As for the basic guts of the camera, the D5200 employs a new 24.1-megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor, which supports high ISO shooting, up to the equivalent of 25600. It's paired with the EXPEED 3 image-processing engine, which is equivalent to what's in its more-advanced SLRs, such as the D4. The results in low light are on display on our Samples Page - you can clearly see how the incremental ISO settings introduce a small amount of noise, giving you a lot more flexibility in such settings when you don't want to use a flash.
All in all, the D5200 delivered high quality results in my testing, both on still images and 1080p HD video. I tested the camera with the DX AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm kit lens, which has built-in optical image stabilization (or, vibration reduction). The lens has a VR switch for turning this feature on/off, and is arguably a better technology when built into the lens rather than the camera body (using sensor-shift), though you must pay for it repeatedly with each lens.
My shots were accurately exposed and sharp in almost all cases, and the auto focus performed well, almost always getting my subject in focus, even when tracking was necessary, and doing quite well in low light situations too. The most impressive characteristic was the low noise at high ISO settings. Even shots taken at ISO 12800 using the monochrome filter looked very detailed, with a small enough amount of noise that it was arguably more attractive than if it wasn't there (a throwback to high-sensitivity black-and-white film).
Videos looked similarly attractive, though not quite as sharp as the still images. As is the case when shooting still images, using Live View tends to slow down the auto focus slightly. It can swim in and out a bit in tough lighting situations or as a result of movement, though this is in general minimal. This isn't unique, but is endemic to Live View technology. When using the viewfinder, AF area mode has six options: single point, dynamic area (9, 21 or 39 points), 3D tracking and auto area AF. In Live View, your selections are fewer, but not terribly restricted - you can use face priority, wide area, normal area, or subject tracking AF. Still, in my testing the camera could focus and shoot in 0.5 second when using the viewfinder; in Live View mode it took almost 2 seconds.
Speaking of the viewfinder, it is slightly smaller than that of the competing Canon 60D, which uses a pentaprism versus the D5200's pentamirror, which is less highly regarded (professional SLRs use a pentaprism).
Key features for getting the perfect shot include the D-Lighting feature, which helps deliver details in both shadow and highlight areas in a high-contrast setting, and HDR (High Dynamic Range), which combines two images to combat similar situations. Of course, the mode dial offers positions for full manual mode, as well as full Auto, aperture-priority and shutter-priority. Five common scene modes are given their own position on the mode dial (Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, and Macro), while the remainder of the 16 scene modes are available via the Scene position on the dial and a menu. Using the Effects position on the mode dial, you can choose one of seven options (such as night vision and color sketch) by turning the thumb dial. You can use these effects for still images and movies, whether using the viewfinder or Live View mode.
But, really, if you've ponied up for a digital SLR, you should slap down the cash for a good external flash - what's a photo without good lighting? The built-in flash has a usable range of just 10 feet, which won't light up much, and is likely to get you a lot of dark backgrounds in group photos. The camera is outfitted with an external shoe and i-TTL flash control, and offers the typical full range of flash mode options, such as red-eye reduction, auto slow sync (with and without red-eye reduction), rear-curtain with slow sync, and rear-curtain sync.
The D5200 is generally quick to power up, able to capture a shot in just over a second. The camera shoots at respectable burst speeds, but isn't blisteringly fast. In my tests, the high-speed burst mode shot at 4.6fps, while the low-speed burst captured 1.6 frames per second (in both cases capturing full-resolution 24MP JPEGs). Shooting in RAW+JPEG (Fine), the camera was able to shoot at 1.7fps. In Live View mode, although I found the camera slower to focus and capture the first image, burst mode was thereafter similar to when shooting with the viewfinder.
The thumb dial provides quick menu access without having to press a menu button. When the mode dial is in the Effects or Scene position, an icon appears on the LCD to let you know that turning the thumb dial will pull up a strip of icons for quick selection of an effect or scene mode. This icon appears near the bottom of the LCD whether you're using the viewfinder or Live View mode. This ease of use doesn't quite translate in full to the Information display button, which sits just to the right of the viewfinder. If the LCD has turned off, pressing this button brings up camera settings information on the LCD. If the LCD is already illuminated, pressing this same button will deliver you to the settings menu icons along the bottom of the screen - but you have to then press OK and use the four-way control positions to navigate through these selections. This would be easier if you could simply use the thumb dial on the highlighted selection without having to press OK. Similarly, a second dial would quicken the pace of navigation versus the four-way control button.
