Pentax Optio M40 Overview
by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 11/16/07
Can a digital camera be cute and sophisticated at the same time? The Pentax Optio M40 certainly feels that way. Thin and sleek, with only a few controls, the Optio M40 isn't much larger than a Blackberry. It's the perfect companion for busy consumers who want to take good snapshots at a moment's notice and let the camera do all the work. Though it's tiny, the M40 offers an 8.0-megapixel CCD for high resolution images, a 3x optical zoom lens, a large 2.5-inch color LCD monitor, and an assortment of automatic scene modes that make shooting under a range of common-yet-difficult conditions much easier.
The Pentax M40's Digital Shake Reduction mode can hike the ISO up as high as 3,200 while attempting to reduce any blurring from camera movement when shooting under dim lighting. This is really of limited value, however, and we prefer to emphasize cameras with either optical or sensor-shift image stabilization. The Optio M40's Face Recognition focus and exposure option trains the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms on the subject's face automatically, saving you from the trouble of moving the camera all around to lock the focus on a face.
Exposure remains under automatic control, though there are still a fair amount of creative options available to the user, such as white balance, ISO, exposure compensation, etc. Though the camera offers the standard 3x optical zoom, Pentax extended the flash range to a maximum of 18 feet. The camera also offers a Super Macro mode in addition to standard macro, for better close-up shooting. All in all, the Optio M40 offers a lot in its small package. It has a small amount of built-in memory so you can start shooting right out of the box, and has an SD/SDHC slot for larger capacity memory cards. It connects to a computer via USB cable, and also features an AV cable for image review on a television set. Retailing at around $199, depending on the retailer, the Optio M40 is inexpensive and feature-rich. But what about the image quality? Read on to find out.
Pentax Optio M40 User Report
by Stephanie Boozer
Introduction. As cameras, cell phones and PDAs become increasingly smaller to suit our busy lifestyles, it's important that we get as much bang for our buck as we can. We want the smallest device possible, at the best price, with the best quality. That's it, period. Pentax attempts to address that need with the Optio M40, offering 8.0-megapixel resolution with handy automatic features such as a range of preset scene modes, Face Recognition autofocus and a Digital Shake Reduction modeall designed to help you get much better pictures in difficult but common shooting conditions, without the need to carry around large bulky equipment. (Or reading up on proper exposure.)
Measuring a mere 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches (97 x 57 x 18 millimeters), the Optio M40 is perfectly suited for pockets. The smaller, thinner body does mean less camera mass for larger hands to grab, but the included wrist strap will at least offer some protection in case it accidentally slips through your fingers. The M40 is light as well (4.8 ounces or 135 grams fully loaded and ready to shoot), and the aluminum alloy case is attractive and fashionable.
The Optio M40 operates mainly in automatic mode, though it offers a full range of preset modes easily accessed by pressing the Mode button on the rear panel. Scenes include Green (the Pentax name for a full auto mode), Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Movie, Voice Recording, Landscape, Flower, Natural Skin Tone, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Sport, Digital SR (Blur Reduction), Kids, Pet, Food, and Frame Composite. (The last one simply overlays a preset border around the image, saving you a step on the computer later.) Instead of wrangling with the exposure, your biggest challenge here will be scrolling through the list to the right scene in time to grab the shot. Nonetheless, the M40 attempts to address a wide range of conditions, and does so well. Of note among these is the camera's Digital Shake Reduction mode, which automatically increases sensitivity to reduce blurring. It also automatically adjusts the shutter speed, though no slower than 1/15 second, and the aperture. ISO in this mode can range from 50 to 3,200, which does increase your chance of image-altering noise coming into play. But that too will depend on the shooting conditions. (Thoughts of blurry kids blowing out blurry birthday candles come to mind.) Digital Shake Reduction attempts to resolve this problem, without using the flash and killing the mood.
Also of note on the Optio M40 is its Face Recognition AF mode. Available in Auto Picture, Natural Skin Tone, and Portrait modes, Face Recognition AF automatically seeks out the main face in the composition and bases both focus and exposure on the values in that area. Pentax warns that it may have trouble with a partially covered face, someone wearing sunglasses, or anyone not looking directly at the camera (something to consider when shooting candids and outdoors). However, the mode attempts to more specifically direct the focus and the exposure toward the principal subject, something that other cameras require you to do by either shifting the AF and AE areas or simply locking focus by reframing the subject. It's a timesaver that should be of interest to anyone who doesn't really want to fuss around much with tweaking camera details.
