Pentax K200D Review- A Weatherproof DSLR Bargain!
September 2011, Carl Garrard
Got weather? Not much money? Like photography in the wild stuff but afraid to take your equipment? Just look left. How about a Pentax K200D and 18-55mm WR lens for under $500.00? Interesting isn't it? Don't believe me? I'm sorry, but it's true.
Very recently I had the urgent need for a weather proof DSLR system again, and since I buy and sell a lot of cameras- I was simply "out" of a weatherproof option when I needed one badly. Not one to sit on my laurels it was time to get something quickly.
So.... I embarked on a buying trek to see what kind of weatherproof DSLR outfit I could get for a bargain that would meet the demands I had of image quality, handling, and general responsiveness that my shooting style demands. Since nothing on the market currently met those demands without spending a LOT of money, I decided instead to turn to the used market to see what I could find. My first stop was Pentax- a company that prides itself on making a photographers camera that exceeds its price expectations. And the only model I could find by Pentax that could meet the price-point and feature set I wanted, was the Pentax K200D.
This is a camera wherein general interest from photography enthusiasts came and went faster than it should have on the DSLR market. Chock full of features the K200D would be a great camera to introduce even today with just a couple of additions to keep up with the current market. As is, it turns out to be a no-gimmicks DSLR that gets right to the point of making pictures.
About the K200D- First Impressions and General Comments
My first impressions of the DSLR have completely exceeded my expectations. Bought for a total of $467.32 the K200D and the 18-55mm WR lens has turned out to be steal- not only for the condition I got the camera in for the price, but because of how quickly I've become to love this camera.
Many of my readers will know that I use a lot of Sony Alpha equipment and write reviews on most of it all, but in no way am I dedicated to just one brand of camera. One of my all time favorite DSLR's ever is the Sony Alpha A100 DSLR- Sony's first foray into DSLR territory. To this day it remains one of the best low ISO image quality cameras I've ever used. I'm not only fond of its image quality, but it's build and handling, and size as well. My fondness for the A100 is well documented on the net- so suffice it to say I'll get right to the crux of my point.
Pentax's K200D is much of the package I liked in the Sony A100, but with better image quality at higher ISO's, it includes a top mounted LCD, weather sealing (and lenses too starting at budget prices), and a much better auto focusing system. I could also add that the build quality is better, the grip is more sure footed because of the rear rubber thumb pad, and there is even more extensive control over the camera's operations in the menu system.
Pentax designers are clearly photographers- they must use their cameras because not much is missed in the final design- and if it is missed, likely it's because they need the camera to hit a specific price point -not because they don't want to include a feature.
I'm sorry to say that the A100 will now only get relegated to occasional backpacking use now that I have the K200D in my stable. In a way though it is unfair to compare it to the A100 since that camera came out a full two years earlier than the K200D. So ok, lets compare it to the A200- a camera that shares the exact same sensor as the K200D. Well on second thought, let's not
. The K200D is so much more superior than the A200 was in so many ways, it just wouldn't be fair to do that. No chastising the A200- for the price it was a great camera.
The K200D uses a 10.2mp CCD imaging sensor that in my book is an excellent choice for this type of camera. CCD sensors tend to make better low ISO images than comparable CMOS sensors of the same resolution and introduction time line. At least, I definitely see a difference and there's no doubt that a good 10mp sensor like the K200D's will make great looking 20x30" prints for my walls at home (I already have them that size from the A100 up on my wall).
Take a look at a few samples I have put together, showing remarkable dynamic range, color, and generally beautiful image quality. All were made at ISO 100 or ISO 200.
There is no doubt in my mind that the K200D is up to the image quality standards I have set for myself. This was just my first "serious" outing with the K200D- and processing the raw files was eyeopening and refreshing. This camera can keep up with modern DSLRS that are almost 4 years newer than the K200D is.
Needless to say I'm impressed.
In terms of features the K200D is loaded with menu customization and image output options- with an impressive display of color filters, digital simulation filters, and in camera raw processing that allows you to use any of them. Personally I like having a camera that gives me a lot of in camera development options, especially when it comes to monochrome/black and white photography. The K200D even has an infrared simulation filter that works quite nicely (as seen below).
Skies are nice and black (normally clear and blue) just like an IR converted camera would render when there are clear skies. Foliage doesn't take on the more white/transflective nature that real a real IR converted camera would render, but Pentax did what they could and I personally like the look and output.
