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Quick Review

Pentax Optio S Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 05/13/03
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Manual Control / Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
High, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$399

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

Despite a long tradition in the film-based world, Pentax is a relative newcomer to the digital arena. After initially co-developing several cameras with Hewlett Packard, they stepped out on their own, introducing digicams entirely of their own design. Pentax's "Optio" line of compact digicams was launched with two, three, and four-megapixel models (labeled the 230, 330, and 430 respectively) in sleek, compact body styles with ample features. With the introduction of the Optio S, which literally fits neatly inside of an empty Altoids tin, Pentax has gained a competitive edge in the portable digicam market. The Optio S's super-thin proportions don't skimp on features, which include a 3.2-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom, and a multitude of manual controls for white balance, focus, color filters, preset scene modes, and more. Read on for more details, this is one cool little camera!

Camera Overview

With an amazingly tiny size (it actually fits inside an Altoids mint tin), the Optio S is an exciting new entry into the digicam marketplace. Measuring a Lilliputian 3.27 x 2.04 x 0.78 inches (83 x 52 x 20 millimeters) and weighing just 3.9 ounces (113 grams) with the battery and SD memory card, the Optio S will fit into even the smallest shirt pocket. There's no question that this camera is meant to go places, and the retractable lens keeps the camera front flat, making it quick on the draw. A built-in lens cover conveniently slides out of the way whenever the camera is powered on, allowing the lens to telescope outward in a matter of seconds. The 3.2-megapixel CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, as well as lower resolution images better suited for email. The camera offers a host of creative features and functions, as well as manual control over focus and white balance (if desired), evidence that small size needn't limit one's options.

The Optio S has a 3x zoom, 5.8-17.4mm lens, the equivalent of a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. The lens is where Pentax made their real innovation with this camera, in that its internal elements actually "unstack" as the lens retracts, arranging themselves side by side within the camera body. When the lens telescopes back out again, the optical elements shuffle back into normal alignment. I have to admit that I expected to see some pretty horrific optical tradeoffs resulting from such a shoehorned lens design, but the Optio S' lens is of surprisingly high quality. It loses some sharpness at closer shooting distances and the corners of its images are a little soft, but overall there seem to have been fewer tradeoffs made than in many subcompact models I've looked at.

The lens' aperture ranges from f/2.6 to f/4.8, depending on the zoom position, and focus ranges from 1.31 feet (0.4 meters) to infinity in normal shooting mode, with a Macro range extending from 7.08 inches to 1.64 feet (0.18 to 0.5 meters). A Super Macro mode gets even closer, focusing from 2.36 to 7.87 inches (0.06 to 0.2 meters) at the middle-zoom lens position. In addition to manual and automatic focus control, the Optio S also offers Spot and Multiple AF area modes. Plus, an Adjustable AF mode lets you select the AF area manually using the Multi-Controller. The camera's autofocus system uses a TTL contrast-detection method to determine focus, based on a seven-point area in the center of the frame. A maximum of 4x digital zoom is available in addition to the optical zoom, but keep in mind that digital zoom generally decreases the overall image quality because it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. To frame shots, the Optio S features a very tiny, real-image optical viewfinder as well as a 1.6-inch, color TFT LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder is unfortunately very "tight," showing only about 70% of the final image area, forcing you to use the LCD for even mildly accurate framing. Fortunately, the LCD viewfinder is spot-on 100% accurate. The LCD monitor reports limited camera information, including camera mode, the number of available images, focus mode, date and time, and battery power, among various other mode information. An expanded histogram information display not only puts a small histogram on-screen for checking exposure, but also reports more exposure details, such as white balance, quality and resolution, ISO, and metering mode.

Exposure remains under automatic control, although the Optio S does provide a lot of options. Shutter speeds theoretically range from 1/2,000 to four seconds, but I could never coax the camera into an exposure longer than a second, at least as reported on the LCD display. An On/Off button on top of the camera powers the camera on, and the down arrow of the Multi-Controller accesses the camera's Mode menu. The Mode menu appears like a virtual dial, as the left and right arrow keys "turn" the dial to the desired position. Available modes are Program AE, Picture, Night Scene, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D Image, Digital Filter, and User.

