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Pentax K200D Gordon Laing, July 2008

Pentax K200D verdict

 
 
 
 
Pentax K200D
 

The Pentax K200D is certainly a unique proposition in the current entry-level DSLR market. While most rival manufacturers are packing in the gadgets on their latest models, Pentax has opted for a more traditional approach, eschewing fashionable features like Live View and instead focusing on controls, customisation and build quality.

Like many cameras these days, the K200D shares a number of technologies in common with a former model, but rather than enhancing an earlier budget option, Pentax has instead drawn on last year’s flagship, the K10D. The new K200D may not boast the K10D’s penta-prism viewfinder, dual control dials, nor match its continuous shooting capabilities, but it does employ the same sensor, same Shake Reduction and same PRIME image processor, along with the K10D’s Sensitivity Priority ‘Sv’ shooting mode and a number of its menu options. And in one small respect, the K200D is actually a little better: its screen measures 2.7in to the K10D’s 2.5in. Many will also prefer its use of four standard AA batteries over proprietary Lithium Ion packs.

Perhaps most impressive of all though is the K200D’s build quality. It may be priced at a similar level to models like the Nikon D60, Olympus E-520 and Sony Alpha A300, but is impressively weather-resistant with 60 environmental seals. That’s something you’d normally only find on pricier semi-pro models.

The K200D additionally sports an upper LCD information screen, support for both Pentax’s own PEF and Adobe’s DNG RAW formats, along with optional in-camera RAW processing and even a dedicated RAW button on the side, again inherited from the K10D.

So with semi-pro build quality and a number of features which were top of the Pentax range only last year, the K200D is off to a flying start. But it’s not all good news. As mentioned above, the K200D is missing out on some of the latest gadgetry which has become almost standard in the current DSLR market. Most obviously, there’s no Live View, which means it also misses out on things like face detection. The continuous shooting is disappointing, firing at a relatively modest 2.8fps for only four or five frames. The build quality may be excellent, but as a result the K200D is bigger and much heavier than most entry-level DSLRs. We also found the built-in Shake Reduction wasn’t as effective as rival systems.

Image quality is good, but like all Pentax DSLRs we’ve tested, there’s a tendency to underexpose. This may protect highlight detail, but in many situations you really do need to apply positive compensation. Interestingly, while the earlier K10D was criticised for its relatively muted default image processing, the K200D has arguably gone too far in the other direction: take it out on a Sunny day and the results can often look unreal, although in its favour, there’s plenty of opportunity to tweak the settings, and of course you may actually prefer this punchy approach.

So when considering the K200D, it’s very important to compare its features against the competition and to think carefully about which will mean the most to you in practice. So without further ado, here’s how it compares to three major rivals.

Compared to Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi

 
Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi
 
In terms of pricing, the closest Canon DSLR will actually be the EOS 1000D / Rebel XS, but since this model wasn’t released at the time of writing, we’ll compare the K200D against the higher-end EOS 450D / Rebel XSi.

The Canon 450D / XSi with a stabilised kit lens costs roughly 30% more than the Pentax K200D kit, so you’d understandably be expecting more features. How about two extra Megapixels, a bigger 3in screen, faster 3.5fps continuous shooting with a bigger buffer, Live View facilities with contrast-based AF, 14-bit image processing, a bigger viewfinder, and PC remote control software which includes a live on-screen preview.

Not bad, but the argument isn’t entirely in the 450D / XSi’s favour. The Pentax K200D boasts far superior weatherproof build quality (although is heavier), built-in Shake Reduction which works with any lens, a slightly more sophisticated 11-point AF system, an upper LCD information screen, a dedicated RAW button, support for Adobe’s open DNG format, and is powered by four AA batteries which are readily available almost anywhere in the World. And as you’ll see in our K200D results pages, the extra two Megapixels of the 450D / XSi also don’t make much difference when using the kit lenses.

If you’ve decided you really want or need Live View though, you should carefully consider whether you’d exploit the 450D / XSi’s extra features. If you would, then it’s worth spending the extra. Check out our Canon EOS 450D / XSi review for full details.

Compared to Olympus E-520

 
Olympus E-520
 
 
The Olympus E-520 costs roughly the same as the Pentax K200D in their standard kits, and both cameras have several things in common. Both share 10 Megapixel resolution (albeit with different aspect ratios), both have built-in anti-shake facilities which work with any lens you attach, and both have 2.7in screens.

In its favour, the E-520 features Live View with contrast-based AF and face detection, along with faster 3.5fps continuous shooting with a bigger buffer. Its anti-shake and anti-dust systems were more effective than the K200D in our tests and the body is noticeably smaller and lighter – there’s even an optional underwater housing.

