Review - Astrophotography with the Nikon D7200 DSLR
Posted: 16 April 2015
Nikon D7200 DSLR
Kit with 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens
When Nikon announced the new 24 MB D7200 DSLR on 1 March 2015, I quickly became intrigued by two of its new features: native ISO up to 25,600 with expanded ISO to 102,400 (black and white only) and 60fps HD video recording. I've had my 16 MB Nikon D7000 for 4.5 years and it is still a good camera, but I decided to upgrade to get the way higher native ISO for astrophotography. And the ISO 102,400 B&W mode would be interesting to try for astrophotography. The 60fps video would come in handy for planetary imaging and ISS moon/sun transits. All my D7000 accessories would work with the D7200 so there would be nothing new to buy. I ordered the Nikon D7200 DSLR Kit from OPT on 17 March 2015. Shipping of the new camera was to be mid-April, according to the Nikon Press Release. While waiting for my D7200 to arrive I downloaded and read the D7200 DSLR User's Manual (20 MB PDF).
The camera arrived on 2 April 2015. After unboxing it I took this comparison photo of the D7000 (left) and D7200 (right):
I checked out my two extra lenses: the Nikon 70-300mm VR and the Rokinon 8mm 180° Fisheye; both worked fine. I then configured the camera's settings similar to what I used with the D7000 DSLR. Finally, I checked out using my ML-L3 wireless remote and my Vello Wireless ShutterBoss Timer Remote. The D7200 does not save the "use ML-L3" setting when the camera is powered off. So I added the ML-L3 menu item to my personalized menu. Enabling the ML-L3 wireless remote locks up the mirror on the first press and then opens the shutter on the second, closing it on the 3rd press (in bulb or time mode). The Vello ShutterBoss also worked and there was no need to enable it from any menu. It worked as expected. I suspect I'll be using the Vello remote more often with the D7200 than the ML-L3. With the D7000 I frequently used the ML-L3 when doing short exposures (i.e., 30 seconds or less) and used the Vello for longer exposures (>30 seconds). But since the ML-L3 has to be enabled for each use, it might be simpler to just connect the Vello to the camera for astrophotography sessions.
Besides the higher ISO and faster frames per second video modes, there are a couple of other new features worth mentioning as they relate to astrophotography:
1. This model DSLR has eliminated the optical low-pass filter (OLPF), known as an anti-aliasing filter, and should provide sharper images.
2. The D7200 has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. The inclusion of native Wi-Fi provides connectivity from your smartphone or tablet to download images directly from the camera and to control some functions of the camera using the free Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility (WMU) for iOS and Android. The iOS manual is available from Nikon.
Specifically, you can do the following from the smartphone/tablet device app:
a. Display the view through the camera lens (or telescope). Note: the camera's viewfinder and Live View screen go dark.
b. Focus by tapping on the app screen. Not applicable for astrophotography. Note: you can not adjust the camera exposure settings with the app. Nor can you change exposure settings on the camera when the phone is connected and in the "Take photos" mode; you have to exit the Take Photos mode (but you can leave the app running), change the camera settings manually, and then tap "Take photos" again.
c. Take the photo by tapping the shutter icon in the app. This takes the photo, which is first stored on the camera's SD memory card and then optionally downloaded to the device. Note: you can do exposures longer than 30 seconds by setting the camera shutter speed to "bulb" and then tap the shutter icon once to start the exposure and then tap again to end the exposure. Being able to use your smartphone/table to take photos makes doing some types of astrophotography much easier and avoids creating image vibrations since you don't have to touch the camera's shutter button.
d. Take photos using a self-timer delay of 2 seconds.
e. View photos on the camera memory card or on the device.
f. Manually or automatically sync the camera date/time to the device time. I was always forgetting to update the time in my D7000 camera, which drifted somewhat, so this is a nice feature for me.
g. Specify whether or not to password protect the Wi-Fi connection.
Unfortunately, you can NOT start/stop video recording with the app. Video recording remains a manual operation (unless you have a compatible remote), i.e., touch the video recording button on the camera, possibly creating image vibrations at the beginning and ending of your video.
Once you have the photo(s) on your device, you can edit them (in the iOS Photos app) and email them or post them to social media. Raw images are converted to JPEG for display on the device. If the camera is set to save Raw+JPEG then the JPEG version is downloaded to the device. Image size may be modified as necessary.