Program mode is the default operating mode, providing access to all of the camera's exposure options, such as Exposure Compensation, White Balance, metering, etc. By default, the Optio S uses a Multi-Segmented metering mode, which reads the entire image area to determine exposure. Through the Record menu, Center-Weighted and Spot options are also available. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. An ISO adjustment offers an Auto setting, as well as 50, 100, and 200 equivalent settings. White Balance options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual settings. The Optio S also features sharpness, saturation, and contrast adjustments.

The remaining modes on the virtual dial are intended for special shooting situations. When the Picture mode is highlighted on the virtual dial, pressing the down arrow key accesses seven presets, which include Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-Portrait (for holding the camera in front of you), Surf and Snow, Autumn Colors, and Sunset. The camera's Night Scene mode allows you to capture bright images in relatively dark settings. Movie mode captures a maximum of 30 seconds of moving images and sound per clip, at 320 x 240 pixels. Through the Record menu, a Fast Forward Movie option slows down the frame rate, so that when movies are played back, the action appears sped up (like time-lapse photography). Speed-up ratios of anywhere from 2x to 100x are available in Fast Forward Movie mode. In Panorama Assist mode, the Optio S captures a series of images to be joined together as a single panoramic image on a computer. When this mode is highlighted on the virtual dial, pressing the down arrow lets you select which direction the panoramic series will go in (up, down, left, or right). A semi-transparent display of the previous image in the panoramic series helps you align each subsequent one. 3D Image mode produces three-dimensional images similar to old-fashioned stereographs. The camera captures two images of the same subject (one just slightly off-center from the other) and combines them to achieve a 3D effect. A transparent display of the first image captured remains on the LCD monitor, so that you can align the second image to it. A 3D viewer comes with the Optio S, and works when viewing 3D images in either Parallel or Cross formats. In Digital Filter mode, the camera offers Color and Slim filter settings. Pressing the down arrow when the Digital Filter icon is highlighted on the virtual dial accesses the available filters. Color filters include black and white, sepia, red, pink, violet, blue, green, and yellow filter effects. The Slim filter lets you "squeeze" your subject in eight steps vertically or horizontally. Finally, the User setting lets you customize a set of camera functions, such as flash mode, white balance, etc., which can be instantly recalled.

The Optio S also features a Self-Timer mode that provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and when the camera actually takes the picture, allowing you to get into your own shots. A remote control is available as an accessory. For shooting fast action subjects, the camera'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 amount of available memory space determines the maximum number of images the camera will capture in the series, and details like image size and shutter speed determine the shooting interval. The camera's flash operates in either Auto, Off, On, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, or On with Red-Eye Reduction modes, and is effective from 7.87 inches to 11.48 feet (0.2 to 3.5 meters) at wide angle with a sensitivity of ISO 200.

If you press the Power switch more than two seconds, the Optio S turns into a voice recorder. The lens retracts and the LCD shows remaining recordable time and elapsed recording time. Press the Shutter button to toggle recording through the built-in microphone on the front of the camera. Alternately you can hold the Shutter button down for the duration of the recording. Pressing the Menu button while recording adds an index to the sound file. Sounds are saved as WAV files.

The Optio S stores images on SD / MMC memory cards or in its 11 megabytes of internal memory. My evaluation unit came with a 16MB SD card, but the box contents don't list a memory card as part of the standard offering. Thus, you'll need to plan on purchasing a large-capacity card along with the camera. The camera utilizes a D-LI8 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which is included along with the necessary battery charger. Since the Optio S does not accommodate AA batteries in any form, I highly recommend picking up an additional battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter might also useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images. A USB cable accompanies the camera for quick connection to a computer, as well as a software CD containing ACDSee software for both Mac and PC platforms.

