Nikon D5200 review: New sensor and new leader

84
DxOMark Sensor

Introduction

Announced in early November, just a couple of weeks after Photokina had closed its doors, the new 24Mpix D5200 is intended replacement for the popular 16MP D5100 that sits in the firm’s range just above the entry-level 24Mpix D3200 introduced in April last year.

The headline feature, unavoidably, is the new 24Mpix APS-C size CMOS sensor that by pixel count alone makes the D5200, like the D3200, rank alongside the Sony Alpha SLT-A65 and pricier A77 and NEX-7 models. Up till now it was safe to assume that all of these models, including the Nikons, featured the same Sony-sourced sensor, but the D5200 is the first to adopt a Toshiba sourced APS-C size CMOS chip featuring improved light-gathering sensor architecture.

Besides the extraordinary pixel count and intriguing sensor design, the sharp-eyed will notice the new chip adds a new high maximum ISO of 25,600 (double that of the D3100’s), and faster continuous shooting at up to 5fps (up from 4fps). For budding movie-makers the new sensor also provides 1080/60/50i movies, albeit with a 1.25x crop, as well as the more conventional 1080/30/25/24p options.

Outwardly, the D5200 may appear mostly unchanged from the older D5100, however, internally, other improvements have been made by adopting the 39-point AF system (with 9-cross type sensors) and advanced exposure-metering module (using scene recognition) from the firm’s high-end D7000 model. The new camera also has the firm’s latest Expeed 3 image processor and supports Nikon’s WU-1a WiFi adapter

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With an overall sensor score of 84, the new Toshiba sourced CMOS imaging chip in the Nikon D5200 achieves the no.1 spot for APS-C sized sensors

In the overall sensor ratings, the Nikon D5200 is ranked 11th regardless of sensor size. This is an excellent score for the new Nikon D5200 that can be credited wholly to the new sensor design with its improved circuitry.

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An overall sensor score of 84 places the Nikon D5200 in first place in the DxOMark rankings for a camera with an APS-C size sensor, just two points ahead of semi-pro (and considerably pricier) Pentax K-5 II and the K-5 IIs derivative. Both these models employ a Sony sensor, but a 16-Mpix model with theoretically larger light gathering pixels.

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Nikon’s cutting edge sensor design means the APS-C format D5200 has one of the better Dynamic Range results, regardless of sensor type

Colour depth, indicated by our Portrait score is excellent at 24.2bits and with a Landscape score of 13.9 Evs the wide Dynamic Range surpasses that of many (albeit older) full-frame and medium format cameras. In fact, it’s one of the better results we’ve seen in the Labs. It’s ranked 9th jointly with the APS-C Nikon D7000 and bettered by only three APS-C rivals the 16Mpix Pentax K-5 and K5II models.

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Although not aimed specifically at the sports shooter, the Low-Light figure/measurement of 1284 ISO (for the Sports category) continues upwards with each new sensor design. The score for the Nikon D5200 stands currently as the highest for any camera with an APS-C size sensor, passing the previous leader, the Pentax K5 IIs at 1235ISO. Although that’s good to see, it’s only a slight improvement and wouldn’t be noticeable in real-life use. If you’re curious, the best low-light sensor score belongs to the now discontinued full-frame professional-level Nikon D3s at 3253 ISO, followed by the new full-frame D600 at 2980 ISO. In fact, the top five low-light cameras are all full-frame Nikon models, currently (though that will likely not remain for long), with the Sony RX1 and Canon EOS 6D full frame cameras following in sixth and seventh place, respectively.

For an APS-C format camera, either DSLR or hybrid camera (aka mirrorless type), the results show that Toshiba’s successful entry to this market is likely to be unsettling for competitors, not just Sony but Canon. Despite that, the Nikon D3200 sporting the rival 24Mpix sensor from Sony scores a very respectable 81 overall, not a bad performance at all considering the price.

Nikon D5200 main competition

Nikon D5200 Vs Nikon D3200: Sony vs Toshiba sensor competition

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The entry-level Nikon D3200 was announced in April 2012 and caused a commotion by adopting an up-market 24.3Mpix CMOS sensor that immediately trumped the firm’s existing APS-C models. Several months on that model and that now been joined by the D5200, packing the more advanced features of the D7000 with a totally new 24.1Mpix sensor. Aimed at the enthusiast, the D5200 is a very capable DSLR that will easily adapt to various photographic genres but D3200 is no slouch and while the spec of the sensors permit faster continuous shooting and some additional video functions the sensors perform quite similarly.

