It is compact and beginner-friendly, yet the Nikon D5200 has the spec of an enthusiast-level DSLR, packing a 24.1-million-pixel sensor, 39-point AF system and articulated LCD screen. Read the Nikon D5200 review...
Nikon D5200 at a glance:
- 24.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-6400 (extended to ISO 25,600)
- Expeed 3 processor
- Articulated 3in, 921,000-dot LCD screen
- 39-point AF system
- 2016-pixel RGB metering sensor
- RRP £719.99 body only
Nikon D5200 review – Introduction
When Sony announced the inclusion of a 24.3-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor in its Alpha 77 and NEX-7, we anticipated that the likes of Nikon would follow suit. These expectations were met, but somewhat surprisingly via the ‘upper-entry-level’ Nikon D3200 DSLR, rather than an enthusiast-level model like a D7000 or D300S replacement. Neither enthusiast-level model has materialised yet, and instead the 24.2-million-pixel D3200 has been flying the flag for Nikon’s APS-C models. Now the firm has included a refined version of this sensor in its next model up, the Nikon D5200.
Nikon insists that the ‘upper entry-level’ D5200 does not replace the D5100, just as the D3200 does not replace the D3100. This being the case, the Nikon DSLR line-up is looking a little crowded. The company hopes to have a model for every budget in its DSLR range, and this now appears to be the case, with the D5200 being in the next price bracket up from the D5100.
The Nikon D5200’s body is almost the same as that on the compact and lightweight D5100. These are the only DSLRs from Nikon with an articulated rear LCD screen. What we have come to expect, though, is that the technology from previous-generation models is passed down the line, and the D5200 takes aspects such as its AF and metering systems from the D7000. So, while their bodies may be similar, there are several differences between the D5200 and D5100’s specifications. The newer camera should match the D7000 for performance and exceed its image quality, which is very appealing.
Nikon D5200 review – Features
The Nikon D5200 can be described as a camera with the performance to satisfy an enthusiast in a body that is designed for the beginner. There is little in the new model that we have not seen before in other Nikon DSLRs, but what the company has done is bring together the high-end performance of the D7000 and a high-resolution sensor like that in the D3200, all in the compact and beginner-friendly body of the D5100.
With a 24.1-million-effective-pixel sensor, the D5200 has an output that is virtually the same as the D3200 and some enthusiast-level Sony models. The 6000×4000-pixel output produces prints at 20×13.3in with the pixel output set to 300ppi, which is larger than A3. Full-resolution raw-file sizes are 36MB, while JPEGs are 15MB. If the image size is too large, the 24.1-million-pixel resolution can be reduced to 13.5 million pixels (medium) or 6 million pixels (small).
Nikon insists that the sensor in the D5200 is revised from the one used in the D3200, although when comparing like-for-like images it is difficult to see much difference between the two units. However, the D5200 has extended ISO settings up to 25,600, while the D3200 only goes up to ISO 12,800. Furthermore, the D5200’s video-recording capabilities have been enhanced to a 60fps record rate.
Like the D3200, the D5200 uses Nikon’s latest Expeed 3 processor. Its processing power enables a 5fps shooting rate in the continuous high drive mode for full-resolution files. In raw format, the burst is a modest six frames, but in JPEG format it is up to an impressive 100 frames, which covers a period of 20secs.
As in its predecessor, shooting modes in the D5200 include 11 scenes and seven creative effects, with each menu on the shooting-mode dial quickly navigated via the rear dial. HDR mode is available in JPEG format only, and comes in three levels of strength or auto. Using a tripod is best when using HDR mode because the exposure values are captured over consecutive frames and there is no auto-align function.
There is a wide range of accessories available for the D5200. The camera does not have wireless or GPS built in, but these functions are available through the wireless mobile adapter WU-1a, which was announced alongside the D3200, and GP-1 GPS unit respectively. The WU-1a is designed for wireless data transfer and control of the camera’s shutter via a smartphone or tablet device.
Nikon has also announced a WR-R10 wireless remote transmitter, although the port for a wired remote like Nikon’s MC-DC2 remains. These accessories are reasonable, but add a considerable cost to what is a more budget-level DSLR. I would not be surprised if, in the next generation of SLRs, Wi-Fi and GPS are built in.