ISO 1600 Sample, ACR Conversion no noise reduction
Bottom line, I've got no qualms about image quality. Indoors and low light work means I'll need to go to higher ISO's or use fast lenses, but when I've taken the K200D to ISO 1600 and processed from raw files, the output is definitely within my accepted norm. This is an outdoor camera for me, so the fact that it can still hang in there in low light indoors is just a big bonus.
I tend to prefer smaller DSLR's for outdoor work which entails most of my photography. Therefore, the K200D is the size that I prefer. It's not too small, and not too large, just about right. The grip begets its smaller size and holding the K200D is wonderful, even with heavier lenses. Yet, the K200D does not take up a lot of room in my daypack at all. It's just fine to sit in my Camelbak with a small to medium sized lens on it for my day hikes and trail running excursions.
I find the controls well laid out and and a place for quick reference. I've always liked DSLR's that set all of the menu and image playback buttons on the left side of the camera, while operation and drive options remain to the right side. I call it a left brain, right brain, organized layout. Since the K200D is set up in this fashion, I'm very pleased. The K200D does not get in the way of the photographic process- it makes it quite easy.
Weight I feel is just right as well. It's not so dainty that the slightest hand vibration is going to challenge the in-body image stabilization, nor is it too heavy to take with me in a daypack- again, just right. The K200D's weight gives you the impression of a finely built dense camera that can take some abuse and keep on ticking.
Speaking of build, the K200D has to be the best built camera I've ever used for the price. Internally it is supported by a stainless steel chassis (as if it needed to be stainless with a weather sealed body-proof that Pentax overbuilds it's cameras), and externally the camera is made from a fiber reinforced thick polycarbonate that doesn't feel like a Mattel plastic toy - and I've felt plenty of cameras that do. What a bonus, what a gosh darn great bonus!
Viewfinder- A small package usually means a small viewfinder, but, the K200D has a larger than average class finder that I find adequate as stock. In the picture above you can see that I've added Pentax's O-ME53 magnifier to the equation which brings the viewing size up to much higher priced DSLR standards. With this attached, it's gone from adequate to quite spacious for such a small camera- I'm pleased enough here. If I had my way I'd have included the *ist D2S's .95x/95% optical viewfinder, but with all the K200D offers- I won't complain.
Menu System- For most shooting situations the FN button on the K200D will quickly navigate you to the option of your choice. I'm finicky about menu systems mainly because I HATE (yes hate) sitting there staring at a camera like a dodo trying to figure out how to make a change in the camera that will help me yield the results I want- all the while the subject has moved, the light is gone, or I just plain give up and move on.
I don't have that problem with the K200D. Even the menu portion (not the FN button access to most adjustments) is pretty well laid out and quick to navigate. Nope the menu system is just fine by my standards too.
Auto-Focus- I find its autofocus very eager and accurate- it's not blisteringly fast like cameras that cost three times as much, but it's quite peppy. In low light, the K200D surprised me. It will focus in light much lower than I thought it would be capable of. Granted sometimes it will take some time to make the calculations in low light, but it hardly ever gives up when other cameras I've used would have long before the K200D will.
In good light, the AF performance is eager and peppy- especially when using continuous AF. I found it to be quicker and more accurate than Alpha DSLR's of this class, and Canon and Olympus DSLRS I've used as well. I didn't know what to expect in terms of Auto Focus performance, but I didn't expect it to perform as well as it does.
Add that there are 11 AF points, 9 of which are double cross type (extra sensitive) and the K200D blows the competition out of the water in this category of camera (I know some $3,000.00 DSLRS that barely match the AF capabilities of the K200D).
Here is a sample of a low light situation at 1/8th of a second at ISO 800. Autofocus was quick and accurate when it needed to be - just a split second longer and Apollo would have moved his attention elsewhere. I made this image at a very odd angle with the camera away from me, twisted toward him, away from my body. I had to be quick!
Why the K200D is Such a Good Bargain
By now you are probably getting the impression that I like the K200D- and you are right, I do. But I have to reflect to you the reader, just how much of a good deal I think this camera is. I've created a list of about 20 items that the K200D has that makes it a special camera- and these aren't gimmicks, they are real honest to goodness features you can use and make special happy photographs with. Many I used, or have used, or will use, so this is my personal list of things that stand out from the K200D. Enjoy.
1. You can set the on/off switch to use D.O.F preview, or Digital Preview and/or use the FN button to save the image during Digital preview if you like your results.2.
Bulb mode automatically turns off Shake Reduction, and you can use the REMOTE during bulb mode, and use the 2 second mirror lock up mode at the same time. Perfect for long exposures with zero blur, and without a lot of menu work to do it- brilliant.
