Pentax K200 D DSLR camera review

The K200D follows the footsteps of its forbear, the K100D, offering a budget price camera but with a mid-to-high-end specification. Make no mistake, the K200D is a compact and simple to use DSLR that makes the art of snapping a cinch, (barring some minor foibles I’ll deal with shortly) but it does with aplomb.

For a start, the camera features a new 10.2-megapixel CCD, that's around 4 more megapixels than the K100D, so a big jump for the APS-C sized sensor. Like the K100D, the sensor is mounted upon Pentax’s proprietary CCD-shift Shake Reduction system platform adding around two stops of extra handholdability.

The sensor is sat on a small, moving carriage that zips the CCD around to compensate for user movement that could usually cause camera shake and it works a treat but can be cancelled via a switch on the camera’s back. And it is here you find the new, larger 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot colour screen, which is bright and clear almost to the point of making exposure evaluation difficult. However, in brighter conditions this brightness is of course a big help.

Add in a weather sealed body with 60 different rubber seals and gaskets and while the camera’s plastic body feels, well, like plastic, the proofing against rain and dust is big plus at this level in the market.

Pentax’s SAFOX VIII, 11-point AF system remains from the K100D and uses with nine cross sensors with full user control over the AF points used: individual zones, the central zone, auto AF zone selection and of course you get manual focus too if required.

It worked very well on my test shots with a slight caveat on macro work where I needed to really tame the system. In the continuous AF setting the camera is able to track moving objects within the frame while the shutter button is half pressed and then focus on the precise point the moving subject will be when the shutter fires and this is very reliable indeed.

The camera's sensitivity range has been altered with a the ISO 3200 setting of the K100D removed so that it now runs from ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. The extra resolution no doubt loads in more noise and Pentax has done the right thing here in my view restricting the top setting to 1600. This is particularly so since the camera boasts the excellent Sensitivity Priority Auto Exposure mode.

Here you pick an ISO setting and the camera will control the rest to ensure a properly exposed shot at that setting. This combination makes the most of the camera’s new resolution and ways to effectively control it under any lighting conditions. A clever Dynamic Range optimiser setting allows you to fine tune the way highlights and shadows are rendered while you can also control the sensitivities around which works, even in Auto shooting. You can pre-assign the ISO range available to the camera in Auto mode too.

Like the K100D, the K200D sports Pentax’s auto picture mode, which automatically selects one of the cameras five subject program modes depending on the scene being shot and as before makes a helpful tool for those new to DSLR photography; a great asset on a camera pitched at the budget marketplace.

The camera’s other neat feature is a dual depth-of-field preview system; there’s the usual preview in the viewfinder and the unique-to-Pentax digital preview mode. Akin to Live View flipping the on/off lever (which surrounds the shutter release on the top plate) around to its preview icon stops down the aperture setting to that in use. Then the camera takes a shot of the scene and displays it on the big screen to assess depth of field, exposure, and focus. You can also elect to display a histogram and light or dark area indication as well, so a very useful tool, even if it is not an active display as with Live View for example.

As with previous model, the K200D gets the "K" in the name thanks to the use of the Pentax’s KAF lens mount, which ensures many millions of K-mount lens owners out there will have no problem using them on this camera, making a massive potential market for those users wanting to switch from film to digital.

And in another nice touch, the K200D has an extremely useful shooting mode called Catch In Focus. With the camera set to single AF or manual focusing mode (in other words not continuous AF) and using either Pentax DA or FA designated lenses, you can pre-focus the camera on a specific point and fully depress the shutter button, as if to take the shot. And here’s the clever bit. The camera "watches" that point so that shutter will only fire to capture an image when the, say, moving subject passes that point, for example a fast moving racecar or a child at a sports day event.

Images are stored upon SDHC external storage stored under a weather-sealed flap on the right side of the camera; power is supplied by either four AA cells (alkaline, Lithium or Ni-MH rechargeable) or two CR-V3 lithium batteries. The Batteries slot into a big port on the camera’s base while the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connectivity mains power port and remote control port sit under a flap on the left side of the body.

