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Pentax Optio 555 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
12/8/2003
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot / Full Manual Control
Picture Quality
Very High, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Good prints to 8x10 or larger
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$599
(But heavily discounted)

Introduction
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion

Pentax is a camera maker with a long tradition in the film-based world, but one of the newer arrivals in the digital arena. They co-developed several cameras with Hewlett Packard, but now have stepped out on their own, with digicams entirely of their own design. The introduction of their "Optio" line of compact digicams featured two, three, and four megapixel models labeled the 230, 330, and 430 respectively. The 230 was crafted to come in at an entry-level price, and so had a plastic body, but the 330 and 430 had sleek, rugged all-metal bodies and very compact form factors. The follow-up Pentax Optio 450 and 550 featured four and five megapixel sensors with a shared metal body. Now, the Optio 555 broadens the line even further, with a 5.0-megapixel CCD and 5x zoom lens, in addition to a well-rounded feature set. It's very similar in design and function to the Optio 550 model, but features a longer maximum shutter time (15 seconds) and movie recording limited only by the card capacity. (The Optio 550 had a maximum recording time of 10 minutes per movie clip.) The Optio 555 offers a lot of functionality and good image quality in a tidy little package.

Camera Overview
With an identical size and very similar appearance as the Optio 550, the Pentax Optio 555 features a rugged, metal body that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. The camera features the same 5.0-megapixel CCD and 5x SMC Pentax lens as the 550 model, but has a few enhancements, such as a longer maximum exposure time and a longer movie recording time. Control layout is similar to 550, as is the overall design. The Optio 555 measures 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches (100 x 59 x 39.5 millimeters), exactly the same as the 550 model. With the memory card and battery loaded, the camera weighs a slightly hefty 8.8 ounces (250 grams). The all-metal case no doubt contributes to the camera's weight, but the Optio 555 is still quite portable. Though it's too large for most shirt pockets, it should easily fit into larger coat pockets and purses. A neck strap comes with the camera, and is a good idea to keep securely fastened as the Optio 555 doesn't offer much of a hand grip. The neck strap has an adjustable bead on it, so that you can cinch it up for a tight fit around your wrist as well. Eliminating the need for a lens cap, the 555's compact design includes a built-in, shutter-like lens cover which opens when the lens telescopes out. The telescoping lens keeps the camera front smooth when stowed, and pocket friendly as well. At 5.0 megapixels, the 555's CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, with options for lower resolution, email-ready images to share with family and friends.

Built into the Optio 555 is a 5x, 7.8-39mm SMC Pentax lens, the equivalent of a 37.5-187.5mm lens on a 35mm camera. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.6, depending on the zoom setting, and the setting can be automatically or manually controlled. Focus ranges from 1.97 feet (0.6 meters) to infinity in normal shooting mode, with a Macro option covering from 6.0 inches to 1.6 feet (0.15 to 0.65 meters). Super Macro mode lets you focus even closer, from 0.8 inches to 2.13 feet (0.02 to 0.65 meters). (Normal Macro mode is available throughout the zoom range, while Super Macro is only available with the lens at full wide angle.) The Optio 555 offers both manual and automatic focus (AF) control, with Spot and Wide AF modes. Spot AF mode focuses from the very center of the frame or from one of four AF points around the central spot (selected via the Four-Way Arrow pad). Wide AF mode focuses from a larger area in the center of the frame. There's also an Infinity / Landscape fixed focus setting, and a manual focus mode. In addition to the optical zoom, the Optio 555 offers up to 4x digital zoom, for an effective zoom capability of 20x. However, I always remind readers that using digital zoom decreases image quality, since it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. You can choose between the real-image optical viewfinder or the 1.5-inch, color TFT LCD monitor to compose images. The LCD monitor offers an informative display in Record mode, reporting not only shutter speed and aperture settings, but also a wide range of basic exposure options. Additionally, the 555's LCD monitor features a grid display for aligning shots, and a histogram display for checking exposure (both in record or playback modes).

