Pentax is the Rodney Dangerfield of camera companies—they just don’t get any respect. The fact they operate on a shoestring budget, have recently been taken over by lens-maker Hoya and have as much clout with your local mega-retailer as I do may have something to do with it. Many photographers made their bones with Pentax K series cameras (back in the film days) so there’s a bit of nostalgia for the brand. Most new shooters don’t know Pentax from Pampers. This is too bad because the company makes decent D-SLRs—forget their point-and-shoots since they’re light years behind Canon and Sony. With this sad tale on the counter, DigitalTrends was happy to receive Pentax’s new entry-level D-SLR, the 10.2-megapixel K200D which costs $799 USD with the basic 3x 18-55mm lens–about the going price for an introductory 2008 D-SLR. Yes you can get the older 8MP Canon Rebel XTi and 6MP Nikon D40 for less but why bother when you can a new one with higher resolution? And you know you won’t pay $799 USD—more like $725– for this kit since Pentax doesn’t have the cachet of the new 12MP Canon XSi, 10MP Nikon D60 or recently reviewed Sony DSLR-A350 . Let’s see if this one gets a little respect or not…
Features and Design
Gee—another all black D-SLR. I’m shocked to see it. Not really, since almost all digital single lens reflex cameras look alike—forget a bright, shiny pink one like the new Fujifilm FinePix Z100fd point-and-shoot. Utilitarian is the word for D-SLRs and that’s what you get. It measures 5.25 x 3.74 x 2.9 and weighs a solid 22.1 ounces (body only), 33.4 with batteries and kit lens.
The Pentax is different than most D-SLRs since it uses four AAs instead of a proprietary lithium-ion battery. This can be a life-saver when you need some extra juice since you can pick up AAs practically anywhere. As a nice gesture Pentax supplies four lithium AAs so all you really need is a speedy SDHC card (2 gigs would do) and you’re ready to start taking photos. Pentax states the supplied batteries will last for 1,100 shots for “normal” use but if you use the flash it drops to 550. Still, this is a decent number. Traditional alkalines last for only 200 in normal use.
Also different is the fact this camera is weather- and dust-proof, meaning it has loads of gaskets to keep the elements at bay. I’m going to take the company’s word for it because I really didn’t have the heart to take this D-SLR into the shower with me—and the sun’s been shining for awhile now. That said this feature moves the K200D above other sub-$800 USD models.
The K200D has a Pentax K-mount and it accepts K-, KA-, KAF- and KAF2 lenses so those with older glass can use them. Since Pentax has been around as long as the hills, you have a ton to choose from. Like Sony and Olympus D-SLRs, it has a built-in sensor shake reduction system to help eliminate blur. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot more affordable than purchasing stabilized lenses which Canon and Nikon make you do. Sensor-shift models are forcing the Big Two to include IS lenses with new kits (Canon XSi and Nikon D60). As we’ve said, competition is a wonderful thing.
On the front is an a self-timer lamp, a switch to move between manual and auto focus, a button to shoot RAW files and a few subtle logos.
The top of the K200D has something not typically found on entry-level D-SLRs—an LCD display so you can look down and quickly check your settings depending on the choice made via the mode dial. In Auto you’ll see the number of images left of the card, battery life, flash mode, shutter speed, aperture and so on. This is very handy and a big plus for day-to-day shooting. Near the screen is a solid pistol grip that holds the batteries. The shutter button is surrounded by the power on/off control and nearby is the exposure compensation button as well as the Green button that puts the camera into Auto Exposure. You’ll also find the hot shoe and auto pop-up flash.
The main mode dial is your key control and it has the options found on most D-SLRs: Auto Pict (full auto), SCN to access eight additional options, Program AE, aperture- and shutter-priority and manual. It also has two you don’t see including Sv (Sensitivity Priority) that adjusts shutter speed and aperture once you change the ISO–which hits 1600. There’s also B (Bulb) for taking long exposures at night. The dial also offers quick access to a number of common scene modes including portrait, landscape, macro, sports, night portrait and flash off. As an added feature the Auto Pict mode is a bit different than the traditional Auto. Here—like many point-and-shoot digicams—the camera will move into an appropriate scene setting, depending on the subject. They’re Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports and Normal. This is good thinking and targeted to newbies who might be intimidated by a D-SLR and looking to go beyond aim-and-forget digicams. In that vein, a small sample image appears on the LCD as you flip through the Scene modes, making it as simple as possible to make a decision.
