DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon D5200 Review
by Jim Keenan -  5/17/2013

Introduced here in the United States at the annual Consumer Electronics Show this past January in Las Vegas, the D5200 is, logically, the follow on camera to Nikon's D5100. Combined with the introduction of the D3200 and more recently the D7100, this completes Nikon's latest modernization of their entry-level and mid-range APS-C sensor DSLR fleet. All that remains is to roll out a pro-body successor to the D300s (D400?). If there is a D400 in the works Nikon has kept it a closely guarded secret, but the D5200 is here now and offers some incremental changes over the D5100, slotting into the current Nikon DX lineup between the aforementioned entry-level D3200 and prosumer D7100.


Resolution jumps to 24.1 megapixels from 16.2 million in the earlier camera; those of you tempted to think that Nikon has simply crammed more pixels onto the same sensor might want to consider this -- the horizontal measurement of the D5200 sensor is listed as 23.5 mm while the D5100 sensor comes in at 23.6 mm. The size differential, however slight, could be an indication that the D5200 is carrying a different sensor than its predecessor. The processor is the latest generation EXPEED 3 versus EXPEED 2 in the D5100. ISO sensitivity ranges are the same for each camera, with a native sensitivity range of 100 to 6400, expandable to 25600. The D5200's 5 fps continuous shooting speed trumps the D5100's 4 fps and its full HD video capability adds a 60i capture rate along with a built-in stereo microphone not found in the earlier camera.

Like most entry and mid-level Nikon DSLRs, the D5200 body does not contain a focus motor so autofocus capability is limited to AF-S or AF-I CPU lenses (the "S" indicates a lens with the Silent Wave focus motor; the "I" an older lens with an internal focus motor  and CPU refers to contact points on the lens base). The current Nikon lens lineup includes about 45 AF-S models, but Nikon has used the same basic "F" lens mount on its 35mm film and DSLR bodies since 1960 and most older legacy glass will mount on the camera and can be used for manual focus and exposure captures.

The D5200 body is marginally larger than the D5100, but nearly 2 ounces lighter. It also contains the 39 point Multi-CAM 4800 autofocus system that first appeared in the D7000; the D5100 makes do with the Multi-CAM 1000 system that debuted in the D80. A NEF/JPEG (NEF is Nikonese for "RAW") shooting option not found in the D5100 is also available. The camera accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media; Nikon has approved cards from Lexar, Panasonic and SanDisk for use in the D5200. The camera is available as a body only or in kit form matched with 18-55 or 18-105mm lenses. Nikon includes a rechargeable Li-ion battery and charger, rubber eyecup, USB and A/V cables, camera strap, eyepiece and body caps, an accessory shoe cover, CD-ROM software and printed user's manual with each camera. The 18-55mm kit is available with black, red or bronze bodies. Currently the Nikon D5200 kit with the 18-55mm lens sells for about $800. 

Build and Design
Conforming to the current practice in DSLR design, the D5200 features a pronounced handgrip on the right side of the camera body, which is topped with the elongated housing accommodating the built-in flash and eye-level pentamirror viewfinder. Dimensions of 5.9 x 3.9 x 3.1 inches situate the camera toward the smaller end of the DSLR size spectrum - small enough that it almost becomes an afterthought when mated up with a 600mm telephoto.

Body-only weight for the D5200 is 17.8 ounces, but the typical shooting weight (battery, memory card, 18-55 kit lens) is about 29.3 ounces. The camera is made in Thailand and materials, fit and finish appear appropriate to the price point.

Ergonomics and Controls
With the 18-55 kit lens the D5200 is fairly evenly balanced; I also shot the camera handheld with a number of my personal AF-S lenses including the 24-70, 70-200 and 105mm macro. Each of these lenses is significantly heavier than the D5200 (the 24-70 comes in a bit over 39 ounces) and as you would suspect shifts the center of gravity for the lens/camera combination forward. However, supporting the lenses with the left hand and bracing the elbow into the left front of the torso provides a very solid base and pleasant shooting configuration. The handgrip is covered with a rubberized material to promote a firmer grip and there is good clearance for the fingers of the right hand between the grip and the lens barrel/base. The tip of my shooting finger fell naturally just a bit past the shutter button and the little finger of the right hand has no place to go but curl itself beneath the camera body. After a short period of time I found myself almost subconsciously adjusting my shooting finger position slightly as I picked up the camera and found this modified grip perfectly satisfactory. Folks with large hands might find the camera bit small - try before you buy.

