Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Nikon D5200 real-world Review

I've had my D5200 for a few weeks now which has given me a chance to put it through the paces testing it out on all kinds of subjects in many different shooting situations. I've been keeping an eye out for reported issues and defects. I feel I have gotten a good feel for the camera and I'm ready to give a good real-world review.

If you're not familiar with my reviews, here's the skinny. Anyone can post specs and charts and details gleaned from the Nikon website and DxO Mark and many do. That's fine for some folks, but to me specs don't mean a thing. The most important thing to me is "how well does this thing work?". This is why I don't get all tech on you. You can find that stuff anywhere. On with the review...


The D5200 is an entry-level camera. It's compact and light. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the camera was that it felt nice and solid. I'm not sure if they're using a stiffer polycarbonate to make the cameras, but it felt nice and durable; more like a D7000 than a D5000. I was quite impressed by the feel. It definitely gave me confidence that this was a well-built camera. I will say that I was initially drawn to the candy-apple red, I have an affinity for that color. I had a motorcycle that color, a car that color, and some guitars that color. I just LIKE it. While the red looked really impressive in photos on the web in person it fell short. It looked kinda of junky like it was made of cheap plastic. It looked like a Holga, but not in a good way. As for the bronze, well, doo-doo brown was never my favorite color (I once sold a prime '62 Gretsch Country Gentleman because it was brown) so I didn't even bother to look. Needless to say, I bought the classic Nikon black. Can't go wrong with that. Anyway, I digress. 

So the camera feels nice and solid. I've got big hands so the D5200 is a little small in my grip, but still comfortable. My pinky pinger hangs off, but I fold it under the base which adds to the stability, so no real problem there. 

Being a compact DSLR the D5200 is really made for smaller lenses in order to balance right. Sticking my 17-55mm f/1.8G on there is great for image quality, but the lens dwarfs the camera, and with no real grip to add the D5200 can get a bit unwieldy without using the right holding technique. Of course the kit lens is right at home, but even as sharp as the kit lens is, I'm a fast lens junky so I don't use it often. Even the better Nikon DX zoom lenses such as the 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is somewhat beastly on this camera as are the fast third party zooms. Basically any lens you put on the D5200 other than the 18-55 kit is going to make the camera front heavy. The lens that best compliments the D5200 is the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G hands down. Every DX owner should own one. It's cheap, sharp, and iIt's a perfect fit for a compact camera. 

So, bottom line is the D5200 is a sturdy little camera, but a little out of balance with larger lenses.


The D5X00 series cameras occupy a special niche in Nikon's camera lineup as the only camera with the movable Vari-Angle LCD monitor. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the Vari-Angle LCD is a great feature that make shooting at weird angles a lot easier. This allows you to experiment more with new angles and can be a real good thing for your creativity and composition. If you were ever hesitant about lying on the ground to get a shot, with the D5200 you don't have to worry about it. Very cool for both video and still photography. I think this makes the D5200 a great second camera for Nikon videographers to go to smaller spaces and get different angles for B-stock.

The curse of the Vari-Angle LCD is that in order to implement it correctly a lot of the buttons have been removed so most of the controls must me accessed by the Info Edit menu or directly in the menus themselves. For someone coming from a D3X00 or D5X00 series camera this may not be an issue, but if you're coming from the D90 or even from the D300 or D7000 you'll have a bit of a learning curve. A lot of good features can only be accessed through the menus so be sure you're set up before you start shooting because it takes time to change settings mid-shoot. My biggest qualm is that there's no dedicated ISO button. You can program it to the Fn. button, but they made a HUGE oversite. The only way you can turn Auto-ISO on and off is in the Shooting Menu. I use Auto-ISO a lot, but I also like to turn it off a lot and I want to do it quickly. I thought with the D800/D600 they had this fixed, but it seems like the D5200 lost this feature. I'd also like to see the playback button switch places, but I can see why they put it where they did (that's just personal preference anyway).

As for the controls that are there I like them. The addition of Drive Mode button is great, but it would have been better implemented if you could press the button and rotate the Command Dial to change instead of pressing the button, displaying a menu, using the multi-selector to find the option, then pressing OK to set. Much less work with my idea.

The Mode Dial being on the right side is good. It feels more natural here than it does on the right side like on the D7000/D600. Also I still love the Live View switch. I wish this was standard on all Nikon cameras.

Other than the lack of direct controls which is inevitable of a camera of this caliber, the D5200 controls are well laid out and intuitive.


As I've mentioned in previous reviews Nikon's menu system is well implemented. There are quite a few missing features that I miss from other cameras, but understandably Nikon leaves the features out to steer you towards the higher priced models. That's business.


The D5200 gets a brand new Toshiba built 24MP DX sensor. The images it produces are very good. Photos are ultra sharp in good light and the camera performs pretty well up to ISO 3200 where it starts to lose quite a bit of detail, but still manages to keep noise levels under control. The EXPEED 3 image processor with this new sensor work very well together. IQ  and Dynamic Range is excellent. 

Taken from the D7000 is the 39-point Multi-CAM 4800 focusing module. The focus works great. It hunts a little in extreme low light and struggles in highly backlit situations (see image below), but those are taxing situations for even the top-tier cameras. Live View works great.

One quibble I have is the tiny optical viewfinder. it's really hard to see through, especially if you have glasses on. Maybe Nikon is expecting everyone to use the Vari-Angle LCD to compose, but they could have made it a little bigger. 

The D5200 also inherits the 2016 pixel RGB sensor for metering which makes it much more accurate. 

Some folks are always complaining about there being no focus motor, but that's to be expected. These have been gone for a number of years and no amount of complaining is going to bring it back to lower echelon cameras. Personally, almost all of my lenses a AF-S so it's not an issue. If you feel you must have a focus motor for legacy lenses you'll have to step up to the D7000 or down to the D90.

EDIT: Something I meant to add, but forgot until I got back from a gig tonight. The battery for the D5200 SUCKS. Bad. With minimal shooting I run through two batteries a day easily. You WILL need at least two batteries. I recommend three. If your going on a trip where there's no power access you might even need FOUR. Yes. The battery is that bad. No bueno. On a camera that is designed to rely heavily on the LCD to adjust settings and for video the battery charge is abysmal. 


This is a nice little camera. It's definitely a REAL upgrade from the D5100 as far as images go. For anyone looking for a well-built DSLR with a great semi-pro AF module and metering in a compact size I'd recommend this camera highly. 

While the image quality is better than the D7000 the control layout is definitely not geared towards pro shooting. Wait for the D7100 if you want a 24MP DX semi-pro camera.

This is an EXCELLENT camera for the money. Simple enough for a newcomer to operate, but with enough advanced features for an advanced amateur, and IQ good enough for a pro (I did a few high-end paid shoots with it). I'd recommend it as an upgrade for anyone coming from the D40/50/60/70 or D3000/5000 cameras. I'd even recommend it to pros for a snapshot/location scouting/vacation camera. 

Nikon has another good camera.

No comments: