Pentax recently announced their K20D and K200D DSLR cameras as successors to the K10D and K100D Super, respectively. Honestly, my first reaction was one of disappointment: What? Nothing ground-breaking? Right! Now the good news: Not much has changed between these cameras and their excellent predecessors. Ergonomics and body-design are identical. Both have added about 4 megapixels of resolution along with a few minor changes. Curiously, the K20D added one stop of ISO (or two if you count the boost mode) but the K200D lost one compared to the K100D Super.
For these two models, the proven formula of their predecessors means that we expect these new ones to remain excellent cameras, barring any unexpected increase in image noise due to added resolution. In this respect, the K20D is a gamble and a scary one at that. Pentax coming out with a 14 megapixels sensor from Samsung, who has always made extremely noisy sensors for compact cameras and has never made any DSLR sensor before is completely uncharted territory. Lets hope Pentax and Samsung got their act together right for the Pentax K20D’s CMOS sensor.
The most significant change of the K200D is its weather-proofed body. This mean that the K200D becomes the smallest and cheapest weather-proof DSLR and it is also becomes the only weather-proof DSLR to use AA batteries. Those two combined features make the K200D more suitable to off-the-beaten path photography. The differences between the K10D and the K200D come down to ergonomics (in the K10D’s favor including its larger viewfinder) and power (in favor of the K200D thanks to the versatility of AA batteries). All things being more-or-less equal, the K200D is positioned to be the most capable cameras in its class.
The story is somewhat different with the K20D. Although it pushed the resolution limit of cropped-sensor DSLR by 2 megapixels passed its closest competitor, the Sony Alpha A700, there are many areas in which Pentax is falling behind, plus Sony also just announced a lower-end DSLR with a 14 megapixels sensor. The most significant advance among DSLR cameras over the last year is speed. Indeed, prosumer models from Canon (40D), Nikon (D300) and Sony (A700) all feature at least 5 FPS continuous shooting and top-of-the-line models exceed 10 FPS. By comparison, 3 FPS on the K20D is so entry-level.
The other lack of progress comes from the K10D’s viewfinder. The K10D had the largest viewfinder among cropped-sensor DSLRs and the K20D keeps the same size which is still the largest. However, Nikon has bested the K10D’s viewfinder by providing one that is nearly equally large and shows 100% coverage (vs 95% for the K20D and K10) on its D300. Olympus also introduced a 100% coverage viewfinder in its E-3, although it is noticeably smaller. This important feature had been limited to high-end Pro cameras until now and I definitely expected Pentax to keep up with this extremely advantageous change. Incidentally, having a 100% coverage viewfinder removes one clear advantage of live-view which has been increasing in popularity lately.
Nikon and Sony now use 3″ LCD screens with nearly one million dots which is 4 times as precise as the display on the Pentax K20D. Finally, Nikon introduced a level-indicator on its D3 to help keep images horizontal. Not only is this the sort of photographer-oriented feature that Pentax is famous for inventing, but Pentax has the technology to automatically correct it because the Shake-Reduction (SR) system in the K20D can rotate the sensor to compensate for the photographer’s movements.
Still, even though the K20D has behind in some areas, it has a lot going for it. I expect it to be the third most affordable weather-proof DSLR (after the K200D and K10D) and that features unique to the Pentax K10D will remain unique to the K20D (with the exception of the K10D of course). Particularly, time and aperture priority (TAv) mode, sensitivity priority (Sv) mode, hyper-program (P), hyper-manual (M) and digital white-balance preview are all exceptional tools which increase the photographer’s efficiency.