Operation and controls

Where the A2 covered every square inch of surface real estate with control switches, dials and buttons, the A200 keeps things simple - well as simple as they can be with such a comprehensive feature set. Although the majority of 'everyday' shooting parameters (exposure mode, drive/focus/AE-compensation/exposure/white balance settings and so on) are accessed via external controls, many more have been relegated to on-screen menus - mostly via the Canon-a-like FUNC menu. Personally (and I know there's a lot of A2 owners who will disagree with this statement), I don't think the A200 loses out by replacing the rather cluttered user interface with a slightly more menu-driven version, with the possible exception of the flash mode (which really should have an external control). I was particularly pleased to see white balance getting its own button as I tend to change this setting quite a lot in everyday use and it is often relegated to sub menus. I also tend to change ISO settings a lot when taking pictures (partly due to the nature of the review process), so there were times when I missed the A2's second control dial, which allows you to change ISO (marginally) faster. Overall, though, I think the A200 has an excellent user interface, and one that feels much more transparent - and intuitive - than many similarly specified competitors.

Rear of camera

The rear of the A200 may be a lot cleaner than the A2, but it's not the number of controls that's changed; Konica Minolta has simply tidied up and simplified the layout (helped a great deal by the move of the power/mode switch to the top plate). The rather pointless (how often do you really need to turn it off?) anti-shake on/off button now sits above the LCD screen to the left of a single EVF/LCD screen toggle button. The A200 doesn't have the automatic eye-detect switching system of the A2 - a nice feature, but one I can live without, given the improvements to the LCD screen. The remainder of the rear controls - and those you're most likely to use on a day-to-day basis - fill the space to the right of the LCD screen. These are, from the top; i+ (used to adjust the amount of on-screen information), AE-lock, a set of zoom buttons (to control the digital zoom and playback magnification), the aforementioned FUNC button, a four-way controller (with the up and down keys doubling as AE compensation and white balance controls), a quick play/delete button and the MENU button.

Top of camera

It's easy to see just how 'SLR-like' the A200 is when viewed from above. The top plate - as mentioned earlier - is home to the main exposure mode dial, power switch (also used to move from record to playback modes), drive mode (also controls self-timer, AE bracketing and the supplied remote control). On top of the hand grip sits the shutter release, and directly behind, the single control dial.

Display and menus

The DiMAGE A200 offers a flexible range of live view display modes. The three default modes are accessed by pressing the i+ (display information) button, hold the Shift button and press i+ to overlay the grid or scale displays. The overall interface is very similar to the A2, though obviously the FUNC menu is new.

At its most basic (no information overlay), the live preview image is shown with the focus area indicated by a white frame. You can switch quickly between the three focus modes by pressing the button in the middle of the 4-way controller and turning the control dial. Wide area focus (shown here) is the default, or you can choose from one of the 11 areas manually, or - for really fine control - switch to flex focus mode, which gives you a crosshair focus point you can move to one of thousands of positions. Here's the 'standard' view - a full complement of shooting information is displayed around the preview image frame.
Another press of the i+ button brings up a very detailed live histogram. When used with manual exposure, this is a very powerful tool. Half press the shutter release and the A200 will indicate the focus point and exposure settings chosen. The white dot (bottom right) is supposed to show correct focus (it turns red if focus cannot be locked) - in our tests it all too often indicated correct focus even when it was patently obvious everything in the frame was completely out of focus.
Pressing the 'down' key on the 4-way controller allows you to enter an exposure compensation (though doing so rather annoyingly makes the rest of the shooting information, including the histogram, disappear), and - if the flash is in use - flash exposure compensation (+/- 2.0 EV in each case). After fully depressing the shutter release a brief review (instant playback) is shown (this can be set to 2 seconds, 10 seconds or disabled). Press the QV/Delete button to delete this image (do not save) or carry on shooting by quickly tapping the shutter release (half way).
Pressing the FUNC button brings up a very Canon-like page of menus covering the most commonly accessed photographic controls; ISO setting, color mode (vivid, natural, portrait sRGB, embed AdobeRGB and B&W), flash mode, metering pattern, color filter (from warm to cool), saturation and contrast. Note that these menus usually appear over a live preview - we're using a plain background to make it easier to see in the screenshot. The record menu contains three pages of options covering everything from image size/quality to noise reduction and digital zoom settings, sharpening and date/time imprinting.
Like the A2 before it, the A200 has a fairly sophisticated manual focus system controlled by a fluid-damped ring around the base of the lens barrel. Switching to MF (using the button on the left side of the camera) brings up a focus frame (you can move this around the image if you wish). As soon as you start to turn the focus ring the area inside the focus frame is magnified to fill the entire screen. Without the ultra-high resolution EVF of the A2 manul focus is a little hit 'n' miss, but it is possible. You can also turn on an option in the record menu ('Direct Manual Focus'), wherein turning the focus ring will override the autofocus system and switch immediately to manual.
Finally, white balance. Pressing the WB (down arrow) button brings up this mini menu offering auto white balance, 7 presets and two custom (measured) settings. Another nice touch is the option to save the current settings in one of five memories, allowing you to customise your camera in seconds for a wide variety of shooting situations.