DSLR cameras were once seen as these big, beastly pro-spec machines that you wouldn't want to lay hands on unless you had an encyclopaedic knowledge of photography. How times have changed, eh?

The Canon EOS 200D is an interesting small-scale DSLR, designed for beginners, yet comprehensive enough for photo enthusiasts too. It arrives at a time when mirrorless models - such as Canon's own EOS M6 - are arguably the more prolific cameras to buy, thanks to speedy screen-based or viewfinder-based autofocus.

The Canon 200D - which replaces the 100D, as released back in 2013 - finds itself at the intersection between mirrorless and DSLR. While it falls into the latter group, many of its features - the vari-angle LCD and touchscreen control, plus Dual Pixel AF for speedy on-screen autofocus - will make it a viable alternative to a mirrorless model.

Which is exactly why we're surprised that the 200D exists. To us, this camera is the exact reason to not buy a Canon EOS M-series mirrorless. Why? Because it has heaps more EF lenses directly compatible, if you're a beginner its simplified Guided UI user interface system will help with taking the shot you want (enthusiasts can switch to the classic user interface), and it's got an optical viewfinder that presents a cleaner image than you'll find in any mirrorless competitor.

All that, plus the 200D is small scale and comes without a huge price tag. It's not got the most comprehensive spec in the EOS range, plus the presence of the 1300D and 800D slightly confuse its position. But if it's small and affordable you want, does this £580 body make a great deal of sense?

  • 122.4 x 92.6 x 69.8mm; 453g
  • Guided UI user interface for beginners (can be disabled)
  • Vari-angle LCD with touchscreen control
  • Available in black, white or silver finishes

In pictures the EOS 200D might look like any other DSLR. Canon likes to think its less "daunting" to use thanks to a different and supposedly simpler button layout compared to what you'll find on other Canon DSLR cameras - but, realistically, those ISO, Av+/-, Q Set buttons and M, Av, Tv and P options on the top dial will probably have newcomers scratching their heads.

Pocket-lintCanon EOS 200D image 10

Which is where Guided UI comes into play. If you're shooting through the viewfinder, then the camera's rear screen is used to show you what the selected mode actually does. In Av mode (that's aperture priority in non-Canon speak) it shows the number value relative to "for more background blur" as an example, which is a useful way to decipher how the camera's settings will correspond to the shot you're taking. Shame the user interface is slow as heck to respond, but the principle idea is great. And once you're au fait with its ins and outs, it's easy to shift it over to the standard user interface.

The other thing that really helps to break down barriers is that vari-angle touchscreen. It doesn't have to be fixed vertically to the rear of the camera, which is great for pulling it away from the body to use it in overhead or waist-level for more creative shots. Because using the camera in live view mode will show everything in real-time on the screen, without necessitating the need to look through the viewfinder (although that's also an option, which is handy in bright sunlight of when steadying against-the-face shots can be useful), it's easy to tap onto a subject using the touchscreen and shoot.

  • 95% field-of-view optical viewfinder
  • Dual Pixel AF for on-screen autofocus
  • 9-point AF for viewfinder-based autofocus
  • 5fps maximum burst rate
  • Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth LE for sharing (downloadable app available)

This ability to use the touchscreen will work a treat for those more used to shooting with, say, a mobile phone. A clear focus point appears on the screen, with tracking AF even able to follow a subject around to some degree, so that adjustments needn't be made.

Pocket-lintCanon EOS 200D image 6

It's this Dual Pixel AF system - the same as you'll find in the EOS 80D - which works to deliver quick autofocus. It's fast enough to rival Canon's mirrorless range, which, to us, almost muscles out the need for the EOS M lineup. The focus types in the 200D aren't as complex as something like the Panasonic Lumix G80, but it's still a fast and efficient system in live view mode.

For viewfinder-based autofocus the system is as basic as Canon now offers: it's a 9-point autofocus setup, arranged in a diamond pattern to the centre of the capture area, which can be used in its full arrangement or a specific point can be user-selected. It's just as quick, if not quicker, than when shooting via the screen - it's only the low number of focus points that make this system less versatile than Canon's higher-end DSLR models. In this instance, for the beginner level, that's really no problem. 

The bigger issue is with the viewfinder's limited field of view. When pressed to the eye you'll see 95 per cent of the shot you're about to take, with the outermost five per cent edge not visible. What you shoot, therefore, will show a little extra than what you can see in advance. This is typical of more affordable DSLR cameras, as you'll need to pay more cash to find one with a 100 per cent field of view. It's not as big a problem as it may sound, but it's a notable point nonetheless.

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The provision of just nine autofocus points is more limited than some of Canon's more advanced systems too. It's not the greatest for continuous autofocus of moving subjects (what Canon calls AI Servo mode), for example. Moving subjects aren't off limits, mind, as we found out when pre-focusing when shooting the Women's 200m Final at the IAAF World Championships in London, resulting in a decent burst of shots (the five frames per second rate isn't especially fast when people are running at about 22mph).