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.6-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • Glass, 3x, 5.8-17.4mm lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • 4x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, plus a range of preset Scene modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to four seconds.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.6 to f/4.8, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • SD/MMC memory card storage, although no card is included in the box.
  • 11 megabytes of internal memory. (So you don't absolutely have to have a card.)
  • Power supplied by one D-LI28 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack or optional AC adapter.
  • ACDSee software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie with sound mode.
  • Voice Recorder mode.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • 3D Image and Panorama Assist modes.
  • Night Scene photography mode, plus seven preset Scene modes.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Remote-Control mode for use with optional remote-control.
  • Adjustable color mode eight color filters and a Slim filter setting.
  • Macro and Super Macro (close-up) lens settings.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six modes, including a manual adjustment.
  • Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments.
  • Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents and an Auto setting.
  • Adjustable autofocus area and available manual focus control.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

With its *tiny* size and multitude of features, the Optio S is a great camera for people on the go. Although it operates mainly as a point-and-shoot style digicam, the Optio S has an abundance of color and exposure controls for creative shooting. The 3.2-megapixel CCD delivers high quality images, good for printing or distributing via email. The ultra-compact design makes the Optio S an excellent candidate for travel, fitting easily into a shirt pocket or small purse. The Optio S is also perfect for novices who want to have fun with their digital picture-taking, but get good quality images as well, and have a few features to grow into.

 

Design

The Optio S is by far one of the most feature-packed, tiny cameras I've seen to date. Its sleek, smooth styling is free from any notable protrusions except for the lens, which telescopes outward about an inch when powered on. The camera is so small, it actually fits inside an empty Altoids tin (making for a very inexpensive camera case!). Measuring 3.27 x 2.04 x 0.78 inches (83 x 52 x 20 millimeters), it's well-suited for shirt pockets, hip pockets, and small evening bags. Despite its attractive metal body, the Optio S weighs only 3.9 ounces (113 grams) with the battery and SD card. The small size and smooth case design will make it a little difficult for larger hands to hold onto, although an included wrist strap will provide some security if it slips through your fingers. The camera also has textured body panels that help provide some traction for fingers, and an indented thumb rest on the back panel.

 

 

The front of the camera features the lens, flash, optical viewfinder window, flash sensor, self-timer lamp, and remote control sensor. There's also a tiny microphone, just under the lens barrel. 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 Optio S is flat without any finger grips, so keep the wrist strap securely around your wrist when holding the camera.

 

 

On the right side of the camera (when looking from the back) are the DC In and dual-purpose PC/AV connector jacks, each protected by a flexible, rubbery flap that remains tethered to the camera. The metal eyelet for attaching the wrist strap is also on this side of the camera.

 

 

The opposite side of the Optio S is featureless and smooth.

 

 

The camera's top panel is flat with only slight protrusions from the Shutter and Power buttons. An illuminated ring surrounds the Power button, lighting green in Camera mode and Red in Voice Recorder mode. Some reviewers have commented negatively about the position of the power switch on the top panel, feeling that it would be too easy to confuse it with the shutter button. In practice though, I didn't find this to be an issue at all. The power switch is slightly recessed, and takes a deliberate effort to actuate, while the shutter button is raised slightly above the surface of the case. In shooting hundreds of shots, none of us at IR ever had any trouble confusing the power switch with the shutter button.

 

 

Only a handful of external controls dot the camera's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.6-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. Lining the bottom of the LCD display are the Menu, Display, and Playback buttons. A small Multi-Controller button in the center of the rear panel navigates through settings menus, and accesses the camera's Mode menu via the down arrow. The up arrow accesses the Remote Control, Self-Timer, and DPOF functions. Just above the Multi-Controller are the Flash/Erase and Focus/Protect buttons. The Zoom lever is in the top right corner. Also on the back panel is a small speaker, for playing back audio.

One niggling point about the control design on the Optio S - When you're in playback mode, pressing the center of the rocker button on the back of the camera triggers the camera to record an audio clip to attach to the photo you're currently viewing. Whether just from general ham-handedness or not, I found myself occasionally recording an audio clip by accident when I was just trying to scroll through the pictures on the card. Pentax could have avoided this problem by requiring a slightly longer button actuation to begin recording.

