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Nikon D200 High Speed Performance
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

I bought mine from Ritz here. I bought another D200 from Adorama here. Also try Amazon here. Adorama usually has D200/18-70 kits in stock here. It helps me keep adding to this site when you click these links to get yours.

HIGH SPEED PERFORMANCE

General:

My D200 is fast, smooth and quiet. Unlike my D1H, my D200 makes less noise and vibration. It doesn't feel as macho, and allows me to shoot in more places more discreetly. At five frames per second it just hums along sweetly, compared to my bigger cameras which always felt like something was going to come flying off of them from all the clattering.

Buffers versus Memory Card Memory

The D200 uses two very different kinds of memory for storing images.

We're all familiar with the CF cards used to store hundreds of images. These aren't that fast and card makers rate them for write speed. The D200 uses these for recording your images.

The D200, like all professional digital cameras, has a second very high speed internal cache memory called a buffer. You never touch this. This buffer memory stores 25 frames of JPGs, 21 frames of raw or 19 frames of raw + JPG.

The buffer memory is fast enough to store all these frames at the full 5FPS rate, or faster.

The D200 is never slowed by memory speed card. The D200, like other professional cameras, has a second independent set of processors which handle writing the contents of the fast buffer memory to the slower CF card. Because this writing is done with a second set of processors you never know it's working except for the green CF light on the back. The D200 can be busy for over a minute writing to the CF card and you still have the complete ability to shoot at 5 FPS and play back.

The buffer is so deep that even under the heaviest shooting it's unlikely that you'll ever fill it. Even if you fill the buffer you can still make photos and playback, just that the maximum shooting rate will lower a bit until the buffer write and frees up at least one frame.

It takes it a 100 seconds to write 400 MB of data from 19 uncompressed RAW + Large FINE JPG files to my 40x 1GB Lexar card. As a photographer you don't care how long it takes to write. So long as the buffer isn't full the camera works as fast as ever. Even if it is full you can shoot the next shot as soon as the buffer clears enough room. You don't have to wait for everything to write to make a next shot. Even with my slow 40x lexar 1GB card, a constipated buffer and huge compressed raw + JPG Large Fine files I can make a new shot every 3.2 seconds. With uncompressed raw + JPG Fine Large I can get off a new shot with a full buffer every 3.7 seconds. If you ever get to these limits you're doing something stupid. Just shoot JPG and you'll never be able to fill up the buffer faster than you can shoot. With Large FINE Optimal Quality JPGs the buffer clears at the rate of 1 FPS. With Large Basic Optimal Quality JPGs I can run at 2 FPS even with a full buffer. Use the smaller image sizes or the Size Priority JPG setting and you can shoot as fast with the buffer full as empty!

I've had to do seriously stupid tests to fill it up.

Shot Buffer Readout

A shot buffer is fast memory inside the camera which stores the shots you've just made. Your memory card is written from this buffer. Even with the slowest card on earth you can shoot as fast as you want, since it all sits in the buffer until written. Your card is recorded in the background while you shoot. The green CF light tells you this is happening.

The size of this buffer is how many shots it can hold while allowing you to shoot at 5 FPS. If it gets full the camera slows to only as fast as your card will accept data, which is about one frame per second . These buffers are why you don't need to worry about card speed.

I've never filled up more than 9 shots in a buffer. I don't shoot that fast. With a 25 frame buffer the D200 has far more than I'll ever use.

This is the number you see while the shutter button is pressed halfway. It usually looks like [r25], which means it's empty and can hold 25 more shots. Normally you'll see a big number like [527] or [ 1.3]k, which is how many shots are left on your card. As you shoot fast sequences you can see this number drop. When it drops to [r00] your buffer is full and the camera slows down its shooting until the buffer is recorded to the card. It's fun to look at when you get your camera, but since I never fill it up I don't worry about it. You'd have to be shooting many long high speed sequences continuously with a slow card ever to use much of this.

Nikon included a piece of paper admitting a mistake: you only get a reading of 25 shots left in the buffer while the specs' warranted 27. Nikon claims this is an error in the software and claims you'll really get your 27. I suspect 25 is the correct number and you get your 27 since images are getting recorded as you shoot. It takes 5 seconds to shoot 25 shots, during which time at least two shots will get on your card and free up your buffer. No big deal; even 9 shots would be fine with me.

