** Introduction **
Come with me back to the twentieth century, a time when men were real men, women were real women and digital cameras were r... er, well, never mind. Things were in fact just beginning to hot up in the digicam marketplace when the 2.1-megapixel Konica Q-M 200 (not QM-200 as some sources have it) was released in late 1999. Prices were still very high - you'd have been doing well if you'd found this one for under £400 once VAT had been take into account - but they were no longer simply playthings for bored millionaires or mad scientists.
** Looks and handling **
Actually, this camera doesn't look too bad for its vintage, though 2D photos tend to hide just how bulky it is. As this was an era when almost everyone still judged a camera's dimensions in relation to compact film cameras, that wasn't a big problem - but today's consumers, used to the results of more than a decade's slimming work, might find it a little more objectionable. The placement of the lens, right up top near the (big) flash seems ahead of its time: plenty of modern "fashion" cameras do the same thing.
There's an inbuilt lens cover that responds automatically to the camera being powered on by sliding out of the way. It works perfectly well, though it does slightly slow down a power-up process that wouldn't win any sprint medals anyway. Most of the buttons are on the back - even four arranged in an approximation of a four-way pad, which is nice - but as was common on older units there's a small monochrome info panel on the top, and here you'll find the controls for mode and quality settings, as well as the flash.
** Optics and screen **
Slightly surprisingly for such an old camera, the Q-M200 offers autofocus. It's not the fastest such system you'll ever come across, and so would be fairly useless for fast-moving objects such as birds in flight, but at least it's there. The lens has an equivalent focal length of 38 mm, slightly longer than average, and is a little slow with a maximum aperture of f/3.2, rising to f/9.0 where light conditions dictate. You don't get an optical zoom, and as usual the 2x digital zoom is no more than an advertising gimmick with no practical use.
I was really quite disappointed with the LCD on the Konica. I thought I'd made reasonable allowances for its age, but even taking that into account it seemed a pretty poor effort. The size is not bad at all for the era (1.8 inches) but it's not sharp and has some of the worst lag I've ever seen. The manual doesn't state how many pixels the screen boasts, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were as few as 50,000, which would be around half that of some comparable models.
** Features and settings **
This is largely a "point and shoot" camera, and given the combination of that and the lack of an optical zoom, there really isn't a great deal for the photographer to play with. Indeed, even something as basic as white balance is restricted to automatic only. The user *can* set photo quality - though as ever, these days there's no real reason to turn it down from maximum - and there are a couple of scene modes, sports and "text", the latter of which turns out to do no more than reduce the picture to black and white.
A few things can be set by means of the mode dial on the top of the camera. In particular, exposure compensation is adjusted this way, though the method for using this feature is slightly cumbersome and you can only adjust by 1.5 stops each way. There's also a four-frame continuous shooting mode, and its maximum 4 fps speed sounds very impressive... until you realise that this feature can only be used at 640 x 480 pixel resolution. Still, at least it exists, which is more than can be said for a movie mode!
** Photo quality **
The Konica's 2.1 mp resolution is sufficient for reasonable snapshots if handled well, but I suspect that most people would be rather disappointed by this camera's output. It's not a *complete* disaster, but even for the lowish pixel count images seem a bit soft and blurry. More seriously, there's a gauzy grey cast over most pictures which mutes even the brightest colours. This can be rescued to some extent on a computer, but that tends to play merry hell with the contrast, which is a bit vague to start with.
** Consumables **
Since the Q-M200 does not offer a USB interface of any kind, unless you possess both a serial port and a *lot* of patience you will need a card reader. Thankfully this is made a bit easier by the fact that Konica chose the CompactFlash memory format. At top quality pictures take up around the 700 KB mark, so a 256 MB card ought to be ample. There isn't any point in selecting a fast CF card, as the camera itself would have no chance of exploiting its extra rapidity.
This is one of the strangest cameras I've seen when it comes to power. Konica recommended a proprietary Li-ion battery, but good luck in finding a good one of those a dozen years on. Luckily the Q-M200 can also work with AA cells... but it needs *three*. Battery life with alkalines could politely be described as appalling - even the manual claims a life of a mere 10 shots! - but with proper NiMH rechargeables this increases to around 100. Still hardly impressive, but at least usable.
** Buying and verdict **
It's very hard to say what this camera usually sells for, because I can't remember seeing one before I got mine! I paid £8, but I don't think the seller had much idea either so we were both taking a bit of a punt. As it has no zoom and mediocre image quality, a consumer on a very limited budget will not really be missing very much if they keep hold of their cash and decide instead to go for a more mainstream option such as a Fujifilm, Nikon or Canon. As such, the Q-M200 can't really be recommended.