The top right portion of the camera body houses the mode dial and live view switch, shutter button and power switch, movie record, info, exposure compensation and release mode buttons. There is a focal plane mark on the top left of the camera body to help with determining close focus distance, but it's the same color as the rest of the camera body and easy to overlook; the camera speaker sits adjacent to this mark.

The camera back is largely taken up by the 3 inch articulating monitor; at the upper left is the menu button. The upper right rear of the camera body features the information edit and AE-L/AE-F buttons along with the command dial, arrayed horizontally. Below them and to the right of the monitor in descending order are the playback button, OK button/multi selector, playback zoom in button, delete button and playback zoom out/help button.

There are also infrared remote receivers on the right front and right rear of the camera body and function and flash deployment buttons on the left front.

The information edit button is the primary tool for making camera adjustments on the fly; pressing the button brings up a display screen showing a number of camera functions and settings. Pressing the button a second time highlights one of the individual settings and you can use the multi controller to scroll to whichever setting(s) you wish to adjust. Here's a look at the screen after pushing the information edit button the first and second times:

These settings include image quality and size, auto bracketing, HDR, active D-lighting, white balance, ISO, picture control, focus mode, autofocus area mode, metering mode, flash mode, flash compensation and exposure compensation. Depending on the individual shooting mode you have chosen, some of the above settings may not be available.

Menus and Modes
Menus in the D5200 are what you would expect from a relatively complex camera such as a DSLR, even an entry-level/midrange version: a one-page playback menu, three-page shooting menu and a one-page custom setting menu that offers six submenus covering settings such as auto focus, exposure, timers/AE lock, shooting/display, bracketing/flash and control functions. There's a three page setup menu, a three page retouch menu and a three-page recent settings menu as well.

The menus and their contents are fairly intuitive for anyone who has spent some time around a DSLR, but might be a bit daunting for a first-time user. Fortunately, the D5200's help button can come to the rescue in most, but not all cases. For example, let's say you're not sure what setting to choose under "color space", Adobe or sRGB. Pushing the help button with "color space" highlighted provokes no response from the camera. Push the help button with "active D-lighting" highlighted and the camera provides a brief description of this function. The help button can be a handy backup in the event some camera function stumps you in the field, but nothing beats knowing your camera inside and out.

Shooting modes are typical entry-level/midrange DSLR: the fully manual and semiautomatic modes that characterize the pro-level DSLR along with automatic and scene specific modes requiring less user input.

Display/Viewfinder
The 3 inch LCD monitor on the D5200 has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. The monitor is articulable: hinged at its left edge, it can be swung horizontally through 180° of travel. It can also rotate along its long axis through approximately 270° of travel. While the ability of the monitor to be moved can be helpful during image review in bright conditions, there were still times when bright ambient light made use of the monitor a difficult proposition.

The D5200 viewfinder features a diopter adjustment to account for varying degrees of eyesight acuity and offers about 95% coverage in both the horizontal and vertical planes. This degree of coverage means that there will be some objects along the edges of the frame that will not be visible to the user when the image is composed, but will be visible in the captured image. In practice this did not prove to be a problem for every day shooting, but if you're composing very finely within the camera viewfinder to just exclude parts of the scene you'll need to come in a little tighter than the viewfinder suggests.

 

Performance

Shooting Performance
The D5200 presents an active focus point promptly upon power up -- I was able to get off a first shot in about .75 seconds. Single shot to shot times are a simple matter of reacquiring focus and shooting again; autofocus acquisition times were rapid in good conditions and stayed pretty constant into fairly dark conditions, where the focus assist lamp still kept AF times from dropping off very significantly. I was quite impressed with the lowlight focus capability of the D5200.