Image: From a direct comparison between a JPEG and a raw file, it is clear that shooting in raw provides the crispest detail
Nikon D5200 review – WU-1a wireless mobile adapter
The Nikon D5200 does not feature built-in Wi-Fi, but is compatible with the WU-1a wireless mobile adapter. This device is tiny – roughly the size of a thumbnail – and attaches into the A/V out port on the side of the body. It is powered by the camera and connects it to a smart device via the (free) wireless mobile adapter utility app. It is compatible with smart devices operating on iOS 5.1 and Android OS 2.3 or later.
Once the software is downloaded to the smartphone or tablet, it offers some useful functions. The main menu has four options: use the camera to take pictures; take pictures remotely; share pictures; and download pictures from the camera. Share pictures provides a direct link to social-networking sites for images already downloaded. Accessing pictures on the card to download them is a little slow, but once this is done then sharing is speedy. A minor niggle experienced on the Android smartphone used in this test is that the app does not ‘close’ when not in use – it remains active. Load a picture into Instagram, for example, and this same picture will come up for editing every time Instagram is started up again.
Selecting the option to take pictures remotely turns the smart device into a remote live view, with control over the camera’s shutter, in line with the focus mode selected on the camera. Having recently used Canon’s EOS remote app with the EOS 6D (which does have built-in Wi-Fi), it is clear that the handling and functionality of Nikon’s app just cannot compete. The Nikon version lacks the speed of use and there is no control over the camera’s exposure. While the app is useful, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Nikon D5200 review – Build and handling
Those who have used the Nikon D5100 will immediately be at home with the D5200. The cameras are almost identical in size and weight. At 555g including battery and card, it is possible to carry the D5200 around all day without feeling the strain. The shell of the body is made from a tough polycarbonate and the camera fits in the hand rather well.
Add a big lens, however, and the set-up feels a little front heavy, and one begins to desire a deeper handgrip to get a firmer hold. However, the sort of photographer this camera is aimed at is likely to be buying lightweight lenses. The articulated screen is hinged on the side of the camera and is undeniably useful for viewing and composing images from various angles.
In use, the D5200 is more suited to those who set the camera in one mode and shoot away, which is unsurprising given its target audience. For example, the camera does not have dedicated buttons for some key exposure controls, such as white balance and ISO. Instead, these are accessed through the info menu or through the function button, which can be user-defined to adjust a single control. One source of frustration is in using the self-timer drive mode, because the camera returns to the previous selected drive mode after each capture. So, when shooting landscapes using mirror lock-up and self-timer, one has to reactivate the timer for each shot.
Each button is a little ‘clicky’, which is a common distinction between an entry-level camera like the D5200 and a weather-sealed enthusiast model like the D7000, where buttons are satisfyingly dampened. The buttons are small, but spaced apart enough to prevent pressing the wrong one. There is the same pop-up flash as that found in the D5100 and D7000, with a guide number of 12m @ ISO 100. When using external flash units, there is a maximum flash sync speed of 1/200sec.
Nikon has introduced a new graphic interface. It looks a little slicker and more modern than the one in the D5100, but is still beginner-friendly. For example, in the main exposure-settings screen, visual displays are used to indicate changes to settings such as aperture. Such aids are a useful way to visualise what the camera is doing and what sort of results to expect, so is ideal for those learning the basics.
Another similarity to the D5100 is the switch on the shooting-mode dial to access live view. For shooting landscapes, live view is preferable because the mirror is locked up and magnification is very useful to ensure a subject is in focus. Nikon DSLRs do not allow mirror lock-up and timer mode simultaneously, except in live view. The camera has a quiet mode in its drive-mode menu. I find the shutter is impressively quiet already, and there is little difference between the single mode and quiet mode.
The same EN-EL14 battery is used in the D5200 as in the D5100 and D3200. It is physically tiny for a DSLR but still provides a 540-shot battery life, which is respectable although not as good as some other DSLRs at this level.
Nikon D5200 review – Metering
The Nikon D5200 uses the same 2016-pixel metering sensor as that found in the enthusiast-level D7000, which, on paper, is a more sophisticated system than the 420-pixel metering sensor in the D3200. However, in reality it is difficult to see any differences in behaviour between the systems. Both use scene detection to improve the accuracy of exposure and white balance. However, the metering sensor used in the D800 is much more sophisticated and can use factors such as face detection to alter the exposure.
