Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pentax K200D First Impressions

After using the K200D for two weeks, I have gathered some thought about my first impressions. I hope it would help anyone who is considering this for the first DSLR purchase.

About the Photos
  • ISO 100 is incredible. ISO 1600 is good and can destroy my Fz7 at 100. The noise is well controlled in jpeg. When I use Pentax Photo Lab to convert the RAW files, the noise even has a film grain kind of quality which I like.
  • The Auto ISO feature that automatically choose from a range is awesome. I get to spend more time thinking about aperture and shutter speed than worrying about ISO when I'm taking pictures of people.
  • The output of Pentax Photo Lab is great, and the presets matches the camera almost exactly. I use natural and occasionally vibrant. Vibrant is the same as Miyabi in Japanese, which simulates the color on slide film.
  • The shake reduction is really effective. I was able to handheld 1/8 seconds with no blur. I could do that do with the Fz7 but I didn't expect an SLR to be able to because of the mirror slap.
  • Flash pictures look a little underexposed. I think either it's not powerful enough or I haven't dialed in enough compensation.

About Focus
  • Viewfinder is smaller than the ZX-M! I was very shocked, because ZX-M 0.77x magnification, which is considered small in 35mm. The K200D is 0.85x, but it's of a smaller sensor, which is equivalent to about 0.57x...
  • Auto focus is fast in bright light. In low light, it takes some time to lock on focus, especially if the subject is moving around. This makes it difficult to take people snapshots because they would start smiling as soon as the camera is pointed at them but the camera is still trying to focus...
  • Manual focus is difficult with the plain matte screen. I might get a split image focusing screen or make one myself later.
  • The quick shift focus mechanism is really nice.
  • I like that AF is not linked to exposure (customizable). I sometimes focus and recompose and find that very nice.

About Lenses
  • It was confusing at first to use a K mount lens without the A setting. It took me a while to find out the customization setting to allow using the aperture ring. After that, using the green button to find exposure is very easy.
  • I got a DA16-45mm at the same time. Shouldn't have done that. Image contrast is better, and much sharper wide open (which I use most of the time when indoors). Lens cap was poor, because it's unusable when the lens hood is attached.
  • My kit lens 18-55mm mk II front focuses in indoor yellowish light. Same thing happens to the focus confirmation dot when I use a Pentax-A 50mm f1.7. In natural light everything is normal. My 16-45mm does not have problem at all, which is quite curious.
  • The K200D likes to underexpose my Pentax-A 50mm f1.7 by about 1 stop.

About Using DSLR in General
  • It was heavy at first compared to my Panasonic Fz7. But after several days I already got used to the weight.
  • People ask me why they hear a mechanical sound when I take a picture, "is that an old camera?"
  • Some people mention they feel like their pictures are taken by paparazzi when I use burst mode to take two photos consecutively.
  • The LCD is big and beautiful.
  • I couldn't find the DOF preview button at first. Then I found the customization setting to change the digital preview to DOF preview. It is however quite useless in the small viewfinder, so I changed it back to digital preview (which basically takes a photo without saving it).
  • The battery door is not as well built as my Fz7...


Overall, the image quality simply blew me away. The beautiful color and contrast made everything look more 3D. In particular, people's faces no longer look flat and round, which really pleases certain people. There are shortcomings, as expected with all entry-level DSLR, but they are all manageable with skill and practice. I am really pleased with my purchase.


Sample Photo with Kit Lens II
Spring roll and pork bun

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why I chose Pentax K200D over XSI, D60 and A300

After much deliberation, I finally bought a Pentax K200D. It is my first time owning a DSLR, so I did a lot of research on this, comparing the Canon 450D (XSI), Nikon D60 and Sony A200/A300/A350. In this post I'll summarize my findings and in my next post I will write about my first impressions after playing the the camera over the weekend.

First a disclaimer. This post is not meant to convince you about which camera to buy. It is simply my thinking process. Hopefully it will be helpful if someone is having the same questions as I had.

My requirements for my first DSLR
  1. Low light performance - my primary reason for buying a DSLR is that I like to take pictures of people inside my home (which is somewhat dark). I'm quite tired of the noise from my Fz7.
  2. Dynamic range and color - I understand Photoshop and can find my way around the curves and levels adjustments, but lots of time, either the highlights are already blown out or the shadows have noise that gets worse with adjustments. The colors from all P&S are too blocky and flat for me.
  3. Price - Price is important to me since the body depreciates quickly. I monitor the street price and all deals quite closely.
  4. Kit lens - I don't plan to buy a $1000 upgrade lens any time soon, so I want a kit lens with reasonable performance that can beat my Fz7.
  5. Weight - the lighter the better. I will bring it on travels so weight is quite important for me.
  6. Manual lenses - I like exploring manual lenses when given the chance, since I also like rangefinders.
I already own a film Pentax MZ-M with a Pentax A50/1.7 and a Kiron 28/2, so I admit I maybe slightly biased. I don't have a problem selling them on eBay though if I indeed bought into a new system.

The entry-level DSLR roundup (in no particular order)

1. Canon XSI (450D) - best in class if not for the high price
  • Pros: Lots of features. Somewhat inconvenient live view but it's there. Light. Great autofocus. IS kit lens. Can use lenses from many other manufacturers with adapter.
  • Cons: No in-body IS means higher cost of upgrade lens with IS. Most expensive of the entry levels.
2. Nikon D60 - weakest in class
  • Pros: Very light. Great autofocus. VR kits lens. Cheap.
  • Cons: Somewhat crippled. Confusing information on using manual lenses. No in-body IS means higher cost of upgrade lens with VR.
3. Sony A200/A300/A350 - A300 is best choice in Sony camp overall but viewfinder really is too small
  • Pros: Light. Great autofocus. In-body SR. Cheap.
  • Pros A200: Viewfinder on par with other manufacturers
  • Pros A300/A350: Wonderful live view (means even family members can take pictures of me)
  • Cons: Noise. Worst kit lens among competition (but best range). Sony lenses are expensive. Non-standard flash hot shoe.
  • Cons A300: Tiny viewfinder
  • Cons A350: Tiny viewfinder, possibly higher level of noise
4. Pentax K200D - fully featured, cheap but big and heavy
  • Pros: Good viewfinder. In-body SR. Best kit lens among competition. Lots of features. Cheap.
  • Cons: Heavy. Biggish. Slower auto focus. Cannot try out at major retailers.
I find the Sony A300 and K200D best fit my needs. Each has its own flaw that slightly puts me off (poor kit lens on A300 and weight of K200D) so the price decided which one to buy. During Mother's Day, the A300 was actually available for $600 from SonyStyle and Amazon with a bunch of package deals. I was however put off by the high cost of the 50mm F1.4 and other better lenses. In the end, the Pentax $100 off body and another $100 off the DA 16-45mm F4.0 rebate was the deal maker. My final cost after rebate for the kit was less than $550 and the lens was $223.