The Konica Minolta Dimage A200 takes the basic formula of its older stablemate, the excellent , and scales it back somewhat. The A2's remarkable electronic viewfinder is gone, and the new model's performance is noticeably less impressive. But what remains is a well-designed, fairly usable 8-megapixel camera with an impressive 7X zoom lens and antishake image stabilization for enthusiasts who don't want to spring for the top-of-the-line unit.
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The A200's electronic viewfinder (EVF) doesn't tilt as the A2's does, but the new model incorporates a versatile flip-and-swivel LCD (the A2's LCD can only tilt). Konica Minolta has also wisely replaced the three-step system for controlling white balance, ISO speed, and other features on the A2. On the A200, those settings are changed using a straightforward Function button à la Fujifilm. Unfortunately, the A200 also loses one of the A2's two main command dials, so you must use the remaining dial to change both shutter speeds and apertures in manual exposure mode.
In other ways, the A200 retains the design virtues of its predecessor. Most importantly, there are manual rings on the lens for both zooming and manual focus. The zoom ring, especially, is far more usable than power controls. Advanced shooters will be pleased that most of the camera's important shooting features are controlled by dedicated external buttons. Most of them are clustered on the right side of the camera's back and top cover where they are accessible to your thumb and forefinger.
Menu navigation and some shooting settings are activated by a four-way pad; other shooting settings are changed with the command dial at your right forefinger. We had no complaints about control placement, and the menus, while extensive, are logically laid out and quick to operate. With a few minor exceptions, the Konica Minolta Dimage A200 enjoys the same extensive feature set as the Dimage A2. This includes the now venerable but still impressive 7X apochromatic GT zoom lens that is used on the A1 and the A2. It covers the useful range of 28mm to 200mm (the 35mm-film equivalent) and opens to a variable maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/3.5. The A200 also incorporates Konica Minolta's unique antishake image-stabilization system, which works by shifting the CCD rather than moving elements inside the lens as most other systems do.
The A200's comprehensive exposure control options include all four traditional exposure modes; four scene modes; light-sensitivity settings from ISO 50 to ISO 800; multisegment, center-weighted, and spot metering; both flash and ambient exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV; a live-image histogram; and exposure bracketing. White-balance options include Auto as well as seven presets and the ability to save two custom measurements.
The camera saves images to a CompactFlash card, and you can capture JPEG, raw, or raw-and-JPEG files. For JPEGs, you can choose from six resolutions and three compression levels. The included Dimage Viewer software generates RGB images from your raw files, and it offers decent raw-conversion controls on both Windows and Mac computers. In movie mode, the A200 can capture 800x600-pixel MJPEG video clips at 15fps or 640x480-pixel footage at 30fps. It records monaural sound, and clips can be as long as 15 minutes.
As does the A2, the A200 offers a bewildering array of in-camera image adjustments. These include the choice of AdobeRGB and sRGB color spaces, three color modes (natural, portrait, and vivid), 3 levels of sharpening, 11 levels of contrast and color saturation, and a plethora of color-filter effects. The Portrait sRGB mode turned out to be a worthwhile feature, producing very neutral, smooth skin tones in our tests. For long exposures, you can activate a dark-frame subtraction noise-reduction function.
The lens of the A200 is threaded to accept 49mm screw-on accessories, including 0.8X wide-angle and 1.5X telephoto converters. Konica Minolta external flashes can be mounted to the nonstandard hotshoe.
The A200's 800mAh battery is a bit underpowered relative to its competitors and delivers a somewhat disappointing 500-shot battery life (50 percent flash).
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Furthermore, though the A2 has the best EVF we've ever seen, the A200's EVF is merely average, meaning it's mostly unpleasant to use. The camera's 1.8-inch LCD, on the other hand, is reasonably sharp with average outdoor visibility. Its flip-and-swivel mechanism, which the A2 does not have, is very handy for shooting from unusual or difficult angles.
The speed and decisiveness of the camera's autofocus system is also just average, another step down from the A2. In low light, it's perhaps a bit worse than average. In addition to a wide-area AF mode, you can choose Flex Focus Point mode, which lets you move the focus zone around the frame, or Spot AF Area mode, which lets you choose among 11 different focus zones.
The camera is manually focused via a ring on the lens, and it can help you judge focus by magnifying the monitor image to twice its original size. Although this is much more pleasing to use with the A2's EVF, it's still one of the better manual-focus systems available on a consumer digital camera. In our tests, the A200's antishake function, as with that of its predecessor, lowered the minimum shutter speed required for sharp pictures by about one f-stop.
This is about as bad as the purple fringing gets; overall, it's far less of a problem with the A200 than most cameras.
Again as with the A2, the A200 does not resolve quite as much detail as several other 8-megapixel models, though the difference would only be significant for big enlargements. At ISO 50, noise is hard to find in all but dark shadows. Noise becomes noticeable onscreen at ISO 100 and very bad by ISO 400, where detail rendition takes a significant hit. Some of the A200's competitors are a bit cleaner, but the differences are small enough to have little practical consequence in moderately sized prints.
The well-tested lens used by the A200 produces only slight barrel distortion at its wide-angle end and just a bit of pincushioning at its telephoto position. Other aberrations and artifacts, including purple fringing, are unusually low.