Pentax Chameleon Optio RS1500 review

Compact camera with interchangeable covers
Photo of Pentax Chameleon Optio RS1500
£75

Do we all want a camera with the chameleon-like ability to change colour on demand? Perhaps not, but even aside from the novelty of being able to change the RS1500′s fascia to all kinds of crazy designs, this compact in Pentax’s Optio series provides good all-round performance for the money.

Spoilt for choice
The choice of designs may baffle some, but it’s impressively wide-ranging. The current Hollywood-led penchant for DC Comics’ super heroes sees fascia designs – on flimsy, shiny paper, mind – celebrating the likes of Wonder Woman, Superman, Catwoman, the Joker and, of course, Batman himself.

Other designs include stripes, camouflage, snakeskin, a couple of plain colours, fireworks and – wait for it – a picture of some cows in a field. And one that says ‘Cheeeese’ on it. Hmmm.

Pentax Chameleon Optio RS1500

Only two finishes, personally, we could stand: a retro camera body design from circa 1970, and the plain brushed metallic finish to the actual body of the RS1500. Visit chameleon.pentax.eu for exactly 375 more printable designs and the chance to create one from scratch in ‘the chameleon factory’. It works rather well – we managed to print a zebra-themed sample on one of the five precut 10x15cm photo paper sheets supplied in the RS1500′s box (there’s even a settings wizard for a huge library of printers, supplied by Ilford).

At least the designs are easy enough to use; just pop off the lens ring (there are two in the box – black and, err, bright orange), and slip-in the zany shiny paper of your choice.

Design-wise, our favourite aspect of the RS1500 is that its battery charger has no cables, making it much, much easier to travel with.

Unique form factor
As an aside to the frankly odd practice of swapping-out the camera’s finish, the RS1500 has a form factor all of its own. Extraordinarily simple in design, its basic lined silver and black matt finish is within a distinctly cube-like design that has rounded corners.

It’s not the slimmest compact shooter around – and it’s far from the best made – but it’s light (at 127g) and exceptionally easy to hold.

The RS1500′s 56x92x22.5mm body is wide enough to rest a few digits on, and there’s even a small dimple on the top of the camera specifically for resting your left hand’s index finger.

Other design features include an uncovered (so potentially dust-gathering) mini USB output on the unit’s right-hand side (for connecting to a TV as well as a PC), a small mic on its left, and an undercarriage that houses a tripod dock alongside a flap that houses both an SD/SDHC Card slot and the battery compartment.

There’s an internal memory of 21.6MB, but that won’t be much use if you shoot in at the CCD’s maximum 14-megapixel resolution. Lower quality settings are also available.

Unfortunately, despite this camera’s slight flab (relative to super-slim shooters from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Canon, anyway) it uses a tiny D-LI108 Lithium-Ion battery that’s about as restrictive as it gets.

However, in use we managed an entire day at a busy trade show taking over 100 still pictures at full resolution, and short videos totalling over 20 minutes, and the battery was still going at close of play. Officially it’s capable of slightly more than 200 pictures, which is about average.

The RS1500 has a Pentax-made wide angle SMC 4.9-19.6mm lens that boasts a 4x optical and 6.7x digital zooms, with a small flash above and to the right.

Performance
The LCD screen that adorns the rear of the camera measures three inches, which is reasonably big for a camera this size – though given the unit’s slight extra girth, it doesn’t appear out of place or too dominating. Trouble is, the resolution of the preview screen is so low that an accurate impression of what you’re looking at is tricky.

Though shots in bright conditions proved sharp and detailed and benefit from some decent image stabilisation, we managed to take some soft, noisy and out of focus shots indoors – in relatively low light conditions – despite them looking OK on the LCD screen.

It’s for that reason that we’d say the RS1500 is best used outdoors, where it behaves more predictably. Smile Capture and Face Detection can be activated from dedicated shortcut buttons on the ear, and work reasonably well.

There’s no doubting this is a good value snapper, even if it does lack in some areas – in particular HD video capture, which really isn’t the RS1500′s strongpoint.

Able to record in three video modes (a movie camera icon is hidden away alongside the usual ‘auto’, ‘pet’, ‘candlelight modes and – most usefully – a ‘text’ mode for photographing documents), the RS1500′s 1280×720 pixels, 30 frames per second (fps) format is actually the least impressive.

Of far better quality – relative to rival compacts – is the RS1500′s VGA-quality videos shot at 15fps (see the example below), which is in keeping with the RS1500′s status as a reasonably advanced ‘fun’ camera; some built-in shake reduction technology works well and the results are easily good enough for uploading to You Tube et al.

 

Don’t get too excited, though – autofocus is fixed during video, and so is zoom; sedate, stationary videos only, please. They’re all saved as AVI files.

Company: Pentax

Website: http://www.pentax.co.uk/

Contact: Pentax on 01782 753330

Positives
  • Low asking price; cable-free battery charger; good VGA video clips.
Negative
  • Poor performance in low light; low-res LCD preview screen.

Verdict

Verdict

Customisable cameras; are they really necessary?

Aimed at the younger generation, this thoroughly affordable RS1500 manages respectable stills and video - especially in VGA quality - outside, but isn't up to scratch in low light.

Its likability is also hampered by an LCD screen that just doesn't show in enough detail what the camera is seeing, causing unexpected out-of-focus shots in poor light - and a crisis of confidence in this otherwise impressive 'my first camera'.