Pentax K200D DSLR Review

Pentax K200D Digital SLR


My strategy to review a camera or lens puts my subjective observations at an equally important level as objective facts and figures. So when a Pentax K200D digital SLR arrived I had a bit of product familiarity work to do. I have been a Canon and Nikon owner for the past 20 years, so I had to rethink my shooting strategy to give the Pentax a fighting chance.

My first ever camera, 30 years ago, was a Pentax Spotmatic F and my initial passion for photography lies firmly with Pentax ownership. I had six Pentax cameras in all, before switching to Nikon in 1988. “So what?!” I hear you say, but you must understand I was really rooting for this little camera when I was asked to review it.

What's in the box?

The camera comes simply packaged, with all the necessary items to get shooting straight away. Assuming you have an SD card to hand that is. The manual is twice the size of Nikon and Canon books though, and would be bulky to keep in your camera bag.

What’s not in the box?

  • A battery charger. I was bemused and at a loss as to why there was no battery charger until I found out that the Pentax uses AA batteries. What a breath of fresh air! As a Pentax shooter you will have the choice of Alkaline, NiMh, or Lithium Ion rechargeable cells. At last, you can choose a battery to suit your shooting style. Plus you can get replacements from just about anywhere, worldwide.
  • An SD card.

I immediately took the Pentax to Frankfurt and Munich as my sole camera for my lecture tour, and I adorned it with the novel 10mm to 17mm zoom fisheye lens for the journey. I loved the package; every time I held this camera / lens combination I was compelled to shoot a frame or two. I was frustrated at first because I wanted instant results without having to read the manual. I found it hard to change the ISO for instance. That all changed when I discovered the function button. So, my advice to you if you are migrating from another make of camera is to give the Pentax some respect and read the manual first. The lack of direct entry buttons and dials was an issue for me but upon reflection the menu system via the function button did the job well. It also had the added advantage of allowing the Pentax K200D to have a simple uncluttered layout.

It is thoroughly refreshing that Pentax can stand by its historical virtues and deliver a product that doesn’t need to conform to the model of the big two camera makers. This K200D from Pentax is a plucky tool that has a real charm and character. I was never once disappointed with the picture quality or handling. I was often surprised, like the time I took a sequence of night shots in Manchester: No focus hunting, even in dingy surroundings, spot on metering even at 30 second exposures and frame after frame of high quality images. The Pentax K200D even managed to impress another top flight professional photographer I was with at the time and that’s praise indeed.

There must have been much pressure on Pentax to throw gimmicks into the design brief like ‘Live View’ and video recording, but instead, Pentax opted for a host of market leading features like the excellent bright viewfinder and the top LCD panel, giving useful information right where it is needed.

Taken in Manchester using the fabulous 10 - 17mm Fish Eye zoom set to 11mm. ISO400, f/9.5, 2 seconds exposure.

This 100% crop shows just how well controlled the file noise is at long exposure and ISO400. A very capable camera indeed.

The next day I was at a high profile shoot in a big Manchester Hotel and I could not resist pulling the Pentax from my bag. I donned the 50mm to 135mm f/2.8 zoom lens for some simple but effective fashion and beauty shots. The pictures simply leapt off the screen. Sharp, clear images exhibiting great colour neutrality and even illumination. Even the standard kit lens was razor sharp. All in all I was truly impressed by this little package. In a way it reminded me of the new Fiat 500 - a thoroughly modern take on a classic theme that is full of soul and built to last.

I chose to shoot using the DNG RAW setting as my experience of in camera JPEG processing is patchy. Virtually all of the digital cameras I have owned with values ranging from £1000 up to £20,000 have been woeful at making great looking jpegs. I’ve never let this get in the way of realising a cameras image making potential however, and I am pleased to say that the Pentax K200D RAW files did not disappoint at all.

The Pentax K200D digital SLR camera body is well contoured with all the lumps and bumps in the right places. It is light and just feels right to hold. Pick the camera up and you won’t want to put it down. I must admit I wasn’t expecting great build quality from a camera with this price tag, but I was pleasantly surprised when I took it out of the box. It has the look and feel of a far more expensive camera. The choice of materials is just right and it is no surprise to me that Pentax have been able to make the camera dust and moisture resistant, although I didn’t put that to the test. I’m usually pretty rough with my kit, not deliberately but as a professional shooter my cameras do take a bit of a bashing and I would expect this rugged beauty to cope well in all my usual circumstances. The buttons and controls are all very well made and everything feels robust. Pentax have the slogan “be interesting” and they have certainly built a camera that lives up to it.

Image quality

When Marko my picture editor first got his hands on my RAW DNG format files from the Pentax K200D, he was astounded at the colour accuracy prior to adjustment. He showed me a set of previews Adobe Lightroom had created prior to any of his adjustments and it is true to say the skin tone rendition puts many top pro cameras to shame. The Pentax K200D digital SLR camera is a great image maker displaying all the right picture making attributes including low noise, accurate colour rendition and excellent sharpness. Other processing artefacts like banding are all kept well under control too.

Sample portrait image © Pentax 2008

Pentax K200D - My conclusions:

Best bits of the Pentax K200D digital SLR:

  • Small size and light weight
  • Excellent image quality
  • DNG option for RAW- format output
  • Outstanding RAW- format image quality
  • Good ergonomics, comfortable to hold and use
  • Excellent large rear screen
  • Top LCD panel with all the info you need
  • Large bright viewfinder
  • A really effective anti shake feature built in to the camera body that works with all lenses
  • An automatic CCD cleaning system
  • A wide range of system accessories and lenses

Worst bits of the Pentax K200D digital SLR:

  • Shutter timing with anti shake feature. There is a seemingly long process (still only a fraction of a second) from the time that the mirror goes up to when it returns whilst taking a picture with the anti shake feature turned on
  • Too much reliance on menu access via the ‘Function’ button to make simple adjustments

Is the picture quality of the Pentax K200D good enough to impress the judges of a 20”x16” print competition? Yes if the photograph is taken using ISO 800 or under, the resulting picture quality is fantastic.

Does the Pentax K200D represent good value for money? Yes

Is it cool? Yes

If I was in the market for a DSLR with in my pocket would I buy this camera? Yes

Do I want one? Yes, but my professional job demands more.

Can I recommend it? Yes, unreservedly, it is a joy to use, the pictures are great and the lenses I’ve used are superb.

My advice if you are serious about taking photographs is to stand out from the crowd and bag yourself this little gem of a camera. You won’t be disappointed.

Pentax K200D Rating:

 8/10 value
 8/10 build quality
 9/10 image quality
 8/10 features
 8/10 handling

Overall:Overall 8 out of 10

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