In a typical overcast landscape with equal portions of land and sky, the system overexposes a little, which can result in well-exposed land but burnt-out sky areas. Taking the exposure down a notch using exposure compensation is quick, while another option, given the good dynamic range and therefore usable shadow detail, is to brighten shadow details post-capture using software. Overall, though, the metering system is predictable, so with understanding of how it behaves it is possible to get the right exposures first time.
In live view, metering can be linked to the AF point. This is useful when taking portraits because the exposure and focus will be correct to the subject. For landscapes, however, metering for the land can result in the sky blowing out.
Nikon D5200 review – Autofocus
Another feature passed down from the D7000 to the D5200 is the 39-point AF system, whereas the D5100 uses 11 points. All the points are located in a large central portion of the frame. When using the 39-point AF mode in good light for static subjects, the camera speedily and quietly snaps into focus. Even in poor-contrast light, the camera steadily finds an accurate and sharp focus, although the process is slowed down a little. One can opt to use just 11 of the 39 points, which is useful when trying to single out subjects more quickly because the camera has to process less data.
There is also an AF-area mode menu, where single-point, auto, nine-point, 21-point, 39-point and 3D tracking modes can be selected. Single-point can be manually selected from any of the 39 points displayed in the viewfinder. By and large, the camera is able to keep up with steadily moving subjects in its 3D tracking mode, but it is by no means designed for very fast action.
When in live view, the AF area can be selected from anywhere in the entire frame, which is handy for off-centre subjects. Face priority and subject tracking work well too, and can provide smooth AF for videos. The contrast-detection-based AF used when in live view is less snappy than phase detection. However, with the mirror locked up and the ability to then select the timer drive mode, it is possible to achieve slightly sharper images than when using the viewfinder without a remote to trigger the camera. I therefore found myself using live view for capturing landscapes a lot more than usual when using the D5200.
Nikon D5200 review – Dynamic range
Images: In HDR mode, there is a choice between auto and four levels of strength. Auto HDR in this scene is closest to HDR medium, which subtly brightens shadow areas
It is clear from tricky high-contrast scenes that the Nikon D5200 is able to capture a lot of tonal detail.
Where a scene pushes the dynamic range of the camera, like an overcast landscape or reflections of sunlight, there is more detail in the blacks and whites than one would expect from some other cameras.
For the scenes that do surpass the dynamic range an HDR mode is available, which extends the range by a further 3EV, while the auto-lighting optimiser ‘corrects’ shadow and highlight detail to make it more obvious to the eye.
In both modes, images can actually become a little too ‘flat’ because the shadow areas are sometimes brightened too much.
Usually, however, the auto modes work well enough to not need the manual options.
Nikon D5200 review – White balance and colour
There is extensive in-camera customisation available for adjusting the colour rendition and colour balance. Colour modes can be found in the picture-control menu, where standard, neutral, vivid, portrait, landscape and monochrome settings are on offer. In the default standard mode most Nikon DSLRs have a relatively muted colour rendition, which works well in bright daylight scenes, but for overcast scenes a little extra saturation is welcome by way of the vivid mode.
There is access to the colour-modes menu through the i button, but to change the parameters of each setting, such as adding filters to the monochrome mode, requires rooting through the main menu. I would like to see a quicker way to make these changes. The same can be said for taking a custom white balance reading, although to choose between the white balance presets is speedy.
Nikon D5200 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Image: A high sensitivity of ISO 1600 was required for a shutter speed quick enough to freeze the branch blowing in the wind. Luminance noise is present but uniform
With virtually the same resolution as its predecessor, it comes as no surprise that the Nikon D5200 is also able to resolve a high level of detail. With the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens mounted and set to f/8, and the camera set to ISO 100, it is possible to discern the lines of our resolution charts all the way to the 30 marker, which is an impressive performance for a camera at this level.
Generally, when scrutinising detail in JPEG images, taken with the 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6G kit lens and viewed at 100%, images are a little soft and require a touch of post-capture sharpening. Alternatively, in the picture control where the colour mode is set, one can manually adjust the sharpness on a scale of 0 (soft) to 9 (sharp). For those who want to get the most out of this high-resolution sensor, a decent lens will help. That said, with such large images (when sized at 100%), there is scope for downsizing. For example, make an A3 print (which is around 70% of a full-resolution file), and detail appears sharper. Of course, it is also possible to achieve sharper detail when using raw capture, and this is advised in order to get the most out of the D5200.
