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Camera Reviews

Nikon D200 Field Report

Ernesto Santos (esantos)

Keywords: nikon, d200, camera, bodies

Show pages (3 Pages)

Nikon D200 Field Report

The release of the Nikon D200 digital single lens reflex arrived with a lot of fanfare in December 2005. Nikon was again electrifying the digital SLR format market with this feature-packed and affordable compact little brother to the flagship D2X. Soon after receiving one I booked a two week trip to Wyoming’s National Parks. This was going to be an excellent opportunity to test the capabilities of this new digital marvel as a serious tool for nature photography.

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Nikon D200 DSLR


Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is renowned for its expansive alpine vistas and exceptional annual display of spring wildflowers. Since the Teton Range sits along the west boundary of the park it is the perfect setting for those classic sunrise shots of a towering mountain range bathed in the warm glows of pink and gold of the early morning sun. Afternoon shooting sessions, on the other hand, can offer a big challenge as you invariably must shoot into the sun to capture the familiar saw tooth peaks.

Yellowstone National Park is quite different geologically and more so as a photographic subject. The major geological feature in this, the world’s first national park, is the super caldera - a forty-five mile wide remnant of a collapsed volcano that is still very much alive. With the magmatic energy of the caldera powering hundreds of active geysers and inert hot springs, few places on earth exhibit as much geothermal activity as the Yellowstone Central Plateau. This activity can pose a few risks to electronic and optical devices. The hot springs and geysers constantly spew toxic fumes in the forms of mist and tainted water vapor into the air. Repeated and prolonged exposure can be harmful to the human body as well as to lenses and camera bodies.



Ironically, Yellowstone is less known for wildlife viewing even though it contains an impressive collection of large game animals and predators. The Lamar Valley in the northeast is often compared to Africa’s Serengeti as it is home to an exceptional population of large mammals including moose, elk, bison, grizzlies, black bears, wolves, and deer and antelope. In the northern reaches of the park high ridges reveal picturesque waterfalls and deeply gouged canyons. This presents a multitude of different photographic situations to test the Nikon D200. I know of no better place in the United States to put the camera through its paces.

A Glorious Morning at the Beaver Pond

Daylight comes early in the Tetons in June. By 4:30 a.m. there is enough daylight to get around without the aid of a flashlight. In a sleep deprived daze the SUV was loaded and we began the short drive to Schwabacher Landing. This secluded area on the banks of the Snake River ranks, as photographer/writer Tim Fitzharris puts it, one of “North America’s Big Four” locations for reflection photography.

Approaching a small beaver pond the familiar scene came into view. There they were the four major Teton peaks draped by the tops of lodgepole pines and in the foreground a surreal reflection in the perfectly still pond. The sun was a good fifteen minutes from rising in the east so there was enough time to set up and take some critical meter readings. Taking the Nikon D200 in hand, the meter was set to spot mode and readings were taken of the sky just to the side of Grand Teton peak. Then a reading was taken of the dense pines in the middle ground. A final reading was taken of the reflection in the pond. As suspected there was a difference of three stops between the sky and the pine trees. But then there was the issue of the meter reading from the reflection. It showed a one stop difference from the sky and a two stop difference from the pine grove. Remembering a tip about using neutral density grad filters, it was decided to use one filter to hold back the sky and another inverted to hold back the reflection. This is a technique used to improve the “believability” of photographs of reflective pools taken with ND grad filters. Without the second filter there is the problem of balancing the exposure of the sky, the reflection, and the shadowy mid-ground, in this case the lodgepole pines.

Using a Cokin filter holder a 3-stop grad was put in place for the sky and a 2-stop grad was inverted in the filter holder to hold back the reflection. The exposure meter was set back to matrix metering, and the lens set to hyperfocal distance. Now all there was to do was to wait. And the wait was well worth it. At first the broken clouds from the previous night’s thunderstorms turned an unbelievable pink.

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As the Nikon D200 fired off the first shots the histogram showed a symmetrical bell curve, and the image looked perfectly exposed in the LCD. A few minutes later the clouds turned an intense gold and the peaks glowed like beacons. The Nikon D200 recorded shots in quick succession to capture the ever changing hues. A quick review of the histogram showed perfect exposures each time.

Nikon D200 at Fauna and Flora

It was time to move on to other subjects to test some of the other capabilities of the Nikon D200. Over the next three days there were ample opportunities to shoot wildlife and the emerging wildflowers at Jackson Hole. This would be the first time to test the auto focus of the Nikon D200 using a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom lens and a Nikon TC-17EII 1.7x teleconverter.

Nikon D200 DSLR Camera

Bison at Antelope Flats



One morning a group of bison were spotted in the Antelope Flats area.

In a marsh at Oxbow Bend, in the shadows of Mt. Moran a cow moose played peek-a-boo in the vegetation of the river banks.

Later, on a scenic float trip down the Snake River white pelicans were seen all along the sand bars.

The Oxbow Bend area was abundantly carpeted with arrowleaf sunflowers along the shady hillsides that skirt the bend of the Snake River.