On the bottom panel of the Optio S are the tripod mount and memory card / battery compartment. The plastic, threaded tripod mount is just off-center from the lens because of the camera's small size, but provides a stable mount, centered along the panel. The memory card / battery compartment features a locking door, flexibly hinged with rubber but too close to the tripod mount to allow quick battery changes while working from a tripod. However, I doubt that this will be of much concern to most users, as the Optio S is clearly designed for on-the-go shooting rather than tripod work.

 

Camera Operation

The camera's user interface is very straightforward, with only a few external controls and an easily navigable LCD menu system. For standard point-and-shoot operation, the most basic features (such as flash, focus mode, and zoom) all feature external controls. The Mode setting allows you to quickly set the camera's operating mode, using the Multi-Controller. 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, with the Playback and Setup menus available in any mode. The arrow keys of the Multi-Controller scroll through each selection, and the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. It shouldn't take much more then half an hour to an hour to become familiar with the basic camera setup, as it's fairly intuitive.

Record-Mode Display
In record mode, the LCD monitor optionally displays just the subject, the subject plus a partial information overlay, the subject plus a full information overlay that includes a histogram, or nothing at all. (That is, the LCD may be turned off.)


Playback-Mode Display
In playback mode, the LCD display options mirror those in record mode, but expand to include thumbnail or zoomed views. The LCD can show the captured images alone, with a limited information overlay, or with a full overlay that includes a histogram. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom control takes you to a nine-image thumbnail view of images on the card, letting you quickly scan through them. Pressing the telephoto end of the zoom control zooms in on the captured image, up to a maximum enlargement of 4x. When zoomed in, you can use the Multi-Controller to scroll around the enlarged display.


External Controls


Power Button
: Placed unobtrusively on the camera's top panel, this button powers the camera on and off. If you press the Play button while powering the camera on, the lens does not extend, and the camera comes up in Playback mode. If you hold the Power button down for two seconds at startup, the lens does not extend, and you enter Voice Recorder mode.


Shutter Button
: To the left of the Power button on top of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Zoom Toggle Button
: 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 controls the digital enlargement of captured images, as well as the index display mode.

In Audio Playback mode, this button serves as the volume control, with the wide-angle side decreasing the volume and the telephoto side increasing it.


Focus / Protect Button
: Directly to the left of the zoom toggle button, this button cycles through the available focus modes: Autofocus (no icon), Macro mode (flower symbol), Super Macro mode (flower symbol with an "S"), Infinity focus mode (mountain symbol), Manual Focus mode ("MF"), and Adjustable AF mode (AF with arrows), which lets you pick the AF area manually. In Manual Focus mode, a numeric scale indicates the current focus setting in meters, but only a few distances are marked, making it difficult to accurately estimate the focusing distance you've selected. Also, there's no enlarged display mode available to assist you in setting focus visually. Overall, nice to have a manual focus option, but its implementation leaves something to be desired.

In Playback mode, this button marks the currently selected image as protected, or removes protection. ("Protection" simply means that the image cannot be altered in any way or deleted, except from card formatting.)


Flash / Erase Button
: Just on the left of the Focus / Protect button, this button cycles through the available flash modes in any record mode. Flash modes include Auto, On, Off, Auto/Red-Eye Reduction, and On/Red-Eye Reduction.

In Playback mode, pressing this button displays the Erase menu, which allows you to erase all images on the card or individual images, one at a time. (Press it once and the camera will ask you if you want to erase the current image, press it a second time and you'll be asked if you want to erase all the images.)


Multi-Controller
: Right about center in the camera's rear panel, this multi-directional rocker button features four arrows and a center "OK" function. In any settings menu, the arrow keys navigate choices and the OK button confirms selections.

In Record mode, the up arrow key accesses the Self-Timer, Remote Control, and Continuous Shooting modes. In 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, crop the image, and activate a time and date stamp.

Also in Record mode, the down arrow displays the Mode menu, with options for Program, Picture, Night Scene, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D Image, Digital Filter, and User modes. In each mode selected, the virtual dial shows which of the arrow keys are available. For example, when Picture mode is highlighted, the down arrow key is added to the arrow display. Pressing the down arrow again lets you select between the seven available preset scene types (Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-Portrait, Surf and Snow, Autumn Colors, and Sunset).

