DCRP Review: Pentax Optio 430
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2002

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Back in the "old days", Canon was the only game in town when it came to tiny digital cameras. Soon came Casio, and then Kyocera, and now Pentax. These micro-cameras are very popular, since they're easy to pocket, and can do about anywhere.

The first mini-camera from Pentax was the 3.3 Megapixel Optio 330 ($699, see our review). Shortly after that camera was released, they announced the Optio 430 ($799), which is the 4.0 Megapixel version.

(Since the two cameras are virtually identical, this review is an updated version of the Optio 330 review, with changes made where necessary).

What's in the Box?

The Optio 430 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Pentax Optio 430 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • D-LI2 Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ACDSee software and drivers
  • 91 page manual (printed)

Strangely, the manual says that a CompactFlash card is optional. But rest assured, it's not -- a Lexar 8X 16MB card is in the box. The 16MB card is a little skimpy for a 4 Megapixel camera. Considering just how cheap memory cards are these days, couldn't they have at least included a 32MB card?

It's almost unavoidable to have a proprietary battery on these micro-cameras and the Optio is no exception. The D-LI2 is a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery about the size of two CompactFlash cards put together. If you're thinking that you won't get much life out of such a small battery, you're right. Pentax estimates playback time at 75 minutes, or about 145 photos, depending on flash and LCD use.

Pentax includes a battery charger, which takes about 2 hours. An AC adapter is optional.

Speaking of optional extras, the only thing I could find was a wireless remote control, but I don't know much about it.

The camera has a built-in lens cover, so you need not worry about lens caps.

Pentax includes the popular ACDSee software with the camera, for both Mac and PC. I only played with it briefly but it seems pretty good. The Optio 430 was compatible with Mac OS X 10.1. It loaded up Image Capture right when it was connected.

The camera manual wasn't too bad -- there weren't a lot of "notes" at the bottom of each page, and its laid out well.

Look and Feel

The Optio 430 is a small, metal camera about the size of a deck of cards. While it's small, it's not necessarily light, since it's all metal. It's easy to stuff in your pocket, and you can use it with one hand.

The chart below compares the dimensions and weight of the Optio twins with the other mini-cameras out there:

Camera Dimensions Weight
Optio 330/430 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g
Finecam S3 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.2 165 g
PowerShot S100/S110 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 190 g
PowerShot S300 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 240 g

As you can see, it's neither the smallest nor the lightest camera out there. Let's take our tour of the Optio 430 now.

The Optio 430 has a F2.6 Pentax lens with a 3X optical zoom. The focal range of the lens is 7.6 - 22.8 mm, which is equivalent to 37.5 - 112.5 mm. The lens is not threaded.

The flash on the camera has a working range of 0.14 - 2.8 m at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 1.6 m at telephoto. Note that the range is shorter on the Optio 430 than it was on the 330.

I'd like to see some sort of AF assist lamp on this camera, since it had trouble focusing in low-light situations sometimes.

Here is the back of the camera. The 1.6" LCD is smaller than normal due to the size of the camera, but its still of excellent quality. Nose smudges on the LCD will only be a problem if you use your left eye for the optical viewfinder.

Speaking of which, the optical viewfinder is a little small, but that's not surprising. It does have diopter correction for those without perfect vision. None of the other mini-cams I've mentioned in this review have diopter correction.

The buttons to the right of the LCD are the usual suspects: Menu, Display, and the Four-way switch, which is used for changing settings in the menus and in manual mode.

Above those buttons are a few multifunction buttons:

  • Flash [record] / Delete photo [playback]
  • Self-timer, Remote control, continuous shooting [rec] / DPOF print mark [play]
  • Macro, Landscape, Manual focus [rec] / Protect photo [play]

Continuous shooting mode really varies depending on the resolution and quality you've chosen. At the highest resolution, it was slow - maybe 1 frame/second. You'll want to lower the resolution or quality to get decent, but not good, continuous shooting speeds.

The manual focus feature puts a "bar" on the left side of the LCD, but it doesn't give you any units to provide an idea of how far out you're focusing. I would imagine a firmware upgrade could fix this.

To the right of that, you can see the zoom controls. I found the zoom to be smooth and responsive.

On top of the camera, you'll find the power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button. Like all of the mini-cameras, there is no LCD info display up here, so you're forced to use the main LCD to see remaining shots, flash settings, etc.

There are six choices on the mode wheel:

  • Playback
  • Auto Record
  • Night Scene
  • Manual Record
  • Movie mode
  • Multiple Exposure mode

Multiple Exposure mode lets you combine two images into one. You can give preference to the brighter or darker image, or just average them out.

Manual record mode lets you choose both the shutter speed and aperture. Unlike most cameras with manual controls, there is no shutter or aperture priority mode -- just full manual.

At wide-angle, you can choose between F2.6 and F5.0 for aperture. At full telephoto, you can pick from F4.8 or F9.2. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 sec to 2 sec. Interestingly enough, on the Optio 330, the range was 1/1000 - 15 sec!

On this side of the Optio, you'll find the I/O ports under a rubber cover. Those ports include USB/Video out, and DC in.

On the other side of the camera is the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type I slot, so no Microdrive support. The included 16MB card is shown. The door covering the slot is one of the few plastic pieces on the camera, and I worry that it could bust off if you force it.

Finally, here's the bottom of the camera. A metal tripod mount, as well as the battery compartment are located down here.

