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Pentax Optio S5i Digital Camera

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Review Date 12/13/2004
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Manual Control / Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Very Good, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
11x17 or 8x10 with heavy cropping
Suggested Retail Price
(At time of introduction)


Pentax Optio S5i Review Links
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Sample Pictures
The Pentax Optio S5i is the latest in a series of ultra-compact digital cameras that arguably offer more features per cubic inch than any other digicam line on the planet. The Pentax Optio S5i is a stylish, compact, feature-packed digital camera that updates last year's Optio S4i. Sporting a 5.0 megapixel CCD, the Pentax S5i literally fits inside an empty Altoids tin, giving Pentax a competitive edge in the portable digicam market. Pentax has also given the Optio S5i increased white balance options for improved color balance, while maintaining the same excellent exposure options offered on the previous model. Read on for more details, this cool little design just got better.


Pentax Optio S5i Overview

With an amazingly tiny size (it actually fits inside an Altoids mint tin), the Pentax Optio S5i is an exciting example of miniaturization in the digicam marketplace, just like its predecessor, the S4i. Measuring a Lilliputian 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.81 inches (84 x 52 x 20.5 millimeters) and weighing just 4.2 ounces (120 grams) with the battery and SD memory card, the Optio S5i 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 shutter-like lens cover conveniently opens whenever the camera is powered on, and the lens telescopes outward in a matter of seconds. The 5.25-megapixel CCD (5.0 effective megapixels) produces high resolution, print quality images up to 11x17 inches (8x10 inches with heavy cropping), 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), proof that small size doesn't have to cramp your style.

The Pentax S5i has a 3x zoom, 5.8-17.4mm lens, the equivalent of a 35.6-107mm lens on a 35mm camera, like its predecessor, the Optio S4i. The lens is where Pentax made a real innovation with the Optio S-series, 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 trade-offs resulting from such a shoehorned lens design, but the Optio S-family 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 trade-offs made than in many subcompact models I've seen in the past.

The lens' maximum 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 Pentax S5i also offers Spot and Multiple AF area modes. Plus, an Adjustable AF mode lets you select the AF area manually from 49 points using the Multi-Controller, impressive for a camera this small. A Pan Focus mode lets you shoot close and distant subjects together, without compromising the focus on one or the other. 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 S5i features a very tiny, real-image optical viewfinder as well as a 1.8-inch, color TFT LCD monitor. 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 items. 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 Pentax Optio S5i does provide a lot of options. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds, but note that longer shutter speeds are only available in the "night" shooting mode. An On/Off button on top of the camera powers the camera on, and the down arrow of the Multicontroller accesses the camera's Mode menu. The Mode menu appears as an array of icons, from which the five-way navigational disk can select in any direction. Available modes are Full Auto, Program, Night Scene, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-portrait, Surf&Snow, Autumn Colors, Sunset, Museum, Text, Food, Sports, Soft, Digital Filter, User, and Marine. (The mode menu main screen is shown above right.)

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. You can also press the green Quick button on the back to enter Full Auto mode, in which the camera takes control of everything, including flash. The user only controls the zoom and shutter release in Green mode. By default, the Optio S5i 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 80, 100, 200, and 400 equivalent settings. White Balance options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Neutral Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, and Manual settings. The Optio S5i also features sharpness, saturation, and contrast adjustments, unusual features to find on a subcompact digicam model.

The remaining modes on the list are intended for special shooting situations. The camera's separate Night Scene mode allows you to capture bright images in relatively dark settings; noise reduction is activated, where the camera records a "dark frame" to subtract electronic noise from the image sensor, resulting in apparently longer exposure times.

Movie mode captures as much video with sound as your card will hold, at 320 x 240 pixels, 15 frames per second. Through the Record menu, a Timelapse Movie option slows down the frame rate during recording, so 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 Timelapse Movie mode.

In Panorama Assist mode, the Pentax Optio S5i 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. An optional 3D viewer is available as a separate accessory, and works when viewing 3D images in either Parallel or Cross formats. (The previous S4i included the viewer with the camera, I'm not sure why Pentax decided to eliminate it from the package.)