Exposure can be manually or automatically controlled on the Optio 555, a nice feature for novices wanting to learn more about photography. You get the convenience of automatic exposure when you want it, or full manual control when you'd like to experiment. An On/Off button on top of the camera controls the power, and a Mode dial lets you select between Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program, Picture, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D, Digital Filter, User, and Audio modes. Most exposure options are controlled through the LCD's on-screen menu system, which offers very straightforward navigation. That said, you can control focus mode (auto, macro, landscape, manual, or spot AF point selection), the self-timer, drive mode, exposure compensation, and the flash mode externally. You can also configure combinations of external buttons to control your choice of 12 different camera settings. In Manual exposure mode, the user controls aperture and shutter speed (from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds), in addition to all other exposure variables. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give the user control over one variable, while the camera controls the other. Program mode keeps the camera in charge of the basic exposure, though the user maintains control over the rest of the available settings.

By default, the 555 uses a Multi-Segment metering system to determine exposure, which reads points throughout the entire frame to find the best exposure. However, Spot and Center-Weighted options are also available. Both Exposure Compensation and Flash Exposure Compensation are adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. You can also adjust the camera's sensitivity setting, which offers ISO equivalents of 64, 100, 200, and 400, as well as an Auto setting. For times when you can't determine the best overall exposure, the camera's Auto Bracketing mode can bracket either exposure, white balance, saturation, sharpness, or contrast. Auto Bracketing mode captures three images at different exposure settings (or any of the other values), and you can adjust the step size. The camera's White Balance setting features an Auto mode for most average lighting conditions, but also offers Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Warm Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, and Manual options. The Optio 555's built-in flash is effective from 1.31 to 17.1 feet (0.4 to 5.2 meters) with the lens at full wide angle, with a more limited range at the telephoto setting. Available flash modes are Auto, Off, On, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, and On with Red-Eye Reduction.

In addition to the standard exposure modes, the Optio 555's Picture mode setting offers nine preset "scene" modes for shooting under unusual circumstances. Once in Picture mode, you can choose from Landscape, Night-Scene, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Autumn Colors, Sunset, Fireworks, and Text settings. Each mode addresses a specific shooting situation, and optimizes the camera for the best overall results. Panorama Assist mode lets you capture panoramic images, in either horizontal or vertical directions. Guide arrows appear on the LCD display to let you choose the direction in which the photos will be captured (up, down, left or right). After the first shot, subsequent frames show a small translucent portion of the previous image to help you line up shots. Note that exposure is not locked from frame to frame, so some panoramas may still be best achieved by shooting manually. The accompanying software "stitches" the captured images together into one panoramic frame on a computer. The 555 also offers a 3D recording mode, which debuted on the Optio 230 model and has since appeared on several models in the Optio line. In 3D mode, the camera produces three-dimensional "stereo pairs" of images similar to old-fashioned stereographs. The camera guides you to capture two images of the same subject (one just slightly off-center from the other) and then combines them as a "stereo pair" in a single frame of image memory. A translucent display of the first image captured remains on the LCD monitor, so that you can keep everything aligned as you move the camera over slightly and capture the second image. (Very slick, this eliminates one of the biggest problems with hand-held 3D stereo photography.) The 555 supports either the Parallel format - which means you view the stereo photo with your eyes looking straight on, or the Cross format - which means that you cross your eyes to see the stereo effect. Most people seem to have an easier time with the latter, but the 555 includes a pair of 3D viewing glasses, which helps make viewing 3D images in the Parallel format much easier.

The 555 also has a nice range of creative tools, including a Digital Filter mode, which offers nine filters for special effects. Color filters include Black and White, Sepia, Red, Pink, Violet, Blue, Green, and Yellow, and a Soft filter softens the overall image. Image contrast, saturation, and sharpness settings provide further creative options. The User setting on the Mode dial lets you save a set of exposure adjustments so that they can be quickly recalled at a moment's notice. For example, if you frequently shoot in the same environment with the same lighting, saving a set of user options lets you quickly set up the camera without having to fish through LCD screens to make the adjustments.

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available space. (The included 16-megabyte SD card holds about 41 seconds.) Movies are recorded at the 320 x 240 -pixel resolution, and limited exposure options are available. The Optio 555 also features an Audio recording mode, which records solely audio for as long as the SD memory card has available space. (A 16-megabyte card can hold approximately 31 minutes of audio.) The 555 also lets you record short audio clips to accompany captured images, like a voice caption. Fast Forward Movie mode uses a slower frame rate to capture lengthy periods of motion (such as clouds moving across the sky), with capture ratios (the amount the camera will appear to speed up the action) ranging from x2 to x100. Note that no sound is recorded with these high-speed videos. An Interval shooting mode snaps from two to 99 successive photos at programmable intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 99 minutes. There's also a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 10-second delay between pressing the Shutter button and the camera actually taking the picture, allowing you to get into your own shots. A remote control is available as an accessory, meaning you can take your time arranging the shot before tripping the shutter with the remote. For shooting fast action subjects, the Optio 555's Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid series of images for as long as you hold down the Shutter button, much like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera. The space available on the memory card determines the maximum number of images the camera will capture in the series, and details like resolution, shutter speed, and the state of the camera's "buffer" memory determine the shooting interval. Finally, a Multiple Exposure mode lets you capture two or more images on top of each other, much like a double-exposure on a film camera.

