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Pentax Optio VS20 Overview

Posted: 01/25/2011

The Pentax VS20 is a "travel zoom" camera offering a whopping 20x optical zoom coupled to a 16-megapixel CCD sensor. Pentax is targeting the VS20 at two main groups: photographers seeking a relatively compact camera whose lens reach won't feel restrictive (such as travel and nature photographers), and those who need a powerful telephoto to get them closer to the action (spectator sports and action photography). With 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from a useful 28mm wide angle to an impressive 560mm telephoto on offer, the Pentax VS20 provides a zoom range that an interchangeable-lens camera would require several lenses to cover, so the potential for lightening your load when traveling is significant.

The Pentax Optio VS20's zoom lens has actual focal lengths ranging from 5 to 100mm, and its maximum aperture varies from f/3.1 to f/4.8 across the zoom range. The lens design features eleven elements (one aspheric) in eight groups. Importantly, given the reach of its zoom, the Pentax VS20 includes true mechanical, sensor-shift type image stabilization. The VS20 also provides software deblurring and can further use high ISO sensitivities to freeze camera and subject motion. It also offers a movie-only stabilization mode that increases effective focal lengths somewhat, so as to provide free space around the capture area of the sensor, and then automatically moves the capture area so as to provide a steadier movie stream.

Behind its powerful zoom lens, the Pentax VS20 places a 1/2.33-inch type, 4:3 aspect ratio, RGB CCD image sensor with an effective resolution of 16 megapixels (16.56 megapixels total). The maximum resolution for still images is 4,608 x 3,456 pixels, and the Pentax VS20 also offers a 16:9 aspect ratio mode with resolutions as high as 4,608 x 2,592 pixels, plus a 1:1 aspect ratio mode offering 3,456 x 3,456 pixel images. The VS20's continuous burst shooting rate at full resolution is only one frame/second for six frames, but it retains a reduced resolution, five megapixel burst mode offering a choice of two rates. The VS20 can also record standard or high definition movies. The VS20'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 VS20 offers up a 3.0-inch TFT LCD display with wide viewing angles, and a resolution of approximately 153,000 pixels (460,000 dots, with each pixel comprising adjacent red, green, and blue dots). This display serves as the sole interface between camera and user, with the Pentax VS20 not offering any form of optical or electronic viewfinder. A handy digital level function is provided to help keep horizons level.

As well as a Program mode, the Pentax VS20 offers a generous selection of 21 scene modes that help users tailor the look of their images, including a new Handheld Night Snap mode for reduced noise and blur in low light. An Auto Picture mode automatically selects from a subset of 16 common scene types, as the camera deems appropriate to the subject. For creative types, there is also a selection of post-exposure digital filter modes on offer, including B&W, Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color, Extract Color, Starburst, Soft, Fisheye, Brightness, Miniature, Natural Skin Tone, and Sketch filters.

One of the more unique features of the Pentax VS20 is a second shutter release and zoom lever, designed to make portrait orientation captures easier, and there's even a vertical tripod socket. Direct control over shutter speeds or apertures isn't available on the VS20. Exposures are determined using multi-segment metering only, with no options for center-weighted or spot metering modes. 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 in Auto mode, while 3,200 to 6,400 equivalents are available at five megapixel resolution or below. Available shutter speeds range from 1/2,500 to four seconds, depending on operating mode. Six white balance modes are available, including Auto, Manual, and four presets. A built-in six-mode flash is included, with a working range of up to 17 feet at wide angle and 11 feet at telephoto with Auto ISO.

The Pentax VS20 uses contrast detection autofocusing, and includes 3 point AF, Spot AF, Auto Tracking AF, Macro, Super Macro, Infinity Landscape, and Manual focus modes. Face detection is also supported (up to 10 faces), with Smile Capture and Face Recall features. Minimum focusing distance is ordinarily 1.31 feet at wide angle or 5.2 feet at telephoto, but the VS20 can focus as close as 4 inches at wide angle in Macro mode, and to just 0.4 inches in Super Macro mode with the lens focal length locked towards the middle of the range.

The Pentax VS20 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the newer, higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. There's also 16MB of available built-in memory, enough for a few shots if you accidentally leave your flash card at home. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-speed data for PC transfer, standard-definition NTSC / PAL video output for viewing images and movies on a TV, and an infrared remote receiver for use with optional Pentax IR remote controls. Power comes courtesy of a D-LI122 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, rated for 200 shots per charge. An optional AC adapter is also available for use with the VS20.

The Pentax Optio VS20 ships from February 2012 with two body color choices--Noble Black or Brilliant White--priced at about US$250.

Click here to read our Travel Zoom Shootout 2011!