Using the Pentax Optio 430

Record Mode

The Optio 430 takes 3 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking photos. When you depress the shutter release halfway and it locks focus, it takes less than a second to do so. I had a lot of trouble with auto-focus on the Optio 330, and less of a problem here. When the camera wouldn't lock focus, it would usually be indoors, though not necessarily in low-light. In most situations (meaning outdoors), the camera focuses just fine.

There is no noticeable shutter lag on the Optio 430, and the shot-to-shot speed is superb. After a shot is taken, you can take another almost instantly. You have the option of pressing the Display button to delete a photo before it's recorded to the CompactFlash card, but you'll need to be quick about it.

One other thing I noticed is that the right hand grip of the camera starts to warm up after using the camera for a while.


Manual Mode LCD screen

Manual Mode LCD screen with stats

When using the LCD to take a picture, you can hit the display button to show some exposure statistics and a histogram. Of course this blocks the view of the subject!

There are three resolution and three quality levels to choose from on the Optio 430. This chart shows them all:

Resolution Number of photos on 16MB CF card
Best (***) Better (**) Good (*)
2240 x 1680 5 11 16
1120 x 840 22 32 64
640 x 480 64 106 200

There is no TIFF or "RAW" mode on the Optio cameras.

One nice thing about the Optio is that the menus don't differ between Auto and Manual record modes. Many cameras prevent you from using some of the manual features found in the menus when in Auto mode, but not here. Here are the menu choices on this camera:

  • Resolution (2240 x 1680, 1120 x 840, 640 x 480)
  • Quality (***, **, *)
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual)
  • AF Area (Wide, Spot, Free)
  • Digital Zoom (on, off) - adds a 2X digital zoom
  • AE Metering (Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot)
  • ISO Speed (Auto, 100, 200)
  • Color (Full, B&W, Sepia)
  • Instant Review (Off, 0.5 sec, 1-5 sec) - how long an image is shown on the LCD after it was taken
  • Sharpness (Hard, Normal, Soft)
  • Saturation (High, Normal, Low)
  • Contrast (High, Normal, Low)

One of the AF Area choices is "free". This lets you position the cursor to the point where you'd like the camera to focus. The Optio also has a manual white balance mode, which lets you shoot a white or gray card (or whatever you want as a baseline white color), for photos in any lighting.

There is another menu available called Memory. This allows you to choose the settings that are saved when the camera is shut off. The settings that can be stored in memory are:

  • Flash
  • White Balance
  • Focusing Area
  • Digital Zoom
  • AE Metering
  • ISO Speed
  • MF (manual focus) Position
  • Display (LCD setting)
  • File Number

There are two rather unique features to this camera that I haven't seen anywhere else. The first is that the Optio can store two clock settings: home, and world time. The camera has many cities programmed in, so you can just change the city name to change the time. The second feature, though I'm not sure how useful, is the ability for the camera to act as an alarm clock. You can have up to three alarms, as well.

The Optio 430 did quite well with the macro test shot. The colors are good, and the image doesn't seem over-sharpened like it did on the 330. When it macro mode, the camera locks the lens at full wide-angle. The macro focal range is 14 - 50cm.

You gotta love a tiny camera which can take night shots too. While the image isn't super sharp, it's still pretty darn good. When you have manual controls, these kinds of shots are easy -- just remember the tripod.

Overall, I was satisfied with the photo quality from the Optio 430. Images were sharp, and the color was accurate as well. I did not see any major chromatic aberrations ("purple fringing") either. If you don't believe me, check out the photo gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

In movie mode on the Optio 430, you can record silent movies as long as 30 seconds. They are saved as AVI files, at a resolution of 320 x 240. Since sound is not recorded, you can use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's an "action movie" featuring a dog running through the water after a ball:


Click to play movie (1.6MB, AVI format)

Playback Mode

The Optio 430's playback mode may look bare from the menu above, but it has most of the features that people need. That includes slideshows, DPOF print marking, 9 thumbnail mode, and image protection.

The venerable "zoom and scroll" feature is here as well. For those of you just joining us, this lets you zoom into a photo, and then move around it it. This is useful for checking focus, or showing off to your friends. The Optio's implementation isn't my favorite, though. You can't tell how far in you've zoomed, and scrolling is sluggish.

Scrolling between images on the Optio 430 is pretty quick. When you press left or right on the 4-way switch, the camera instantly shows a low-res image of the next photo. A high-res image replaces it in under 3 seconds.


Basic Info

More Detailed Info + Histogram

Just like in record mode, you can get basic info about a photo (left), or more detailed information including a histogram (right).

How Does it Compare?

The Pentax Optio 330 and 430 are the two best mini-camera out there, just edging out the Kyocera Finecam S3. For some people, I think the 330 is fine -- 4 Megapixels may be overkill. If you choose the 430, there are some tradeoffs: the shorter flash range, and smaller shutter speed range. There is also the occasional focusing difficulties, and poor battery life. But for a tiny, easily pocketable digital camera, the Optios are a great choice.

What I liked:

  • Very small, good looking, easy to carry camera
  • Many manual controls, unusual for a micro-camera
  • Histograms and exposure info in record and playback mode
  • Can use zoom in movie mode
  • Good photo quality

What I didn't care for:

  • Proprietary battery
  • No sound in movie mode
  • Focusing troubles in lower light
  • "Zoom and scroll", manual focus features could better
  • Shutter speeds limited to 2 secs; Optio 330 could do 15 sec.

The other micro-cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot S110 and S300, Casio QV-3EX, Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 775, Olympus D-40, and of course the Pentax Optio 330.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Optio 430 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steves Digicams review of the Pentax Optio 430.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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