DigitalCameraReview.com
Pentax K200D Review
by David Rasnake -  4/8/2008

With Pentax's 6 megapixel entry-level concept beginning to really show its age, few were surprised by the addition of a new 10.2 megapixel mass-consumer DSLR, the Pentax K200D, to the company's stable this year. Adding a rugged, sealed body, a larger LCD, and imaging technology from the K10D to the K100D's 11-point AF and in-camera image stabilization makes the new model seem like a pretty sizeable leap for Pentax in the generally incremental world of entry-level DSLR improvements.

Pentax K200D
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The question on the minds of many, then, has been whether the K200D will perform more like a featured-up consumer camera or a slightly stripped advanced amateur tool. With a new heavyweight 12 megapixel competitor from Canon and the largely proven Nikon D60 seemingly set to dominate the market for another year, offering a "budget super camera" – essentially a K10D at K100D prices – could be the much less well-known Pentax's ticket to gaining ground in the breakneck consumer DSLR race.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The Pentax K200D is a 10.2 megapixel DSLR using sensor technology borrowed from the company's previous-generation advanced camera. Packaged as a kit with Pentax's redesigned 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II lens, the K200D – with its AA power and SD memory – is aimed at entry-level shooters looking for an accessible, moderately priced interchangeable-lens camera. Custom color modes, an 11-point AF system, weather and dust sealing, in-body image stabilization, and impressive battery life numbers round out the K200D's headline talking points.

Using a variant of the maker's classic K mount, the K200D is designed for "legacy" lens support, handling nearly any Pentax K-mount lens (as well as many screw-mount and medium-format lens) with comparatively little hassle or fuss. And with in-camera IS, every lens is a stabilized lens. While you won't get the huge lens selection – and particularly, the range of fast zooms and longer telephotos – offered by Canon and Nikon, if you like shooting primes, Pentax makes currently makes some of the best, most interesting ones on the market.

With several automatic/scene options, the K200D should be reasonably familiar for users moving up from point-and-shoot cameras. Mode options are as follows:

While the K200D has all of the user-friendly modes that have become standard fare on entry-level DSLRs, it's unquestionably a little more utilitarian than some of its competitors. Where the new Pentax really shines is not in its slightly clunky preset modes, but rather, as a straightforward user-controlled DSLR for slightly more advanced shooters seeking a performance camera at a budget price.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Current Pentax users will find little unfamiliar in the K200D, stylistically or ergonomically.

Pentax K200D
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Building on the same control layout and basic look developed all the way back in the *ist cameras, the K200D keeps things simple, clean, and classy (if, arguably, a bit boring and industrial) in the visual department.

Styling and Build Quality

Pentax diehards, especially, often like to remind jaded camera reviewers that they don't choose a camera based on how good it looks in pictures, but on how good the pictures from it look. Fair enough.

Pentax K200D
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If styling isn't exactly scintillating, build quality and ruggedness have rarely been an issue for Pentax's recent offerings. I tend to feel that the company's DSLRs seem to have the heaviest construction of any cameras in their price class, and in this regard the K200D is no exception. Its plastic body around a metal frame is perhaps the densest feeling Pentax yet, making the camera seem like it could stand up to some considerable punishment.

Pentax K200D
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Weather and dust sealing, a la the K200D's parent K10D, round out the package and give the buttons and doors, with their gaskets and seals, a slightly spongy feel.

Pentax K200D
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If Pentax would only expand weather-sealing in its lens lineup down from the top-tier DA* offerings to something a little more proletarian, users looking for an affordable fully weather-sealed system would be all set.

Pentax K200D
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For an entry-level DSLR, the K200D feels particularly heavy – at just over 1.5 pounds with batteries and a card installed, the new Pentax outweighs the Canon XSi by almost half a pound, and comes in at nearly twice the weight of Olympus's diminutive E-420.

Pentax K200D
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Blame AA power for at least some of this heft, but even without the cells installed, the Pentax is simply a heavier, if seemingly more robust, camera than its competitors. If weight and size are primary considerations, the K200D is probably not the best option.

Ergonomics and Interface

Ergonomics are almost identical to the K100D, though the new model feels like it's grown a bit more than it actually has (width, depth, and weight are all slightly increased over the K100D).