The buffer says 25 shots regardless of JPG setting or size. The D70 gave different readings depending on your image settings. The D200 buffer reads 19 for RAW + JPG and 21 for RAW alone.

Actual Running Buffer Depths

The buffer readout is correct, in spite of Nikon's claims otherwise. What's funny to those of us who read manuals is that page 27 warns you that the buffer indication may be wrong due to JPG file size variations. This is funny because the buffer indication (shutter pressed halfway) is always correct and it's the remaining shots on card memory indication (shutter not pressed) that's always wrong.

You can make much deeper bursts than the buffer depth indicator says because shots get written from the buffer at the same time the buffer is filling. The indicator is showing the instantaneous depth, which you would only hit if you could shoot at an infinite frame rate.

Shooting with a 1GB Lexar 40x WA card, which is slower than what most people use, I get:

At Large JPG Normal or Basic, Optimal Quality JPG, I get 28 shots before the buffer fills.

At Small JPG Basic, Optimal Quality JPG, I get 79 shots before the buffer fills. This is because the card is accepting the smaller amount of data about as fast as I'm shooting.

Any of this is far more than I need. The real limit is whether your technique and the AF system can maintain and track focus through that long a burst, which is at least five long seconds of continuous shooting. My manual says on page 27 that the D200 will only go for a maximum of 100 shots regardless of if the buffer can clear. That's ten times what I need. Note that the D70 claimed a couple of hundred shots when used with the right card.

So what, I've never needed a depper buffer than about nine shots. Memory is cheap today and my D200 has way more than enough.

Playback While Writing the Buffer Contents to Your Card

The D200 is smart enough to let you freely playback your images from the buffer even if they haven't been recorded to the card.

Even cleverer, I'm able to playback and zoom images which were on my card (not in the buffer) while the buffer was writing to the card. Good going!

Measured Frame Rates

Frame rates don't depend on the speed of your card. The memory buffer, about 19 - 25 frames deep depending on what you're doing, absorbs all the images and writes them to your card on its own time. At smaller file sizes the buffer clears out as fast as you can shoot and the buffer depth effectively becomes unlimited.

My D200 runs at just a little over 5 FPS in RAW + LARGE FINE JPG mode, manual focus. I got off 19 shots in 3.7 seconds, or 5.1 FPS. I get the same speed regardless of raw being set to compressed ort uncompressed.

In JPG Small Basic I got off 73 shots in 14.15 seconds, or 5.16 FPS, again in manual focus. I could have shot more but got tired of holding down the shutter.

Metering

My D200 in auto exposure computes a new exposure for each frame.

I measured 5.1 FPS above in the aperture preferred auto exposure mode.

Autofocus at Fast Frame Rates

Add Autofocus and things don't slow down. They just get out of focus! The D200 defaults to keep shooting even if you've lost focus in a sequence. To give your D200 enough time to catch up and focus set CUSTOM > Autofocus > AF-C Mode Priority (a1) to "FPS + AF" or "Focus." The default position of "FPS" means it just keeps on shooting even when out of focus. FPS + AF means it makes a compromise, and Focus means it waits for each shot to be in perfect focus before continuing. Choose these settings and frame rate slows while your percentage of shots in focus increases.

In AF-S mode the D200 only shoots when it's in focus. AF-S mode is silly for use with moving subjects, since it focuses once and stops there. Avoid this with fast frame rates since at default you'll get the first frame in focus, and nothing else if the subject moves. Use it only if the subject holds still. A really dumb thing is to set CUSTOM > AF-S mode Priority (a2) to Shutter at fast frame rates. The D200 will then shoot as soon as you press the button and keep going without ever bothering to focus again, even if it was completely out of focus at the start.

Formatting While Writing to Your Card

My D200 won't let me format while writing to my card. I tried this when playing with the buffers. I got tired of waiting a minute for the full buffer to write shots I was going to delete anyway.

This is good, since you'd normally not want to do this.

Erasing While Writing (Buffer Flushing)

If you're playing with this and don't want to wait a minute for all your crappy test shots to write to the card you can delete (flush) them before they write to your card.

