Nuggets: Pentax EI-200 is a solid snapper

Looking for your first digital camera? Take a look at this baby

In the run-up to Christmas Nuggets has put together an indispensable guide to digital imagery. We've got our hands on twelve digital cameras covering the full range of prices and functionality -- from simple Webcams to mighty SLR models -- and we're gonna bring you all the facts and figures. With advice on scanners, printers and storage, and reviews of the best software on the market, Nuggets will help you choose the right equipment. Watch out for hot reviews every day.

To kick off, here's an easy-to-use compact digital camera from Pentax...

Newcomers to digital photography should make a beeline for Pentax's EI-200 2.11 Megapixel compact camera. Simplicity is very apparent with this camera and you should be taking pictures within a couple of minutes of opening the box.

Importantly, they'll probably be good pictures too, although if you're after pro quality the maximum resolution of 1600x1200 pixels will leave you disappointed.

While the EI-200 can boast at being simple, it ain't exactly nifty. At 127x72x57mm and over 300g, this isn't a slip-it-in-your-pocket affair like the Canon Ixus or Agfa's ePhoto CL20 (which we'll be reviewing later this week).

Once you've popped in four AA batteries and a compact flash card you're all ready to go snapping, but because of the LCD's power-devouring tendencies it's advisable to stick to the optical viewfinder (this isn't specific to the EI-200, most if not all digital cameras use an inordinate amount of power when the LCD screen is left on). However you'll have to use the LCD if you're making use of the digital zoom -- which allows up to 2x enlargement. A better idea might be to just zoom in with your graphics software... exactly the same effect.

Auto-focus, red-eye reducer and slow shutter-speed functions help to get a novice photographer off on the right footing and ready for the manual controls.

A nifty and usually overlooked feature is ISO speed control which is common with most SLR models but definitely a bonus on a compact. This gives you more control over the final results of your pictures, particularly fast moving objects or specific lighting circumstances. You can also tweak the AE metering, and the white balance to adjust for artificial light.

There is one real bum offering with Pentax' otherwise brilliant camera, the memory. Perhaps Pentax would like to write in and tell us why it comes with a measly 8MB CompactFlash card (it holds one, yes that's one, uncompressed 1600x1200 TIF) which really is rather silly.

You're also rather kept in the dark about battery life, which is displayed as either "full", "half-full", "low" and "depleted". We found ourselves stuck on "half-full" for a long time, while "low" rapidly changed to "depleted". It'd be useful to have a bigger scale, as the change to "low" is a depressing shock which puts an end to LCD use.

Also, because the manual came on a CD-ROM you can't really browse it on a train (unless you carry a laptop around or print out the 140 page PDF).

Minor gripes apart, this is a quality bit of kit. Dead easy to use, with decent functionality for the more advanced. Although it's only 2.1 Megapixels, which pretty much limits your printouts to 8in by 6in, the end results should be good.

  • Pentax EI-200

  • 2.11 Megapixel digital compact camera

  • £500 (inc VAT)

  • 300g, 127.5x71.5x56.5mm

  • Maximum resolution of 1600x1200

  • 5.2mm-16.5mm lens (equivalent of 34mm-108mm in 35mm format)

  • Built-in zoom (2x max), autofocus, auto flash, auto exposure, red-eye reducer, slow-shutter-speed

  • Manual control of focussing (10cm to infinity), exposure, white levels, AE metering, ISA

  • Drive modes: one shot, continuous, time-lapse, self-timer, remote control

  • 8MB CompactFlash card supplied, USB connection.

  • 4xAA batteries supplied

  • Adobe PhotoShop LE supplied


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