The Optio 555 stores images on SD/MMC memory cards, and comes with a 16-megabyte SD starter card. I'd recommend buying at least a 64-megabyte card at the same time as the camera, so you don't compromise any shots for lack of memory space. The camera uses a D-LI7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, and both a battery and external charger are included with the camera. Since the Optio 555 does not accommodate AA batteries (or any other form of commonly available battery), I highly recommend buying an extra battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter could also be useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel (effective) CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • Glass, 5x, 7.8-39mm lens, equivalent to a 37.5-187.5mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • 4x digital zoom.
  • Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds.
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/7.9, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • SD/MMC card storage (16-megabyte card included).
  • Power supplied by one D-LI7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack or optional AC adapter.
  • ACDSee software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie and Fast Forward Movie (time-lapse) modes with sound.
  • Audio recording mode.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Interval Shooting, Multiple Exposure, Auto Bracketing, Panorama Assist, and 3D modes.
  • Nine preset "scene" photography modes.
  • User mode for saving frequently-used exposure settings.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Remote-Control mode for use with optional remote control unit.
  • Digital Filter mode with eight color filters for special effects and one Soft filter.
  • Macro (close-up) and Super Macro lens settings.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with eight modes, including a manual adjustment.
  • Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments.
  • Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with four ISO equivalents and an Auto setting.
  • Wide and five-point Spot AF area modes with user-selectable AF Spot, as well as a manual focus mode.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).


Recommendation
Like the Optio 550 before it, the Optio 555 is a welcome addition to the Optio line of digicams. Offering a 5.0-megapixel CCD and an impressive 5x zoom lens, the Optio 555 is packed with features. Though most of its functions are the same as on the 550 model, the 555 offers a longer maximum exposure time (15 seconds), and the benefit of movie recording limited only by card space. The 555 offers automatic, manual, or partial manual exposure control, accommodating just about any user level. A range of preset shooting modes tackle difficult shooting situations, and a host of creative effects and capture modes are fun to play with. Compact and sturdy with its metal body, the Optio 555 is a great option for novices and enthusiasts.

 

Design
With a fairly compact size and familiar Optio styling, the Optio 555 looks a lot like the Optio 550 model. A few small protrusions interrupt the otherwise smooth design, but don't protrude far enough to interfere with pockets. With the lens stowed, the Optio 555 measures 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches (100 x 59 x 39.5 millimeters), which is just a bit too large for most average shirt pockets. Still, the 555 should fit easily into larger coat pockets and purses, and comes with a handy neck strap that can be tightened down as a wrist strap. The camera's metal body adds some heft, as the camera weighs 8.8 ounces (250 grams) with the battery and memory card in place. Still, the rugged metal body helps protect against daily wear and tear.

The front of the camera holds the lens, flash, optical viewfinder window, flash sensor, self-timer lamp, tiny microphone, and the sensor window for the optional remote control. A shutter-like, retractable lens cover protects the lens whenever the camera is powered off, sliding quickly out of the way when the camera is turned on. The lens then telescopes out from the camera body about an inch. The front of the camera is flat without any finger grips, making the grip a little tenuous, though two small ridges around the lens barrel accommodate a finger or two. Still, I'd recommend keeping the neck strap securely cinched around your wrist when holding the camera, as there's not much to keep it from slipping out of your hand if you get bumped while shooting.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) features the connector compartment, covered by a thin, plastic flap that remains tethered to the camera. Beneath the flap are the PC/AV and DC In connector jacks. Also on this side of the camera is the eyelet for attaching the neck strap.

The opposite side of the camera is featureless and smooth.

The Optio 555's top panel features the speaker, Mode dial, Shutter button, and Power button. From this view, you can also see the diopter adjustment for the optical viewfinder.