With its size, interface, and capabilities, the Optio M40 is an excellent choice for anyone who wants good-looking snapshots without a lot of fuss. It's small enough for pockets, making it very convenient for travel, and capable enough to handle bright, sunny days or dimmer indoor lighting. Suitable for novices on up, the Optio M40 will most likely appeal to consumers because of its size, price, and resolution.
Look and feel. With its thin body and sleek design, the Optio M40 might be a little hard for larger hands to hold onto. I found the camera fairly comfortable to hold, though I did have to make a conscious effort not to block the flash with my index finger as it cupped the camera's right side. There's also a small LED just left of the flash (as viewed from the front), that my finger always covered. But since it's the Self-Timer LED, it really never caused much of a problem. A series of raised bumps on the rear panel helps your thumb grip when holding the camera one-handed. I did find it possible to make camera adjustments when shooting one-handed, but it was really much more comfortable to use both when digging through menu screens. Overall, I liked the control layout, and with the minimal buttons available, found it quick to navigate and make selections.
With its combination of brushed, polished, and mottled metal panels, the Optio M40 is stylish and attractive. The lens retracts flush with the camera body, leaving no protrusions save the wrist strap eyelet when the camera is shut down. Thus, it slips in and out of pockets quite easily. At 4.8 ounces (135 grams) with the battery and card inserted, the Optio M40 weighs about as much as most cell phones and PDAs, and its size is comparable as well at 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches (97 x 57 x 18 millimeters).
The small body size and large LCD monitor leave no room for an optical viewfinder, which really isn't missed. Optical viewfinders on digital cameras are rarely very accurate, and to my knowledge, no one really uses them. The Optio M40's 2.5-inch LCD display shows good frame accuracy, about 104% at wide angle and about 96% at telephoto. This is a little loose on the wide-angle end, but still pretty good. I found the LCD a little hard to see in bright sunlight, even with the brightness level adjusted, partially because of the highly reflective surface.
The Optio M40 offers a fairly standard 3x optical zoom lens, the equivalent of a 36-108mm lens on a 35mm camera, with apertures ranging from f/3.1 to f/5.9. Not terribly fast, but enough for most average conditions. In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the M40 also offers a maximum of 4x digital zoom, for a combined total of 12x. However, as I always note, digital zoom is rarely a substitute for true optical zoom, as the digital enlargement typically results in lost resolution and detail. What's interesting about the M40's optics is its autofocus offerings. I mentioned earlier that the M40 utilizes Face Recognition AF, which speeds up the process of getting a good exposure and focus in portraits by zeroing in on faces. The camera also offers Auto Tracking AF for moving subjects and does have a manual setting. Though, the manual setting adjusts by using the up and down arrow keys, and isn't very fine.
Interface. The Pentax Optio M40 has a straightforward interface, with only a few buttons on the camera's rear panel. Only the Power and Shutter buttons are on the top panel, and they are easy to control with an index finger. On the rear panel are just a handful of buttons for frequently used settings. The arrow pad serves multiple functions, navigating through menu screens as well as accessing settings like shooting mode, focus mode, etc. I did find it a little difficult to operate the rear control buttons accurately when holding the camera in one hand, but had better luck with a two-handed grip to change settings.
The camera's menu system is also straightforward, with three screens of options available under the main Record menu. You get to the Setup menu by scrolling to the top of the screen and selecting the tool icons, rather than through a menu option or dial setting. The arrow keys scroll through the menu items and the OK button selects. Very simple.
When shooting, the LCD monitor offers three different display modes, activated by pressing the OK button repeatedly. The first shows a small amount of information, such as shooting mode, flash mode, card status, battery level, focus brackets, date and time, and the number of images available. You can add a small histogram display, as well as a blinking under/overexposure display, and a few extra settings (white balance, ISO, resolution and quality). The third display mode is empty of any settings information, and just shows the main focus area brackets.