Continuous high-speed shooting is rated as up to five frames per second and the D5200 managed this rate for 19 JPEG fine captures before slowing; write time to completely clear the buffer of these 19 images took about 14 seconds using a Lexar 32 GB 600x SDHC memory card. The camera managed 7 RAW images before slowing, with a write time of 7.5 seconds; RAW/JPEG fine produced 6 images with a write time of about 8 seconds. It should be noted that the camera has a "distortion control" feature (disabled by default) that can perform in-camera correction of lens deficiencies such as barrel distortion and pincushion distortion, but activation of this feature directly impacts the ability of the camera to sustain long bursts at maximum continuous rate. For example, with distortion control enabled the D5200 managed only 7 JPEG fine images before slowing. Suffice it to say distortion control is probably not a setting of choice for sports or action photographers who need/want to shoot long bursts.

And while we're on the subject of long bursts, the D5200 AF system did a very credible job tracking seabirds and surfers during some long sequences -- with focus mode set to continuous and AF area to 39 point dynamic area the camera tracked and held focus on moving subjects quite well. Here are two shots out of continuous bursts -- the seagull image is the 9th of an 11 shot burst, the surfing image is the 8th of 17 -- and all the burst shots were sharp.

Nikon's website credits the D5200 built-in flash with a range of up to 39 feet in automatic mode, 43 feet in manual (both at 100 ISO). The manual setting can be accessed via the custom setting menu (submenu e - bracketing and flash) and allows the user to select a full flash discharge or fractional discharges ranging down to 1/32 of a full flash. Flash recycle times for full discharges were four seconds or less -- the flash will not fire until it is fully recharged and the recharge cycle is indicated by a flashing lightning bolt in the viewfinder.

Available flash modes vary with the particular shooting mode but may include the following: auto, auto and red eye reduction, flash off, auto slow sync and red eye reduction, auto slow sync, fill flash, red eye reduction, rear curtain sync, slow sync, rear curtain and slow sync, slow sync and red eye reduction.

Battery life for the EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery is listed as 500 shots.

Lens Performance
The VR 18-55mm f3.5-5.6G kit lens that came with our review unit has been a staple in Nikon DSLR kits for some time now; this is the third or fourth review unit to have crossed my path. The lens is made in Thailand, features a metal mount and composite barrel along with a zoom ring marked at the 18, 24, 35, 45 and 55mm focal lengths.  Not surprisingly, optical performance was what I've come to expect from the 18-55: fairly sharp centers at wide and telephoto with a bit of softness on the edges and corners -- and telephoto a bit better than wide angle in this regard. There's a bit of barrel distortion at wide angle, a lesser amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto. The D5200's "distortion control" feature that may be enabled does a good job correcting both types of distortion, but as mentioned earlier severely impacts the ability of the camera to shoot longer bursts at continuous high speed. Some longitudinal chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is present at wide angle, primarily noticeable with pixel-peeping at 200 and 300X enlargement.

The action of the zoom ring was fairly smooth in a single zoom from one extreme focal length to the other and requires rotation through about 90 degrees of travel. Short zooms to slightly different focal lengths were a bit jerky. One nice aspect of the lens is a close focus distance of about 11 inches from the subject to the sensor plane within the camera at all focal lengths; while not a true macro lens, this allows you to get fairly close to small subjects.

The focus ring is light and quick, requiring rotation through only about 45 degrees to set focus from close to infinity, but the downside here is focus involves rotation of the front element of the lens, which will make for some extra work when shooting with filters such as polarizers that have a rotational component of their own.

Video Quality
D5200 video quality is quite good but the camera can record sounds of zooming, wind noise and stabilization when using the built-in microphone for audio capture -- an external stereo microphone is an option to avoid these distractions. The built-in microphone comes enabled with auto sensitivity, but there is a manual sensitivity setting offering a range of adjustment from 1 to 20 - there is no wind-cut feature per se. And while the camera nominally offers a 4 GB/20 minute recording time at the highest quality, thermal conditions within the camera may dictate that recording is cut short automatically.

Initiating the video capture process requires shifting the camera into live view via the lever combined with the mode dial. Next, use the info edit button to bring up the screen with the camera settings and set your focus mode to AF-F. Establish focus with a half push of the shutter button and then initiate video capture by pushing the movie record button. This entire process takes eight or nine seconds -- at the other end, the camera continues to capture for about one second when you discontinue video capture by pushing the movie record button a second time. The good news in all of this is that once you set AF-F initially, you don't have to go back and reset it each time (AF-S is the video default mode). Not having to set AF-F each time shaves the video initiation process down about four seconds.