A handful of external controls dot the camera's back panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. Two LEDs next to the optical viewfinder report the camera's status, such as when focus is set, when the flash is charged, etc. At the top of the eyepiece is a diopter adjustment control, which adjusts the view to accommodate eyeglass wearers. To the right of the eyepiece are three multi-function buttons, which access different settings in Playback and Record modes. In the top right corner is the optical / digital zoom control, which also controls playback zoom. A Four-Way Arrow pad next to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor features an "OK" button at its center for confirming menu selections, and is the navigational tool for the LCD menu system. The three remaining controls are the Menu / Function, Display, and Playback buttons.

On the bottom panel of the Optio 555 are the tripod mount and battery / memory card compartment. The plastic, threaded tripod mount is just off-center from the lens because of the camera's small size, but provides a fairly stable mount. The battery compartment features a sliding, hinged door, too close to the tripod mount to allow quick battery changes while working with a tripod. However, the side-access of the DC In port should alleviate any studio shooting concerns (though you will have to dismount from the tripod to change out the memory card).


Camera Operation
The Optio 555's user interface is similar to previous Optio models, with a good selection of external controls and a fairly concise LCD menu system. For standard point-and-shoot operation, the most basic features such as flash, focus mode, and zoom are all adjusted via external controls. You can also access drive mode and basic exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation) externally. The Mode dial lets you quickly set the camera's main operating mode, with just a turn of the dial. When it is necessary to enter the LCD menu system, you'll find it simple to navigate. Three menus are available, delineated by subject tabs at the top of the screen. The arrow keys of the Four-Way Arrow pad scroll through each selection, and the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. You can also program the arrow keys of the Four-Way Arrow pad to control twelve specific exposure functions when the Function button is held down, and the User mode setting makes it quick to recall frequently used settings. It shouldn't take much more than a half-hour or so to become familiar with the camera setup, as it's fairly intuitive.

Record-Mode Display
By default, the Optio 555's display shows the central autofocus area along with currently-selected options for exposure mode, macro and flash mode, the number of images of the current size and quality that can be stored in the remaining space on the memory card. A battery icon also appears, reporting the approximate level of charge left. You can also have it show a more detailed display including image size and quality white balance, metering pattern, and ISO, dispense with the information overlay entirely, or display a grid as an aid to aligning your subjects.

Playback-Mode Display
In Playback mode, you can press the wide-angle side of the zoom toggle to show images on the memory card in the form of thumbnails, nine at a time. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom toggle zooms in on the image up to 8x. Pressing the Display button cycles between modes that show limited info (the default), detailed info, or no info.


External Controls


Power Button: Located unobtrusively on the camera's top panel, this button powers the camera on and off.


Mode Dial: Sitting on the far right side of the top panel, this dial controls the camera's operating modes, with the following options available:

  • User: Lets the user save a set of exposure settings, for instant recall.
  • Manual Record (M): Provides total exposure control to the user, including aperture and shutter speed settings.
  • Shutter Priority (Tv): Allows the user to adjust the shutter speed, while the camera selects the best corresponding aperture.
  • Aperture Priority (Av): Operates similarly to Shutter Priority mode, only the user now controls the aperture while the camera adjusts the shutter speed.
  • Program (P): In this mode, the camera controls both aperture and shutter speed settings, while the user has access to all other exposure variables.
  • Picture (Pict): Accesses nine preset shooting modes, including Landscape, Night-Scene, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Autumn Colors, Sunset, Fireworks, and Text scenes.
  • Panorama Assist: Assists the user in recording a series of images to be stitched together on a computer as a single panoramic image.
  • 3D: Records a stereographic pair of images in a single frame, for viewing as 3D images using the viewing glasses included with the camera.
  • Digital Filter: Offers a selection of eight color filter modes, as well as a "Soft" filter for softening images.
  • Movie: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the memory card has available space.
  • Audio: Records only audio, with the amount of available recording time limited only by the memory card space.

Shutter Button (see image above): Surrounded by the Mode dial on top of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Zoom Toggle: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this button controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, this button lets you zoom in on captured images, to check focus or precise framing. Pressing the "W" side of the button when not zoomed in activates the nine-image thumbnail index display mode.