Landscape mode enhances some colors for better foliage and sky rendition, while Flower mode improves color for photos of flowers. Portrait mode biases aperture toward wide open to blur the background. Self portrait mode sets the camera for best results when pointing the camera at yourself. Surf&Snow adjusts exposure to compensate for bright backgrounds. Autumn colors increases saturation appropriately for dramatic pictures of Autumn leaves. Sunset likewise adjusts color to preserve the drama in sunsets. Museum mode adjusts the camera for capture of art in museums. Text makes it easier to capture text on a page.

Perhaps the most unique feature is Food mode, which "lets you take appetizing pictures of prepared food." Soft focus mode gives pictures a soft effect. 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. The User setting lets you customize a set of camera functions, such as flash mode, white balance, etc., which can be instantly recalled. Finally, Marine mode is set when the camera is placed in the optional waterproof housing for better exposures underwater. (Pressing the Quick button in Marine mode switches to Marine Movie mode.)

The Pentax Optio S5i also features a Self-Timer mode that provides a 10 or two-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, and the camera offers two Remote Control shooting modes. 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. In telephoto mode it's effective from 7.87 inches to 6.56 feet (0.2 to 2.0 meters).

If you press the Power switch more than two seconds, the Pentax S5i 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 monaural WAV files.

The Pentax Optio S5i stores images on SD / MMC memory cards or in its 10 megabytes of internal memory. The camera does not come with a starter memory card. You should thus plan on purchasing a good-sized 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 S5i does not accommodate AA batteries in any form, I highly recommend picking up an additional battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. This is easier to do with the S5i, because the battery charger can be used in two ways. You can remove the battery and place it in the charger, or leave it in and simply place the camera in the slot designed to hold it upright, while the charging is done through the three gold contacts on the bottom of the camera. The optional AC adapter might also be useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, but it isn't really necessary for normal use. A USB cable accompanies the camera for quick connection to a computer, as well as a software CD containing ACDSee, ACD Showtime, and ACD fotoslate software for both Mac and PC platforms.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.8-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • Glass, 3x, 5.8-17.4mm lens, equivalent to a 35.6-107mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • 4x digital zoom.
  • Two automatic exposure controls, 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.
  • 10 megabytes of internal memory. (So you don't absolutely have to have a card.)
  • Power supplied by one D-LI8 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack or optional AC adapter.
  • ACDSee software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.


Special Features

  • Green "Quick" capture mode.
  • Movie with sound mode.
  • Voice Recorder mode.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • 3D Image and Panorama Assist modes.
  • Night Scene photography mode, plus eleven preset Scene modes.
  • Marine and Marine Movie modes for use in waterproof housing.
  • 10 or two-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Remote-Control mode for use with optional remote-control.
  • Adjustable color mode with eight color filters and a Slim filter setting.
  • Macro and Super Macro (close-up) 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 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).



With its tiny size and multitude of features, the Pentax Optio S5i is a good camera for people on the go. Although it operates mainly as a point-and-shoot style digicam, it offers an abundance of color and exposure controls for creative shooting, so it should be interesting to advanced users as well. The 5.0-megapixel CCD delivers good resolution, but like most subcompact digicams, the sharpness and resolution (particularly in the corners of the frame) aren't going to be as good as you'd find on the best full-sized 5.0-megapixel models. The ultra-compact design makes the Optio S5i an excellent candidate for travel, fitting easily into a shirt pocket or small purse. It's also great 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. If you want a camera that's ultra-compact, has good color, and that can be shared by both novice and enthusiast users, and don't need to do a lot of shooting after dark, the S5i would make an excellent choice.



The Pentax Optio S5i is easily one of the most feature-packed, subcompact cameras on the market. 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, minty-fresh camera case!). Measuring 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.81 inches (84 x 52 x 20.5 millimeters), it's well-suited for shirt pockets, hip pockets, and small evening bags. Despite its attractive metal body, the Pentax S5i weighs just 4.2 ounces (120 grams) including the battery and SD card. The small size and smooth case design could make it a little difficult for larger hands to hold onto, but the 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 a small raised thumb ridge 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, upper right of 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. A tiny strip of a finger grip is on the right side, but I'd still keep the wrist strap securely around your wrist when holding the camera.

On the right side of the camera (when viewed 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 S5i is nearly featureless, except for the nine small holes of the speaker grille.

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.