It's important to stress that having the camera in AF-F focus mode is a requisite for continuous autofocus during video capture. If you go into video mode with the camera set at the default AF-S setting for video the D5200 will capture video based upon the initial focus distance but will not adjust focus if you pan to a subject that is markedly closer or further than the initial focus distance. For example, I established focus on a house across the street, some 75 feet away. I initiated video capture and then slowly panned toward some flowers near my feet, about 6 feet away. The D5200 did not adjust focus to the closer subject and the flowers were blurred. The same was true when I established focus on the flowers and then panned across the street to the house. The fact that you may have the camera in AF-C (continuous AF) for still images does not translate to video capture.

Once I set the focus mode to AF-F for video captures, the camera adjusted focus from near to far and vice-versa quite seamlessly. My pans were slow, but the D5200 did a good job of adjusting as distance to the subject changed.

Image Quality
Default still image quality out of the D5200 was quite pleasing as to color fidelity but a bit too soft for my taste, a not uncommon occurrence. Folks who shoot in P, A, S or M modes can go to "set picture control" in the shooting menu and increase the in-camera sharpening for JPEG images. I found maxing out the sharpening setting produced JPEGs that I often could live with right out of the camera. The D5200 gives you your choice of six color palette choices under set picture control, with "standard" being the default setting. There are also neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait and landscape options - here's a look at all six.

STANDARD                                                                       NEUTRAL

VIVID                                                                     MONOCHROMATIC

PORTRAIT                                                                     LANDSCAPE

I used "standard" for many of the images used illustrate this review as it seems to slightly saturate colors and increased contrast just a bit over "neutral", which is probably the most accurate of the color settings.

As mentioned earlier, the D5200 is fully compatible with AF-S lenses and I took the opportunity to shoot with a number of my personal lenses on the camera. Here's a look at a crescent moon and the sun with the 600mm.

CAUTION: THE SUN WAS PHOTOGRAPHED USING AN ASTRONOMICAL GRADE SOLAR FILTER THAT BLOCKS ABOUT 99.99% OF ALL LIGHT AND HEAT FROM ENTERING THE CAMERA. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PHOTOGRAPH OR OBSERVE THE SUN DIRECTLY WITHOUT APPROPRIATE FILTRATION TO PREVENT IRREPARABLE DAMAGE TO YOUR VISION AND EQUIPMENT.

Some critters at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park with the 70-200 (the giraffe was munching some tree leaves).....

...and a couple views of Disneyland with the 24-70.

Auto white balance was used for all the shots taken by the D5200 for this review and did a good job across a variety of light including flash, heavy overcast, open shade, daylight and incandescent lighting. In addition to the automatic setting there are incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy and shade presets along with a manual (custom) setting.

3-D color matrix metering (with G and D type lenses) via a TTL 2016 pixel RGB sensor is the default setting for the D5200 and was used for all images captured by the camera for this review. There is also a center weighted metering option that bases 75% of the exposure calculation on an 8mm circle in the center of the frame. A spot metering option calculates the exposure based on a 3.5mm circle corresponding to the active focus point.

In general, color matrix metering did a good job with most scenes, but it could lose highlights in some high contrast situations such as the white water on the breaking portion of the wave in contrast with the unbroken portion. Active D-lighting can be enabled in the camera to help with high contrast situations, although my experience is that it tends to produce relatively benign results when used in conjunction with matrix metering - results seem more consistent and pronounced when used with center weighted or spot metering. Active D-lighting is also available as a post processing feature in the retouch menu.

100 and 200 ISO are basically indistinguishable from one another in terms of color fidelity and noise, so given the fairly slow kit lens (maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/5.6 at wide-angle and telephoto, respectively) I shot the D5200 most of the time at 200 ISO in order to gain some additional shutter speed. 200 and 400 are also quite similar, although intense pixel peeping will show slightest hint of noise in some of the darker areas of the frame. 800 shows a bit more graininess over 400, but the overall level is still very slight. 1600 displays increased graininess in comparison to 800, but the key here is the word graininess -- the noise increase looks like the graininess we experienced when shooting faster films and as such is really not that objectionable. Up to this point, I would shoot any of the ISO settings for the purpose of making large prints -- clearly, it would be best to shoot with as low an ISO as would accomplish the purpose, but I would have no qualms of shooting 1600 ISO for large print work if that's what was necessary.