Modes. The Pentax Optio M40 operates mainly under automatic control, though it does offer a selection of Scene modes to help you out in more difficult shooting situations. Pressing the Mode button pulls up the shooting mode menu, which offers choices of Green (the Pentax name for a full auto mode), Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Movie, Voice Recording, Landscape, Flower, Natural Skin Tone, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Sport, Digital SR (Blur Reduction), Kids, Pet, Food, and Frame Composite. Green mode is essentially like a full Auto mode on other digital cameras, where the camera does all of your thinking for you. The Record menu becomes unavailable, you can't change the LCD display mode. In Green mode, you really can't do anything other than frame the shot and press the Shutter button. Auto Picture mode provides slightly more flexibility, though the camera is still doing most of the thinking. In Auto Picture mode, the camera chooses between four scene modes (Normal, Night Scene, Landscape, and Portrait) depending on the scene and how it interprets the conditions.
The other preset modes are fairly self explanatory, though a few deserve mention. Digital Shake Reduction is the mode that attempts to reduce blurring from camera movement by increasing the ISO in darker conditions. It can raise the ISO as high as 3,200 to give you more latitude when shooting indoors in poor lighting -- just be prepared for higher image noise. Frame Composite mode is essentially just a method of adding a graphic border around the image, such as a heart or color border. Not a super exciting mode, but it might be interesting to some consumers.
Program mode is where you will spend the most time. Here, the camera retains control over the exposure, but allows you to set a few variables through the Record menu. You can adjust the white balance, sharpness, saturation, ISO, contrast, focus area, flash mode, EV compensation, and of course the resolution and quality. This mode provides the most user freedom over the exposure without putting you directly in charge of the aperture and shutter speed.
For short movies, the Optio M40 does offer a Movie mode with sound, capturing at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, at either 15 or 30 frames per second. You can also record sound for short audio clips to accompany images, or longer audio recordings up to the length of the memory card space. Though frame rates aren't super speedy, the Optio M40 also features a Continuous Shooting mode. In our tests, it captured about 1.17 frames per second for large/fine JPEGs.
The Optio M40's Digital Shake Reduction setting is meant to reduce slight camera blurring when shooting in low light or when attempting to track a moving subject. While the camera definitely does digitally reduce the amount of blurring in low-light shots like the ones above, the ISO jump almost works against the action by increasing image noise, which in turn, reduces sharpness of fine details. The second exposure is a little brighter, with better contrast.
The Optio M40's other special feature is its Face Recognition technology, which automatically assesses the scene and focuses on what it recognizes as a face. It also sets exposure based on the subject's face. Note that subjects wearing sunglasses or hats could possibly throw off the camera, according to Pentax. Also up the M40's sleeve is the enhanced Natural Skin Tone scene mode, for better, more-natural skin tones, and an automatic macro mode that measures the distance between subject and camera and activates macro focus if necessary. Admittedly, the latter could either be helpful or frustrating, depending on what you're trying to capture, but the thinking behind it is to ultimately save you time fiddling with the camera -- a consideration Pentax has kept in mind behind many facets of the M40's operational design.
Storage and battery. The Pentax Optio M40 features an SD/MMC memory card slot, though it does not come with a card. Instead, the Optio M40 has about 2l.9MB of internal memory, which holds about five large/fine JPEGs.
For power, the Optio M40 uses a high-capacity lithium-ion battery pack, which comes with the camera along with a charger. According to Pentax, the battery will deliver about 220 shots per charge. There's also a DC input jack.
Shooting. Overall, the Pentax Optio M40 is very easy to use. With the exposure under automatic control at all times, you really only have to worry about things like white balance, image size, and whether or not to use one of the preset shooting modes. The Optio M40 performed well under most average conditions, producing good color and exposure, if a little contrasty at times. Power-on and zoom speed were a little on the slow side, but given the point-and-shoot nature of the camera, I think most average consumers shouldn't miss any photo opportunities here. Shutter lag was also just a little slow, so keep that in mind when aiming at moving subjects. I found the LCD monitor bright and useful indoors, but under bright sunlight, it was a little hard to see clearly for framing. An LCD brightness adjustment in the Setup menu did help a little, but the highly reflective surface of the LCD was the main source of complaint. I found I often had to shield the display with a hand to see my framing better.
