Digital Archæology — Dubrovnik and the Nikon D200

The first in a periodic series where I reprocess old digital camera files with contemporary software.

When it was released in 2005, the Nikon D200 was regarded as a major advance from its immediate predecessor, the well-regarded if quirky D100. Designed as a second body for professionals and advanced amateurs like me, the D200 shared many features with its big brothers the D2H/X. Those features included a 10.2MP APS-C sensor producing 12-bit NEF files, a magnesium frame, five frames per second continuous shooting, a reasonably advanced 11-point autofocus system and full weather sealing. It was also the first Nikon digital camera that met a price/performance point that I had set: 10 megapixels for under 2000€. 

I bought the D200 in January of 2006 for around 1800€. My weapon of choice until that point had been the Nikon F100 usually loaded with black and white film (Ilford FP4, PAN-F, Kodak Tri-X and the odd roll of Fuji Neopan 400) or color slide film, mostly an Ektachrome variant or Fuji Provia 400. The big debate in the mid-2000s was when or if digital capture would produce “better” image quality than film. Time has proven that indeed digital has surpassed film in terms of raw resolution, sharpness and color reproduction. However, I think that this is a fool’s argument — digital and analog image capture, whilst nearly identical until the moment you press the shutter button, are fundamentally different entities. They each have their own benefits and their own issues. Comparing them is a bit like comparing ice cream flavors. You may like chocolate or you may like vanilla and one flavor may be subjectively better to you, it just depends upon what you like. Fortunately, we still have the choice to work with both.

But I’ve gotten off track! The D200 was the first “good enough” digital camera. In operation, it was quite a bit thicker than my F100, making it slightly less comfortable to hold, but it was not fatiguing. The controls were very right-hand centric, which was excellent for me and one of the reasons I bought the F100 in 2002. The auto-focus was completely respectable and the frame rate let you shoot things like street festivals or fast-moving demonstrations. (I lived in Paris at the time and these were regular occurrences.) It was a very pleasant camera to use.

A few months after buying the D200, I went to Croatia on vacation. After recovering from an illness in Split, I took the bus to Dubrovnik before flying back to Paris. Dubrovnik is a photographers dream: light similar to central Italy, fantastic shadows, deep azure blue seas, red-orange roof tiles and craggy stone buildings. Light and shadow and stone and sea — these things a photographer craves! 

Revisiting the photos from Dubrovnik, how does the image quality hold up? By today’s standards, 10.2 megapixels isn’t very many pixels and it shows. The files look soft, but not soft in the way that film looks soft compared to digital. They are digital soft: a little bit mushy and lacking the fine detail that you get with modern sensors. They also lack the “bite” of current cameras and edges sometimes look like an object was Photoshopped into the frame, badly. The RAW files are quite flat and stand up to an impressive amount of manipulation. I was able to push the exposure two or sometimes three stops with some light chroma & luminance noise reduction applied. The color is also excellent. The roof tiles of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic really pop. Originally, I had processed most of the photos into black and white. Looking at the files again, that was a mistake. They do work in monochrome, but those colors need to be shown! 

And the quality of the photos? Well, decidedly mixed…they are mostly wide cityscapes with a few crowd shots and architectural details. They are fine. I like to look at old photos because they give me an idea of where I was as a photographer at a certain point in time. To grow artistically, we need to remember where we came from and learn from what was both good and bad. Some of these shots I would probably take the same way again — there are only so many ways to approach a wife city shot. Others I would approach differently or not take at all. Today, there would be more people in the shots and less of a focus on straight architecture. One thing is very clear to me: I need to return to Dubrovnik!

Next in Digital Archæology, the original Ricoh GR-D.

Processing information: the D200 NEF files were all re-processed in Adobe Lightroom 6.14 with the 2012 processing engine. For color treatments, I used VSCO’s Fujifilm Provia 400X simulation available in their 04 film simulation pack. VSCO’s grain settings have been turned off. 

Using Format