Things change at 3200. Up to this point color fidelity has remained constant and the increased ISO levels have manifested themselves in an increase in graininess across the frame that very nicely mimics film grain. 3200 displays just a slight hint of random noise (sort of a faint luminescence) in the darker colors, but enough so that I would tend to relegate it to small print work or Internet usage in most cases -- large prints only if lower sensitivities couldn't do the job. 6400 displays more pronounced noise and seems to me to be the tipping point on this sensor/processing engine combination -- the most dramatic increase in noise of any individual ISO step to this point. Both 12,000 and 25,600 display increasing levels of noise and while the D5200 is doing a fairly good job of maintaining color fidelity at these higher ISO levels, the luminescent-like graininess is becoming more pervasive.

ISO 100                                                                                  ISO 200

ISO 400                                                                              ISO 800

ISO 1600                                                                       ISO 3200

ISO 6400                                                              ISO 12800

ISO 25600

It should be noted that these observations of ISO performance were made with noise reduction disabled within the camera. I then went back and shot the 6400, 12800 and 25600 ISO levels with noise reduction enabled in the D5200. Finally, I post processed three additional high ISO images with Nik Software's Dfine 2.0 noise reduction software. The results suggest that whether you apply noise reduction within the camera or post process, that you can squeeze a bit more ISO performance out of the D5200 images. In the shots that follow "NR" designates images with noise reduction applied in camera; "PP" indicates the post processed ones.

6400 NR                                                                      6400 PP

12800NR                                                                           12800PP

25600NR                                                                              25600PP

Additional Sample Images

Conclusion
Nikon's D5200 sits in the middle of the most current triumvirate of Nikon cropped sensor DSLRs -- the D3200, 5200 and 7100. Its MSRP is $100 more than the D3200 but it offers an articulating 3 inch monitor, an extra frame per second in its high-speed continuous shooting mode and a more advanced autofocus system as recompense.

The D5200 produces good still and video image quality, offers quite clean high ISO performance at 3200 and isn't too bad at 6400 if you can get away with small images or internet work only. Its 5 fps continuous high-speed shooting rate gives sports and action shooters a fairly decent burst capability for about 19 consecutive JPEG fine images. The 39 point autofocus system does a pretty good job tracking moving subjects for still image capture if you get the right settings in the camera, and holds its own when lighting conditions go towards the dim side. The camera and kit lens make a light, compact walking around combination but Nikon will be happy to sell you any of some 45 other AF-S design lenses should you need to move beyond that 18-55mm kit zoom.

Granted, it's an entry-level DSLR but Nikon should have explained how to set the video component up for continuous autofocus -- after all, it's a movie; the subject can't be guaranteed to stay in the same place. There's nothing in the movie section of the user's manual and the website makes an oblique reference to the camera using "AF-F" during video capture. After trying repeatedly to get the D5200 to maintain focus during a pan from a nearby subject to distant one, I finally stumbled upon the answer through trial and error. Photographers who want to simply point-and-shoot a high-resolution DSLR will feel right at home with the D5200; folks who tend to gravitate towards the semiautomatic or manual modes will probably find the lack of external controls to change camera settings unappetizing -- you have to go through internal menus or the edit info button to change the vast majority of settings that you would ordinarily be changing on the fly. And finally, the camera and lens combination have no weather sealing yet their price point has them in direct competition with the Pentax K-30 (a midrange DSLR masquerading as an entry-level model) with its robust all weather construction.

The D5200 is a nice little camera with no glaring deficiencies and would make a fine first DSLR for someone moving out of the compact digital ranks. It would be a great follow-on camera for someone who's cut their teeth on an earlier model Nikon DSLR but doesn't want to go all the way to the prosumer D7100. I'm just left wishing Nikon had added a few more external controls and some weather sealing.

Pros

Cons