When compared to the D7000, which has only a 16.3-million-pixel resolution, the D5200 outresolves it at the low sensitivities, but push the cameras to their limits and the D7000 is better able to hold its performance – especially handling the levels of noise. At ISO 6400, both cameras reach the 24 marker, but noise is more uniform in the D7000 and therefore detail looks crisper. However, this is from a direct comparison. Display the D5200 image at the same size as one from the D7000 (around 70% of its original size) and image defects are less apparent. Even in this case, though, the D7000 still has the edge for low-light performance.
Image: Detail can be on the soft side in full-resolution files when viewed at 100%. However, downsize an image by around 30% to 16 million pixels and detail looks sharper
Nikon D5200 review – LCD, viewfinder and video
Image: The articulated screen is great for shooting at low angles without getting one’s knees dirty
It may well be the same 3in, 920,000-dot LCD screen as found in the Nikon D3200 and D7000, but the screen of the D5200 is articulated from a hinge point on the side of the camera. This versatility comes in handy in numerous situations.
When we first saw the camera, we asked Nikon if it intended to introduce touch functionality to the screen, which, as with the Canon EOS 650D, would enhance the handling of the camera. This would be a welcome addition as and when a D5200 replacement arrives.
Also like the D5100 and D3200, the optical pentamirror viewfinder of the D5200 has a 95% coverage and a 0.78x magnification. Held up next to the viewfinder of the D7000, the latter is physically larger with 100% coverage and 0.95x magnification, as well as brighter. However, for a camera of its class, the viewfinder in the D5200 is respectable.
Full HD 1080p video capture has been enhanced, with recording options of 60fps, 50fps, 30fps, 25fps and 24fps, and it now offers stereo sound with the microphones in the usual place on top of the camera.
Nikon D5200 review – The competition
Image: Canon EOS 650D
Upper-entry-level DSLRs that are similar in price to the Nikon D5200 include the Canon EOS 650D, Pentax K-30 and the Sony Alpha 580. Of these, the D5200 offers the highest resolution and the most sophisticated AF system.
The more serious Pentax K-30 has a weather-sealed body, optical viewfinder with 100% coverage and dedicated buttons for most key exposure controls. Like the K-30, the Sony Alpha 580 has sensor-shift stabilisation and features the well-regarded 16.3-million-pixel sensor used in so many cameras. It is now discontinued, so is the most affordable of the bunch.
Image: Pentax K30
Canon’s EOS 650D has an articulated LCD screen like the D5200, but also offers touch functionality, which is a genuinely intuitive way to operate the camera.
All in all, there are advantages to each, so consider what is most important to your shooting before choosing.
Nikon D5200 review – Our verdict
The Nikon D5200 is an interesting camera, placed in the crossover between beginner and enthusiast level. Some people would say that its plastic body and simple handling are likely to frustrate the enthusiast, while its memory-hungry resolution (and therefore large files to process) is too much for the beginner. However, the D5200 is likely to satisfy a beginner for longer, and act as a compact and able-performing back-up model for an enthusiast.
Detail in JPEGs taken with the supplied 18-55mm kit lens is a little disappointing. However, with minor downsizing, raw capture and more expensive optics, detail can be excellent. So the D5200 provides a high platform from which to work down and achieve great results. As most target users are unlikely to push it to its limits, they will be very happy with it.
We may have seen all the technology here before, but the D5200 brings together some of the best of Nikon’s enthusiast-level technology with a beginner-friendly body. The new camera comes with enough improvements to warrant its position in the range, but the firm may have a job of explaining which camera is best suited to each person.
Nikon D5200 – Key features
Under the single rubber flap on the side of the camera are four ports: HDMI, A/V out, mic and GPS/remote/Wi-Fi.
The info button accesses the quick menu, where adjustments to key controls can be made. With limited dedicated buttons on the body, photographers are likely to find this button is used regularly.
A dedicated switch on the side of the shooting-mode dial is used to access live view. Its placement is within quick reach of the shutter finger.
The exposure and focus-lock buttons need to be kept pressed down in order for the exposure and focus to remain locked.
These buttons are used to zoom in and out of images in playback, but also when using live view.