The inclusion of built-in WiFi and Bluetooth also helps enable sharing shots from camera without the need to extract the SD card. That very shot of the 200m final we shared to our mobile phone via the Canon Camera Connect app (for Apple and Android devices), then cropped and shared directly to Instagram. Once the app is connected, it's easy to reconnect again in the future.

  • 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor
  • Digic 7 processor
  • ISO 100-25,600 sensitivity
  • 1080p video capture

A big reason to buy an interchangeable lens camera - whether DSLR or mirrorless - is because of image quality. The sensor beneath the 200D's surface is a large size, described as APS-C, which ensures enhanced detail, quality, dynamic range, low-light capture ability, and enhanced blurred background (bokeh) effect - all to levels a mobile phone camera simply can't achieve.

Pocket-lintCanon EOS 200D image 3

What's interesting about the 200D's sensor is that it's the very same as you'll find in similar Canon EOS models - from the EOS 77D or EOS 80D - which ensures an image quality constant throughout this 24-megapixel level. If you want better quality later down the line then a more proficient lens will make a huge difference, such as the 24-70mm f/2.8 that we used for the majority of this test.

With a basic 18-55mm zoom lens the 200D costs £650, which is entirely reasonable. If you were to buy a more professional lens - whether one with a far longer reach to capture far-away subjects, or something more pro-spec in terms of maximum aperture for extra blurred backgrounds - then it could double the cost of the camera body. So keep that in mind, depending on what you hope to achieve. There are heaps of EF lenses available, too (which isn't something the EOS M range of mirrorless cameras can use without an additional adapter).

So what of the 200D's resulting images? The camera has travelled with us extensively - from the IAAF World Championships in London, to Tallinn in Estonia, across the pond to the Red Bull Soap Box Race in LA, and to Skywalker Sound in San Francisco - and we've never felt as though we needed more (actually, our only mistake has been not packing a wider-angle lens!). Whether stills, moving subjects, dark scenes or light, the 200D has the versatility to cope. Our one criticism would be excess contrast when shooting in bright sunlight, which can overdarken shadow details and require a little attention in post - but that's easy to achieve.

Pocket-lintCanon 200D sample pictures image 7

The sensor is paired with a Digic 7 processor, which handles the speed and processing of images. Depending on settings, the sensitivity will step between ISO 100 up to a maximum ISO 25,600, with ISO relating to how hard the camera has to process the available light to produce an exposed image. If there's not much light there will inevitably be greater presence of image noise, which shows as a mixture of mottled white and colour dots - the removal of which diminishes overall detail and colour clarity.

Generally the 200D's shots look great straight from camera. However, the precision of autofocus in live view has thrown up some issues with accuracy in our experience. When focus is on point shots deliver plenty of sharpness. Colour is balanced and exposure metering responds well to all manner of scenes (and, if not, can be adjusted).

Image noise isn't a problem until hitting those four-figure ISO settings, with images upwards of ISO 1600 showing some grain and detail beginning to lack when inspecting at 100 per cent. But as there's 24 million pixels here - that's about four times that of Full HD, like the TV that's probably in your living room - this won't be noticable unless cropping considerably or printing at larger scale. And even if you do intend to do just that, the lower ISO Settings hold plenty of clarity.

Pocket-lintCanon 200D sample pictures image 3

In short, the 200D's image quality has the same potential as a camera two or three the price within Canon's own range. The same can be said for video: the Full HD (1080p) maximum resolution is good enough, but not 4K like some similar-price competitors.

Verdict

We genuinely weren't expecting Canon to launch a 100D replacement model because of the potential cross-over this has with the company's EOS M mirrorless series. Because, in our view, the 200D is better than any EOS M, has greater lens support and potential, plus matches functionality with a very usable tilt-angle touchscreen.

In a way, the biggest issue with the 200D is the rest of Canon's range. If the marginally smaller scale isn't a bother, step up to the 800D for a more advanced autofocus system. If the tilt-angle touchscreen doesn't lure you in then step down to the 1300D and save a bunch of cash. Look beyond Canon's own range and the Panasonic G80 is a better all-rounder in every department, with better autofocus potential and 4K movie capture, without any price jump to consider.

If you're looking for an interchangeable lens camera that's not too big then a mirrorless model might be the obvious option. But with a whole raft of EF lenses to grow into, the EOS 200D is a DSLR with strong footing for a keen newbie to grow into a photographic enthusiast. Plus it packs a punch in the image quality department, able to match cameras two or three times the price no problems.

Pocket-lintcanon eos 800d preview image 1

If you're non-plussed about the size proposition, then the marginally larger 800D has a more advanced autofocus system for only a little more cash.

Read the full article: Canon EOS 800D preview

Pocket-lintpanasonic lumix g80 review image 1

Panasonic is the best all-round affordable mirrorless camera maker going, and the G80 offers pinpoint autofocus and 4K video capture - both a one-up on the Canon.

Read the full article: Panasonic Lumix G80