In most other respects, however, the camera makes it easy to access most settings. The Fn button near the lens barrel can serve one of 14 functions (such as ISO, HDR, NEF (RAW), AF-area mode, and auto exposure lock) which you change in a custom settings menu. You can also use this button to launch live view, if you find it more convenient than the switch surrounding the mode dial. beside the thumb dial there is an auto exposure/auto focus lock button, which also has customizable options. You can use this button to lock both exposure and focus or either one independently. Using the AE lock (hold) setting, you don't have to hold down the button to lock the exposure - it remains locked until you press the button a second time. You also can use this button to initiate autofocus instead of the shutter button.
The top panel of the camera includes four dedicated buttons behind the shutter release button. The exposure compensation button handily launches you into its menu, and while holding it down you use the thumb dial to briskly adjust by +/- 5 steps without having to visit the four-way control. However, the drive mode button behind it does not allow you this convenience - you must go to the four-way control to make your selection in the menu. The Info button on the top panel (not to be confused with the information display button beside the viewfinder that takes you to the menu icons) simply turns on the LCD to display the camera's settings. Beside it is the dedicated movie record button, which only works in live view mode (there is no movie position on the mode dial for using the shutter-release button for video recording).
On the other side of the viewfinder, is the all-encompassing menu button. This takes you to six pages worth of camera settings: playback, shooting, custom, setup, retouch, and recent settings. This last selection is a welcome option, allowing you easy navigation to settings you change regularly, but may not be quickest to reach.
The back panel , below the information display, AE-L/AF-L button, and thumb dial, is a typical selection of four-way control surrounded by playback and delete buttons. The other two buttons serve to zoom in and out in playback (launching the index views of four, nine, and 72 thumbnails). In shooting mode, the zoom out button acts as the help button, offering information on the selected scene mode or effect; or, a shooting tip. For example, if you're using shutter-priority mode, the LCD may say the subject is too bright, and to use a faster shutter speed. In low light situations, it will suggest you use the flash.
The 3-inch LCD has two things going for it: its 921,000-dot resolution, and its fold-out, swiveling design. The bright, high-resolution display offers sharp details, even on greatly magnified images. When framing your shots using live view, the swiveling screen makes it easy to shoot overhead or from low angles. Once folded out to the side, it can be rotated 90 degrees downward, or turned all the way around to face forward (270 degrees rotation) for a self portrait.
Playback of images offers a number of viewing options. Display options include highlights, RGB histogram, shooting data and overview. You scroll through these different views using the up and down positions on the four-way control. In total, if you enable all of them, there are eight separate views. If you disable all of them (except "image only"), then you toggle back and forth between no data and basic information such as file number, date/time, and image size.
The best feature in image playback is the ability to zoom in and scroll through people's faces. If you take a group shot using face-priority AF (which can detect up to 35 faces in still images), you can zoom in and easily scroll through each individual face. You zoom in and press the information display button (next to the viewfinder) and then use left/right on the four-way control to jump to the next face.
The retouch menu offers a good assortment of lighting correction, filters, straightening and distortion control for serious touch-ups. You can also create an image overlay combining two images, which you adjust the transparency of. However, you must use RAW images, and even if you are looking at the first image you want to use in playback, you will have to locate it again once you enter the overlay image menu (even if you have used the calendar view to select a particular date, you won't necessarily land there for image selection). Most other retouch menus are easily navigated, but only having one thumb dial makes moving through numerous thumbnails cumbersome (particularly in the 72-up view), with no way to page up or down. The previously mentioned calendar view is helpful, but you can't sort by file type, say, to see only videos, or those with recognized faces, for example.
The Li-ion battery has a CIPA rating of 500 shots. In my shooting, I captured 483 stills and 13 short videos on a single charge. You charge the battery in an external charger, so using a second battery is an option. In addition to the more typical AV, HDMI, and stereo microphone ports, there is a GPS port for connecting an optional GPS unit. A wireless remote controller is also available; the transmitter and transceiver use electromagnetic waves, which the company says can operate at longer distances and broader angles than infrared remotes.
Bottom line - The 24-megapixel D5200 offers a lot of features and sophistication for an entry-level price. Its high image quality, low noise at high ISO settings, and numerous adjustments to color balance, saturation, etc., make it a camera that can really grow with a beginner and keep more sophisticated shooters happy. An adequate number of dedicated buttons and customizable functions make it easy to suit the camera to your needs, though it could benefit from a second thumb dial.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.
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