The rear of the camera is dominated by a 2.7-inch LCD screen rated 230K pixels. The K200D does not have Live View so the LCD is for checking the menus and reviewing your shots. There’s also a viewfinder with diopter adjustment that’s surrounded by a soft rubber cushion. Running down the left side of the monitor are Menu, Delete, Info and Playback keys. To right of the screen in a four-way controller with center OK button, a Function key as well as an on/off switch for the image stabilizer. Other controls include a flash up button, a dial for adjusting menus and AE-Lock. The right side has the SD card slot while the left has connections for USB, DC-in and for a remote. On the bottom of this Assembled in the Philippines camera you’ll find the battery compartment, a metal tripod mount and a compartment covering the contact for an optional battery grip.
The Pentax K200D comes with a solid kit including a 3x 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL II lens, strap, caps and cables—along with those four lithium AAs. The company also supplies a 264-page Owner’s Manual, a 30-page Quick Guide and a CD-ROM with Pentax Photo Browser 3 and Pentax Photo Laboratory 3 for downloading, handling and “developing” RAW files. A 106-page manual is supplied for these programs. Pop in the batteries and a card and you’re ready to start shooting. Which is exactly what I did…
Image Courtesy of Pentax
Performance and Use
The K200D is a responsive D-SLR. In the Auto Pict mode, the camera focuses quickly and saves images just as promptly. It has an 11-point AF system with nine cross sensors to help things along. I shot a number of branches of a just-blooming weeping cherry and the camera did a fine job of zeroing in on the buds. The K200D is rated 2.8 frames per second and will take four or five highest-res JPEG images before the buffer fills up (it’s only 2 when you’re in RAW). In some ways this is speedier than the just reviewed Sony DSLR-A350 which is less than 2 fps in the Live View mode I liked so much, 2.5 for traditional shooting in RAW up to around five/six shots. Then again this is a 10MP camera versus 14.2 for the Sony. Remember we’re in the sub $800 USD category and if you really want the super speed you need to spend the bucks for a Canon EOS 40D, Nikon D300, Pentax K20D or Sony DSLR-A700 and their ilk. Unless you’re really into shooting sports, this speed should be sufficient.
The K200D has a 1.5x digital factor so the kit lens is actually 27-82.5mm in 35mm terms, a decent range for most subjects. You might want to forgo the supplied lens and spend the extra cash for a heftier zoom such as the 14x 18-250mm. The camera has all the manual features you’d expect and the controls are logically arranged and simple to use after a quick read of the manual. I used the Sv Sensitivity mode for indoor shoots and scene modes where appropriate. The camera gives you the ability to really tweak your images with the Custom Image mode. Once you move out of Auto you can adjust saturation, hue, contrast, sharpness and other parameters to match your taste. I notched up saturation and contrast on a number of shots and was happy with the results. This is an acquired taste but the options are there for you to play with—or you can forget they even exist.
Once the SDHC card was loaded with images it was time to download them to the trusty old Dell and make some 8.5×11 full bleed prints on a Canon inkjet with no tweaking.
I must admit I was quite pleased with the images spread before me. Color was very accurate with strong blues, reds, yellows and pinks. The images had a nice pop even in Auto with no adjustments in the Custom Image settings. I was also very pleasantly surprised how the K200D handled image noise. You could notice a bit at 400, more so at 800 but it was far from a pixilated mess. Even 1600 was reasonable but I wouldn’t make huge prints. And the built-in sensor shift stabilization did a good job cutting down blur with my indoor still life subject at very slow shutter speeds.
Image Courtesy of Pentax
Pentax definitely earned our respect with this D-SLR. It straddles the line between an entry-level camera and what market watchers describe as mid-level (to reach the big leagues it needs higher resolution and faster speed). Still this is a responsive D-SLR that takes quality 10-megapixel images. It has a value price, feels substantial, offers plenty of photographic options, has built-in stabilization and sensor cleaning plus it comes with a decent kit lens. Those who don’t have any legacy glass—even those with only a lens or two—should definitely check this baby out.
• Solid 10MP D-SLR
• Weather- and dust-resistant
• Built-in sensor shift stabilization
• Should be faster (fps)
• Needs enhanced buffer for burst shooting