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Nikon D5200 review: A camera that can keep up with the kids

The Nikon D5200 improves performance over its predecessor, making it a great general-purpose dSLR.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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9 min read

The Nikon D5100 is a solid camera with excellent photo and video quality, but relatively sluggish performance tarnishes its allure for me. Nikon fixes that in the D5200 with the same new autofocus and metering systems that debuted in the D600, plus an updated higher-end viewfinder, and the result is a noticeably better shooting experience that makes it an excellent choice for all-around family and vacation photography.

The Good

With excellent photo and video quality for its class, a fluid shooting design and solid feature set, the <b>Nikon D5200</b> delivers a lot for the money.

The Bad

Though it has no significant flaws, the lack of an autofocus motor in the body limits your lens-selection flexibility.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon D5200 makes a great choice for family and vacation photographers.

Image quality
As with the D5100, still and motion image quality remains excellent; but despite a new sensor and updated image-processing engine, it's not noticeably better. The camera does a great job optimizing its JPEGs -- while raw still gives you more adjustment latitude than JPEG, there doesn't seem to be any benefit for sharpness or noise reduction until you hit about ISO 1600. Images look clean up through ISO 800, good through ISO 1600, and remain usable through ISO 6400 depending upon subject matter and output size.

Nikon D5200 photo samples

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Exposure and dynamic range look good, though the camera tends to produce darker exposures than I expect under a given set of circumstances. Recoverable highlight and shadow detail are in line with what I expect from a camera in its class. It reproduces colors with solid accuracy, and the default color settings don't push contrast or saturation overmuch; the biggest difference between the standard and neutral settings seems to be sharpness.

Click to download ISO 100



ISO 800

ISO 3200

(Sorry about the tilted horizon.)

Video looks good as well, with suprisingly few artifacts. Even low-light video, which on many cameras tends to show a lot of sparkling and moiré on edges as noise increases, displayed nice solidity. The tonal range does decrease as the environment gets darker, with more blown-out highlights and crushed blacks -- that's common -- but otherwise it looks excellent.

Performance
The performance of the Nikon D5200 has improved quite a bit over the D5100, thanks to an updated autofocus system, but that's not without qualification. (Note: I've left the D5100's performance times in the chart, they're not directly comparable because of our change in testing methodology; I included them because they strike me as roughly representative. The T4i was tested using our current system.)

Because our shot lag tests incorporate a significant distance refocus and exposure adjustment -- we begin with the lens adjusted for an object close to the camera, out of the range of the lights before focusing on the more distant, differently illuminated scene -- how fast the lens drives to the new location substantially affects lag time. Since the D5200 has no built-in AF motor, that performance will be heavily determined by the motor in the lens, and in this case, the 18-55mm kit lens drives relatively slowly. However, our shot-to-shot times, which don't require any signficant lens movement or exposure adjustment, do reflect the speed boost.

The camera powers on and shoots quickly, in about 0.3 second. Time to focus, expose and shoot in good lighting takes about 0.5 second and in poor lighting about 0.8 second. Two successive shots run an excellent 0.2 second for either JPEG or raw, and the flash increases that to 1.2 seconds, though the latter is hard to measure because the camera doesn't respond to a shutter press (i.e., you can't prefocus) until the flash has completed recycling.

It has excellent continuous-shooting performance for its class, 5.1fps JPEG for an effectively unlimited number of frames (more than 40) without slowing, at least when equipped with a fast 95MB/sec SD card. For raw, it maintains 5.5fps for 8 frames, then slows -- erratically -- to about 2.2fps.

The updated autofocus system is fast and accurate, and as usual its continuous focus tracking system seems to work pretty well. (I didn't have the opportunity to test it extensively, however.) That said, the auto-area AF selection is as relatively unintelligent as most of its peers, tending to select the nearest or brightest area in the scene. Although I didn't formally test the Live View (contrast) autofocus speed, in practice it felt surprisingly responsive most of the time, both for stills and video. While it uses Nikon's full-time AF for video, it's not as fast or quiet as Canon's STM contrast-AF implementation; on the other hand, it's probably fast and quiet enough for most uses (though it depends upon the lens), and it doesn't require a whole new set of expensive lenses.

Unfortunately, I still find the display a little too contrasty, frequently misleading me into thinking my exposures are off.

Shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)

Canon EOS Rebel T4i
0.6
0.3
0.3
0.7
0.3

Nikon D5100
0.3
0.8
0.6
0.6
0.3

Nikon D5200
0.3
0.2
0.2
0.8
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance)

Nikon D5200
5.1

Design and features
Like many in its price class, the D5200 feels plasticky, but solid and relatively lightweight. On the top-right shoulder of the camera sits the cluttered-looking mode dial with the usual set of manual, semimanual, and automatic modes and a Live View toggle switch extending from it. The movie record button, info button, and exposure compensation buttons are behind the combo shutter button and power switch, with a drive mode button on the middle right. The back controls are arranged in a typical fashion. The information edit button -- not to be confused with the info button on the top -- brings up the interactive information display where you adjust most of your shooting settings. While there's still no way to lock the navigation switch to prevent accidental AF-point changes, I didn't have as much trouble with it this time around. I prefer a thumb-operated record button and find the drive-mode button a little small and hard to feel, but overall the camera delivers a streamlined shooting experience.

Autofocus points in the respective viewfinders. Nikon, from the users' guides

Though the viewfinder has similar specs to that of the D5100's, and it's still a little dim, it now has large, visible AF area markers and an optional grid overlay; as I really hate the tiny AF dots of its predecessor and Canon's Rebel series, to me this is a huge improvement.

Canon EOS Rebel T4i Nikon D5100 Nikon D5200 Pentax
K-30
Sony Alpha SLT-A65V
Sensor effective resolution 18MP hybrid CMOS 16.2MP CMOS 24.1MP CMOS 16.3MP CMOS 24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm 23.6mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.7mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 16000
Burst shooting 5fps
6 raw/22 JPEG
4 fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
5fps
n/a
6fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) 95% coverage
0.85x/0.53x
Optical
95% coverage
0.78x/0.52x
(corrected 2/19/13)
Optical
95% coverage
0.78x/ 0.52x
(corrected 2/19/13)
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch/ 2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/ 0.73x
Autofocus 9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 11-pt AF
center cross-type to f5.6
(Multi-CAM 1000)
39-pt AF
9 cross-type
(Multi-CAM 4800DX)
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX+)
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
AF sensitivity -0.5 to 18 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 2016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77-segment 1,200-zone
Metering sensitivity 1 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 22 EV -2 to 17 EV
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p 1080/30p/ 24p; 720/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i/50i/ 30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/ H.264 QuickTime MOV H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/ 50p/60p AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes n/a Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/12 min 20 min 20 min 4GB/25 min 2GB/29 min
IS Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated, touch screen
1.04 MP
3 inches articulated
921K dots
3 inches articulated
921K dots
3 inches fixed
921K dots
3 inches articulated
921K dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 440 shots 660 shots 500 shots 480 shots (lithium ion); 1600 shots (lithium) 510 shots
Size (WHD, inches) 5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 20.8 19.6 19.9 22.9 (est) 22 (est)
Mfr. price $849 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $849.95 (body only) $899.99 (body only)
$949 (with 18-55mm lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,149 (with 18-135mm STM lens) n/a $1,099.95 (with 18-105mm lens) n/a n/a
Release date June 2012 April 2011 January 2013 July 2012 October 2011

Like the body design, the feature set hasn't changed much, but it's reasonably well-rounded for its class -- as long as you don't yearn for on-board wireless file transfer or geotagging. The handful of decent effects options include the clever Night Vision mode, a very useful way to take advantage of the sensor's capability of increasing gain up to ISO 102,400. In color, the results would be useless. But by converting the results to black and white, you get the ability to shoot in near darkness and obtain usable -- though not optimal for high-resolution printing -- results. All operate in movie capture as well as still.

The two-shot HDR autocombine implementation remains annoying -- you have to go into the menus and re-enable it after every shot unless you assign it to Fn. But there are other things I want to assign to Fn. In either case, Nikon obviously views it as a one-shot override feature rather than a setting you'll need to use repeatedly for a short time. Furthermore, two shots don't really provide a "high" dynamic range, just a slightly extended one. It works OK for opening up some shadow detail, but does little to bring down the highlights. If you want to do HDR the old-fashioned way, you may not be thrilled with the D5200's options. It offers three-shot bracketing up to two stops.

On the other hand, Nikon's always been there for time-lapse shooters, and the built-in intervalometer remains a key advantage. There are also nine custom Picture Style settings slots, and you can define up to 99 in software and share them among multiple cameras. As with the T4i, though, there's no way to save and recall custom settings.

Like Nikon's other consumer dSLR bodies, the lack of an AF motor in the body means that the D5200 requires the company's AF-S lenses if you plan to use autofocus. That's not a significant drawback for the typical consumer who doesn't buy a lot of lenses, but it's disappointing if you want an inexpensive body to pair with more-expensive lenses.

For a complete accounting of the D5200's features and operation, download the PDF manual.

Conclusion

While on paper the D5200 doesn't really stand out from the specialized competition -- Canon has its video-optimized AF system, Pentax has its weather-resistant bodies, and Sony has its speedy models with built-in geotagging -- it more than succeeds as a general-purpose model for family and vacation photography.

vf.jpg
8.0

Nikon D5200

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8