At first sight the Pentax K200D does look very much like the K20D, and the model numbers are confusingly similar. There are significant differences, though.
The K20D has a 14-megapixel CMOS sensor and a Live View mode. The K200D reviewed here has a regular 10-megapixel CCD and no Live View. Despite that, the K200D is a very accomplished little camera, which shares many of the features of its bigger brother.
Enhance your photos
For a start, there's the Shake Reduction (SR) mechanism, which, Pentax claims, enables you to shoot up to four shutter speeds slower without risking camera shake. This SR system works very well and seems to be the best of all the sensor-shift systems on the market and as good as any lens-based stabilisation system.
The K200D also has the K20D's Dynamic Range Enlargement (DRE) system, an option amongst the ISO settings, which doubles the brightness range the sensor can record. This makes a visible difference when photographing scenes with bright, subtle highlights - highlights which, with other cameras, might blow out to a clear white.
You can shoot in a range of picture styles including Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant and BW colour renditions, and it's possible to tweak the Saturation, Hue, Contrast and Sharpness within each. Indeed, in BW mode, youcan simulate the effect of traditional black and white orange, red, green and yellow filters.
Beginners will like the range of scene modes available on the mode dial and clustered under the Scene setting. But there's a lot more to this camera which will appeal to more experienced photographers, too.
For example, close-up fans will know that many shots can be spoiled by mirror vibration, but the Pentax has a two-second self-timer, which locks the mirror up as soon as you press the shutter release, giving time for any vibrations to die down before the shutter opens.
And in manual mode you are, of course, required to work out your own shutter speed and aperture combinations, as you are with any camera. Here, though, if you press the 'green' button on top of the camera, it will set both automatically, saving you a whole lot of time and still enabling you to change them subsequently.
Adjusting ISO settings
The K200D also has the Sv exposure mode found on the K20D. Here, turning the camera's control dial changes the ISO, and the camera then adjusts the shutter speed and aperture to suit the conditions.
Functionally, it's no different to changing the ISO in Program AE mode on any other camera, but it's just a lot more convenient when it's done this way. The idea is that you quickly adjust the ISO to suit the conditions you're working in. For example, you might be photographing the darkened interior of a cathedral one minute, then stepping out into bright sunshine the next.
None of these features are ground-breaking, but they're all rather smart. You get the feeling this is a camera designed by old-school photographers who've had a long time to work out how a camera should work.
Odd battery choice
Unlike the K20D, which uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the K200D runs on a set of four AA cells. The problem with AAs is not just that they're quite bulky and fiddly to load, but that their power output and shelf-life is unpredictable.
Alkaline cells don't last well in digital cameras (80 shots in the Pentax) and rechargeable NiMH cells lose power even in storage, which is a bit of a nuisance if you only use your camera sporadically.
The advantage of AA batteries, though, is that you can buy them anywhere, so that if the Pentax does run out of power, it won't be too difficult to get replacements. Rather than using regular alkalines, though, you'd be much better off with high-powered lithium disposables. These cost more, but last many times longer.
Indeed, the K200D comes supplied with a set, and ours were still going strong even after days of intermittent testing. Pentax claims a life of 550 shots with this type of battery, which is at least as good as most of its rivals and their lithium-ion cells.
Pentax has done well to find space for four AAs in what is actually quite a compact body. But although it's small, the Pentax is also very robust. The outside is plastic, but the camera chassis is made of stainless steel. This camera does feel notably heavier and tougher than other entry-level SLRs.
But there is also a hint of crudeness about it. The controls are all fine, but the menus use blocky text, rather unsubtle icons and garish primary colours. The control system is effective, but there's nothing subtle about it, especially when you compare it to the smart and modern-looking graphical interface on the Nikon D60, for example.
Many users won't care about that, of course, and will only be interested in how easy and logical the camera is to use, and how good the pictures are.
Hit and miss pictures
There are two types of picture quality with the K200D: what we'll call 'macroscopic' picture quality, which is what the image looks like as a whole (tone, contrast, colour, saturation and so on), and 'microscopic' picture quality (sharpness, noise, aberrations).
The K200's 'macroscopic' picture quality is very good. As with previous Pentaxes, there's a film-like look about the results, with strong mid-tone contrast that many other digital SLRs don't produce, and dense, vivid colours. 'Microscopically', it's a slightly different story.
The definition and noise levels are typical for a 10-megapixel DSLR, but the 18-55mm kit lens isn't a great performer. Definition drops off towards the edges of the frame and chromatic aberration around outlines starts to creep in. There are also traces of vignetting at the short end of the zoom range. And the coarse and noisy autofocus motor is just the last straw.
A gadget-heavy camera
Frankly, the K200D's kit lens does let it down. It's definitely worth considering a more expensive alternative and, while this does push the price up, this camera is good enough to justify it.
If you're into style, gadgets and technology, the K200D isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you want a solid, workmanlike camera with a traditional feel and film-like image quality, you should take it seriously.