The Pentax Optio M40 captures good-looking images, with generally high resolution and good detail. Overall color looks pretty good, though strong reds and blues look a little oversaturated (common among consumer digital cameras). Images are generally pretty sharp, though in some instances we noticed strong blurring in the corners of the frame from the lens. Noise is moderate to high, and a little noticeable even at ISOs as low as 50.
The Pentax Optio M40 produced some chromatic aberration, most notably at wide angle, which showed 15+ pixels of light coloration on either side of the target lines. At telephoto, strong blurring is evident, but no strong chromatic aberration. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)
We noticed strong blurring in the corners of the frame in many of the Optio M40's images, and the crops above show how blurry the images are in the corners when compared to the center of the frame. While blurring at telephoto is fairly severe, the results at wide angle are a little worse.
Overall exposure with the Optio M40 outdoors is about average, producing very high contrast and losing quite a bit of highlight detail. Detail was fair in the shadows, though image noise is fairly high, and noise suppression is evident as well.
Appraisal. Overall, the Pentax Optio M40 doesn't do a bad job for an inexpensive, compact point-and-shoot digital camera. Exposure and color are generally good, and the camera handles a range of lighting conditions well.
Loss of detail in bright highlights, evident noise and noise suppression in the darker shadows.
In this crop of the image left, the detail between the window's edge and the stucco is completely lost.
Unfortunately, it has some issues with optical distortion, namely strong blurring in the corners and some noticeable chromatic aberration. The Pentax M40 also has slower shutter lag and timing than average, although prefocus shutter lag is blazing fast at 0.008 second; one shining statistic there. Shot-to-shot cycle times are on the slower side of average for this type of digital camera, as is its continuous shooting speed. Thus, shots of wiggly kids and sporting events are likely to be a little blurry despite the already somewhat suspect help from the Digital Shake Reduction mode.
The Pentax Optio M40 brings to the table a lot of useful features for not-so-savvy consumers, in that it offers a wide range of preset shooting modes to handle normal but sometimes difficult shooting situations, and the benefit of the Face Recognition autofocus, focus tracking for moving subjects, and useful options like saturation, sharpness, and contrast adjustments not found on many lower-end consumer digital cameras. Still, the optical issues are significant enough that we advise most customers to look at other offerings.
- 8-megapixel CCD capturing images as large as 3,264 x 2,448 pixels
- Full color, 2.5-inch LCD monitor and viewfinder
- 3x optical zoom lens equivalent to a 36-108mm lens on a 35mm camera
- As much as 4x digital zoom
- Automatic exposure control
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds
- Aperture from f/3.1-f/5.9
- Built-in flash with six modes
- Two- or 10-second Self-timer
- Power from rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, charger included
- 21.9MB built-in memory
- SD/SDHC memory card slot
- AV and USB cables included
- 17 preset shooting modes
- Adjustable ISO from 50 to 3,200 equivalents
- Movie recording with anti-shake and color filters
- Sound recording for voice memos
- Six white balance modes, including a manual adjustment
- Face Recognition AF technology
- Macro, Super Macro, Infinity, Pan Focus, and Manual focus modes
- Continuous shooting mode
- 11 post-capture color filter modes
- PictBridge compatibility
In the Box
Included with the Optio M40 are the following items:
- Pentax Optio M40 digital camera
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger
- AV cable
- USB cable
- Software CD
- Wrist strap
- Camera manuals and registration information
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, a 1GB or 2GB card is inexpensive enough
- Additional battery pack
- Soft case
The Pentax Optio M40 is what it is. A very nicely built compact point-and-shoot digital camera with a few extras, pretty good resolution and exposure capability, and a low quality lens at under $200. (In some cases, way under $200 online.) Shooting under good daylight with normal subjects should pose no problems for simple snapshots. With its available image sharpness, saturation, and contrast adjustments, you should be able to tweak the exposure in-camera, and the benefit of its Face Recognition and Subject Tracking technologies help you beat the odds in difficult situations. Unfortunately, poor optical quality spoils whatever else the Pentax Optio M40 has to offer. If you're only printing 4x6 images and never intend to crop, it's not bad for the price; but there are significantly better cameras in this price range and lower that will give you at least quality 8x10 images.