Focus / Erase Button: Directly to the left of the zoom toggle button, this button is the first in a series of three across the top of the back panel. In any record mode, this button cycles through the available focus modes: Autofocus (no icon), Macro mode (flower symbol), Super Macro mode, Infinity / Landscape focus mode (mountain symbol), Manual Focus mode ("MF"), Spot AF mode selection (adjustable to one of four points located around the center AF point), and Normal mode (either Wide or Spot AF depending on the current menu setting). In Playback mode, this button deletes the currently-displayed image / video / sound clip, the sound attached to an image, or all files from the memory card.


Drive Mode / DPOF Button: To the left of the Focus / Erase button, pressing this button cycles through Self-Timer, Remote Control (three-seconds), Standard Remote Control, Continuous Shooting, Continuous Shooting with Self-Timer, and Multiple Exposure modes when the camera is in Record mode. Note that the remote control is an optional extra that is not included with the camera. With the camera set to Playback mode, this button pulls up the DPOF on-screen menu, allowing you to mark individual or all images for printing, as well as establish the number of print copies and activate a time and date stamp.


Flash / Protect Button: The final button in the series, this button cycles through the available flash modes in any Record mode. Flash modes include Auto, On, Off, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, and On with Red-Eye Reduction. In Playback mode, pressing this button write-protects the current image, or all images on the card. (Write-protection prevents images from being accidentally erased, except via card formatting.)


Diopter Adjustment Control: Hidden away on top of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this sliding control adjusts the viewfinder display to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Menu / Function Button: Just below the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes. It can also retrieve functions that are registered on the Four-Way Arrow pad, when pressed at the same time as one of the arrow keys. (Functions are assigned through the Setup menu.)


Display Button: Just below the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, the Display button controls the LCD display modes. In Record mode, pressing this once calls up a histogram display of the subject area (a graphical representation of the light and dark values in the image), as well as a readout of basic settings such as resolution, quality, white balance, etc. A second press dismisses the histogram and information display, showing just the image area with a grid pattern for alignment. A third press displays the image and AF area only, and a fourth press disables the LCD monitor entirely. In Playback mode, pressing the Display button pulls up a similar histogram and information display, while a second press dismisses it.


Playback Button: Next to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button places the camera into Playback mode. A second press returns to Record mode.


Four Way Arrow Pad: Below the Playback button, this four-way multi-controller navigates through settings menus.

In Manual exposure mode, the up and down keys adjust the aperture setting, while the left and right keys change the shutter speed. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the up and down arrows adjust the available variable. In all Record modes except for Manual, the left and right keys adjust the exposure compensation, from -2 to + 2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. In Digital Filter and Picture modes, the up and down arrows scroll through the available filters or presets. In Playback mode, the left and right keys scroll through captured images on the memory card, the down arrow rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise, and the up arrow starts or stops playback of a sound clip (attached to an image) or starts playback of a movie or voice memo. When playing a movie or voice memo, the up arrow pauses it, the down arrow stops it and returns to the previous screen, whilst the left and right arrows cue backwards or forwards though it.

Through the Setup menu, any of the four arrow keys can be assigned a specific function, accessed when pressed in conjunction with the Menu / Function button.

OK Button (see image above): Nestled in the center of the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button confirms menu selections in any mode. In Playback mode, this button allows you to record a short sound clip to accompany the recorded image.


Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In Record mode, the camera can capture still images or movie files. The Mode dial on top of the camera selects between Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program, Picture, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D, Digital Filter, User, and Audio modes, which provide varying levels of control over the exposure. The Record menu is displayed by pressing the Menu button in any of these exposure modes, and the following options are available:

  • Record Mode Settings
    • Resolution: Sets the image resolution to 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 pixels.
    • Quality level: Sets the JPEG compression level to Good, Better, or Best (three stars being Best and one star being Good). A TIFF option is also available.
    • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Incandescent, Warm Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, and Manual. (Manual white balance lets you use a white object to set the camera's color balance.)
    • Focusing Area: Designates the area of the frame that the camera determines focus from, either Spot or Wide. Spot AF lets you pick one of five AF areas, (including the default center area) to determine focus. Wide mode bases focus on a large area in the center of the frame.
    • AE Metering: Chooses how the camera determines exposure, choices are Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Segment.
    • Sensitivity: Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity, options are Auto, or 64, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.