Shooting wildlife can be quite a bit different from landscape photography. It is essential to maintain absolute sharpness on the eye of the animal when taking its portrait. Using an exposure setting that will blur much of the foreground and background is essential as it helps to visually isolate the subject. This means shooting with the lens close to its widest aperture.

The sharp focus requirements can prove difficult to achieve unless the auto focus feature on your camera is of top quality. The D200 with the Multi Cam 1000 AF system takes on the focusing workload easily. Even with the teleconverter attached the auto focus module performed flawlessly.

And not to leave vibration reduction (VR) technology out of the testing there were many situations where there was no time to set up a tripod. Shooting handheld was possible due to the VR capabilities of the 70-200mm. Again, this combination of camera, lens, and teleconverter captured the shot.


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On to Yellowstone and Beyond

On the fourth day our focus turned to Yellowstone National Park. Approaching the park boundary from the south there was a distinct odor in the air. It was not an overpowering one, but somehow it seemed to lie in the background of the fresh mountain air. Driving out to the geyser basins that lingering odor was no longer in the background; it was now exerting a full press on the senses. A potentially deadly mixture of hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide was the culprit; all toxic, and all at significant levels in many areas of the park. It made me wonder how well the Nikon D200 is sealed and whether these fumes and vapors would knock it out of commission.

Nikon D200 DSLR Camera Sample image

Mammoth Hot Springs – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming


One of the main subjects for photography on this trip was the fantastic formations at Mammoth Springs. Here the thermal springs have deposited layer upon layer of calcium carbonate creating elegant terraces of travertine, each holding small pools of water. Some are a brilliant white and others are varying shades of bronze created by stains from microorganisms. To add to the effect, steam billows up from the scalding water carrying with it that toxic cocktail of fumes mentioned earlier.

In order to fully represent this area I knew the D200 and its accompanying lenses would be subjected to prolonged exposure to this environment and at times would be very close to the source of the steam. After two hours of constant exposure to these chemicals the Nikon D200 continued to perform as expected and the lenses did not fog up once, although I was feeling a little woozy.

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The next day brought a sky filled with cloud cover that portended what was to come that afternoon. As the day wore on the clouds accumulated and grew darker. Soon there were serious thunderclouds in the area of Blacktail Deer Plateau. As we approached the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone near Tower Falls the atmospheric conditions created a majestic sight. Overlooking the Narrows section of the canyon thunderheads were suddenly lit up by the late afternoon sun. At the same time the canyon rim was aglow with an intense golden hue. A hasty survey of the scene indicated this would be a great opportunity to shoot a digital panorama of the opposite canyon wall. Ablaze with sunlight and with the ominous clouds hanging over the area, it was a sight to behold.



The Nikon D200 was outfitted with a 12-24mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor. Shooting panoramas with a wide angle lens like the 12-24 can be problematic. Light fall-off at the extremities of the image can be an issue at the lower end of the focal length of this lens and the need to use a neutral density graduated filter would compound the ability to later blend the seams of the stitched image. Keeping the lens dialed in at 24mm minimized this problem and the Nikon D200 provided consistent exposures for the three images that made this composite below possible.

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Moving on down the road after being pelted with hail from the storm another photo op soon appeared as we rounded a turn on the winding road through Hayden Valley. Suspended over the valley a magnificent double rainbow appeared. One of the most Divine experiences in nature was taken to a higher level when the complete rainbows were visible from end to end. The Nikon D200 was pulled out of the SUV and after a quick scramble down a hillside the camera and tripod were set up for the shot. Although the complete arc of the rainbow could not be captured while still maintaining a pleasing composition this image captures the magical moment where atmospheric moisture and sunlight combine to touch the soul.

For another three days the Nikon D200 was put through a hectic schedule of early morning and late afternoon shooting at Yellowstone.

The last leg of the trip involved driving east out of Yellowstone and into the high mountain passes of the Wyoming/ Montana border. Here the Beartooth Scenic Highway climbs the Absaroka/ Beartooth Range to an altitude of over 13,000 feet. The air is thin and the climate is cold, even in the late spring.

At the top of the highest paved roadway in the lower 48 states there is nothing but snowfields, jagged boulders and the view of the top of the world. I was struggling to breathe in the thin air but the D200 took it all in stride, making a few last images of this majestic high alpine country.


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Closing remarks

Nearly 1,200 images were taken on this adventure and the Nikon DSLR never once failed to capture a scene. It was handled rough and tossed around a few times but it never complained. I am really impressed with the build of this digital body.

If you click on any of the images in the article, you'll be taken to an enlargement with full details. I used the LANDSCAPE/NATURE settings mostly for this trip to Wyoming.

I tried many shooting techniques and the Nikon D200 was there to respond to my commands like an old friend. There is no denying that Nikon engineers have taken extraordinary steps to create a camera that will perform in almost any situation and respond to just about any photographer’s requirements.


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Originally written on July 21, 2006

Last updated on October 28, 2016