Nikon D200

Until about two months ago I used a Nikon FM3A film camera for all my photos. I shot mostly Ektachrome E100G slide film, developed the rolls in my basement, mounted the slides, scanned them with my ArtixScan scanner, and printed them on my archival Epson printer. This worked great, but man it took a lot of time.

I wanted to go all digital, but cameras I could afford did not have the mega-pixels or features I wanted and cameras with what I wanted were out of my price range. Then Nikon came out with the D200 and I decided it was time to take the plunge – I blew my tax return on the thing.

I have had my D200 a little over two months now and so far I really like it. I’m not going to go into details about histograms and moire patterns and stuff like that there, but I’ll give you a general idea of what I like and don’t like compared to my film camera.

First the bad news.

I miss my film. I liked the smell of a freshly opened can of film and even though they are bad for me, I liked the smell of the processing chemicals (I like the smell of new tennis balls too – weird). Then there is the magical part of developing film. There’s nothing like taking a blank roll of film, swirling it around in some chemicals for a while, and presto; you pull out a string of bright colorful images. Even while they were hanging to dry I’d be sneaking peeks at them to see if the images came out the way I envisioned them or not. It was like opening birthday presents.

Beyond the fun I like the physical nature of film. No matter what happened to the scanned images, I could always go back to the original slides and if I treated them right, they would last for a real long time. I have a friend that runs a museum – he ain’t happy about the switch away from film. In my day job as a computer geek I deal with file archiving everyday so I have my own little system to protect my files from loss, but things happen. Having the slides was an added security blanket.

I’m losing some pixels by switching to digital. I’m cool with 10.2 mega-pixels. Although completely arbitrary, in my own mind I didn’t want to switch to digital until I could get at least 10MP. I figured my scanner was giving me closer to 14MP. A better scanner could probably get me more.

A final worry for me is loss of control. I used an FM3A because it was completely manual. I’m a manual kind of guy – all my cars are sticks. The D200 can be completely manual as long as you don’t attach any CPU lenses. Once it sees a CPU lens it refuses to take pictures in manual mode anymore. You are forced to use either aperture or shutter priority. This drove me nuts for a while. My workaround is to only use non-CPU lenses (fortunately I had some) or I put a dumb 2X extender between any CPU lenses and the camera (This is probably a saner method than filing off the contacts on the lens which I actually considered at first).

Now for the good news.

The pictures it produces are great. The colors are accurate within reason. The exposure latitude ain’t bad. The pictures are sharp and clean especially at low ISO which is what I shoot at most often. I pop the images onto my computer, do some basic adjustments with my editing software, and crank out the prints. This is way faster than developing and scanning film.

I really like being able to adjust the ISO on the fly. I mostly shoot at the lowest setting (ISO100) which makes for some long exposures – I always carry a tripod. Sometimes though I need faster speed. With film I was stuck unless I wanted to invest in a second camera loaded with faster film. With the digital I just turn the knob and I’m shooting at 400 or 1600 to stop action or to take hand held shots in the low light of the deep woods.

The preview screen on the back of the camera is pretty nice. I can see it clearly in all but the brightest light. It is big enough to give me a decent evaluation of my shots before I leave the location. I can take more if things aren’t coming out like I want them to. I wouldn’t find out with film until it was too late.

For me the battery life is great. I say “for me” because I probably get better mileage than average. As I mentioned before, I only use non-CPU lenses. That means that I never use the auto-focus features. I expect AF sucks a lot of juice. I also never use the built in flash. I don’t even know how to get it to pop open. I did it once, but it was just by accident. I use the screen on the back sparingly too. So for me, I can take the camera out in the woods at dawn with a full battery charge and shoot until dusk taking maybe 70 – 100 photos and I’ll still have battery life left when I get home.

The camera seems well built. It’s decently weather-proof. It isn’t submersible or anything, but with precautions, I can take it out on rainy days. It is sort of heavy too. I actually like that even though I am usually sensitive to weight when I have to haul stuff up steep trails. I’ve had cameras that were too light – they just didn’t feel right in my hand and were too sensitive to vibration.

That’s all I can think of so far. I’ll keep you updated if I run across other stuff as time goes on.

 MDW

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4 Responses to “Nikon D200”

  1. Mario Says:

    Thanks! this is very interesting to me. I use a nikon N80 with slide film (developed in a laboratoty) and I scan my film with a ES E28 device by nikon that works with a coolpix 4500 digital camera. The quality of the scan is pokey and I am thinking to buy a cool scan. I love too the smell of a new film and the wait between a roll and another one. But It takes too much time for the entire process. A dilemma!
    Best, Mario

  2. forestrat Says:

    Ah, so many choices – so little time. MDW

  3. iheartfilm Says:

    Who doesn’t like the smell of film? Especially Provia 100F. Yum.

    Chris

  4. Jackson Says:

    Thanks for sharing the information. I found the details really helpful.

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