In 2003 Pentax wowed the compact digicam market with the release of the Optio S. It was small and sleek enough to fit into a pack of cards yet offered a 3x optical zoom thanks to its unique sliding lens design.
Over the next three years the design ethic that underlined that success marches on and we’ve seen a swathe of compact yet powerful models grace the shelves. The successor to the recent T10, the Optio T20 still offers this 3x optical zoom using the same sliding lens system, but has an upgraded CCD, higher maximum ISO and a few design tweaks.
It does look very similar to the T10, which is attractive enough, but the front seems a little busy: the silver bar, logos and lens cover can make things look a little cluttered. Pentax’s use of a touch-screen display with these models means the control interface for the camera is mostly based around the screen, and there are just two separate buttons to switch modes and access the main menu.
A silver case finished with the black panels on the back does make the camera look a little dated in our opinion, but this is a minor and individual style point. The touch-screen is responsive and nice to use, buttons are large enough for greasy fingers to find their way around and a print-resistant coating means that marks don’t dirty up the LCD. It’d be a shame if they did, as we liked the colourful, sharp screen and it’s large enough to get a decent idea of the quality of your shots on the move.
The combination of the touch-screen and top-mounted swivel-zoom control means that it’s pretty awkward to use the Optio T20 with one hand. You’ll either end up accidentally pressing the touch-screen and opening the shot menu or run the risk of dropping the thing while you try to adjust the zoom. A back-mounted zoom control would have solved this problem. To be on the safe side, you’ll find yourself putting down whatever you’re carrying to have both hands free to take a shot.
There are 12 modes to play with, from landscape to activity and portrait shots, and for the most part these are well considered and make it easy to select an appropriate setting for your environment. Of course you can make manual adjustments or simply use an automatic setting, and handily you can add your three most commonly used functions to the main menu for easy access.
The upgraded 7-megapixel CCD brings it in line with today’s high-end compacts, but we’d like to have seen a better improvement to the ISO rating. Many other companies are starting to realise that people are more likely, if anything, to use compact cameras in low light conditions, something that’s not really reflected here. The Optio T20′s performance does suffer a little in dark environments although it is reasonably forgiving in terms of camera shake, provided you make an effort to bolster it (or yourself) against something.
Other modes are impressive, though: macro mode is clean and crisp and the automatic setting does a decent job of adjusting aperture and shutter speed for your environment. An overlaid histogram display gives you the information you need to help fine tune settings to improve your photos, but if you’re a beginner or in the market for a camera that offers decent ‘point-and-shoot’ results you won’t be disappointed.
Anyone who’s used Pentax’s previous model, the Optio T10, will know that taking photos is just part of the functionality on offer. You’re also given a range of features to manipulate your photos in playback mode. These include slideshow creation and filters to adjust image settings, combat red-eye and crop and rotate your photos.
There’s also a drawing mode that’ll allow you to write or draw on your images using the touch-screen as a canvas and the provided stylus as the brush. There’s plenty of fun to be had with the Optio T20, then, making it more than just a well-performing digital camera. While many people might prefer to make these sorts of changes on a computer it’s nice to have the option to correct or jazz up your photos on the move.
In addition to photography you’ll also find a voice recorder (which you can use to add music or speech to specific photographs) and a video recorder, now pretty standard on these compact models.
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