Pentax K200D
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Controls lay out in exactly the same way as previous entry-level Pentax models, using a basic four-way controller setup to access most functions. Unlike the K10D from which it partially derives, the K200D keeps dedicated controls to a minimum, meaning adjustments to parameters like AF and metering modes must be made via the main menu.

Pentax K200D
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Presumably in the interest of simplicity, the K200D also does away with the K10's front-side control wheel, meaning all scroll adjustments must be made via the single wheel on the back of the body (and, in the case of manual mode, the exposure compensation button as well).

With just a few exceptions, the camera's interface is all K100D: reasonably easy to navigate with a limited number of sub-menus, if drab and a bit cryptic at times. Users looking for the icon-based interface and helpful on-screen shooting guides found on more consumer-friendly DSLRs (like Nikon's D60) need not apply: the K200D remains a camera that doesn't do a lot to ease the novice shooter's transition from point-and-shoot to DSLR. More advanced shooters may find the Pentax's Spartan approach appealing, but it has the potential to intimidate new users.

Display/Viewfinder

In the list of cross-pollinations and carry-overs from existing models, the K200D didn't (sadly) get the bright penta-prism viewfinder from the K10D/K20D. Instead, it inherits a more basic molded penta-mirror type viewfinder that, while acceptable with a bright lens, is certainly nothing to write home about – especially if you're a frequent MF user. Information on the viewfinder display covers all the bases and can be customized to some degree in the Custom Settings menu.

Pentax K200D
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The K200D does use its slightly increased girth to some advantage, adding a large 2.7-inch LCD (up from 2.5 inches on the last generation of Pentax cameras). The screen is bright enough, reasonably exposure-accurate, and offers plenty of contrast. Viewing angles are somewhat improved from the previous generation of Pentax cameras as well.

Several layers of image information can be cycled through in playback via the Info button; unlike most of its entry-level competitors, however, in shooting the K200D displays all exposure information on a top-side status LCD, reserving the main display for menu access only.

Canon and Sony have joined Olympus in offering live view on DSLRs in this price class this year, leaving Pentax with Nikon in the minority on this issue. Quite frankly, however, given how clunky the "big brother" K20D's live view system proved to be, I'm not feeling that the omission on the K200D is any huge loss. (That, and I'm still not completely sold on the need for and usefulness of live view for most DSLR users most of the time. Call me old-fashioned...)


PERFORMANCE

Early buzz about the K200D focused on how much it carried over from the K10D, building this camera up as a no-nonsense, high-performance camera for advancing DSLR users. No question that the specs sheet, with weather sealing, the K10D's sensor, in-body image stabilization, and an 11-point AF system makes the K200D appear a step ahead of most of the entry-level pack. While from a functional standpoint there's essentially no new technology, the fact that the K200D crams a sizeable chunk of features from a semi-pro DSLR into a smaller, more budget-friendly package has our attention.

There may not be a lot that's earth-shattering here (entry-level DSLRs aren't usually the place for cutting edge new tech introductions), but if you don't mind the K200D's slight lack of polish compared to its competition, this camera has a lot going for it for shooters looking to develop skills and buy a camera they can stick with for awhile.

Timings and Shutter Lag

Shutter lag is just as expected for a DSLR: practically nonexistent. Press-to-capture times with the camera focused came in somewhat under .05 seconds, and focus acquisition and capture averaged around .4 seconds with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4, and closer to .6 seconds with the 18-55mm kit lens.

In our testing, the K200D turned in a nearly identical performance to the K100D, pulling in 4 shots in 1.37 seconds – right at Pentax's advertised frame rate of 2.8 fps. The performance, while not terrible, is limited by a small buffer and doesn't stand up to the claimed shooting speeds of either the new Nikon D60 or the Canon XSi. With so much advanced technology brought down from the K10D to the new model, the advanced model's 3.0 fps continuous JPEG shooting would have been a nice touch, though the flipside of this argument is that the K200D seems to improve slightly on the lower-res K100D's performance in side-by-side testing. Moreover, while not best-in-class, burst speed is in line with expectations, and unless you're shooting lots of sports, how much you'll notice is a fair question.

As an aside, at least on our review unit Pentax also seems to have done a much better job of dampening the K100D's clacky mirror noise down to something much more reasonable (though still a ways from silent) for the new model.