Only a handful of external controls dot the camera's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.8-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. A small five-way navigation controller is placed central between the LCD and right side of the camera, eliminating most of the thumb rest space. With it, the user 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. While shooting, the left and right arrows adjust EV compensation. The down arrow pulls up the Mode menu. Just below the controller are the Menu and Display buttons. Menu brings up and cancels the menu, while Display toggles through Default, Histogram, plain screen, and LCD off. Above left of the controller is the Playback button. When in Playback mode, another press here or on the Shutter button takes you very quickly back to Record mode. Just right of the optical viewfinder is the Green mode button. In this mode, the camera controls everything but the zoom. To the right of this are the Flash/Erase and Macro/Super Macro/Landscape/Manual Focus/AutoFocus Point/AF/Protect buttons (talk about your multi-function buttons). The Zoom lever is in the top right corner, controlling both Record and Playback mode zoom.

On the bottom panel of the Pentax S5i are the tripod mount, charging pads, and memory card / battery compartment. The plastic, threaded tripod mount is 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 plastic sliding-release door, hinged with metal 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 S5i is clearly designed for on-the-go shooting rather than tripod work.


Camera Operation

The Pentax Optio S5i's user interface is 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 is 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 Multicontroller to scroll around the enlarged display.


External Controls

Power Button
: 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
: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this toggle controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this toggle controls the digital enlargement of captured images, as well as the index display mode.

In Audio Playback mode, the toggle 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, in Record mode, this button cycles through the available focus modes: Autofocus (no icon), Macro mode (flower symbol), Super Macro mode (flower symbol with an "S"), Pan Focus (PF), Landscape 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. There's now an enlarged display mode available to assist you in setting focus visually. A green frame indicates the space that will be zoomed in once you start focusing with the up and down arrows on the multicontroller. Unlike similar features I've seen on other cameras, this enlargement appears fullscreen, a nice touch. When you partially press the Shutter button, the view goes back to normal.

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 by a card format.)

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 (no icon), Off, On, 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. Other options appear across the bottom: press Menu to exit, press the Flash/Erase button again to erase all.)

: Right about center in the camera's rear panel, this multi-directional rocker, or five-way 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 two Self-Timer modes, two Remote Control modes, and Continuous Shooting mode. 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 and activate a time and date stamp.

Also in Record mode, the down arrow displays the Mode menu, with options for Program AE, Night Scene, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D Image, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-portrait, Surf and Snow, Autumn Colors, Sunset, Museum, Text, Food, Sports, Soft, Digital Filter, User, and Marine. (Note that Full Auto mode, or Green mode, is available only with a press of the green Quick button on the back of the camera.)

The function of the left and right arrows are 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 second screen of available options), you can change the "Custom Function" selection to let the left/right arrow keys control the exposure compensation, resolution setting, JPEG quality, white balance, focusing area selection, AE metering pattern, ISO sensitivity, Timelapse Movie, instant review setting, Sharpness, Saturation, or Contrast. Very slick!

Menu Button
: Below the lower left corner of the Multicontroller, this button displays the 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 autofocus area, and a third press disables the LCD monitor entirely. Pressing it once more restores the default display.

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, and pressing it a third time restores the default display.

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

Quick Button
: By default, the Quick button puts the camera into Full Auto mode. Only the zoom can be adjusted by the user. However, this is also a button that can have its purpose reassigned in the Setup Menu. It can be made to bring up the Shooting menu (in case you reassigned the down arrow button), White Balance, Memory, Resize, Trimming, Copy Image and Sound, Alarm, Format, Sound, World Time, or Startup Screen. When shooting in Marine mode, pressing this button switches to Marine Movie 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 you 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
    • Recorded Pixels: Sets the image size to 2,560 x 1,920; 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 (one star being Good and three stars being Best).
    • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, and Manual. (Manual being a very unusual and welcome option for a subcompact camera like the Optio S5i.)
    • 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, the latter being the default.
    • Sensitivity: Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity, options are Auto, or 80, 100, 200 or 400 ISO equivalents.

    • EV Compensation: Brightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments.
    • 3D Mode: Sets the 3D recording mode to Parallel or Cross formats, which dictate how the 3D images will line up for viewing.
    • Timelapse Movie: Adjusts the frame rate of Movie mode to create a time-lapse effect during playback. Options are Off, x2, x5, x10, x20, x50, and x100.
    • 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.
    • Memory: Specifies which camera settings are saved when the camera is powered off. Options include Flash, Drive, Focus Mode, Zoom Position, Manual Focus, White Balance, AE Metering, Sensitivity, EV Compensation, Digital Zoom, Display, and File number.

