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.
Nikon doesn’t listen to its customers.
Will someone please summarize something for me?
I currently shoot with a D810. I shoot a mixed bag of subject matter. Would it behoove me, or not, to pick up a D7200 for the extra reach for shooting distant eagles – taking the D810s DX mode, pixel pitch and pixel density into consideration?
I have just read most of the posts here, I have ordered the D7200 two days ago.
I currently use a D3 and D300 on a 500vr (with 1.4 and 1.7tc) to shoot wildlife with.
99% of the shots I shoot are shot with the D300 because I just need the extra “DX-reach”. I don’t feel the need for dslr with a higher frame rate, what I looked for was a dslr with a very very good AF system and much better high iso performance. So, the D7200 seems to be a stunning camera at a remarkable price.
The body will be brought to my doorstep next Monday/Thursday, the battery grip (mb-d15), two extra batteries and lexar cards are already in my possession.
Looking forward to see the details of these high resolution files.
The only remark I would like to give here is: That I prefer to be able to use the superior D4 and D4s batteries in any original Nikon battery grip you get. Just like it is the case with the D300 grip. That’s all for me :-)
Happy shooting … greetings from Belgium
Nikon’s 12 bit NEF compressed files are no different in quality than 14 bit lossless compressed files…Nikon has extensively tested this and have legally promised that the two file levels of compression are completely indistinguishable from one another… So, in actuality, Nikon has improved upon the 14 bit reality by creating a SMALLER 12 bit file with the same quality. (More space on camera, and on the computer.) That’s a good thing… Also, that means that we ARE able to shoot at 6fps without consequence.
A 12 bit compressed file has the same quality as an uncompressed 14 bit file?
A 14 bit file encodes 4 times as much information as a 12 bit file – and you think that after throwing away a proportion of the information from the 12 bit file, the two end up the same?
That’s rather sloppy reasoning if I may say.
I think that perhaps what you are trying to say is that as 12 bit capture already produces excellent image quality, increasing the bit depth to 14 bits only makes a minimal perceived difference – and that is true – as far as it goes.
However, the 2-bit difference between 12 and 14 bit is mostly applied to shadow detail and especially colour information in the shadow regions, so while at lower ISO values the differences may be, in practical terms imperceptible, at higher ISOs these do become visible – although noise has a dithering effect which can mask this to some degree.
But the real advantage of high bit depth comes into its own in post processing where large and/or multiple editing steps eat up tonal levels causing banding/posterisation. Here, high bit depth provides more latitude to cope with this without running into image quality issues.
So for me the take home message is, if you shoot at normal ISO and don’t make large, heavily edited prints the difference between 12 and 14 bits will probably never be an issue.
If however, you shoot at higher ISO and make large complex prints 14 bits will be helpful.
Betty. Thank you for your thoughtful and informative response. You have taught me a lot about 12 bit vs.14 bit captures, and I appreciate that you took the time to explain it so well to me, (To us)… I especially like the fact that you were polite and factual in your response to me. Something that many could learn. (Read earlier posts here.)
Since I just bought the Nikon D7200 I guess I am feeling a bit defensive about it’s purchase. She’s the fastest camera I’ve ever owned and I am finding it difficult to complain about it.
I thought I was just being my usual blunt self (must be going soft in my old age), but thanks.
The D7200 is a great camera, so no need to feel defensive.
Cameras and lenses today are pretty much all brilliant compared to what was available in the days of film or even 5 years ago and the pace of improvement is ever faster.
Now I am going to rude again.
There seems to be such a general sense of unjustified entitlement and unreasonable dissatisfaction nowadays, that no matter what the camera manufacturers do, it will never be enough for some. Whatever camera, lens or software is released, it seems always to have been ‘dumbed down’, ‘crippled’ or made ‘inadequate’ for a few. These photographic prima donnas apparently spend their time shooting high flying swifts at dusk in 100 frame bursts at 15fps using the finest optics that money can buy – so they can pixel peep the outermost corners their underexposed and poorly composed 800 x 600px JPEGs in their bedrooms of an evening.
There are exceptions.
Some photographers really do need a particular feature such as exceptional high ISO performance, high frame rates or outstanding resolution, but for most it’s just geekery, status and chest beating.
And the ones who shout loudest are usually the ones most reluctant to show their results.
Personally, I use the equipment that best suits my needs and accept that no camera, lens or piece of software can be the best at everything all of the time. There will always be tradeoffs and limitations.