I used my iPhone 5s to connect to the D7200 Wi-Fi. I enabled network security and then used the WMU app to view what the camera was seeing, take a photo, and download the photo to the iPhone. It all worked very nicely. I then discovered, as I feared, that Mac OS X Yosemite does not yet support the D7200 Raw format. Consequently, until the new camera Raw format is supported, I had to set the camera to use JPEG at the highest quality and image size. (Unfortunately, that would limit my initial astrophotography since editing options are limited for JPEG vs Raw.) Once the phone was connected to the D7200 you can see some info and set how to take photos:
While connected you can take photos or view photos:
When taking photos you see a live view of what the camera sees (below left). Tapping the Camera button at the bottom of the screen takes the photo and saves it on the camera memory card and optionally downloads it to the phone. Viewing photos (below right) lets you select a photo and do further operations. These two screen captures were taken during the Total Lunar Eclipse, 4 April 2015. The eclipse was the first astrophotography with the D7200.
A major feature missing from the app is being able to do timed exposures, such as leaving the shutter open for 1, 2, or 5 minutes. To do these long exposures you will need to watch a clock when using the camera "bulb" setting; you press the Camera button once to start the exposure and then again to end the exposure. Unfortunately, the clock at the top of the phone screen only shows hours and minutes, but not seconds. The live view on the phone screen ends when doing these long exposures. Note that "time" mode is not allowed from the app. Even with these limitations, using the WMU app definitely has a use when doing astrophotography with the D7200.
The D7200 DSLR provides "Interval Timer Shooting" where you can specify the interval between photographs (in hours, minutes, and seconds) and how many photographs to take. This would seem to be a good thing for doing multiple astrophotographs for later image stacking. However, the Interval Timer Shooting mode can NOT be used with the Mirror-Up release mode, which means that each shot would induce vibrations in the telescope view, possibly ruining any images. So, a programmable shutter release is still desirable for astrophotography.
There are several image sizes (in pixels) available. In the full-frame DX mode: 6000x4000, 4496x3000, and 2992x2000. In the 1.3X crop mode: 4800x3200, 3600x2400, and 2400x1600. For most of my photography, both general and astrophotography, I expect to use 6000x4000. There are also several video frame size and frames per second settings. When using the 60 fps video recording to get more video frames for planet image stacking or satellite passes, you have to use the 1.3X crop factor.
There isn't a lot of physical change with the D7200 vs my old D7000, although the 18-140mm zoom lens on the D7200 is slightly longer than the 18-105mm zoom lens on the D7000. A small change I noticed is what ISN'T included in the box now. The D7000 camera came with a lens hood for the Kit lens, a protective plastic cover for the large LCD screen, and a protective cover for the hot shoe. These are NOT included with the D7200, but are available for purchase separately.
There are two camera body changes that are going to take me some time to get used to. The first is that there is a button that now needs to be pressed to change settings on the Mode Dial (Auto, P, A, S, M, etc). I never had a problem with the Mode Dial on the D7000 (or D70) rotating on its own so I'm not certain why Nikon felt it needed to add a lock button to the Mode Dial on the D7200. The other body change is that the position of the -/ISO and +/Qual buttons to the left of the large viewscreen have been reversed (for some reason). I used these buttons frequently on the D7000 and old habits die hard.
There are some changes in firmware, but most of these are understandable or at least tolerable, but there are two that are very unhelpful, especially when doing astrophotography. These are discussed in the next two paragraphs.
1. The first annoying change is when using Live View. The D7200 has separate exposure settings for Photo vs Movie shooting (the D7000 did not), and while that is a nice feature you do have to confirm you are using the correct exposure settings when switching shooting modes. When doing photos, the D7200 Live View screen is at a fixed brightness and does not change when making exposure setting changes (the D7000 Live View did change), but the D7200 does change in Movie Live View. This means that you can not use Live View to preview the exposure setting when Photo shooting; you have to preview it in Movie shooting mode and then set the Photo shooting exposure setting to match what you used in Movie mode. For astrophotography this means you will spend more time working to get a good exposure on objects like the Moon and planets. Photo Live View mode also does not allow zooming in (Movie Live View mode does). This limits its usefulness when focusing, requiring you to switch to Movie Live View, and possibly change the exposure settings.
2. The second change in firmware that really annoys me is when pressing the -/ISO button to change the ISO setting. On the D7000 DSLR you could see the ISO setting change in the viewfinder and in a corner on the large viewscreen if "Live View" was on. On the D7200 you can still see the change in the viewfinder but a bright white display ALWAYS appears on the large viewscreen. The display does not turn off immediately when releasing the button, but goes off using whatever screen delay you have configured for all display screens. When looking through the viewfinder this display is not helpful and in fact is a distraction, especially when in the dark. When doing astrophotography this bright white display impacts your eye dark adaptation. Unfortunately, there seems to be no menu option to disable this unwanted display.
That's the basics about the D7200 DSLR camera.
See Page 2 to read about using the D7200 DSLR for astrophotography.
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