This button is also configurable via a Setup menu option. By default, pressing the right or left arrow directions in record mode changes the exposure compensation setting. (A handy feature, as this is a very frequently used setting, in my experience.) In the Setup menu (on the third screen of options), you can change the "Fn Setting" selection to let the left/right arrow keys control the resolution setting, JPEG quality, white balance, focusing area selection, AE metering pattern, ISO sensitivity, instant review setting, or Fast Forward Movie option. Very slick!


Menu Button
: Below the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this button displays the settings menu in any record mode, as well as in Playback mode.


Display Button
: To the right of the Menu button, this Display button controls the information and image displays on the LCD monitor. 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, and a third press disables the LCD monitor entirely.

In Playback mode, pressing the Display button pulls up the same histogram and information display, pressing it a second time clears all information overlays, showing just the image.


Playback Button
: Beneath the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button puts the camera into Playback mode.


Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In Record mode, the camera can capture still images or movie files. The Mode menu (accessed via the down arrow of the Multi-Controller) selects between Program, Picture, Night Scene, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D Image, Digital Filter, and User modes, which provide varying levels of control over the exposure.

Playback Mode: This mode lets review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, add voice annotations, or play them back in a slide show.

Menus: The following settings menus appear in any camera mode. However, not all Record functions are available in all Record modes.

  • Record Mode Settings
    • Resolution: Sets the image size to 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).
    • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Manual. (Manual being a very unusual and welcome option for a subcompact camera like the Optio S.)
    • Focusing Area: Designates the area of the frame that the camera determines focus from, either Spot or Multiple (seven-point AF).
    • 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 50, 100, or 200 ISO equivalents.


    • Digital Zoom: Turns the 4x digital zoom on and off.
    • 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.
    • Fast Forward Movie: Adjusts the frame rate of Movie mode to create a time-lapse effect. Options are Off, x2, x5, x10, x20, x50, and x100.
    • 3D Mode: Puts the 3D recording mode into Parallel or Cross formats, which dictate how the 3D images will line up for viewing.
    • Memory: Specifies which camera settings are saved when the camera is powered off.
    • Sharpness: Adjusts the overall image sharpness to Normal, or to plus or minus settings.


    • Saturation: Controls the level of color saturation, with three adjustment levels. (An unusual and welcome feature in a subcompact digicam.)
    • Contrast: Adjusts overall image contrast to one of three settings. (Another unusual and welcome feature.)
    • EV Compensation: Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments.



  • Playback Settings
    • Copy Image and Sound: Copies files between the built-in memory and the SD card.
    • Resize: Changes the size of captured images to any resolution smaller than the original file.
    • Trimming: Allows you to crop captured images and save a new copy.
    • Alarm: Allows you to set up to three alarms. When the alarm goes off, the camera beeps and you can set a certain image to be displayed.
    • Slide Show: Activates an automatic slide show of images on the card. You can set the image interval time.


  • Setup
    • Format Card: Formats the SD or MMC card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Sound: Controls the volume of the camera's startup, shutter, button operation, and playback sounds.
    • Start-up Screen: Sets what image appears on the LCD monitor when the camera starts up.
    • Date Style: Cycles through available date formats.
    • Date Adjust: Sets the camera's internal date and time.
    • World Time: Allows you to set the time for another city, so that you can display the time in London, for example, on the LCD monitor. A full list of cities is in the manual.


    • Language: Changes the menu language to English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, or Japanese.
    • Video Out: Sets the Video Out signal to NTSC or PAL.
    • Sleep Timeout: Turns the Sleep function off, or sets the camera to go to sleep after 30 seconds, or one or two minutes.
    • Auto Power Off: Turns this feature off, or sets the camera to shut off after three or five minutes of inactivity.
    • Quick Delete: Activates a Quick Delete option, which automatically selects "Delete" on the Delete screen, rather than the "Cancel" option.
    • Quick Zoom: When activated, this function enlarges the captured image to the maximum size with only one press of the Playback Zoom button. (If off, the button gradually enlarges the image.)