Auto Focus

In some ways, the K200D's SAFOX VIII auto focus system is getting a bit long in the tooth, though this is probably a fairer criticism for the semi-pro K20D than the entry-level 200. Given that there are still a few 3-point AF systems out there among competitive cameras, Pentax's reasonably speedy 11-point (9 cross-type) implementation still holds its own in most cases, and with Pentax's SDM internal-motor lenses, especially, it feels quite fast (even if, in truth, it times out about the same whether using SDM or standard screw-drive lenses). With this setup, I found the AF system more than quick enough for fast-subject shooting in good light, even against difficult backdrops.

Pentax K200D
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The system is a bit more prone to hunting and near-lock jittering than, say, the laser-precise systems in some current advanced cameras, and times out just a touch slower than the class leaders in terms of acquisition speed – especially in low light. I also have the sense that the SAFOX system is slightly more prone to simply giving up and "error-ing" out in some situations, but given that this issue is situation-specific and not easily inducible, it's a hard claim to back up with numbers.

By contemporary DSLR standards, where AF technologies and options seem to be proliferating, the K200D offers a fairly staid and conservative approach. There's no "eye start" system here, no consumer-focused face detection AF, and, given the lack of live view, no sensor-based contrast detection options or settings of that ilk either. If you're moving up from a K100D, the settings will all be familiar: single or continuous drive (or manual focus, via the hard switch next to the lens) with automatic multi-point, user-selected single point, or center single point. I do still appreciate the accessibility of the Pentax's selectable multi-point system, using the d-pad to choose your focus area in real-time, without resorting to a menu option or secondary button press to do so; why this notion hasn't caught on across the board isn't clear to me.

Overall, while Pentax could have shown us a little more, the 11-point SAFOX system was reasonably advanced for an entry-level camera when it first hit the market, and if it didn't blow us away with flash and features this time around, it's still a solid, more advanced (though slightly aging) system that most entry-level DSLRs are sporting.

Flash

The K200D uses a pop-up flash that deploys in the conventional way, from atop the viewfinder prism. Interestingly, in spite of its AA power, Pentax elected to graft the new, more powerful flash unit (guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100) from the K20D onto the other new model, rather than the weaker (guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100) unit from the previous generation of Pentax cams. Flash modes are also borrowed almost directly from the K100D, with two basic modes (auto and forced fill) and red-eye reduction options for each; unlike its predecessor, the K200D also adds a wireless controller mode for connecting with Pentax's flashguns.

Performance of the on-board flash unit was as good as that from any pop-up flash on a DSLR, with photos looking a little flat but always perfectly exposed in our tests. Flash recycle times are good to excellent on NiMH or lithium power, though merely acceptable if you're using alkalines (and don't expect those batteries to last long if you're shooting lots of flash photos). Overall, with an exposure compensation range of -2 to +1 EV, the unit is more than capable of doing fill duty for macro shots and the like, and does a decent fill job for outdoor shots as well, respecting the limits of its sync speed.

For high-speed sync (the default sync speed of 1/180 is a bit slow, but in keeping with other new entry-level offerings), the K200D's hot shoe is compatible with Pentax's newest generation of P-TTL flash units, and while the hot shoe will talk to third-party Pentax-spec flash units, it seems the high-speed sync function will not. As with the recently reviewed K20D, you're tied to Pentax's proprietary flashguns if you need HSS for daylight fill or similar applications.

Image Stabilization

As noted, the K200D continues Pentax's use of an in-body, sensor-shifting image stabilization system. The claimed advantages of optical image stabilization aside, the system did seem to work well, allowing me to grab sharp shots at shutter speeds as low as 1/4 on occasion (if not consistently), and the benefits of Pentax's in-body system are perhaps obvious – most notably, that any Pentax lens works with the system. Connect a 40-year-old MF lens, the camera will prompt you to enter its focal length, but then it's ready to shoot with stabilization enabled. If you have old Pentax glass, especially, this flexibility remains impressive.

At times I did seem to get some anomalous behavior when panning, resulting in extremely blurry shots and leaving me to wonder whether the Shake Reduction system (with its lack of compensation settings for panning) wasn't actively trying to neutralize my side-to-side motion. If you shoot sports, especially, you may wish for the more nuanced IS control found on competitive cameras, though if you shoot lots of sports the K200D probably won't be your first choice for equipment, either.

