocal of the focal length.  Same result.  Manually focusing, I cannot get the subject to appear in-focus in the viewfinder.  I switch lenses and all is normal.  I switch back; same result.  I conclude that I somehow messed up the 105mm lens.  Later that day, at a different location, I reattach the lens to observe the phenomena again, and everything works perfectly.

Everything said, this is a fantastic camera with great flexibility, and now costs less than $1000.  I’ll keep an eye on these issues and let you all know what crops up, or if I no longer experience any.  Is it a hassle?  Yes.  But I also think that it is just an unfortunate reality for this period of Nikon’s manufacturing.  They are cutting costs at every corner to stay competitive, so QC suffers.

Whether the trade off is worth it to you will depend upon what you are willing to put up with.  For me, so long as these are temporary inconveniences, I will deal with it.  The camera just does so many other things, so well (I uploaded images seamlessly from camera to phone during my vacation to keep my social media alive, and the camera has survived a variety of conditions already).  However, if any of the camera’s issues become lasting, I don’t know that I will stick with the Nikon brand in the future.

For now though, I am happy to have the D300 as backup…..

1-Year UPDATE:

Noting the flash issue described above, I first called Nikon, who walked me through a more extensive factory reset than the two-button press that I had tried previously.  The system worked immediately upon reseting (with the representative still on the phone), but went out again on my first commercial shoot.

Following this, I called back and Nikon had me send in the camera for a look.  Nearly a month later, the camera was returned (all free of charge except my initial shipping), and has worked perfectly ever since.

Nikon was very pleasant and easy to work with on the phone, and I am happy with the result.

I continue to recommend this camera as a primary shooter, though suggest that you keep a contingency strategy in mind if this is your only cam for paid work.  All-in-all though, the D7200 is a really great camera.

 

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10 Responses

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  1. […] Nikon D7200 […]

  2. jmnugent said, on May 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    A few comments, Jason. Mostly the rationale behind some of the features in the 7200 that aren’t in the 300 or the 500. SDHC cards are actually better in some respects because they are water proof, and are not prone to pin breakage. You get wifi in your 7200 and not in the 300 because the magnesium body in the 300 prevents wifi from working well. That’s also why it’s not in the higher end D5 or Canon 1D-X offerings either.

    I know you mentioned resolution, but I think that you’d have a hard time noticing the resolution because the camera body is probably going to exceed the optical abilities of your old AiS lenses 🙂 But very cool man. Excellent review.

  3. Jason Gray said, on May 18, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Great points, Jason. And thanks for reading!

    I do still prefer the CF Cards over SDs, mainly because I’ve never managed to actually bend any of the pins, and they are more durable where I am actually more prone to knock them around (outside of the camera). That said, I’ve never abused an SD card to death either.

    Very true on the wifi/GPS problem with mag alloy bodies, although the Dxx/Dxxxx cams all were mostly plastic before wifi/GPS came into play (likely, this is the reason for the D500’s incomplete mag alloy frame though). Of course, Eye Fi cards are a workable solution to those full mag alloy bodies without having to resort to dongles.

    You will have to pry my 20mm AiS from my cold, dead hands to get me to stop loving it. 😉 ha ha!

  4. Jason Gray said, on May 18, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Bottom line: I think a photographer has to be pretty hard-pressed to not be able to take amazing photos with this current generation of cameras. I can’t imagine what will be available 8 years from now!

  5. […] So… you may be wondering whether I decided to upgrade?  Find out here. […]

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