The Pentax digital camera range isn't the most comprehensive available and doesn't offer the consumer quite the choice that say Nikon or Canon can. That doesn't mean they can be ignored though, as their latest cameras look very promising indeed. We're looking here at the Optio S, a stylish and slim ultra-compact that is smaller than a pack of cards. There's already quite a few of these ultra-slim compact digital cameras available, but the Pentax does offer some features to help make it stand out.
Pentax Optio S specifications
- SMC 5.8-17.4mm (35-105mm equiv.) 3x optical zoom lens
- 3.2 effective megapixels
- 2048x1536 image size
- 1.6" LCD monitor
- Seven point auto-focus
- Super Macro: 6-20cm
- Manual focus with LCD magnifier
- Spot AF
- Exposure compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 steps
- ISO 50, 100, 200 and auto
- 1/2000sec to 1sec shutter speeds
- Five white-balance presets and custom
- Time-lapse video
- Continuous shooting
- 11Mb built-in memory
- Spindle-pattern aluminium alloy body
- Dimensions: 83x52x20mm
- Weight: 98g
- Price: Around 350
Handling and controls
In a review like this, it's hard to get across the dimensions of a camera. If you want to tell exactly how small this Optio S is, open your wallet and place a credit card in your hand. The width and height of the Optio S will actually be smaller than your credit card by a few millimeters! Though naturally the depth will be 2cm rather than a few millimeters. It isn't just small either, there are several other tiny digital cameras available on the market, usually made of plastic, but the Optio S is aluminium alloy. This gives it a real feeling of solidity and it feels superbly well built.
Most parts of the user interface are very quick to respond and update. From the camera being off to taking the first shot takes around three seconds. The lens itself only takes around a second to extend and it incorporates some novel technology to remain compact.
The following cutting from the Optio S press release describes the lens mechanism well:
"Conventionally, the minimum dimensions of the lens barrel are limited by the retraction mechanism as the lenses have to remain stored on an optical axis while maintaining a minimal distance between each of the lenses. Pentax, however, saved vital space by approaching the design of the lens barrel in an entirely new way - achieving the storage of the lenses in two stages and allowing the central lens group to deviate from the optical axis with the innovative "Sliding Lens" system. Pentax also incorporated a significantly revised optical design which, when combined with the "Sliding Lens" system, achieves a reduction in camera depth of approximately 55%."
The front of the body has a spindled-pattern finish, which looks nice but can be scratched quite easily if you put the camera in a pocket with some keys...
The back of the camera, as you can see, has quite a simple layout. Despite the tiny dimensions, it is quite easy to grip and use this camera and the control layout is good.
On top of the camera, is a microphone which is used during video recording or for leaving comments on photos.
There isn't really a lot more to say about the handling of the Optio S. It's a straightforward ultra-compact digital camera, which is incredibly portable and very well built.
With digital photography taking off in a big way these days, manufacturers have generally kept the pressure on their camera designers to make them as fast as possible. The Optio S isn't an exception, with all the menus being quick to appear and navigate. In playback mode switching between images is fast and zooming in on images is of an OK speed. When you're taking photos, you have to wait almost two seconds between being able to take shots, which is reasonable for an ultra-compact camera.
Whilst framing a photograph, limited information is shown on the LCD, including the aperture and shutter speed when you press the shutter release button.
The focus confirmation brackets highlight the active focus area automatically, turning from white to green.
||Like its larger siblings, the Optio S has a well-featured playback mode. When first viewing an image you have the option to leave a voice comment on the photo or just view it. A press of the display button brings up a histogram and also shows some information about the settings used when the shot was taken. A final press of the display button removes all information on the screen, showing only the photo itself.
The record menu allows you to set, in addition to the options shown to the left: Digital Zoom, Instant review, Fast Fwd Movie, 3D Mode, Memory, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast and EV Compensation (Also settable when in record mode).
The setup menu lets you change those items shown on the image to the left, plus: Language, Video-out mode, Sleep timeout, Auto Power Off, Quick Delete, Quick Zoom, Fn Setting and Reset.
Mode selection is made possible through a camera menu rather than a switch on the body. Working clockwise the available modes are:
- Standard mode: This is an automatic mode which can generally be relied upon for decent settings by the camera.
- Picture mode: Within this setting you can select from nine picture modes. They are Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-portrait, Surf & Snow, Autumn Colours and Sunset.
- Dark Scenes: To be used at night or in dark environments for better results than the standard mode setting.
- Movie Picture: This allows you to record a movie up to 30 seconds long with sound.
- Panorama Assist mode: This setting overlays a previous image over the viewfinder to aid composition of landscape shots. Panorama software is included to help you achieve this.
- 3D Image mode: By taking two pictures in this mode you can view printed photos with the included stereo glasses for a 3D effect.
- Digital filters: These include colour filters - red, blue, green and a 'slim' filter that Pentax says produces a slimming effect.
- User Mode: This simply allows you to use the functions you've registered in advance.
For a camera with such small dimensions, the Optio S will probably satisfy most people with the quality of images it produces. Due to the small size compromises have had to be made, the quality of the lens for example may have been better had Pentax opted for a different one in a larger body. The in-camera facilities of metering and focussing performed well. The histogram facility makes it easier to check for a correct exposure and the focussing system is about what most would expect from such a small camera.
Images showed a good level of colour saturation and a custom white balance setting allows you to compensate for tricky lighting environments. For close up shots the Optio S provides a good amount of detail and the manual focussing option makes it quite easy to get a sharp shot. Longer range photographs however did appear slightly soft when closely inspected. However, after printing one of the images out at A4, it would take a critical observer to notice anything amiss.
Slightly concerning were blown-out highlights in some shots and noise levels at ISO200 are only just acceptable. The option to change the ISO setting is welcome though and for such a small camera a lot of manual control over settings has been provided. This is not the case with functionality, with no aperture or shutter priority modes available. Whether this will affect any buyers is entirely subjective and perhaps many compact camera buyers would ignore those options anyway.
The macro mode combined with the manual focus made it quite easy to get the correct part of this image in focus. The close up below shows the amount of detail the Optio S can capture.
This show shows to a small extent the quality of colour accuracy of the Optio S. However it also demonstrates the blown-out highlights.
The lens on the Optio S maybe ingenious at saving space, but it's not the sharpest we've seen. The close-up below shows the level of detail you can expect from long range shots.
Printed out at A4 on an Epson 2100 the shot below was acceptable and would probably please many potential Optio S buyers.
On the whole, the Optio S is an impressive camera. It exudes style and quality from the alloy body and is well built. It provides a good range of settings, features and is quick and easy to use. The quality of images it produces are not up to the level of some larger three megapixel cameras, but this is an ultra-compact camera and available for under 350 so still presents good value for money. We'd recommend it to anyone looking for the ultimate in portability, but advise the image-quality conscious buyer to consider whether they are happy trading off a slight decrease in quality for the compact size.
In summary the main positive points of the Pentax Optio S are:
Good colour accuracy
Better than average image quality
Excellent compact body
Good range of settings/features
Good macro mode
Negative points are:
Body can be scratched if care isn't taken
Images can appear soft
Lack of manual controls may deter some people
The inclusion of a soft case and memory card would be nice...
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