DNG Format is available in the menu. This means direct photoshop access for raw files (no conversion necessary like many other raw formats)- but if you prefer Pentax's standard raw format you can choose that too (only company that offers dual raw format styles that I am aware of).
AF System is eager to find focus and won't give up easily. Even though it will micro hunt for a bit sometimes- other systems would just give up whereas the Pentax doesn't seem to want too.
A lot like the K7 but better base ISO image quality (CCD vs. CMOS effect and less noise).
Excellent used prices!
Very decent viewfinder, add the Pentax magnifier like I did, and it gets well into enthusiast level DSLR territory for magnification/viewing size.
Solid grip and construction.
External switch for SR (handy, less menu diving)
Good overall size
Back to basics DSLR- nearly everything you need and more disguised in its humble appearance.
. Layout is proper on the back panel with a row of buttons on the left for my left hand, and controls on the right for my right hand (great left brain right brain set up).
Weather sealed, kit lens is dynamite (sharp/great magnification/great build/good price/good features and also weather sealed, the WR kit lens, that is).
Buttons are large enough for cold weather (gloves on- ok)
Customizable menu system
In-Camera Raw Development
Digital Image Preview/Depth of Field preview are right on the power switch, the first gives me the ability to fine tune focus without writing to the card- that is unless I want it too.
Catch-in focus is like setting a photographic mouse trap. A valuable tool if you take the time to get to know and use it. Not only for tripod work but for manual focus work as well- the camera will fire automatically when your subject gets in perfect focus.
21. AA battery choices (Pro Eneloops anyone?) and great battery life! Never get stranded without power!
No self respecting camera reviewer can do a review without mentioning some gripes. So while my list is here, it was very difficult to come up with them simply because the K200D packs so much value and performance into its awesome used price tag. That said, I don't have much to complain about and remember these are small gripes. I take in consideration the cameras initial price, its current used price, and intended market segment.
1. Multi-Pattern (16 segment) metering can be finicky when light levels drop down to the lowest levels (think twilight before sunrise, or indoor shooting).
2. Buffer depth and frame rate speed could definitely be better- but this is no hot rod camera to begin with
3. Viewfinder magnification could be a bit better
4. Top LCD could use a back light
5. A front mounted control wheel would also be of great help
6. Images will exhibit grain sooner than comparable CMOS sensors (but more detail)
Final Conclusion- Pentax K200D DSLR Review
Pentax's K200D is a camera that even today is an excellent choice. It is the ONLY DSLR in the world that is weather-sealed for anywhere near this price (and that will run on AA batteries). Add that you can get a weather resistant lens for pennies in comparison to other manufacturers, and the K200D is unique among the wolf pack. For outdoor, weather seeking enthusiast shooters on a budget, I can't think of any other camera I'd recommend before it.
Particularly I like the K200D's raw image quality and if you suppress the sharpening in camera, the Jpegs look quite nice as well. It's CCD churns out this quality in it's images that is hard to convey to the reader, but for the discerning professional- it's quite obvious that there is something very special about the K200D's low ISO image quality. Add the plethora of out of camera raw developing and Jpeg options, and you'll be quite satisfied I'm sure.
I believe the K200D is not only a stand out DSLR in the photographic market, it is a stand out product in Pentax's line up as well. Even Pentax no longer makes a weather sealed camera that uses versatile AA batteries for anywhere near this price (unless you want a used K7, but you cant use AA's).
There are no real stand out large weaknesses in the K200D in it's specifications, build, or performance and I wholeheartedly recommend this camera to users on a budget looking for a great used DSLR. If my biggest gripe has to do with the 16 segment multi-pattern metering, that's more of a compliment to the K200D than a squirt of lemon juice in the eye.
As it stands the K200D is a sort of swiss army knife of a camera design, it will do so much so well. It's not going to be the defacto camera default for sports shooters who need a big buffer and high frame rates, but in a pinch it will do even that job pretty well.
Autofocus is accurate, versatile, sensitive, and peppy *enough* to be of value to most photographers - and this includes action shooters that don't mind its limited buffer and frame rate (just like me). I can't recall one image wherein I did my job right that came out blurry. Very accurate autofocus like this is really hard to come by.
Make no mistake folks, this is one bargain package. You get two LCDs, top notch raw image quality (with excellent dynamic range even today), weather sealing, massive amounts of control of the camera's operations- plus unique Pentax only functions, excellent handling and build quality, in body image stabilization- and the list just goes on almost endlessly. I know that I'm pleased with my choice. The K200D is one of the reasons why I respect and admire Pentax so much as a camera maker- you get a lot of value and performance in comparison to the bigger companies.
As always, be safe, and happy shooting.