Battery

We didn't have the time (or, frankly, the patience) with this review unit to test Pentax's claim of 1100 shots from a set of lithium batteries, though given the only slight battery performance increases over previous AA-power Pentax's we've tested, I'm betting you'd be hard pressed to make that number if you ever so much as thought about taking a flash picture (in fairness, Pentax claims a 50 percent flash number of half that – around 550 shots). Even so, with the K200D's optional battery grip – remember, the K100D and K100D Super had no such option from the manufacturer – the fact that you could easily top 1000 shots with lithium power, and realistically get 1500 or more, is pretty impressive. Even for most avid shooters, that's a full weeklong vacation and then some without changing the cells.

As with the K100D, we found the K200D's performance on old-school alkalines to be only slightly above abysmal, topping out under 150 shots. If you'd forgotten that Pentax doesn't recommend full-time alkaline power for this camera, you'll remember in a hurry when the battery indicator goes from half-full to nearly empty to flickering to stone dead in the course of about 30 seconds with those Duracells beneath the K200D's battery cover.

High-power NiMHs fared better, and even with some image reviewing I was able to crack 300 shots with the K200D on 2300 mAh batteries without seeing a drop on power gauge. Given the unreliable charge-holding abilities of NiMHs over several days, however, it's hard to give more definitive numbers than this. Overall, the performance seems good enough to keep the latest Pentax competitive with its li-ion powered counterparts from other makers, and the initial investment in and inconvenience of rechargeable NiMHs will be more than offset for most users when you're able to duck into any convenience store and refuel your camera in a pinch with standard AA alkalines.

Moreover, Pentax's choice to stick with AA-size power for the K200D is controversial, and we're not entirely settled on it, but with improvements to the camera's power consumption, it's making a little more sense.


IMAGE QUALITY

Pentax has been comparatively slow in moving its base model beyond the 6 megapixel class. Skipping the common 8 megapixel offering altogether, it seems that Pentax largely opted to borrow the K10D's sensor and PRIME processor straight out for the new model.

We shot the K200D with a range of Pentax lenses, including DA* 200mm f/2.8 and Pentax's new kit lens, the redesigned 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II. The new kit lens, which impressed us with its improved sharpness in our K20D review, remains among the most well-built and optically proficient kit lenses currently on the market in our opinion, and should help Pentax stay competitive with improved kit glass from Canon and Nikon. Unless otherwise noted, all studio images were taken with the 18-55mm kit lens; check the EXIF data on the full images for lenses used in the real world shots.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

The K200D has the standard complement of metering options (multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot), and while I tend to prefer controlling the process a little more, the camera's multi-segment metering seemed to do just fine preserving both shadows and highlights – even in difficult scenes.

Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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The K200D's default Bright image tone puts the Pentax's saturation and overall color rendering a little more in line with the bottom rung of DSLRs from other makers, producing images that are more readily printable straight from the camera.

Pentax K200D
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Changing the color mode to Natural dials the saturation back nicely for those who prefer a slightly smoother response. The ability to customize sharpness, saturation, brightness, and contrast in each color mode is pretty novel as well, affording more in-camera control for JPEG processing than we're used to on entry-level offerings.

We were interested to see whether the K200D, which derives the bulk of its image pipeline from the K10D from all indications, would use a differently tweaked JPEG processing engine, but from all indications this wasn't the case.

Pentax K200D
Pentax K200D, 100% Crop

Pentax K200D
Pentax K10D, 100% Crop

The cameras were configured to use the same processing choices in both cases, and the same 50mm f/1.4 lens was used on each body. To my eye, the processing choices look to be identical.

Similarly, tone down the saturation a touch from the default settings and the K200D produces images that, at this level of detail at least, are nearly identical to those from the Nikon D60, which uses the same 10.2 megapixel sensor found in the Pentax.

Pentax K200D
Pentax K200D, 100% Crop

Pentax K200D
Nikon D60, 100% Crop

Of course, if the camera's default processing is a concern, the K200D can also capture RAW files (or RAW+JPEG) in either Pentax's proprietary PEF or the open-source DNG formats.

White Balance

The last generation of Pentax DSLRs were quirky, to say the least, where white balance was concerned, with auto white balance not really making much of an effort from all indications to balance either incandescent or "warmer" fluorescent light. If you're looking for a truly automatic white balance experience, the K200D still isn't it, responding much more naturally to incandescent light, especially, with the appropriate preset selected.