    • Flash Exposure Compensation: Adjusts flash power from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
    • Auto Bracket: Selects the type of auto bracketing sequence. Options are Exposure, White Balance, Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast. For Exposure, the step size can be selected from 0.3 - 2.0EV in 0.3EV steps, and for White Balance it can be set to +1 - +5 in +1 steps.
    • Digital Zoom: Turns the 4x digital zoom on and off. When enabled, the digital zoom kicks in after you've zoomed the optical lens all the way to its telephoto position.
    • Instant Review: Turns the Instant Review function off, or sets the review time on the LCD screen to 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 seconds.
    • Interval Shooting: Activates the Interval Shooting mode, and lets you designate the time interval between shots, the number of shots to record in a series, and how long to wait before beginning shooting. Intervals can range from 10 seconds to 99 minutes, the number of shots captured can range from 2 to 99 (or less, depending on available card space), and the delay before starting can run from one minute to 23 hours 59 minutes.
    • Fast Forward Movie: Turns on the Time Lapse Movie mode, which uses a slower frame rate to capture long periods of activity. Frame settings extend from x2 to x100 (referring to the rate of playback speed). Sound is not recorded with Fast Forward Movies.



    • 3D Mode: Sets the 3D recording mode to Cross or Parallel. (Cross means you need to cross your eyes slightly to see the 3D effect. Parallel means you need to look straight ahead. Actually slightly "wall-eyed." Most people find the crossed-eye method easier, but Pentax's included 3D viewer does help with viewing images in Parallel mode.)
    • Memory: Lets you decide which settings will be remembered when the camera is shut off. Any setting not selected returns to the default setting whenever the camera is turned off and back on again. Features that can be remembered include Flash, Flash EV Compensation, White Balance, EV Compensation, Digital Zoom, AE Metering, ISO Speed, Focus Mode, Zoom Position, Manual Focus, Display, and File Numbering.
    • Sharpness: Adjusts the overall image sharpness to Normal, Hard, or Soft.
    • Saturation: Controls the level of color saturation. Options are Normal, High, or Low.
    • Contrast: Adjusts overall image contrast to Normal, High, or Low.
    • User: Sets the default exposure mode in User mode to Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Picture, or Digital Filter modes.

 

  • Playback
    • Resize: Resizes the selected image to smaller pixel dimensions. The image can either be overwritten with the resized version, or saved with the next available filename. Note that when the image is resized, any attached audio clip is discarded (without warning) - so if you overwrite the original image, there is no way to restore the audio clip. Available sizes are 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, and only sizes smaller than the current image size are shown. Images that are already 320 x 240 pixels are automatically skipped when browsing images to resize. The quality level of the image to be saved can be selected from one, two or three stars (Good, Better or Best).
    • Trimming: Crops an image and saves it as a smaller file. Images can be cropped to one of the standard image sizes as above, and saved with your choice of quality setting. The zoom controls are used to select the size of the trimmed area, and the arrow buttons are used to select the area that will be trimmed. The display button chooses whether the area will be trimmed as a landscape or portrait image, regardless of the original format. Images that are already the smallest possible size (320 x 240 pixels) are automatically skipped when browsing for images to trim.
    • Digital Filter: Lets you apply one of 10 digital filters to the captured image (eight color filters, plus Brightness and Soft filters). You can choose whether to overwrite the original image or save the modified file separately.
    • Alarm: Turns on the camera's alarm clock function, and lets you set as many as three alarm settings. Alarms can be set to occur once only, daily, or disabled, and the camera can either be set to allow or disallow "snoozing" the alarm by pressing a camera button. If "snoozing" is allowed, then the alarm must be disabled by holding down the Menu and OK buttons together. An image can also be selected using the camera's DPOF function from those on the memory card to be displayed alongside the alarm, if desired. After setting an alarm, the camera will turn itself off. The alarm will sound only if the camera is turned off; if it is on, obviously you must be awake to be using it! (Note that turning the camera on and off after setting an alarm but before it sounds will not cause it to be cancelled, however). The only real issues with this unusual feature are that the camera could potentially run out of battery power if it wasn't charged before you went to sleep (particularly if you use the snooze feature, which leaves the LCD display on whilst the camera is "snoozed"). Also the alarm is quiet enough that only a light sleeper will be roused by it. Still, this is a neat feature that most other cameras don't offer, and might just be useful on an unplanned trip!
    • Slideshow: Specifies the display interval for images in a slideshow playback, from choices of 3, 5, 10, 20 or 30 seconds.
    • PictBridge: Allows you to connect the camera directly to a compatible printer and print selected images.