    • Fn. Setting: Allows you to select one function to be adjustable by the right and left arrows of the Multi-Controller in Record mode so you don't have to access the menu. The default function to control is Exposure Compensation. Other options include resolution setting, JPEG quality, white balance, focusing area selection, AE metering pattern, ISO sensitivity, instant review setting, or Fast Forward Movie option.
    • Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.


In the Box

Packaged with the Optio S are the following items:

  • D-LI8 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger with AC plug cord.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Wrist strap.
  • Software CD.
  • 3D image viewer.
  • Operating manual and registration card.

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD or MMC memory card.
  • Additional D-LI8 lithium-ion battery pack.
  • AC adapter.
  • Small camera case.

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...


Specifications

See camera specifications here.

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Sample Pictures

See the full set of my sample pictures 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

 

"Gallery" Photos
For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Optio S, here are some thumbnails of more random shots snapped with it. Click on one any of the thumbnails below for a larger view. Click on the larger view again to see the original image from the camera. (Photos in this gallery were shot by Gibbs Frazeur or Stephanie Boozer. Thanks Gibbs and Stephanie!)

NOTE: that these are big files, so be aware that (a) they'll take a while to download, and (b) they'll chew up a pretty good chunk of bandwidth on us. (Read the "support this site" blurb at the top the carrier pages, and think about it while you're waiting for the images to download.

NOTE TOO: Some browsers have difficult with very wide images, and distort them a lot when they display them. (I don't know about others, but IE 5.0 on the Mac definitely does this. If the full-sized images appear to be stretched horizontally, you may need to just download them to your hard drive and view them in an imaging application, or possibly try another browser.)

Click to see YIMGP0715.JPG
YIMGP0715.JPG
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Shutter: 1/320
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 12.5
ISO Speed: 100
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YIMGP0719.JPG
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Shutter: 1/640
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 13.5
ISO Speed: 100
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YIMGP0721.JPG
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Shutter: 1/640
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 13.5
ISO Speed: 100
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Shutter: 1/800
Aperture: F2.6
Exposure EV: 12.4
ISO Speed: 100
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Shutter: 1/1600
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 14.8
ISO Speed: 100
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YIMGP0732.JPG
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Shutter: 1/320
Aperture: F5.6
Exposure EV: 13.2
ISO Speed: 100
Click to see YIMGP0735.JPG
YIMGP0735.JPG
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Shutter: 1/640
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 13.5
ISO Speed: 100
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Shutter: 1/1250
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 14.4
ISO Speed: 100
Click to see YIMGP0741.JPG
YIMGP0741.JPG
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Shutter: 1/800
Aperture: F4.3
Exposure EV: 13.8
ISO Speed: 100
Click to see YIMGP0744.JPG
YIMGP0744.JPG
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Shutter: 1/500
Aperture: F2.6
Exposure EV: 11.7
ISO Speed: 100
Click to see YIMGP0747.JPG
YIMGP0747.JPG
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Shutter: 1/320
Aperture: F6.2
Exposure EV: 13.5
ISO Speed: 100
Click to see YIMGP0750.JPG
YIMGP0750.JPG
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Shutter: 1/640
Aperture: F2.6
Exposure EV: 12
ISO Speed: 100

 

 

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 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 the Optio S' images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Overall, the Optio S delivered very good color. It tended toward a slightly warm color balance in many cases, from the harsh outdoor lighting to the more controlled lighting of the studio. Depending on the light source, it was a toss-up between the Auto and Manual white balances. In some cases, the Auto setting appeared more natural, and in others, the Manual. Apart from the tendency toward slightly warm casts, its color was generally hue-accurate, and reasonably well saturated. Bright reds and blues tend to come out slightly oversaturated, while other strong hues are a little undersaturated. Caucasian skin tones came out very well though, and the always-difficult blue flowers in the bouquet in my Outdoor Portrait test were nearly spot-on. The manual white balance setting handled the very difficult household incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait very well, but boosting the exposure compensation to produce an acceptably bright image resulted in odd "electric" greenish tinges in highlight areas. On balance though, color rendition was very good.

