The A200 has seven white balance presets (daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent 1 and 2, flash) in addition to the default auto setting. There is also an excellent manual (custom) white balance mode with two memories. Results from auto white balance are 'as expected', good in natural light, less so under articificial light. It's a pity Konica Minolta still hasn't nailed the AWB problem, and - given that we saw occasional white balance problems even outdoors on a clear day - I'd recommend using the presets (or custom mode) - or even white balance bracketing - when color fidelity is important. Of course you could shoot RAW and worry about it later!
Outdoor - Auto WB
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Incandescent - Auto WB
Generally we were impressed with the flash performance - certainly in terms of color and exposure. The biggest problem was missed focus in low light situations (especially at longer focal lengths), which not only caused blurred images, but also led to blown-out (overexposed) faces on occasion. The flash has a working range of around 1.6 to 12.5 feet (Wide); 1.6 to 9.8 feet (tele) at ISO 200 (auto ISO always selects ISO 200 when the flash is in use). Although flash images can look a little 'murky' (lacking contrast), they respond well to a couple of seconds' worth of post processing. Although by no means perfect, the built-in flash performs a lot better than the A2, perhaps as a result of the updated CXIII processing.
Excellent color, slight overexposure
Excellent color, very good exposure
Just like the DiMAGE A2, the DiMAGE A200 has two macro positions on its lens, one at wide angle and one (with a little zoom adjustment) at telephoto. Both proved to have the same minimum focus distance and so (as mentioned in our A1 and A2 reviews) the wide angle macro option is fairly pointless, it doesn't provide you with any close-up frame coverage and simply introduces a lot of distortion. The telephoto macro option provides respectable close up shots with high magnification and no distortion (other than a little corner softness at a wide open aperture). The frame coverage results are virtually identical to the A2..
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
The DiMAGE A200 produced the same levels of distortion as the DiMAGE A1/A2. At full wide angle you can expect around 1.5% barrel distortion (the figure is different to the A2 simply because we have recently adopted a new, standardized and highly accurate measurement system). There is a small (0.5%) amount of barely noticeable pincushion distortion at telephoto. The A200's wide angle barrel distortion was of a similar level to that seen on the Canon Pro1 and Sony DSC-F828.
|Barrel distortion - 1.5% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.5% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 200 mm
Here for visual comparison are five identical shots taken at ISO 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 settings in our studio. ISO 50 images are remarkably clean for an camera with this sensor. Noise at ISO 100 and ISO 200 is pretty much in line with the competition. ISO 400 shows some fairly aggressive noise reduction in action, which creates a smooth, but rather blotchy result. ISO 800 is usable in a tight spot, and if you don't try and print too large. The noise reduction (which can be turned off) does remove a lot of fine detail, but - if your exposure is spot on - you can get perfectly usable results at ISO 800 when there is no alternative.
|ISO 50 100% crop||ISO 100 100% crop|
|ISO 200 100% crop||ISO 400 100% crop|
|ISO 800 100% crop|
Specific image quality issues
Overall performance, as with the A2 before it, was good, though not the best of the 8MP bunch. Noise levels are low, especally at the lower end of the ISO scale. We also liked Konica Minolta's tonal balance and color response, both of which were natural and did not look overly processed. If anything the color is marginally better (skintones, pastels) than the A2 (it does have upgraded image processing), but this is more of a hunch than a measurable result. As with the A2, Resolution was 'good' but not up to the level we would hope for. The slightly soft results do however sharpen up well and the generally clean and respond well to careful post-processing.
Exposure is generally excellent, as is white balance (unless you're shooting under artificial light - see above). The Multi-Segment metering does throw up the occasional problem (it seems very sensitive to the slightest re-framing), and we found centre-weighted metering more reliable. Of around 1000 shots only a handful had serious exposure or white balance problems. There is a tendancy to underexpose slightly when confronted with very high contrast scenes, which does at least preserve highlight detail, but means post-processing is essential to lift the shadows. Chromatic Aberration/Purple fringing is low, there is a tiny measurable amount of vignetting (darkening of the image corners), but it is not noticeable in 99% of real-world shots.
Our biggest gripe, however, was with the A200's auto focus which proved to be just as inconsistent as the A2 before it. There are two problems here - one is the wide area focus has a tendancy to lock onto the nearest thing in the scene even if it occupies only a tiny part of the frame (see examples below). Far worse, however, is the A200's willingness to take a picture that is completely out of focus, often after indicating that focus lock has been achieved. As with the A2, the focus is fast, but I would estimate around 1 in 20 shots is not correctly focused, probably 1 in 10 when shooting indoors at social occasions (i.e zoomed in slightly, low light, subject distances of 1 to 4 meters).
As mentioned above we found the focus system of the A200 to be just as unreliable as the A2 - whether insisting on locking on some tiny piece of foreground detail (a twig at the edge of the frame for example) or simply missing focus altogether, the A200 fails to focus correctly too often for a camera in this class. To be fair, we took around 1000 frames during this test, and the focus problem occured only in about 40 shots, of which nearly all were in low light at longer focal lengths, but it's still something Konica Minolta needs to address in future models.
|100% crop||200 mm equiv., F3.5|
|100% crop||177 mm equiv., F3.5|
|100% crop||200 mm equiv., F3.5|
Dynamic range/exposure issues
In common with all cameras based around this sensor, the A200 struggles to capture the full dynamic range of high contrast scenes. In these situations the metering system invariably exposes for the highlights, which is great for preserving delicate sky detail, but tends to render any mid-tone or shadow areas very dark indeed. I found shooting RAW made rescuing this kind of shot a lot easier, and to be fair to Konica Minolta, this is more a limitation of the 8MP sensor than a serious flaw in the camera itself.
|100% crop||48 mm equiv., F3.2|
As noted in our other eight megapixel digital camera reviews this particular CCD in combination with compact wide angle lenses does appear to lead to purple fringing. However on the DiMAGE A200 fringing, while visible in pretty extreme shots (generally those with overexposed highlights), isn't as strong as we have seen in other cameras and is eliminated once the the lens is stopped below F4.
|100% crop||87 mm equiv., F3.5|
As we commented when testing the A2, throughout our samples we found examples of images which just weren't as sharp as we expected or had seen from other eight megapixel digital cameras. At first we thought this was associated with small apertures however this shifted after we found examples in images taken at moderate apertures. Obviously this could be linked to the AF issue noted above but in certain soft images it was difficult to see where the AF point actually was. Note that the lower example also shows some vignetting.
|100% crop||200 mm equiv., F3.5|
|100% crop||187 mm equiv., F3.5|