The distinction between consumer and professional dSLRs is getting ever finer. Nikon has packed the D5200's APS-C-sized sensor with more than 24 million pixels -- a number that would have been almost inconceivable on a high-end device just five years ago.
Full-size images are 6,000x4,000 pixels apiece, and even in low light they're full of detail, with extremely well controlled levels of grain. I paired the D5200 with the 18-55mm kit lens, and put it through its paces under decidedly overcast skies. You can pick one up -- kit lens included -- for around £760 online.
Build and features
The D5200's 3-inch LCD flips out, twists through 270 degrees and folds back on itself, and when combined with the Live View option to frame shots on the screen rather than through the optical viewfinder, it's great for less conventional angles -- either low down or over your head.
The onscreen menus are excellent, and the shooting info screens are a masterclass in how it ought to be done. The screen is dominated by three circles. The first shows your current shutter speed, and replicates the hardware dials found on the top of high-end cameras like theor . Beside it, a graphical representation of the aperture blades opens and closes as you change the setting, while the current sensitivity sits to the right.
This is great for beginners as it shows at a glance what effect you'll have by changing one setting on the state of the other two.
Below this, there's a more extensive set of options covering the usual bases, like white balance, metering, focus mode and so on, which saves you from having to dig through the menus to adjust common settings. Combined, each of these features makes it very easy to adjust your shooting parameters to cater for rapidly changing conditions.
It's a shame then that the lens could well be the pinch point when it comes to maintaining a fluid workflow. Under overcast skies I found it to be slower than it should have been to find focus when where were significant differences between the framing of sequential shots. Naturally your own experience will depend on your choice of lens.
In other respects, though, the kit lens is a good choice, with built in stabilisation and a shallow depth of field at the widest apertures. Aperture range runs from f/3.5 to f/5.6, and it was easy to precisely focus on selected elements within the frame thanks to the camera's 39 focusing points.
Low light performance is nothing short of excellent. Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 6,400, expandable to ISO 25,600 equivalent, and even at higher levels the grain in the image is fine and well controlled, and doesn't greatly impact on the quality of the shot. If you need to trim this further, exposure compensation runs through +/-5.0EV in 1/3 EV steps.
The image below was shot at ISO 1,250 to bring out some detail within the brickwork of this sparse and unlit church. It was exposed for 1/50 second at f/3.5. Despite the long exposure, wide aperture and high sensitivity, the shadows in the roof space remain dark, and the details visible through the door are bleached out.
However, the D5200 has captured far more detail than is immediately evident, and it's easily recovered in post-production. Lifting the shadows and dampening the highlights reveals both the view through the door and the detail within the upper parts of the building.