In the last three years, there have been a slew of advances in the realm of digital SLRs, and Pentax's K200D includes a lot of them. We've seen the megapixels grow to the point that entry-level models now sport 10MP sensors. Advanced color controls let you shift the white balance to add a little warmth or compensate for especially strange lighting. In some entry-level dSLRS, including this one, you can even find wireless flash control. That doesn't mean that advanced amateurs and pros don't have reasons to step up to fancier models. It does mean, though, that SLR newbies have access to cameras that can keep pace with their growing photographic prowess.
The K200D sports a compact body design with an understated and comfortable grip. It has a slight arc inward at the top and protrudes far enough forward to give you something solid to hold onto. Four AA batteries find their home inside the grip and, if you use lithium batteries, they'll last longer than rechargeables or alkalines. According to Pentax, lithiums will give you 550 shots, assuming that the flash was fired for half of them. NiMH rechargeables will give you 400 shots under the same conditions, while alkalines only serve up 80. The environmentalist hippie in me says that you should use the rechargeables. Pentax also says that the K200D's body includes 60 rubber seals, making it water and dust resistant, though not waterproof, so don't try using it underwater without a proper underwater housing. You can feel a little better about taking it skiing with you, though.
Like most entry-level SLRs, the K200D keeps a lot of the controls in the menus. Recognizing that there will be a fair number of users stepping up from compact cameras, Pentax includes the Fn menu, which is organized much like the four-way rockers found on compacts. Of course, the menu button brings you to more intense setup and custom settings menus. The Fn menu gives you access to things you'd need to change regularly, such as ISO, white balance, drive mode, and flash mode/flash compensation. As you'll find on most SLRs of this class, there's only a single thumb wheel to change shutter speeds and aperture, instead of both a thumb and finger wheel, as you'll find on pricier models. I tend to like having two wheels, but the single wheel is an acceptable concession for this camera's low price. When in full manual-exposure mode, you'll have to hold down the exposure compensation button (just behind the shutter button) to change apertures.
One of the niftier shooting modes Pentax includes is the Sensitivity-priority mode, which lets you select the ISO sensitivity you want while the camera selects the shutter speed and aperture you need based on your selection. This is useful if you know you have to raise the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze a subject that's in motion, but want to keep the ISO as low as possible. Even if you have the Fn menu set to select ISO in full stop increments, Sensitivity-priority mode offers 1/3-stop increments, so you can quickly get a finer sensitivity scale if needed.
Cementing a trend in dSLRs this year, Pentax includes an Enhanced Dynamic Range mode, which tweaks the tone curve to eke out some extra detail in the highlights of an image. It's a subtle effect, but it does work. There's an example of the effect in the slide show that accompanies this review. The K200D's version is a little more subtle than Canon's Highlight Tone Priority--at least the version I saw in the 1Ds Mark III--though that camera is an unfair comparison, to say the least. Olympus also offers a similar type of feature that they call Shadow Adjustment Technology, though they group it with metering modes, while Pentax puts it in the ISO section of the Fn menu. Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer and Nikon's D-Lighting also work to eke out detail in the darkest and the brightest portions of images, though they function more as software-type adjustments made to images after capture, rather than during capture.
The kit lens is the typical 18-55mm focal length range and f/3.5-5.6 maximum aperture range as most kit lenses, especially in entry-level models. It's not the sharpest lens ever, but it is good for a lens of its price and I like that it has a decent focus ring. Both Canon and Nikon make you rotate the front edge of the lens barrel instead of offering a real focusing ring on their entry-level kit lenses. Also, this Pentax kit lens has a metal lens mount, while Canon and Nikon use plastic for theirs. I noticed some barrel distortion at the lens' widest setting, but that's to be expected on a lens of this class, and a little distortion isn't always such a bad thing.
One of the nice things about Pentax's K lens system is that you can use the vast majority of the lenses the company has made with the K200D. If you're willing to buy an adapter on eBay (but I'd stick to the official Pentax-made adapters), you can even use screw-mount (aka M42) lenses dating back to the 1960s. I recently found a very nice 28mm f/3.5 screw-mount lens on eBay for about $100. I have to focus manually when I use it, since it wasn't made for autofocus, and you have to compensate the exposure manually for the decreased light that smaller apertures let in (modern lenses don't close the aperture blades until you press the shutter button fully), but it's a nice bargain if you can deal with those limitations.
Like Sony does in the A200 and Olympus does in the E420, Pentax includes wireless flash control in the K200D. Nikon reserves that feature for its D80 and pricier models, while Canon forces you to buy its 580EX flash or the dedicated wireless controller if you want wireless flash control. Granted, the Canon system offers a higher level of control than the Sony, Olympus, or Pentax entry-level versions, but it's nice to have some wireless flash functionality at the entry-level. The K200D lets you use the built-in flash to trigger either the AF540FGZ or AF360FGZ flash units. You can't group flashes or set ratios between flashes, but you can control the flash output with the camera's flash-compensation setting, which is conveniently changed in the flash setting part of the Fn menu. Also, you can set the camera to use the built-in flash along with one or multiple wireless flashes, or you can set the built-in flash to just control the wireless flashes and not fire when the picture is taken. In case you're wondering, the wireless flash works with Pentax's P-TTL flash metering.
Performance was pleasing and on par with the competition. It's also very similar to the K100D, though it starts up faster and is significantly faster between flash shots compared with its predecessor. The camera started up and captured its first JPEG in a blazing 0.2 second, though that doesn't include focusing time, since this test uses a prefocused lens. After that, the K200D takes 0.5 second between JPEGs or RAW images with the flash turned off. With the flash turned on, it takes 0.6 second between shots. Shutter lag measured 0.4 second in our high-contrast test and 1.3 seconds in our low contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. Continuous shooting yielded an average of 3 frames per second, which is slightly over Pentax's stated claim of 2.8fps and slightly more than you'll get from Sony's A200 or Nikon's D60, though shy of the Canon Rebel XSi's 3.4fps.
Images from the K200D are very nice. Colors didn't measure as very accurate in our lab test, but they still look pleasing. This was also the case with Nikon's D60. In both cases, you're not likely to notice unless you're intimately familiar with a certain color, and even then, the result will probably be acceptable. With both, I noticed a difference in the color of a red support beam at the Penn Station A train subway platform, but I see that beam almost every work day and often end up standing next to it for a total of more than an hour a week, since my naturally methodical nature leads me to stand in the same place on the platform most days.
Images are pleasingly sharp and retain a lot of detail even at the camera's highest sensitivity setting of ISO 1,600. I would've liked to see Pentax include ISO 3,200, but most of their competitors don't either and it's nice to be able to shoot at any of the camera's ISO setting and know that you'll get an acceptable print. Even at ISO 1,600 images are pleasingly sharp, and while shadow detail decreases noticeably, it doesn't fall off completely. You'll definitely see image noise at ISO 1,600, but if you're not too picky, you might not notice it at ISO 800, which is impressive for an entry-level SLR.
Pentax's K200D is a very nice entry-level dSLR. Its biggest omission is a live view shooting mode, though I didn't miss that much in my field tests and I think that wireless flash control is more useful. Canon's Rebel XSi has more megapixels than this Pentax, a live view mode, and sharper images when using their respective kit lenses, but it's also significantly more expensive. Also, Pentax's lenses and accessories tend to be less expensive than Canon's. If you're not extremely picky about your images--for example, if you don't think you're going to print your images larger than letter size, the Pentax K200D offers an economical alternative to Canon's entry-level blockbuster Rebel XSi.
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|