I shoot manual a lot and use histogram data and blinkies to help set my exposures. That said, my starting point is usually set with matrix metering because I find that usually gets very close and I need to do minimal tweaking afterwards (I often point my camera and/or zoom on what I feel is a representative area and lock my test exposure on that – call it “spot-average matrix metering”). Matrix metering seems so good now that I never give a thought to how metering could be improved. The D7200 also has center-weighted and spot metering modes that work as they should. I found the D7200s metering to be accurate.
5) AF Performance
This is where the D7200 really shines and makes me want to take it home. The AF array is nice and wide – it reaches closer to the edges than on the D7000, D810 or D4s. In 1.3x crop mode, it covers almost the entire frame.
The -3 EV sensitivity makes for much less hunting in low light than the D7000 and is even a noticeable improvement on the D4s and D810. I tested this while shooting that Virginia Rail in light so low I was at ISO 20000 and the D7200 really showed its superiority then. The D7000 was hopelessly hunting as the 800mm + 1.25x combo exceeded its f/5.6 maximum capability in low light. The D4s also hunted a bit, but eventually found focus. The D7200 grabbed focus the fastest of the trio.
The D7200 does great tracking subjects.
Here’s an osprey (with a bummed out trout) flying in front of a complex background. The background has a lot of contrast and this can easily fool most AF-systems. Furthermore the bird is somewhat small in the frame (this is cropped in 25%) making for a difficult moving target. I was impressed at how well the D7200 kept focus on the bird once I had it locked in. It’s not foolproof, but it gave me a higher hit rate in such scenarios than my D7000/D4s/D810. (For those interested I keep my AF set on 5).
Here’s another tricky tracking situation with three mallard drakes flying straight at me. The D7200’s predictive tracking did well keeping the lead duck sharp.
The D7200 does not have Group-AF mode. This mode is found on Nikon’s full frame D750, D810 and D4s cameras. I find Group-AF’s five spot spread to be too narrow for fast moving subjects (e.g. birds), but for slow predictable subjects, like humans, I can see why some folks are Group-AF fans.
6) Frame Rate
When I first fired off a burst with the D7200 it felt so slow I thought I had inadvertently put it in continuous low mode. But no, it was in CH and the thing just crept along, obviously slower than my 6 fps D7000. I checked the time stamp data and sure enough it was only firing 5 fps, not the 6 fps at full resolution touted in Nikon USA’s advertising. What kind of wildlife could I shoot with that?
Ah, perfect. This is GT. She’s a Desert Box Turtle and has spent over 30 years in captivity in the blazing Scottsdale desert – this is maxing out her life expectancy. But when your name is GT, it’s a safe bet you’ve had some wheels in your life. I was snapping away when suddenly the wildlife photographers’ worst nightmare happened. There was a brief blink of malice in the reptile’s eye,
The next thing I knew, GT charged.
I was lying prone, helpless, as the rapier claws and flesh-tearing beak sped toward me. It was only when my trusty assistant proffered the killer some earthworms that disaster was averted.
It turns out you only get 6 fps at “full resolution” if you shoot the D7200 in 12-bit mode, not 14-bit. Yes, you’re actually getting all 24mp of resolution with 12-bits, but not getting all the color data, so technically this isn’t a lie on Nikon’s part, but I still find it misleading. I think this should be mentioned in the tech specs available on Nikon’s website so shoppers can make a fully informed decision. Instead, you need to download the owner’s manual and go to page 351 to find out the 14-bit frame rate.
Whether the D7200 is shooting at 6 fps or only 5 fps isn’t the issue here. The frame rate is what it is and if you want a faster frame rate, shoot 12-bit, JPEG or buy a different camera. The issue is that Nikon seems to be hiding this key specification (it’s nowhere to be seen on the Nikon USA website) and this continues the bad precedent they set when they also neglected to include this in the D7100’s online spec table. This is information I’d want to have to make my buying decision. Am I going to have to download every Nikon product manual in the future to get the full specs on other cameras?
7) Quiet mode
Quiet shutter mode can help when shooting skittish subjects. It lifts the mirror an instant before the shutter goes off, making for a somewhat quieter shot. It adds a lag of about ¼ second. The mirror doesn’t descend until you take your finger off the release so you can time when that noise occurs. There is not a continuous quiet option like on the D750 or D810, so you have to just press the shutter release repeatedly if you want to shoot a sequence this way.
Nikon claims an 18-shot buffer in 14-bit lossless mode, but my tests, and those of other reviewers, come up with different numbers. The weird thing is I don’t think the D7200 even knows what its buffer is. When testing in 14-bit mode with three different 32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro95 mb/s U1 SDHC cards, one 32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro95 mb/s U3 SDHC card and one 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro95 mb/s U1 SDHC card I got anywhere from 13-22 shots before buffering out. I tested it over and over and kept getting different values. I tested before Happy Hour and still got crazy results. I tried at varying ISOs, freshly formatted cards versus half full cards, cards with intentional file deletions that might make the processor work more to fill gaps in the architecture… I tried panning in AF-C mode from near to far to tax the processor with more AF decisions and from light to dark in program mode. Even when I repeated the exact same test (manual mode, same scene) I would get different numbers one time versus another.