    • Sharpness: Adjusts the overall image sharpness among five places.
    • Saturation: Controls the level of color saturation, with five adjustment levels.
    • Contrast: Adjusts overall image contrast to one of five settings.

  • Playback Settings
    • Slideshow: Activates an automatic slide show of images on the card. You can set the image interval time.
    • Resize: Changes the size of captured images to any of the camera's standard image sizes that is smaller than the original file.
    • Trimming: Allows you to crop captured images and save a new copy.
    • Copy Image and Sound: Copies files between the built-in memory and the SD card.
    • 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.
    • Record Voice Memo: Lets you toggle the voice recording option during playback on or off.

    • Quick Zoom: When switched on, sets zoom button to maximum 4x on a single press, rather than zooming in smaller steps. (Once zoomed to 4x with Quick Zoom though, you can zoom back out in smaller steps.)
    • Quick Delete: When switched on, displays delete screen with "Delete" highlighted instead of the default "Cancel."

  • Setup
    • Format: Formats the SD or MMC card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Sound: Controls the volume of the camera's sounds. Options are for Playback Volume, Operation Volume, Startup Sound, Shutter Sound, Key Operation Sound, Focus Sound, and Self-Timer sound.
    • 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 a wide range of languages.
    • Screen Setting: Sets what image appears on the LCD monitor when the camera starts up.

    • Video Out: Sets the Video Out signal to NTSC or PAL.
    • USB Connection: Selects whether the USB connection will be connected to a computer or PictBridge printer.
    • 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.
    • Custom Function: 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, Timelapse Movie option, sharpness, saturation, contrast, EV compensation.
    • Quick button: Sets the function of the Quick button. Options are: Green mode (Full Auto), User mode, Movie mode, Mode Palette, White Balance, Memory, Resize, Trimming, Copy Image and Sound, and Format.

    • Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.

In the Box

Packaged with the Pentax Optio S5i are the following items:

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


Recommended Accessories

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...



Full specs can be found on the Pentax Optio S5i specifications page.


Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found on the Pentax Optio S5i Picky Details Page.


Sample Pictures

See the Pentax Optio S5i sample pictures page for a full discussion of the camera's image quality and performance. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Indoor Flash






Viewfinder Accuracy


"Gallery" Photos
Coming soon (we hope)

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 Pentax Optio S5i's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Pentax Optio S5i with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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 Pentax S5i's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Accurate color, though some may feel it's slightly undersaturated. Very good white balance performance. With the exception of a little oversaturation in strong reds and blues, the Pentax Optio S5i's color is more accurate than that of most cameras. Compared with the greater tendency for most consumer digicams to oversaturate color though, this could make the S5i's colors look slightly dull by comparison. Its white balance performance is very good though. While the auto white balance setting tended to leave slight color casts in my test images, they were in fact quite slight, and the white balance system in general handled a wide range of lighting with better accuracy than most digicams manage. Overall, very good color performance.

  • Exposure: A tendency toward slight underexposure. High default contrast, but the contrast adjustment option helps some with harsh lighting. The Pentax Optio S5i produced high contrast exposures, both under the deliberately harsh lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait as well as on many of my studio shots. Though contrast wasn't high enough to affect tonal handling on the Davebox, it did limit the dynamic range on the outdoor house shot and on the "Sunlit" Portrait test, even though I used the lowest contrast setting in the latter. Shadow detail was marginal in most cases, and strong highlights were often over-bright with limited detail. The S5i also tended to require a bit more positive exposure compensation than average on shots that normally require it.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,200 lines of "strong detail." The Optio S5i performed pretty well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height in both directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines.

  • Image Noise: Surprisingly good image noise for a subcompact 5-megapixel model. The Pentax Optio S5i's noise levels are surprisingly low for a subcompact 5-megapixel digital camera. Noise is detectable at ISO 80 and 100, clearly visible at ISO 200, and somewhat obtrusive at ISO 400, but even ISO 400 shots from the camera are within the parameters of what I'd consider usable. The S5i does trade away some subtle subject detail to maintain the low noise levels as the ISO increases, but not as much as I'd expect for a subcompact digicam.

