Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pentax K200D vs. Nikon D90

Some of you may know that I've been making pictures with a Pentax DSLR for the past year. But, now I've switched; a new Nikon D90 and used Nikkor 18-200 lens arrived a few days ago and I hope to have the remaining Pentax gear sold and out the door soon. (Fortunately, it looks like the financial loss will be modest.)

Why? Well, that's a long story and one I'll tell later. Suffice it to say that I managed to get ignored and blown off by all levels of Pentax USA, from customer service on the phone to Mark Davis in management.

Anyway, here's some impressions of the new device. Not comprehensive obviously - you want a multipage review, click here. ;)

The Pentax has far better ergonomics. It fit my hand quite well, while the Nikon is somewhat clunky and actually gives me a blister. I'll have to add padding in some strategic places. Another major fail is the exposure lock button - if you're left-eyed and have a nose (like me), then it's extremely hard to reach this important button without poking yourself in the eye or moving back from the viewfinder. There's a number of other warts as well, like the buttons that can be remapped having a very limited set of remapping choices, and other useless buttons not supporting remapping at all (so I'm stuck with the AE-L in its stupid place).

The Nikon also doesn't fit in the small bag I like.

However, there are lots more things one can do directly with buttons, without needing to enter the menu system. For example, it has two adjustment dials instead of one, making manual mode (where one needs to be able to easily adjust both shutter speed and aperture) quite feasible - it wasn't on the Pentax (though the next higher Pentax does have two dials).

The Nikon system is roughly 50% more expensive in general, as far as I can tell, for "about the same" stuff - maybe, since I haven't figured out yet really what's comparable.

Another thing that seriously bugs me - and this one isn't Nikon's fault - is that Bibble 4 (my raw processing software) doesn't support the camera, even though it is hugely popular and not particularly new. This is because Bibble Labs massively screwed up the Bibble 5 release schedule - it was due Q4 2008, but it's still in "preview" releases - and quit adding new cameras to Bibble 4 some time ago. I'll install one of the Bibble 5 previews and hope it's not too horribly buggy.

On the other hand, the Nikon is clearly a higher spec camera. In addition to the many more buttons, it has a much more capable autofocus system which I don't really understand yet, and max ISO is two stops higher (6400 vs. 1600, i.e. four times more sensitive to light).

The image stabilization on the Nikon is far superior. First off, the experience is great - you're looking through the viewfinder watching the world wiggle around, and then when you push the shutter release halfway and the stabilization activates, bang! it's suddenly rock solid. It's viscerally satisfying, and the sensor-shift stabilization in Pentax cameras simply can't provide this (because corrective elements aren't in the viewfinder's optical path).

User experience aside, it works. I was able to take respectable snaps at 1/4 second and 200mm. For comparison, without VR (that's what Nikon calls it), that kind of exposure looks like complete mush, and the "rule of thumb" for handheld captures at 200mm is 1/250s. The Pentax is completely and utterly outclassed.

Other nice things about the Nikon: it uses a normal USB cable instead of a stupid proprietary one, and the screen is super high resolution (640x480) and gorgeous.

I guess the conclusion is, there are some major annoyances, but overall it seems like a very nice machine, I think it will be an effective tool, and for the most part I suspect I'll be able to work around or get used to the annoyances.

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