I wondered if I had a bad copy of the camera, but I found out other photographers were discovering this. Was this a function of scene complexity? This seemed to make some sense as a more complex scene probably had more data to write so I tried some similar tests at 14-bit lossless. And this is where things got a little crazy.
I shot the clear blue sky repeatedly and got 16-17 shots. Then I tried exposing it to the right where the same scene should yield more bits of data. Would this shrink the buffer? Nope. I tried the opposite and put the lens cap on and nailed some great shots exploring the dark side of the human experience (shooting manual at equally high shutter speed). This yielded files exposed all the way to the left with very few bits of data. Viola, I got 22 shots before buffering out. I let the buffer clear, tried it again and got 13 shots. What a heck??? I’ve tried the lens cap test several times since then and got 22 shots. And I repeated the clear blue sky test and got 20 shots, not 17. I tried the 16GB card and got 17 shots of the sky, but only 15 of the grassy yard. Confusing? You bet.
For what it’s worth, here’s some data from my buffer tests, all shot on the SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC 95 MB/s cards.
- 14-bit lossless: 13-23 shots at 5 fps, my most frequent numbers were 16-17 with the U-1 card and 17-18 with a U3 card.
- 14-bit lossless plus fine JPEG: 12 shots at 5 fps, U3.
- 14 bit compressed: 22 shots at 5 fps, both U1 and U3.
- 12-bit lossless: 27 shots at 6 fps, U1, 28 shots at 6 fps, U3.
- 12-bit compressed: 29 shots at 6 fps, U1, 38 shots at 6 fps, U3.
- Fine JPEG 97 shots at 6 fps, U3.
- At 1.3x crop mode and 14-bit lossless I got 32-33 shots, U3, 6 fps.
So what do all these numbers mean in a real life situation? If you don’t shoot continuous action sequences over 3 seconds you’ll never need a bigger buffer and you can ignore all this. This pretty much leaves sports and wildlife photographers to scratch their heads over this. The numbers were pretty consistent in all but 14-bit lossless, so if you don’t mind shooting 14-bit compressed or switching to 12-bit to squeeze out an extra frame per second I think you can be reasonably assured of getting results similar to those above. If you shoot 14-bit lossless then I wouldn’t count on getting the advertised 18 shot buffer – I’d expect 16-17 shots most times. 95 MB/s U3 cards give a tiny increase in buffer performance and you never know when that extra shot could be the winner. Forget trying to juice it up with a UHS-2 card – these cards use extra contacts to transmit data faster and the D7200 doesn’t support this, hence your UHS-2 card will only work at UHS-1 speeds. I did not get to try this with a SDXC card, which writes using a different file format, however this primarily allows greater storage capacity and not necessarily faster write speeds. Another thing to bear in mind is that this might be something Nikon can fix via a firmware patch, but there’s no guarantee of this. Overall, I find the weird numbers confusing, but not a big issue. If you need a bigger buffer then buy a D810 or D4s.
All this said, when shooting 14-bit lossless action sequences I did buffer out several times. Short well-timed bursts can minimize this, but there are some times you just want to jam down the shutter release and spray and pray, like when I shot these ospreys mating.
It only takes 5-10 seconds for osprey to do the dirty and you don’t want to miss any of that action. The D7200 only gave me 20 shots of The Act, buffering out on me, plus at the lethargic 5 fps, I didn’t have that many wing and head positions to choose from.
Contrast this situation with this one from a D4s trained on a pair of Blackhawks. I had 100 shots from this coupling to choose from of which I could pick the one with the perfect wing and head positions.
The fix? Shoot in 12-bit or JPEG and don’t shoot RAW+JPEG. Shoot 1.3x when you’ll be cropping anyway and you get 7 fps in 12-bit RAW which is starting to get respectable for a wildlife camera. As well, in 12-bit and 1.3x even when the buffer fills your frame rate only drops from 7 fps to 4.5 fps as the D7200 keeps chugging along. If you’re not in crop mode and shooting 12-bit, the frame rate goes from 6 fps to 3.5 fps after the buffer fills. In 14-bit lossless the frame rate drops from 5 fps to a bit under 3 fps after the buffer fills.
9) Other Notes
The D7200 uses the same EN-EL15 battery used in my D7000 and D810. Hooray!
The D7200 has User modes. Great again. My D4s and D810 are so envious they’re clipping their green highlights. I’ve set U1 for action, going with 12-bit files to pump up the frame rate.
Scene and effects modes. The D7200 is designed for advanced photographers who want better access to various settings through extra dials and more menu choices. Nevertheless it has a slew of automatic modes, such as “pet portrait”, that will make your decisions for you. If you like these modes then maybe the D3300 or D5500 is a better and less expensive choice for you.
Exposure delay mode. This is not found on the D7000, but is available on the D7100. This is great for landscape work when used with a tripod.
Just press the shutter release and the mirror raises, then camera will wait 1, 2 or 3 seconds (your choice) before raising the shutter curtain. This allows enough time for any vibrations from the shutter release press and mirror flip-up to go away before the shot fires. The D810 goes a step further to reduce vibrations with its electronic front shutter option not found on the D7200.