Good photographers get around those and get on with the job.
I am friends with a Canadian photographer that would shoot with a cardbord box and pinhole and would still get better photos that me. Both of us have gone from Pentax 6×7 shooting birds and whales, can you imagine? The weakest day with my D 7200 still beats the best day with my 6×7 when it comes to action/wildlife photography. I worked in the retail camera industry before the age of digital. It was always about lens quality. So when shooting 35mm I would always use Nikon. (I couldnt afford Leica.)
Living and shooting in Washington State and British Columbia light can be an issue, especially in the winter. Im not looking for 100 FPS. Coming from medium format, its all about light and shutter speed. One of my old friends who was a famous pro in Washington state showed me that even the first Canon Digital camera had better resolution than his 4×5 camera shots.
What I really want to know is to how to set up my D7200 for focus and exposure under low light. Many times I resort to manual focus shooting through tree limbs. Any help or advise would be greatly appreciated.
Also what mode? S,P, A, M, Auto, Ive used them all and under good light conditions for action photos they all can work but what is the best for low light conditions?
I still have the D7100. Other than the buffer size, I find the camera to have everything I want. Another user gave me a piece of advice that has really made a difference when it comes to the buffer and missing shots. The suggestion is to use only the fastest cards, which can then record and hold more images while the buffer catches up. I find that to be quite helpful and solves the problem somewhat. This has made the camera quite satisfactory. While I own the fast D3 and a D800, I think the D7100 and now the D7200 deserve a less insulting moniker. I don’t expect a model designed for a wide variety of users, from rank amateur to pro, at a decent price to measure up to the performance of a pro model. I like the D7100 a lot.
It’s the age old conundrum…Canon is Flash with the fast frame rapes and Nikon is Image quality based. The D7200 blows away the 7DM2 in image quality. Pick your poison.
Good article and discussions. I’ve been shooting with a D7000 (deliberately avoided the D7100 due to small buffer) and struggled with a 1 series V3 (lots of IQ limitations). Then I borrowed my friend’s 7DMk2 !! Wow, what a relief it is. Focusing is fast, frame rate is fast enough to give me lots of options on wing positions and pose, plenty enough buffer. Not to mention how quiet it was compared to my D7000. The V3 is actually more quiet. Dynamic range, like the recoverable details in shadows aren’t quite as good as the Nikon DSLRs (especially compared to the D800). Also tried out the D7200 for half a day. Focusing is really good. Love the dynamic range and colors. Wished it had more frame rate. I don’t shoot small birds, so I can live with 7 or 8 fps, though would prefer more, of course. Buffer is probably adequate for me, but if the fps goes up, I’d like to see 5 seconds at full 14 bit RAW. With the Canon, I got more hits, and that is what matters to me. I am not a pro, I don’t sell my photos. Nor can I justify the cost of the Nikon pro bodies and super-telephoto lenses. Like John Sherman, I am seriously thinking about switching to Canon.
Why don’t you use NX1 with 15fps 28MP APS sensor? It has the best attributes for nature photographers (for now)
I think a better topic with much of the same content could be “Why Nikon need to release a pro dx body” The D7000 series cameras are semi-pro at best, they never claimed to be pro bodies – Nikon need to finally replace the D2Xs.[The D3 was full frame] They never had a pro dx body since then. The D7000 series was a step above the D90 but a step below the D300. Hopefully their next release will be a 24 meg D9000 with 12fps rather than the much anticipated D400 which I think will never happen.
thanks at lot for an interesting article even if I’m not using Nikon. I’m basically a wildlife shooter and I am probably one of those guys in the group “rich hobbyist”. I hope that doesn’t disqualify me from having an opinion.
Some time ago I acquired a Canon EOS 7D MkII and a Tamron 150-600 mm, and like you speculated at the end of your article those two have not been apart since the lens was mounted. I find it a superb combination in almost every aspect. I like (and use!) the high frame rate and the buffer and when you come “on terms” with the AF-system you might have a number of good shots to choose from.
My second camera is a EOS 1DC (I shoot a lot of video) and on this one lenses are frequently changed.
My third camera is a Sony a7S with mostly Canon lenses for video in really low light conditions.
Since I switched over to FX bodies with EOS 5D I have more an more missed a fast DX camera, but now it´s here. Let’s hope that Nikon soon give its fans something like the 7DMkII – or better!