You also get as standard a set of eight digital filters that can be applied in-camera after shooting, to either JPEGs or RAWs. Here you can convert images to mono, add drawing effects, switch an image to look like it was shot using a high dynamic range technique (though this seems unsuccessful and easy to overdo) or you can apply a sepia tint or provide an image with a soft focus effect. The amount of filtering can be controlled as well.

Incidentally, for the RAW and JPEG snapping you can shoot them simultaneously with the addition of assigning either Pentax RAW or Adobe Digital Negative status to the type of RAW file you want to capture and with three levels of compression for the JPEGs. Add to that Adobe RGB or sRGB colour space controls, and there really is a lot of kit in here for the money.

Handling is great overall, thanks to a good control layout that includes a large mode dial on the left of the pop-up flash, a single (thumb controlled) control dial for selecting apertures or shutter speeds for example (and zooming images in playback). A "Fn" (function) button provides access to oft used controls for white balance or ISO for example, displayed options are contextual, with more or less options depending on whether you're in auto modes.

An OK button is orbited by a four-way control for scrolling and okaying images or menus and is pretty standard fare and works well enough. So, control and features are good, even with the compact 129.5 x 92.5 x 70mm size of the camera, but just as with the K100D, there's no hard button for the image quality control and unless you're in sensitivity priority mode, changing ISO quickly, even via the four-way soft buttons on the back, is not as quick as I’d like.

There's also a single RAW button that can quickly switch file format capture modes in one press from JPEG to RAW should you need to suddenly switch and this is located just to the left of the lens mount. A button pops the flash into position, ready for action, but the flash is limited in terms of power with guide number of just 13 and it also lacks some of the more advanced flash controls I'd like to see, such as second curtain synch, but you do get flash compensation, so you can’t have everything I suppose in a camera at this level. Having said that though, Pentax has tried to put most other things into their DSLR!

The kit lens is a modest 18-55mm SMC Pentax DA F3.5-F5.6 zoom that provides enough scope to start but will quickly become restrictive for techniques that are more advanced or shooting criteria. Budgeting for another lens would be a good idea unless you're an old Pentax hand in which case, no doubt, you’ll have optics to spare.

The camera's 10.2-megapixel resolution is put to good use and the sensor provides plenty of detail, although whether there's actually more detail in there than on the K100D shots is debatable. Certainly processing the RAWs pulls more information out and as you’d expect, noise is a might worse here than on the K100D at similar settings.

Results were a little soft out of the camera at the default sharpening setting, which, like most elements on this camera, is adjustable so you can control it if needs be. And exactly like the K100D, I found the metering to be conservative with many otherwise ordinary shots being under exposed by around a stop.

Add to this some dodgy auto white balance issues in overcast conditions, particularly if you use a single AF zone and lock the metering into that point, where any issues were more obvious. The white balance problem simply created an odd yellow cast to otherwise neutral tones in a shot.

The slight purple fringing visible on high contrast parts of the shots on the K100D is still present here as well so it’s disappointing it’s not been sorted from the previous camera. The noise reduction is good on shadows but less so on expanses of colour, where even at ISO 100 some noise is visible. And while colour is excellent and the camera's focus set up work really well, the dynamic range seems stilted with highlights quite well controlled but at the expense of shadows which loose details and fill in all too frequently, particularly when shooting JPEGs.

Verdict

And so, when all is said and done, the K200D straddles a gap between those on a budget and those wanting a feature rich, rugged DSLR and it does it rather well. It is not without flaws and some handling foibles that take getting used to.

But when the price and performance overall are looked at and the sheer amount of neat kit the camera has as standard, the K200D is a camera that should be high on your list if you’ve a tight budget and no previous brand lenses sitting a cupboard.

High spec, high resolution, and low price combine in a weatherproof body to make this camera a hit and certainly well worth closer inspection.