Nikon D200 for night photography

Last week Andy Frazer posted a 50 minute exposure by Laura Elskan from the Nikon D200 on his night photography blog. The discussion that followed in the comments blows the doors off dSLR night photography equipment discussions — here’s why:

  1. The 10 megapixel Nikon D200 is $1400, almost half the price of a Canon 5D. Yes, the 5D has 3 more megapixels. No I don’t want to start a Nikon vs. Canon debate.
  2. The Nikon D200 appears to be clean up to 15 minutes without noise reduction. As a Canon 5D shooter, I’m really amazed. The 5D is pretty clean in the 6-8 minute range, but starts to show a purple glow at the edge of the frame beyond 8 minutes. There are also D70 noise tests from the same website.
  3. The Nikon D200 reportedly does dark frame subtraction in just over half of the original exposure time. With the 5D, in camera noise reduction takes the same amount of time as the exposure. With the 5D, if I make a 20 minute exposure, then noise reduction takes 20 minutes. The D200 would apparently be able to process noise reduction in about 12 minutes. The 5D and 1DSII do allow you to start shooting again right away by holding the noise reduction in the buffer, but noise reduction eventually has to run for the exposure time. And don’t run out of batteries before it does!

We’ll see what the next generation of cameras holds in store for night photography. I’d like a 22 megapixel camera with clean 20 minute long exposures and a screamingly sharp 21mm f/2 prime lens, please.

7 thoughts on “Nikon D200 for night photography”

  1. If the D200 is like the D80 (and I don’t know if it is), then even the RAW file is not actually raw; the camera does some noise reduction (mostly color noise removal) on the data no matter what you do.

    Good thing or not? I don’t know. But it does make many direct comparisons like this one somewhat tricky; you effectively have “permission” to do some noise removal on the 5D before comparing.

  2. Hi Janne -

    Good point. The Canon 5D seems to be performing dark frame subtraction, which does not appear to show any loss of detail. I wonder if the D200 is using some other sort of in camera noise reduction technique, and if there are tradeoffs between noise and sharpness? The small web based test files look impressive. It would definitely be interesting to have some D200 RAW files to compare.

    Cheers,

    Joe

  3. This news just in from a good friend who has done extensive long exposure testing with the Canon 1DS MkII and Nikon D200 side by side:

    The higher resolution of the 1DS MkII makes a significant impact on thermal noise. 1DS MkII images with long exposure noise look much cleaner when downsampled to be on equal footing with the 10 megapixel Nikon D200. Of course downsampling the 1DSII files is mereley an exercise — why throw away pixels unless you’re only going to make small prints?

    Noise analysis and camera comparisons are complex issues. Looking at long exposure night photographs from the D200 and 1DSII side by side at 100% view in Photoshop, my friend found the D200 files to be cleaner. He owns the 1DSII and was borrowing the D200 for the test. We’re planning to compare the D200 with the Canon 5D at night when time allows.

    Cheers,

    Joe

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