Jan 03 2009

Journeys with a Pentax K200D DSLR—First Impressions

 
I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later I’d buy a digital SLR. For almost two years I’ve been using a Canon PowerShot A550 point-and-shoot camera, my introduction into the digital world after about 40 years of shooting film. I was quickly hooked on digital photography, despite my initial (and it must be said, snobbish) hesitation. I’ve already described the benchmarks on the path to my becoming a digital girl so won’t retrace my steps there. What I will say is that digital photography is a wonderfully liberating medium. Freedom from the tyranny of film processing has allowed me to splurge with shots that I’d have thought twice about in the past—experimental angles, odd subjects, and lots of bracketing. My interest in photography has been rejuvenated. But instead of supplanting watercolor painting and sketching—photography will never be as satisfying for me as those more personal forms of creative expression—shooting digital pictures enhances those other pursuits and allows me to chronicle experiences and sights for later reference. And aside from the practical nature of digital photography, it is a great deal of fun.

Many folks have asked me to let them know what I think of the K200D, and to that end I’ll periodically post my impressions as I get to know its personality. Before continuing, though, I have to put in a plug for my Canon PowerShot PAS. It’s a great small camera, and it’s given me thousands of terrific pictures. It will continue to be my primary camera for quick photographs, since it’s so small and light, and fits so easily in my bike bar bag, my jacket pocket, and in my rucksack. The two cameras compliment one another nicely.

 
Choosing a DSLR took me quite a long time. After a good many hours of research and cud-chewing the Pentax K200D with the “kit lens”—the SMC Pentax-DA 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.8 AL II—emerged as the best choice. I based my decision on cost, the convenience of being able to use rechargeable AA batteries, and on the camera’s quality as garnered from reliable reviews. In short order I’ll get a telephoto zoom to compliment the kit lens, but for now I’m satisfied with this rig. After a short getting-acquainted period with the excellent manuals which came with the camera, I went on a hike to see what I could find to shoot. Here are some examples:

 

Frozen in Time

 
This macro of an icicle (it’s about as thick as a pencil) was taken without a tripod and in a swaying breeze. Given that an icy drip was also falling onto my neck and causing a lot of discomfort, I’d say this camera’s close-up capabilities are excellent. Here’s another close-up of icicles suspended from the needles of a jack pine:

 

Frozen Fingers

 
And here’s a one-on-one reproduction of the tip of those two icicles:

 

Glassy Stillness

 
While I was shooting pictures of the icicles, an inquisitive chickadee flew into the far end of the tree to see what I was up to. A quick rotation of the zoom ring brought the chickadee into the picture. I used auto-focus for this shot because I hadn’t yet learned how to quickly push the manual focus. I worried that the tangle of branches would throw off the focus, but the chickadee came out well:

 

Chickadee-dee-dee

 
The next test was to see how the K200D handled moving objects, so I walked to the river and shot this picture on manual mode:

 

Stopping Water

 
I wanted a sharp image of the standing wave without making it appear frozen, so used a shutter speed of 1/250 and an aperture of f/8. I had the lens fully extended to 55 mm, which is equivalent to 82 mm on a 35 mm camera. Then I tried slowing down the shutter speed to 1/30, and that, with an aperture of f/13, smoothed out the water in this shot:

 

Going in the Flow

 
Details in the foreground snow are lost because I exposed for the darker wave. Manipulating these images with one of my graphics applications would probably bring out the snow’s details, and this brings me to the subject of white balance. I retained the Pentax auto white balance in the camera’s settings, preferring to rely on my instinct to expose for the portion of a scene that I want to emphasize. (With the polarizing filter I have on order, some of the difficulties in coping with snowy landscapes will be addressed.) Still, snow does throw off auto exposure, but not to such a degree that it’s impossible to compensate as I would with my old Olympus manual SLR. Here’s an example:

 

Keep Out!

 
I wanted to emphasize the gate, lock and chain, so spot-focused on them, which entails centering your subject in the viewfinder, focusing, and holding the shutter release button down half way while readjusting the composition. When satisfied with that, press the shutter release button fully and you’ve got the snap. The shutter release on this camera is superb, and the shutter is crisp.

On a brilliantly sunny day, photography will be challenging with snow’s glare, but on this largely overcast day, the main problem was the flat light. That didn’t mean there weren’t interesting pictures waiting to be taken, like the pattern of dry rot in this standing dead tree:

 

Patterns

 
And even with the lack of contrast in the snow, there were patterns to find in the landscape, such as this riverside scene:

 

Natural Inukshuk

 
All in all I’m very pleased with the Pentax K200D. With a minimum amount of time spent learning basic operations, I shot the equivalent of four rolls of film on my familiarization hike and was happy with almost all the photos I took. The pictures in this article required very little in the way of studio manipulation—minor adjustments to levels, contrast and saturation—to bring out the best each had to provide.

 

With no-Skid Gloves

 
Here are some of the features I especially like about the K200D, not in any particular order:

  • • Thorough, understandable instruction books
  • • Excellent neck strap (though I swapped it for one I made)
  • • Logical placement of controls
  • • Labels on camera and lens are easy to read
  • • Camera can be used while wearing gloves
  • • Ability to select LARGE TEXT for monitor menu commands
  • • Uses AA batteries
  • • Uses standard SD and SDHC memory cards
  • • Mirror lock-up capability
  • • Shutter release is crisp, certain, quick
  • • Quick recycling time means quick picture-taking for action shots
  • • Image stabilization feature
  • • Lens hood was included with the kit
  • • Black body
  • • “Sticky” textured hand and thumb grips
  • • Shoots JPEG, RAW, or both at once
  • • Lens is crisp and focuses quickly on AF or manually
  • • Lens cap grips securely
  • • Viewfinder diopter adjusts easily to suit eyesight
  • • Downloading images to computer is a snap
  • • Very well packed for shipping and no foam peanuts

 

Triptych

 
Is there anything I don’t like about the K200D? So far, no. Only one small quibble: I wish that Pentax had provided a protective shield over the LCD panels, especially on the monitor, which could easily be smeared by nose grease or fingerprints if not covered with plastic. I bought a pack of Targus protectors and covered the panels, but they’re not very durable, so I’m shopping for better ones.

 
The Bottom Line  Would I buy this camera if I had to do it all over again? Yes, I would! Will it meet my needs well into the future? Yes, it will! Stay tuned for future dispatches.

 
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Ducky Day