  • Exposure: The Optio S did a good job overall with exposure, even in the high-key Outdoor Portrait. Shadow detail was limited in the darkest areas, but midtone details were fairly strong. On my "Davebox" test, the Optio S distinguished the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target well, though shadow detail in this shot was again limited. The indoor portraits required about average positive exposure compensation (+1.0 EV), although this resulted in slightly odd-looking highlights on Marti's shirt, as noted above.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: The Optio S performed fairly well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to about 900 lines per picture height vertically, and 1,000 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,150 lines.

  • Closeups: The Optio S performed surprisingly well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.76 x 2.07 inches (70 x 53 millimeters) in the normal macro mode. In Super Macro mode, the minimum area was only 1.66 x 1.24 inches (42 x 32 millimeters). At the normal macro setting, details were soft throughout the frame, with a lot softness in the corners. However, in Super Macro mode, details were sharper, although corner softness was again visible. The camera's flash throttled down for the macro area pretty well, although the brooch reflected the light right back into the lens (not really the camera's fault). - Overall, a surprisingly strong macro performance for a subcompact digicam. - A good choice for photographing very small objects.

  • Night Shots: (I need to reshoot my low light tests. - The Optio S has a maximum shutter time of four seconds, but I somehow ended up with a maximum exposure of only 1/8 second in my test shots. - I must not have had the camera in its night shot mode. - Stay tuned, I'll redo these.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The Optio S' optical viewfinder is very tight, showing approximately 70 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and approximately 73 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor is much more accurate, and actually a hair loose, as the viewfinder shows just a little over 100 percent of the frame. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Optio S' LCD monitor is pretty near perfect, but the optical viewfinder definitely needs some work.

  • Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the Optio S is higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 1.0 percent barrel distortion. (Average is about 0.8%, still much too high, IMHO.) The telephoto end fared much better, as I couldn't find even a single pixel of pincushion or barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is surprisingly low, as there's relatively little color around the target elements. (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.) As noted above, it seemed that the Optio S' lens tended toward the soft side for relatively close shooting, also showing a fair bit of softness in the corners at distances of10 feet or less. Shooting more distant subjects outdoors, the images seemed a good bit sharper.

  • Battery Life: Battery life on the Optio S is surprisingly good for such a tiny camera. Worst-case life (capture mode with the LCD turned on continuously) is about 93 minutes. With the LCD off, continuous run time stretches to over two hours. Best of all, when the camera is in "sleep" mode, its power drain drops dramatically, to the point that it will run for well over 6 hours. Still, my standard recommendation of purchasing a second battery at the same time as the camera stands.


Conclusion

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As you may have gathered from some of my comments, I was very impressed with the Optio S. This might in some part be due to my rather negative expectations when I first approached the camera. I've become accustomed to seeing significant compromises in image quality and feature sets, in order to cram cameras into ever-smaller packages. To my great surprise though, the Optio S seems to have avoided almost all such compromise, delivering very good color and image quality, along with a really surprising level of features and special functions. Some compromise is evident in the lens design in that it isn't as sharp when shooting at close distances (say, up to 10 feet or so) as it is when shooting at a distance, but the amount of softening at close range isn't too severe, and overall optical performance is quite good when compared to other ultra-compact digicam. The one really significant tradeoff in performance is in cycle time - There's no buffer memory, and the shot to shot cycle time averages fully 8.3 seconds at maximum resolution and image quality. If you're looking for a camera to handle fast-paced action, the Optio S wouldn't be your first (or probably even second) choice. (If you aren't worried about snapping multiple shots in rapid succession though, the Optio S' shutter response is much faster than average, another surprise for a subcompact digicam.) Apart from the sluggish cycle time, the Optio S is an amazingly full-featured camera, delivering very good image quality, in an incredibly tiny package. If you're looking for the ultimate in a "take anywhere" camera, the Optio S could be just what you've been waiting for. While I generally avoid rating cameras, this one's definitely deserving of a "highly recommended" accolade. Big kudos to the engineers at Pentax!

 

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