  • Setup
    • Format: Formats the SD/MMC card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Sound: Adjusts the volume of the camera's overall sound, and assigns specific sounds to startup, shutter, and operation functions.
    • Date Style: Cycles through available date formats - mm/dd/yy, dd-mm-yy or yy-mm-dd.
    • Date Adjust: Sets the camera's internal date and time.
    • World Time: Allows you to set the time in another city, so that when travelling you can have the camera show and record in your images the local time without needing to adjust the time of the camera's clock. You select a home city and the city you're currently in from a selection of 62 cities (listed in the manual), and then enable the World Time feature. City names are listed as standard three-digit abbreviations, and to help you in finding the correct city, the current city is indicated on a world map.
    • Language: Changes the menu language to English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian or Chinese.



    • Start-up Screen: Determines what image is displayed when the camera is powered on. The "Optio" screen is the default, but you can specify an image from the SD/MMC card, which is then copied to the camera's built-in memory. The factory-default startup screen is not overwritten, and can be restored at a later date if you change your mind. You can also opt to disable the startup screen altogether.
    • Video Out: Sets the video format to NTSC or PAL.
    • Sleep Timeout: Disables the Sleep function, or sets the camera to go to sleep after 30 seconds, or one or two minutes of inactivity.
    • Auto Power Off: Turns this feature off, or sets the camera to shut off after three or five minutes of inactivity.
    • Quick Delete: When activated, this function displays the Delete screen (whenever the Focus / Erase button is pressed in review mode) with "All Images" automatically selected.
    • Quick Zoom: When turned on, this function enlarges images to either two, four or eight times zoom with only one press of the zoom toggle button.



    • Function Setting: Assigns specific exposure functions to the arrow keys of the Four-Way Arrow pad when the Function button is held down (Recorded Pixels, Quality Level, White Balance, Focus Area, AE Metering, Sensitivity, Flash Exposure Compensation, Digital Zoom, Instant Review, Sharpness, Saturation and Contrast).
    • Focus Limiter: If turned on, this feature limits the range of focus to either the normal or macro focus range (depending on the current setting) when shooting. If turned off, this feature allows focus to span the entire range from Macro to Normal when Macro mode is enabled.
    • Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images / movies and listen to the voice memos on the memory card, as well as erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, add sound clips, etc. Pressing the Menu button in Playback mode displays the same menu screens described above.

 

Test Images
See my test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor Flash
Indoor

House
Musicians
Macro

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 


Specifications
See the specifications sheet here.


Picky Details
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.


In the Box
The following items are packaged with the Optio 555:

  • D-Ll7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger with AC plug cord.
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Neck strap.
  • 3D image viewer.
  • 16-megabyte SD memory card.
  • Software CD.
  • Operating manual and registration card.


Recommended Accessories

  • (I'd recommend at least a 64-megabyte capacity.)
  • Additional D-LI7 lithium-ion battery pack.
  • AC adapter.
  • Small camera case.
  • Remote control.

Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Test Results
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Optio 555's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how Optio 555's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Accurate color that's slightly less saturated than average. Color saturation adjustment works well though, providing bright enough color for anyone. The Optio 555 good color accuracy overall, although its default settings produce color that's a little less saturated than most consumer digicams I test. Technically, the less-saturated color of the 555 is more accurate than the over-bright color of most consumer cameras, but I've found that consumers generally prefer their photographic color to be a bit brighter than real life. For those who do like brighter color, the Optio 555's saturation adjustment works quite well, letting you boost the camera's color to suit your tastes. White balance was generally accurate, but the Auto white balance setting has difficulty handling light sources with strong color casts: Look to the Manual option for the greatest flexibility.

  • Exposure: Good exposure accuracy, good dynamic range when the contrast is dialed down. The Optio 555 handled a variety of lighting situations well, requiring slightly less positive exposure compensation on the high-key outdoor portrait, although the default contrast was high. Indoors, the camera required an average amount of positive exposure compensation, though the flash shot required a great deal more. The Davebox studio target was a little underexposed, which resulted in a grayish value on the large white color block, but the camera differentiated subtle tonal differences quite well. As noted the camera's default tone curve was somewhat contrasty, causing it to lose highlight and shadow detail under harsh lighting. The 555's contrast adjustment worked quite well though, and the low-contrast option helped greatly with dynamic range.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, excellent corner to corner sharpness at normal shooting distances. The Optio 555 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 - 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,250 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,500 lines. The 555's images were unusually sharp from corner to corner, one indication of a high quality lens.

