With the introduction of the D7200, Nikon yet again ignored the desires of wildlife photographers. They didn’t shrink the buffer like they did with the D7100 (in fact they gave it a welcome increase), but they retained the 17% frame rate slashing that started with the D7100 (in comparison to its predecessor the D7000). Folks hoping Nikon would answer Canon’s release of the 10fps 7D Mark II are certainly disappointed. There are two things Nikon doesn’t seem to get about wildlife photography. First, wildlife photographers don’t want to pick either a DX or FX body to shoot with, we want one of each that will work together as a system – an FX body for great low-light capability and a DX option when we need extra reach. Both circumstances come up on an almost daily basis for the wildlife photographer. The second thing Nikon doesn’t get is that wildlife photography is no longer a pursuit reserved only for rich hobbyists.
A typical day shooting wildlife for me starts with the D4s for dawn shooting at high ISO, with the faster 500mm if I feel I need it. As light levels increase I might switch to the slower 800mm for extra reach (the D4s not having much leeway to crop). At dusk the D4s comes out again for the same reason.
When light levels allow me to shoot at lower ISOs, I’ll switch to my Nikon D810 if my subject doesn’t demand a high frame rate (I consider the D810 in crop mode to be Nikon’s best DX wildlife option). With the D810, I have insane resolution and that gives me more “reach” via cropping. In DX mode with the battery grip (and AAs or a D4/D4s battery) I can squeeze out 7 fps with a huge buffer. But I would gladly switch to a D4s/D7200 kit because the D7200 has better AF, even more reach than the D810, and slightly better low-light performance when downsampled to 15mp and compared to the D810 in its 15-mp DX mode (for equal subject size in final output).
Unfortunately, the D7200’s measly frame rate and teensy buffer could cost me in missed shots.
About that frame rate – the Nikon website says the D7200 shoots 6 fps at full resolution.
But check this out from the D7200 manual.
You only get 5 fps in 14-bit lossless RAW (full resolution plus full color depth = top image quality), which ties the D7200s burst rate for last place amongst their current stable of DSLRs; not good for a wildlife camera. This 14-bit 5fps frame rate is continued on from the D7100, which on Nikon USA’s website is labeled as 6fps with no indication on the “tech specs” that it drops to 5fps at 14-bit. You have to download or own the paper version of the D7100 and D7200 manuals to discover this limitation. I found this misleading.
With the D7100, Nikon kneecapped the buffer to destroy its capabilities as a wildlife camera. With the D7200, they tripled the D7100s buffer, but this is like upgrading from a walker to a cane. A wildlife camera should be able to run like a cheetah. The D7200 limps along like the cheetah’s next meal – the weak, waiting for the strong (Canon 7D Mark II) to remove it from the gene pool.
Nikon doesn’t want the D7200 to negatively impact its D4s sale, er sales. But does Nikon really make that much off the D4s? It’s too expensive and too specialized for most photographers, therefore sells in such limited numbers it surely has minimal impact on Nikon’s bottom line. It’s mostly out there to shine as a flagship of technology and boost Nikon’s reputation. It seems that Nikon feels that to get in the wildlife photography game that one should ante up 15 grand minimum for a D4s and a super-telephoto prime like the 500mm. But with the introduction of the very capable Tamron 150-600mm (read our in-depth review of the Tamron 150-600mm) for just over a grand, and Canon’s 7D Mark II for just under 2K, one can get into shooting wildlife for just $3000. OMG, who invited the hoi polloi to play? It’s no longer a rich hobbyist’s pursuit.
What about the D400? Did Nikon dumb down the D7200 not to protect D4s sales, but to protect D400 sales? Us Nikon faithful remain ever hopeful that Nikon will listen to consumer demand and release a high-fps, big buffer, pro DX D300 replacement (and competitor to the 7D Mark II). Sadly, I think we’ll see this before we see a D400.
Much as I’d be thrilled to see Bigfoot riding Nessie, I hope I’m wrong about the D400. Nikon killed off the pro-DX line 6 years ago and has not given the slightest hint that they will bring it back. I think the best hope for a wildlife capable DX body will come in about 2 years when the D7200 is due for an upgrade. By then the EXPEED 5 processor and next generation sensors will make a 24mp 12 fps DX body a cinch to produce. But will Nikon do that? They didn’t get to be Number Two by listening to consumer demand.
Release a D7200w – all it would take is increasing the buffer, which is just RAM. With more RAM to offload sensor data to, the frame rate could be boosted to 7 fps at full image quality (we already know the mirror/shutter will handle this because it can rip 7 fps in 1.3x mode). The one thing that could stop this is possible limitations with sensor offload speeds, but I’m guessing the sensor is capable and Nikon simply dumbed down the performance to a feature level they deem appropriate for a $1200 body. A 7 fps DX body with a 100-shot RAW buffer would make me stop fantasizing about that 7D Mark II over at Best Buy. I would gladly pay another $200 or so for the added RAM, just like I buy added RAM for my computer. It wouldn’t be the body for everybody, but Nikon has released narrowly targeted products before like the D810a for astrophotography. A D7200w plus 150-600mm would introduce lots of customers to the joys of wildlife photography, getting them hooked not just on the hobby, but on the Nikon system as well. Eventually, the D7200w would be the gateway drug leading consumers to invest in a D4s or D5 down the road.
The best solution right now? I might just go with a two-camera system – the D4s/7D Mark II. Sounds crazy. I can get into a 7D Mark II and a Tamron or Sigma 150-600mm for 3-4K. Just leave that lens on the entire time and it becomes my go-to second body. My biggest worry is teaching my fingers to go to the right controls when switching back and forth.
When it comes to action photography Nikon’s D7200 proudly claims “I Am Challenge Ready”. I reckon a lot of wildlife photographers will be saying “I Am Switching To Canon”.
Text and all photos ©John Sherman. Please no reproduction without written permission.