That said, in side-by-side comparisons the K200D seems to be somewhat more flexible in this regard; I would say that Pentax's stated range of 4,000 to 8,000K for AWB looks about right. This means that most incandescent lighting is still out of the range, but some fluorescents seem notably improved.

As with the K20D, the K200D also allows users to fine-tune white balance along the green-magenta and blue-amber axes.

Sensitivity and Noise

The K10D wasn't a class leader in terms of noise performance; given this, it's not surprising that while the K200D holds its own, it didn't blow us away either.

Pentax K200D
ISO 100
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Pentax K200D
ISO 100, 100% Crop

Pentax K200D
ISO 200
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Pentax K200D
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Pentax K200D
ISO 400
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Pentax K200D
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Pentax K200D
ISO 800
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Pentax K200D
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Pentax K200D
ISO 1600
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Pentax K200D
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

With technology from higher-end cameras continuing to filter down into the entry-level market, the bar for high-ISO performance continues to rise. Like its predecessor, the K200D remains quite serviceable through ISO 800, though ISO 1600 is a little softer and more granular than what we've seen from some competitors. Obviously, it's still a vast improvement over any point-and-shoot, bests the Four Thirds equipped Olympus E-420 that we recently looked at by a small but clear margin, and looks (not surprisingly) nearly identical to the Nikon D60 – though the D60 does a slightly better job of retaining fine pattern detail courtesy of what looks like less aggressive noise reduction. Overall, it's a middle-of-the-road performance for the K200D in this area.

The K200D didn't exhibit any odd noise or patterning behaviors in long exposures.

Pentax K200D
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This long-shutter shot (cropped for composition) was processed from the RAW file via Adobe Camera Raw using the program's default settings.

Additional Sample Images

Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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Pentax K200D
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CONCLUSIONS

What to make of the K200D, on balance? It's an unquestionably solid camera, and I generally found its straight-from-camera images rich, vibrant, and (with the right settings) smooth – all the reasons we buy DSLRs. Visually and functionally, the camera is a bit vanilla; given the really sharp, intuitive interfaces on some of its competitors, the Pentax may be a bit of hard sell for newbies who heavily bias look and feel in making purchasing decisions. Advanced shooters may be equally disappointed that Pentax didn't cut the questionably valuable scene modes altogether and retain a more advanced control layout (with two dials). The fact that the K200D didn't at least step up to the K10D's rather paltry continuous shooting performance either is another strike against the new model where serious shooters are concerned.

Giving the K200D a chance and taking the time to learn its proclivities, I found the use experience and the image quality to be as good as anything out there at this price point, especially. The fact that the K200D is a little obtuse and intimidating for novice users but not seemingly advanced enough in some ways to entice mid-level buyers and beyond may be its primary flaw, however, as many shooters in both camps may never give this camera a chance for those very reasons. If that proves to be the case, it will be unfortunate: with a street price just above $700 at the moment for performance that more than holds its own, the K200D is looking poised to be another bang-for-your-buck winner.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Pentax K200D Specifications:

Sensor 10.2 megapixel, 23.5x15.7mm CCD
Zoom Pentax KAF2 mount; compatible with all K mount lenses
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K-dot TFT LCD; Penta-Mirror optical viewfinder with diopter adjustment
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600
Shutter Speed 30-1/4000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto Picture, Picture, Scene, Program, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Bulb
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Action, Night Scene Portrait, Standard Flash-Off, Night Scene, Surf & Snow, Food, Sunset, Kids, Pet, Candlelight, Museum
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent W, Fluorescent D, Fluorescent N, Flash, Color Temperature, Manual
Metering Modes Multi, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes AF Single, AF Continuous, Manual; Auto, User-Selected Point, Center
Drive Modes Single, Continuous High, Continuous Low, Remote, Auto Bracket
Flash Modes Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On with Red-Eye Reduction, Wireless
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
None
File Formats JPEG, RAW (PEF/DNG)
Max. Image Size 3872x2592
Max. Video Size
N/A
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery 4 AA batteries
Connections USB 2.0, video output, DC input, cable switch
Additional Features Shake Reduction, Custom Image Functions, Dust Reduction System