  • Image Nose: Average to low image noise, with very fine "grain." I don't currently measure image noise quantitatively, but have begun including general comments to provide a qualitative assessment for the cameras I test. While the Optio 555's absolute image noise levels appear typical for a five-megapixel compact digicam, I was impressed with its very fine, regular "grain structure." I find fine-grained image noise like that of the 555 much less visible and objectionable than the more blotchy-looking noise of most digicams.

  • Closeups: A slightly large macro area, but excellent detail and resolution. The Optio 555 captured a slightly larger than average macro area, at 3.98 x 2.99 inches (101 x 76 millimeters). Resolution is very high however, with excellent detail in the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. Even the tiny dust particles on the coins are clearly visible. All four corners were fairly soft though, with the softness extending down both sides of the frame. Most digicams I test tend to have some softening in the corners of the frame on macro shots, but the 555's macro mode shows the problem more than most. The Optio 555's flash throttled down well for the macro area, with only slight reflections in the coins. Overall, not a terrible macro performance, but if ultra-close macros are a primary need for you, the 555 wouldn't be your best choice.

  • Night Shots: Outstanding low-light performance, with good color and surprisingly low noise. While primarily a consumer-oriented digicam, the Optio 555 offers a full manual exposure mode, with exposure times as long as 15 seconds. Throw in the adjustable ISO setting, and the Optio 555 is a capable camera when shooting in low lighting. In my testing, the Optio 555 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all four ISO settings (64, 100, 200, and 400). The shot at ISO 64 is a little dark, but still quite usable. The camera's Auto white balance setting did a good job, although some of the ISO 400 shots have a pinkish cast. The camera automatically employs a noise reduction system at slower shutter speeds, which does an excellent job controlling image noise. Even at ISO 400, noise is only moderate, with a very fine grain.

  • Optical Distortion: Overall, a very high-quality lens. Geometric distortion on the Optio 555 was lower than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 0.4 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared somewhat worse though, as I measured 0.6 percent pincushion distortion there. While the barrel distortion is quite a bit lower than average, pincushion is a good bit higher. - Overall, the geometric distortion averages out to being roughly typical. Chromatic aberration was virtually nonexistent, as I couldn't find even one full pixel of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The only other distortion I noticed was some corner softness in the macro shot, in all four corners of the frame, but other images captured at normal shooting distances were exceptionally sharp from corner to corner. Overall, the lens on the 555 is of unusually high quality.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but more accurate LCD monitor. The Optio 555's optical viewfinder was somewhat tight, showing only 83 percent of the final frame at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor fared better, showing approximately 95 percent frame accuracy at both zoom settings. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible though, the Optio 555's LCD monitor has a little room for improvement, but is certainly accurate enough for most subjects.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Good shot to shot speed, but very slow shutter response. Shutter lag is the Optio 555's Achilles' heel: With a shutter delay that ranges from 1.13 to 1.35 seconds, it's definitely on the slow side of average. If you're dealing with a subject that don't move closer to or further away from the camera very rapidly though, the prefocus lag time of only 0.161 seconds is pretty brief, letting you capture fast-breaking action. Cycle times are pretty good, at 1.72 seconds at the cameras highest resolution and quality setting.

  • Battery Life: Excellent battery life for a compact camera. With a worst-case projected run time of 2.36 hours, the Optio 555's battery life is a good bit better than average. My standard recommendation of an extra battery still stands, but a full charge on the 555's LiIon battery pack lasts longer than most.


Conclusion
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Boasting a 5.0-megapixel CCD, 5x optical zoom lens, exposure control ranging from fully automatic to fully manual, and a wide selection of creative modes and features, the Pentax Optio 555 offers a lot of the functionality of higher-end digicams in a compact, easy to use package. The camera's varying levels of exposure control suit it for any level of user, and novices will enjoy being able to slowly expand their control as they gain more experience. Its color is slightly less saturated than average, but the optional color saturation adjustment compensates nicely, and the hues are accurate. Resolution is excellent, and images are sharp from corner to corner, evidence of a high-quality lens. Battery life is a good bit longer than average too, so you can bring back more images from each outing. About the only negative point is its somewhat sluggish shutter response. All in all, an excellent choice for a compact digicam with a full set of features. (Chalk up another Dave's Pick for Pentax..)

 

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