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Pentax Optio NB1000 Overview

Posted: 09/09/2010

The Pentax Optio NB1000 is a Japanese-market ultracompact camera with an extremely eyecatching gimmick. It's essentially identical to the US-market Optio RS1000 in all respects except size and weight, which differ due to a change in the camera's face plate. Where the Pentax RS1000 already had an attention-grabbing design with interchangeable skins positioned under a removable, transparent faceplate, the NB1000 takes things to an entirely different level. The entire front panel is covered in tiny, Lego-like studs, which are compatible with a competing block system from Japan's Kawada Co. Ltd. Dubbed "Nanoblocks", these tiny construction blocks can be attached to the front of the Optio NB1000 in pretty much any pattern, making it one of the most visually customizable cameras we've ever seen. Two body colors are available in Japan -- either a monochromatic black and white version, or a two-tone green and black. It appears that a small collection of Nanoblocks are included with the camera, with the block colors varying to match the body scheme. The Monotone NB1000 includes black, white, yellow, and red blocks, while the Safari NB1000 comes with black, green, yellow, and brown blocks. As you can see in our pictures of the camera above, Pentax's example layouts include two Safari layouts (one with a camouflage theme, and the other with a lion), and two example Monotone layouts (one intended to look somewhat like a classic camera, and the other rather bizarrely including a bicycle design.)

In other respects, the Pentax NB1000 is identical to the RS1000. Underneath the customized exterior, the Pentax NB1000 is based around a 1/2.3-inch type, 4:3 aspect ratio, RGB CCD image sensor with an effective resolution of 14 megapixels (14.53 megapixels total). This sensor sits behind a Pentax-branded 4x optical zoom lens with actual focal lengths ranging from 4.9 to 19.6mm, equivalent to a range of 27.5mm to 110mm on a 35mm camera -- a useful wide angle to a moderate telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/3.2 to f/5.9 across the zoom range, and the lens design features six elements (three aspherics) in five groups. The Pentax NB1000 doesn't include any form of optical or mechanical image stabilization, instead relying on software deblurring and the use of high ISO sensitivities to freeze camera and subject motion.

The maximum resolution for still images is 4,288 x 3,216 pixels, and the Pentax NB1000 also offers a 16:9 aspect ratio mode with resolution as high as 4,224 x 2,376 pixels. Continuous burst shooting is possible at one frame per second for up to three frames. In burst mode, this increases to 3.2 frames per second for ten frames, while a VGA-only 16-frame mode captures 16 shots in a second at 640 x 480 pixel resolution. The NB1000 can also record standard or high definition movies, with monaural audio. The NB1000's movies are recorded at either 15 or 30 frames per second, at 720p (1,280 x 720), VGA (640 x 480), or QVGA (320 x 240) resolution.

On its rear panel, the Pentax NB1000 offers up a 3.0-inch TFT LCD display with wide viewing angles, and a resolution of 230,000 dots, roughly equating to a 320 x 240 pixel array with each pixel comprising adjacent red, green, and blue dots. This display serves as the sole interface between camera and user, with the Pentax NB1000 not offering any form of optical or electronic viewfinder.

As well as a Program mode, the Pentax NB1000 offers a generous selection of fifteen scene modes that help users tailor the look of their images, as well as an Auto Picture mode that automatically selects from a subset of seven common scene types, as the camera deems appropriate to the subject. For creative types, there are also nine digital filter modes on offer, including Toy Camera, Retro and Sepia. As you'd expect in an entry-level model, direct control over shutter speeds or apertures isn't available on the NB1000. Exposures are determined using multi-segment metering, and 2.0 EV of exposure compensation is available in 1/3 EV steps. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 1,600 equivalents at full resolution, while 3,200 to 6,400 equivalents are available at five megapixel resolution or below. Available shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds, depending on operating mode. Six white balance modes are available, including Auto, Manual, and four presets. A built-in five-mode flash offers an effective range of up to sixteen feet at wide angle, or 8.5 feet at telephoto (ISO Auto). A digital panorama function can automatically stitch a three-shot panorama in-camera with a minimum of fuss, and a frame composite function allows one of twenty frames to be overlaid on images in-camera.

The Pentax NB1000 uses contrast detection autofocusing, and includes a face detection feature which can recognize up to ten faces within the image frame in just 0.03 seconds. In addition to using this information to take account of your subjects' faces when determining focus and exposure variables, this is also used to provide a smile shutter function that captures an image when your subject is smiling. The Pentax NB1000 also includes a tracking AF function that can follow moving subjects around the image frame, and can operate in three-point or spot AF modes. Minimum focusing distance is ordinarily 1.31 feet, but the NB1000 can focus as close as 0.49 feet at wide angle in Macro mode, and to just 0.26 feet in Super Macro mode with the lens focal length locked towards the middle of the range.

The Pentax NB1000 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including recent SDHC types -- but not the latest generation of SDXC cards. There's also 18.3MB of available built-in memory, enough for a handful of shots if you accidentally leave your flash card at home. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-speed data for PC transfer, and standard-definition NTSC / PAL video output for viewing images and movies on a TV. Power comes courtesy of a D-LI108 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, rated as good for 210 shots on a charge, 70 minutes of movie recording, or 260 minutes of playback. An optional AC adapter is also available for use with the NB1000. The software bundle includes ArcSoft MediaImpression 2.0 for Pentax, compatible with Windows XP / Vista / 7, and Mac OS 10.3.9 /10.4 /10.5 / 10.6 platforms.

The Pentax Optio NB1000 ships from October 2010, priced at about US$150.