It would be easy to start this review with the well-worn cliché about all good things and their predilection for small packages. However, when it comes to cameras, size really is important. If a model is too big or clunky it’s more likely to be left at home, while one that’s very small may be portable but can lose out on features or suffer from shaking hand syndrome.
At first glance, the Optio S is off to a good start. Smaller than a packet of 20 Marlborough, this camera will genuinely fit into most trouser pockets and handbags. It’s also incredibly light, weighing just 113g complete with lithium battery and memory card, but the small dimensions belie a remarkably robust design. The aluminium body feels solid in your hands and a slightly milled finish makes it easy to grip.
Pentax has managed to pack an enormous amount of features into something so tiny. Along with its 3.2-megapixel resolution, the Optio S offers 3x optical (35-105mm equivalent) and 2x digital zooms, a 1.6-inch colour LCD display, 11MB of built-in memory and video-out facilities. There are eight shooting modes, including Panoramic Assist, 3D and movie settings, and seven picture modes with two macro options for close up work.
Images are captured at up to 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, with a choice of three compression settings, while movies come in at 320 x 240 in 12 frames per second AVI format. The latter trades the zoom facility for audio capture and 30-second sound bursts can be attached to still images. There’s also a neat time-lapse video mode and the camera can even act as a digital voice-recorder, though how many people will use it as such remains to be seen. The internal memory stores seven pictures at full-quality and this can be supplemented with both MMC and SD storage cards.
We really enjoyed testing the Optio S. The menu system and settings are clear and the majority of images we snapped were crisp and noise-free. What’s more, the automatic picture mode performed admirably in a variety of lighting conditions. Transferring pictures to a PC is simply a matter of attaching the USB lead; the camera then appears as another drive.
In fact, aside from a slight lag in shooting speed and some blurred night scene photos there’s really only one thing we can moan about. The Optio’s size has forced Pentax to mount a tiny four-way controller for accessing menus and settings. It’s not the worst we’ve seen but it is fiddly, making it easy to select an option accidentally when you want to scroll around and vice versa. You do get used to it after a while but you still need to use it slowly. Fitting a slightly larger version would make a world of difference. Hopefully Pentax will take note for the S2.
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