When I reviewed the Pentax K200D early in the month, I openly admitted that I wasn't completely sold on the idea of shoehorning an advanced camera (the K10D) largely unchanged into a smaller body and selling it as a new idea. The practice of "trickle-down technology" is fairly common in the world of DSLRs, but there are concerns with the route Pentax chose in this case about missing the novice market with too little glitz and glamour on the one side, while simultaneously driving away advanced shooters turned off by the more consumer-focused interface. It's a fine line to walk for sure.
Ignoring market positioning for a moment, however, the K200D is a huge leap forward for Pentax's base-level SLR line, putting weather sealing, advanced-amateur build quality, a powerful AF system, and – most importantly – a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to picture taking in a camera priced at the entry level. No, it won't let you use the LCD for composition, and it doesn't offer friendly picture-taking tips for different shooting situations – and as a curmudgeon who'd prefer to set my own shutter speed and aperture and only cares about getting the best possible image, I don't miss either one.
Pentax has arguably over-hyped their "differentness" in the DSLR world, but in many ways the K200D lives up to the marketing copy: for those who have a fairly good grasp on conventional photographic controls, the K200D is a pleasantly simple, surprisingly powerful tool. With all that it carries over from the K10D, the K200D is unquestionably a much more impressive step up (in my mind, at least) from the K100D than the K20D is from the K10D. Beautiful color, consistent metering, lots of custom functions, and crisp AF all make the K200D perform like a much more expensive camera than its sub-$800 kit price would suggest.
(view large image)
Speaking of kits, Pentax's second edition of its 18-55mm kit lens is unquestionably in the top tier of entry-level lenses in terms of sharpness and build quality. Summarizing the collective opinion around the office when we first looked at the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II, my take on the matter from the full review still stands:
"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."
To read my full evaluation of the camera's performance, take a look at our K200D review.
The Pentax's primary limitations are still valid concerns, in my mind: it relies on somewhat arcane AA power, it's tied to Pentax's lens selection, and its continuous shooting speed remains disappointing. Arguably, however, two of these three concerns can be just as easily turned on their heads: while having to invest in separate NiMH rechargeables may not be ideal, the K200D's ability to pick up spare power just about anywhere is pretty nifty. Likewise, while Pentax doesn't have the stellar range of stellar glass afforded by Canon and Nikon, or even the great zooms made by Olympus, some of the company's primes, especially, are simply stunning, and with more flexibility than most makers in using legacy glass, budget options from the K1000 era forward (and even farther back, if you have a screwmount adapter) abound.
Buffer size and frame-rate limitations remain, but while they make the camera appear hamstrung on paper, whether this is a real concern for most entry-level DSLR shooters is a question worth asking. For family photos, portraiture, or even shooting kids' sporting events, it really isn't in most cases.
Independent of comparisons to any other camera out there, Pentax has pushed the level of its own entry-tier offerings forward with the K200D. This is a shooter's camera that in spite of (and, in some cases, because of) its somewhat utilitarian approach could be an extremely good fit for a broad range of photographers. And with Pentax debuting recently on walmart.com and promising similar roll-outs to other high-volume retailers in order to compete with the more highly visible brands, the company's making a strong push to get this high-function, high-value DSLR into the hands of more shooters. In short, it looks like things are starting to really come together for Pentax, and in recognition of an entry-level DSLR that should set the smaller maker up to make its biggest impression yet in a market chock full of great DSLRs from the likes of Canon and Nikon, the Pentax K200D earns April's Editor's Choice recognition.