  • Closeups: Very nice results with both macro settings, and great detail. Details soften in the corners though. Flash throttles down fairly well, but is off-center for close shots, is disabled in Super Macro mode. The Optio S5i performed very well in the macro category, most notably in the Super Macro mode, where it captured a minimum area of only 1.36 x 1.02 inches (34 x 26 millimeters). In the normal macro mode, the minimum area measured 3.16 x 2. 37 inches (80 x 60 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill. The coins and brooch were soft in the Super Macro shot due to the close shooting range (a depth of field issue, not the camera's fault), and were slightly soft in the wider shot, but still showed good detail in the wider shot. Details softened toward the corners of the frame, but were fairly sharp on the dollar bill. (Most digicams produce images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes, the S5i is typical in this regard.) The S5i's flash throttled down fairly well for the macro area, though the overall exposure was low and the brooch created a bright reflection. (You'll be able to use the flash for some macro shots, but best results will be with external lighting.)

  • Night Shots: Pretty good low-light performance, with reasonably bright exposures under the equivalent of average city street lighting at night. Reddish color balance, but moderate noise. Autofocus works down to ~1/4 foot-candle. (One-quarter the brightness of typical city street lighting.) The Optio S5i produced clear, bright, usable images only down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) limit of my test, at the 400 ISO setting. At ISO 200, images were bright down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level, and at ISO 80 and 100, images were bright only to the 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) light level. Color balance was warm and reddish, with an increasing red cast at the lower exposures. The autofocus system worked down to about 1/4 foot-candle, also a good performance. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the S5i should fare reasonably well for after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings, though you'll need the flash for darker situations. Image noise was moderate at the lower ISO settings, but increased at ISO 400, with a large grain pattern.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A very tight optical viewfinder, but very accurate LCD monitor. The Optio S5i's optical viewfinder was very tight, showing only 72 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 74 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, showing about 98 percent of the image area at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S5i's LCD monitor performed pretty well here, but its optical viewfinder could really use some help.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide angle. Very little chromatic aberration, but soft corners, particularly with close-in subjects. Geometric distortion on the Optio S5i was high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.05 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared quite a bit better, as I measured approximately 0.01 percent barrel distortion (about two pixels' worth) there. Chromatic aberration was pretty low, as there was only very faint color visible around the res target lines in the corners of the frame. (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 seen in the res target images, the S5i tends to get rather soft in the corners at closer shooting distances, although this effect appears to diminish significantly as the subject gets farther away. (Many subcompact digicams share this issue of softness in the corners of their images.)

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Surprisingly fast shutter response, slow shot-to-shot cycle times. With full-autofocus shutter lag ranging from 0.44 - 0.83 seconds, the Pentax Optio S5i is surprisingly quick for a subcompact digital camera. (Although 0.83 seconds is still way too long to have to wait, if you care about fast-breaking action.) At 0.14 seconds, its manual-focus shutter lag is better than most, and its lag of only 0.011 second when "prefocused" by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button prior to the shot itself is positively blazing. Alas, like most subcompact digital cameras, its shot to shot cycle times are downright lethargic, at an average of 4.7 seconds between shots for large/fine images, and 2.1 seconds for small/basic quality ones. Continuous mode is only slightly faster, at 3.5 seconds/frame for large/fine images, or 0.99 seconds/frame for small/basic ones. Bottom line, not bad for fast action, as long as you don't mind waiting a while between shots.

  • Battery Life: Surprisingly good battery life for a subcompact model. The Pentax Optio S5i uses a custom rechargeable LiIon battery for power. Because it uses a custom external power connector, I was unable to conduct my usual direct power consumption measurements. I did time how long a fully-charged battery pack took to run down in the worst-case power consumption mode (record mode, with the rear-panel LCD illuminated), and found it to be a (very) respectable 111 minutes. While I always advise readers to purchase an extra battery right along with their digicams, the S5i's battery life is quite good, especially for a subcompact model.



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Overall, the Optio S5i is amazingly full-featured for a subcompact model, delivering good (although slightly understated) color and tone in an incredibly tiny package. If you're looking for an ultra-compact camera with a full feature set, the Optio S5i is hard to beat. The camera's 5.0-megapixel CCD produces very high resolution images, and the camera offers a wide range of preset shooting modes and exposure control options to suit a range of user levels. Excellent for travel and as a "take anywhere" camera, the Pentax Optio S5i arguably packs more photographic capability per cubic inch than anything else on the market.

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