The K200D’s advantages remain pretty much the same as before: far superior weatherproof build quality (although heavier), an upper LCD information screen, a dedicated RAW button, support for Adobe’s open DNG format, and standard AA batteries for power. The K200D’s optical viewfinder is also bigger than the E-520’s and it employs are much more sophisticated 11-point AF system to the relatively basic 3-points of the Olympus.

If you ultimately prefer the E-520’s feature-set though, it’s a tough model to beat, packing-in a great deal of technology for the money. See our Olympus E-520 review for more details.

Compared to Sony Alpha DSLR-A300

 
Sony Alpha DSLR A300
 
 
At the time of writing, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 was coming-in slightly cheaper than the K200D, and again both cameras sport 10 Megapixel resolution, built-in anti-shake facilities which work with any lens and 2.7in screens.

Where the Sony A300 really differs though is in terms of Live View. For starters it has Live View, but unlike the other models here, makes it really useful thanks to a vertically-tilting monitor, quick operation and uncompromised AF performance. It may not feature the technical accuracy of the Canon or Olympus Live View systems, but anyone coming from a point-and-shoot will prefer the speed and lack of fuss. The A300 is also powered by an Info Lithium battery which tells you exactly what percentage of charge is remaining.

In its favour, the K200D again features far superior weatherproof build quality (although is heavier), an upper LCD information screen, a dedicated RAW button, support for Adobe’s open DNG format, a slightly more sophisticated 11-point AF system, and is powered by four AA batteries which are readily available. The K200D’s optical viewfinder is also bigger than the A300’s.

Many will however be drawn to the A300’s approach to Live View with fuss-free operation and a tilting monitor for easy composition at unusual angles. It’s also a little cheaper and the kit lens a little longer. See our Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 review for more details.

Also consider...

There's only so much room we have here for comparisons, but also consider the beginner-friendly Nikon D60, the small and light Olympus E-420 and the new entry-level Canon EOS 1000D / XS.

Pentax K200D final verdict

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Pentax K10D

The K200D’s strengths and weaknesses against the competition are pretty consistent from the comparisons above. For the same money or a little less you could buy a lighter DSLR with Live View facilities and either a flip-out screen or faster continuous shooting. Or you could ignore the gadgetry, go for the K200D and enjoy superior build quality with weatherproofing along with a few fairly unique features like a top info screen, RAW button and AA battery power.

While there are a number of aspects to weigh-up, the choice between the K200D and rival DSLRs really boils down to how much you value build quality and Live View. If you want a tough, weatherproof DSLR at a low price, then buy the K200D. If however you’d prefer a smaller, lighter DSLR with Live View capabilities, then go for one of its rivals.

While complementing the K200D on inheriting many aspects of the K10D, it’s also important to keep an eye open for bargain deals on this former flagship. It has the same sensor, same anti-shake and same image processor, but sports better controls, superior continuous shooting and a bigger, brighter penta-prism viewfinder. Sure, the screen’s a little smaller and it doesn’t have the AA batteries or scene presets, but with end-of-line K10D bodies coming-in at roughly the same price as a K200D kit, it’s a compelling option while stocks last. But back to the K200D.

As always it’s important to think carefully about what you really need from a camera while also being realistic whether a particular model will deliver it in practice. For instance, the K200D’s tough build and weatherproofing sounds ideal for a traveller’s DSLR which could resist moisture, dust and sand, while the use of AA batteries is certainly reassuring in remote locations. But like all DSLRs, full weather-proofing requires an equally-sealed lens, and the K200D’s heavier body weight may rule it out for those who want to travel light.

Equally its build and weatherproofing would give it the edge over rivals when photographing action in damp, dusty or sandy conditions, but the modest 2.8fps continuous shooting rate and small buffer reduce its suitability in this regard.

Pentax K200D

But the bottom line is we’re dealing with a budget DSLR here, and as such there will always be compromises. If you want weatherproofing and fast shooting, then you’ll need to spend more on a semi-pro model like the Canon EOS 40D.

So while the K200D may be missing out in some respects, it does boast by far the best build quality of any entry-level DSLR. Couple that with the upper screen and unique RAW options, along with plenty of control over processing and customisation, and you have a DSLR which really stands out from the crowd and one we can Highly Recommend. Ultimately if you want a tough DSLR with weather-proofing, but can’t stretch to a semi-pro model, then the K200D really is your only choice.




Good points

Tough and weatherproof body.
Built-in Shake Reduction.
Convenient AA battery power.
Broad degree of customisation.

Bad points
No Live View facilities.
Anti-shake not as effective as rivals.
Disappointing continuous shooting.
Tendency to underexpose.



Scores

(compared to 2008 budget DSLRs)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

19 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20

86%

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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