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In real world terms, the difference in the Portrait score is negligible (at 0.1 bit) as is the Low-Light score (at around 0.15 stop) but the D5200 has more than +2/3EV extra in Dynamic Range at base ISO. Given the comparable sensor sizes and pixel count this is a significant advantage, and further underlines the advances made in sensor design. The improvement in Dynamic range and dark noise levels over the earlier camera can also be seen throughout the ISO range. Both cameras score well in their sensor performance tests though, and if you don’t want the additional features of the D5200, the D3200 is extraordinary value.

Nikon D5200 vs D5100 vs D7000: what’s different?

Nikon D5200 Vs Nikon D5100 Vs Nikon D7000:

If you’re contemplating whether to buy the D5200, you might also be looking at a bargain D5100 on the shelves or even the D7000 (as it’s close to the end of its product life, and will likely be replaced this year, 2013). Both those models are heavily discounted, but on sensor performance alone (disregarding the difference in resolution between them), the D5200 delivers some small but not insignificant advances.

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With a Portrait (Color Depth) score of 24.2 bits, the D5200 has an 0.7 stop gain in color depth at base sensitivity over the older 16Mpix Sony sensor in the D5100 and D7000. In the overall DxOMark Sensor scores, the ‘extra’ 4 points attained by the D5200 over the two rivals can be explained by the 0.7 stop increase in color depth revealed by our Portrait category, as well as the consistently higher Dynamic Range from ISO400 onwards (although the DR at base ISO is similar), and the small increase in our Sports (Low Light) category. In fairness, the existing 16Mpix sensors do well, but the increase in pixel count hasn’t been sacrificed at the expense of performance.

How does the Nikon D5200 fair against rivals?

Nikon D5200 Vs Canon EOS 650D Vs Sony SLT Alpha 65

Things get a little more interesting when looking at rival makes. Compared with the 18Mpix Canon EOS 650D (Rebel T4i) the Nikon D5200 is way ahead in the sensor performance stakes. That particular camera has an DxOMark overall score of just 62 compared with 84 for the Nikon. Canon’s again sensor design is very noticeable. With a score of 21.7 bits versus 24.2 bits, color depth is 1.6 stops behind the higher resolution Nikon D5200. And, it doesn’t stop there. The Canon EOS 650D has a Landscape score of just 11.2 Evs compared with 13.9 Evs of the Nikon, or 2.7 stops less Dynamic Range. In our Low Light scores, the story remains the same with the Canon trailing by some 2/3 rds of stop. The Nikon D5200 also compares well against Sony SLT Alpha 65, the firm’s most accessible DSLR (at around $900 USD) boasting a proprietary 24MP CMOS sensor. The overall DxOMark Score of 74 for the Alpha 65 is respectable, but still a full 10 points behind the new sensor in the D5200 (it is worth noting that Alpha 65 scores are limited by its SLT mirror). If we look at the individual categories, we can see the Nikon has just over 2/3rds of stop better Color Depth, Dynamic Range, and Light-Light ISO.

With the introduction of the D3200 last year, the decision to refresh the APS-C (DX) format DSLR range from the entry-level model and now the D5200 with 24-megapixel sensors was a bold move for Nikon. The new sensors comfortably out-perform the current Canon offerings in practically every metric. And, by adopting a new sensor design in the D5200, it appears to be an attempt to differentiate that model from their entry-level camera while also overshadowing the Sony SLT Alpha 65.

In performance terms, the D5200’s Toshiba CMOS sensor does well to make advances on the already excellent chips to be found the firm’s existing DX camera range and shows a marked improvement over the earlier 24Mpix sensors found in the Sony Alphas. As for the features and creative possibilities the D5200, adopting the major modules from the highly regarded D7000 is a shrewd step while other tweaks such as the addition of Auto ISO selection, manual movie control, 20-step audio levels and an intervalometer all add up to an enticing and reasonably accessible package.