In advance of a full review on Kickstartnews.com, here's a peek at the D5200.
My copy arrived on Monday December 31. New Year's day has turned out beautifully - cold, sunny, crisp and perfect for hitting a local trail and conservation area.
Okay, it's a bit front heavy with the large Nikkor 18-300 VRII mounted, but nobody will mistake it for anything but a Nikon.
The D5200 is a mid-level consumer DSLR. Except for the rear, flip-out/reversible/vari-angle 7.5cm/3" LCD (the same 921k VGA TFT monitor Nikon has been using in all its DSLR bodies for several years), and the machined metal lens mount, the body is all-polycarbonate. It's lightweight and tough. The consumer-grade body is no better or worse than any of the competing models made by Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Sony. It will stand up to everything except rough daily use.
Controls are well-spaced so I had no trouble making adjustments during a cold weather walk in Lynde Marsh - a conservation area - while wearing winter gloves appropriate to the -6C/21.2F temperature and the -12C/10.4F wind chill. The rocker wheel has just enough positive feel to be workable with gloves. The top-mounted eV button and shutter button, the LiveView lever switch, and the single, rear command dial can all be used accurately while wearing gloves. In less frigid conditions, the controls are very easy to use. The shooting mode dial does not suffer from the easy movement issues that irritated some D7000 users. Basically, the shooting mode dial stays put and is also positioned so that errant touches, shifts and rubs can't change your setting as you draw or stow the camera.
The 24.1 megapixel sensor and the CPU process images fast. I normally shoot RAW/NEF+JPEG Fine/Large, and a SanDisk Extreme Pro 45MB/sec card is more than fast enough for even trigger-happy photographers. No lags, no freeze-ups, no waiting while shots are saved to the card. I think that as the cost of buffer memory continues to drop incrementally each and every year, Nikon and its competitors continuing adding more of it to each new camera body. That means 24.1mp images can spool to the buffer and then get saved to the SD card without interrupting your shooting even when you've set the camera to continuous/high speed and mash the shutter down for ten seconds.
The Nikkor 18-300 VRII f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens is a bit of a marvel. I'm not crazy about superzooms of this kind, mainly because of the inevitable ladles full of distortion. The thing is, Nikon bodies include a feature to auto-correct distortion in shots make with known lenses, and of course the database includes the 18-300. While some higher order correction is needed for photos made between 18-24mm adn with lots of straight lines near the frame edges, the auto-correct database can work wonders for everything else. Basically, if you're using a late model Nikon body, make sure you've updated to the latest firmware to ensure you've got the latest auto-correct database and then take edge distortion off your list of concerns for the most part.
A Winter Trail, D5200 + Nikkor 18-300 VR II, slight sharpening in camera, Picture Control set to Vivid, great contrast and color out of the camera, the combination of snow and deep shadow are well handled. The shot was made in Auto mode, and white balance struggled just a bit.
The shooting mode dial on the top right sets PSAM, Effects, Auto, and all the built-in Scenes. On the upper part of the back, there's a great big "I" button. Press it once for shooting or playback info, twice while in any shooting mode to call the control menu on the rear LCD. Then use the rocker pad to select different items and change them using the rear command dial - AF, metering and so on.
Manual exposure mode has one curious feature. In M, use the rear command dial to change shutter speed. Makes sense. To change aperture, you have to hold down the top-mounted eV button and then scroll to change the aperture. Had to look that one up in the manual.
The twisting, tilting, turning Vari-Angle rear LCD works well. Clarity is excellent, and visibility is good in strong sunlight from an angle but not with sunlight hitting the thing dead on. There's enough shooting and exposure information in the viewfinder to avoid any need for excess LCD use in bright sunlight anyway.
The Video record button is on the top right, situation between the shooting mode dial and the shutter button. It's easy to locate by feel. That's also true of most of the external control buttons and dials - they're all well-spaced and easy to locate by touch alone once you've learned the camera.
The 18-300 VRII has two telescoping barrels with very little play. The lens is heavy, literally overbalanced on the D5200 and is a much more natural fit on the bigger DSLR bodies including the D200 and older D2 series, D300, D300s and D7000. However, the lens offers a very solid measure of focus stabilizing weight especially shooting long while handheld. Still, as good as this implementation of VRII seems to be, to consistently nail focus on a good focus target beyond 150mm or so you need a tripod or a bean bag and a solid rest/stump/fence post/rock/partner. The lens exhibits very little flare or ghosts, and seems to be able to feed the 24.1mp D5200 sensor plenty of light.
Winter Lichen, D5200 + Nikkor 18-300 VR II, slight sharpening in camera, Picture Control set to Vivid, notice the nice round background bokeh highlights although it's typically somewhat VR/IS/OS/VC busy. There was enough wind during this shot to very slightly move things.
All that considered, the sensor can handle anything you care to throw at it with even better glass. The Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 and all the other top DX and FX glass won't outpace the D5200 sensor or processor.
The viewfinder is bright. I'm not sure what Nikon has done, but the D5200 viewfinder seems brighter than my old D300s viewfinder. I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, so the impression is entirely subjective. Nevertheless, there's no eye fatigue associated with the 'finder so I think I can use the thing all day long without the sort of tiredness I often feel when using the smaller 'finders for hours on end. The viewfinder seems identical is brightness to the D7000 (which is a good thing).
It's polycarbonate plastic. Tough it may be, but don't drop it (not that any of us actually regularly drop any of our expensive gear). The point is that as good as the sensor and CPU seem to be, the temptation for many enthusiast and even more serious photographers will be to put the D5200 into service as a birding, wildlife, landscape and all-around shooter. Good. Do it. Just be careful with it.
Speaking of birding, I did try to catch some clear, tack sharp shots of doves, chickadees and a very cooperative barn owl on my marsh walk, but there was just too much interfering brush and branches to get a decent focus lock. However, between the fast AF system and the continuous frame rate selections, the D5200 seems j-u-s-t fast enough to keep up with quite a range of moving wildlife.
As a travel camera mounted with a Nikkor 16-85 or the Nikkor 18-200 VRII, the D5200 appears to be a winner. Again, it's a consumer-grade body, so keep the thing in your bag when you're not shooting, thereby avoiding the inevitable smack against the corner of a building, bumping the thing against a fence post, and all the other grinds and bangs that always occur during moments of moving inattention.
Walking around in freezing temperatures, with wind chills hitting -12C/10.4F, the camera operated perfectly. Battery life seems excellent. I was walking and wandering in those temperatures for about 2 hours, and made about 350 shots, but the battery is still showing full.
Duck Pond, D5200 + Nikkor 18-300 VR II, slight sharpening in camera, Picture Control set to Vivid. The outflow from the culverts is coming from the pond inlet on the other side of a footbridge. I like the contrast in this harsh light, especially with all the glare handled so well.
Is it a better D3200/D5100? Is it a high resolution D7000 without the size, weight or same set of external controls? I think it's the latter, which is a good thing. It's not a camera to which D3200 or even D5100 users should upgrade. They need to take a bigger jump. But for the superzoom Coolpix crowd, the D7000 or D300s (or upcoming D400/D7100) shooters looking for a lightweight backup with wonderfully detailed resolution, the D5200 is an ideal choice. The full review, including video testing, will be posted on Kickstartnews.com in the next week or so.