Press and hold the trash button while turning off the D200. Keep the trash button held for a second after you turn it off until the CF light extinguishes. This trick is on page 27 of the manual.

You can play through all the buffered images while it's writing. You even can choose and delete individual images.

If you pull this trick you'll lose some or all of what you're seeing in play mode that you just shot.

The D200 will reincarnate file numbers photographed but unrecorded. If you make a bunch of shots but flush some or all using this technique the D200 will reuse the file numbers not yet actually recorded. Thus you may see DSC_0123.jpg on playback, but if you flush it with this trick then DSC_0123.jpg lives to be assigned to another new shot.

Power Switch: Doing the Wild Thing

Don't do this with your photos. I tried turning off the power switch while my D200 was writing all the files from some of these D200 buffer tests. It takes 100 seconds to write 400 MB of data from a full 19 frame buffer of combined uncompressed RAW and Large FINE JPG files to my 1GB Lexar 40x card. I wanted to see what happened if I turned off the power in the middle of a long write, since I was going to delete them all anyway.

It works great. My D200 is smart enough to stay on long enough to finish what it's doing, even if I'm stupid enough to turn it off. Even in the OFF position my D200 stayed on and wrote all my files to my card. The meter also stayed on, but wouldn't make any more shots unless I turned it back on. I did make a shot and turned it back off. It continued to write everything correctly to my card.

The manual says this should work like this (be idiot proof) on page 27.

Frames Remaining Counter

Just like my D70, my D200 firmware is defective and reads too low. It's not a serious problem and keeps you safe on the safe side. It's just not accurate.

My counter tells me I can fit 39 raw, uncompressed raw + JPG Large Fine shots on my 1 GB card. I actually fit 51!

Worse, the counter is too stupid to know if I've chosen compressed raw. My D200 also reads 39 for compressed raw + Large Fine JPG, but I can fit 87! Even my D1H had this same problem.

I get 289 Large Normal JPG (Optimal Quality) while the counter reads 224 with an empty card. Unlike raw files, JPGs will vary quite a bit depending on your subject, especially when SHOOTING Menu > JPG Compression > Optimal Quality is chosen.

Fudge Packing (Filling memory cards to 100%)

I don't fill my cards this full. With the D200 you will have to play a little game with the burst depth counter as you approach 100% full if you shoot rapidly.

Unfortunately the counter believes itself and limits the depth of the frame buffer. It will stop you early at what it thought was its limit. If you're getting full and the counter predicts 10 shots, the buffer also only reads 10 shots. You'll get 10 shots and then the buffer declares itself full and the camera stops until the buffer clears out enough space for the next shot. The D200 also indicates Full (card full) until the buffer clears another shot. The problem is that there are usually more shots left that you can use, but not a moment ago because the frame counter was in error.

If you like to fudge pack your cards in rapid shooting you'll play this game as it fills. The camera will think it's full based on its earlier miscalculation and read FULL until the buffer at least partially clears and it recalculates. This may be a blessing in disguise for fast-shooting fudge packers, since you'll start having the D200 lock up on you before you're really full, and it will free up again for another few shots. You have to play this cat-and-mouse game to fill your cards to the brink.

If you shoot single shots this oddity won't affect you.

Personally I change my cards before they get this full.

The specific reference to packing fudge, as opposed to pencils, oranges or cameras, comes from the confectionary industry. Fudge needs to be packed completely into containers without airspaces. Airspaces might create dry segments in the otherwise delicious fudge.

Card Speeds

Here are some informal tests. I tested play speed by how many frames whipped by in a second when I held the thumb switch to forward. I then clocked how fast my D200 could flip past the frames in YRGB histogram mode. I tested write speed to write one combo of compressed raw + large fine JPG.

SanDisk Extreme III 2GB: Play: 4.1 FPS. I ordered one

Lexar 1GB 40x WA: Play: 3.5 FPS. YRGB: 1.175s. Record: 2.5s

Lexar 512MB 40x WA: Play 4.1 FPS. YRGB: 1.135s. Record: 5.9s

1GB IMB/iomega microdrive: Play: 3.75 FPS. YRGB: 1.125s Record: 5.3s

Crappy old Microtech 256MB (February 2002): Play: 5.06 FPS. YRGB: 1.085s. Record: 11.8s.

 

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