Optio 550 ($599) may look like just another compact camera,
but it has one "big" feature that makes it stand
out from the crowd: a 5X optical zoom lens. That's a nice change
from the usual 2X or 3X lenses found on cameras of this size.
The 550 is a nice compromise between an ultra-compact and an
addition to the lens, the 550 also features a 5.0 Megapixel CCD,
full suite of manual controls, and a unique 3D image mode.
those want don't need all those pixels, Pentax offers the Optio
450 for $100 less.
the Optio 550 perfect for those looking for zoom power and portability?
Find out in our review!
in the Box?
Optio 550 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
5.0 (effective) Mpixel Pentax Optio 550 camera
rechargeable Li-ion battery
featuring ACDSee software + drivers
page camera manual (printed)
Optio 550 includes a skimpy 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card in
the box. That's barely enough to get started with, so I recommend
picking up a larger card (256MB is a good place to start) right
Optio's lithium-ion battery has a lot of juice, giving the camera
impressive battery life. The battery has 6.7 Wh of power (more
than most larger cameras), and Pentax estimates that you can
take around 400 shots (LCD on, 50% flash), or spend 210 minutes
in playback mode.
Battery charger + battery
it's time to charge the battery, just pop it in the included
external charger. It takes about 3 hours to recharge.
other things to note about these proprietary batteries: for one,
they are very expensive. Buying another one (which I recommend)
will set you back $40. Also, when you're low on power, you can't
stuff in a regular AA battery to get you through the rest of
Optio 550 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap
to worry about. You'll probably notice throughout this review
that photographing the front of this camera is not easy.
what's the deal with the 3D Image Viewer that's included in the
box? The Optio has a unique feature which lets you take two shots
in a row and combine them into a 3D image. To view the images
in 3D, you can print them out and then use the 3D image viewer.
Once you get the hang of it, you can probably do it without the
could only locate three accessories for the Optio 550. They are
a remote control, camera case, and AC adapter. There are no lens
or flash accessories available.
includes ACD System's ACDSee for both Mac and PC. The software
is great for viewing and organizing your photos, but it's no
substitute for something like Photoshop Elements when it comes
to retouching. ACDSee is Mac OS X native.
users will also get ACD Photostitcher, which can be used for
creating panoramic images. I did not try it.
manual included with the Optio 550 is about average. Everything
you need to know is in it, but it can be confusing at times.
Optio 550 is an attractive, compact metal camera. The front is
brushed metal, with chrome accents around the lens (which makes
it hard for me to photograph). The camera is well built, and
should be able to take whatever you throw at it. Do note that
these metal cameras tend to scratch easily, so a camera case
camera can fit into most any pocket, and can easily be operated
with just one hand. The dimensions of the Optio 550 are 3.9 x
2.3 x 1.6 inches (W x H x D, without protrusions), and it weighs
205 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the old, 3X zoom
Optio 330GS' numbers are 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.7 and 180 grams, respectively.
bigger lens on a smaller body? Not bad! Let's begin our tour
don't know how they did it, but the Pentax engineers managed
to put a 5X zoom lens in the same space as a typical 3X lens.
This F2.8 - F4.6 lens has a focal range of 7.8 - 39 mm, which
is equivalent to 37.5 - 187.5 mm. The 550 does not support add-on
the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash
has a working range of 0.4 - 5.2 m at wide-angle, and 0.15 -
3.2 m at telephoto. There are no external flash options for this
above the flash is the optical viewfinder. To the right of that
is the "passive autofocus sensor". I assume this uses
infrared light to assist the camera with focusing, in much the
same way as an AF illuminator. Regardless of how it works, it's
a welcome feature.
the left of the AF sensor are the self-timer lamp and remote
control receiver. Below the sensor is the microphone.
the back of the camera. The Optio 550 has a high resolution,
1.5" LCD display. The LCD is bright, fluid, and sharp. Like
all LCDs, it can be hard to view outdoors. The LCD brightness
is not adjustable.
of the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's pretty large for a
compact camera, and as an added bonus, there's even a diopter
to the right, we find three multifunction buttons, plus the zoom
controller. The three buttons are for:
setting (Auto, off, on, auto w/redeye reduction, on w/redeye
- Remote control
- Continuous shooting
- Multiple exposure
- Super macro mode
- Infinity-landscape focus
- Move focusing area
- Manual focus
cover most of the above later in the review. But first, a few
notes about some of those.
shooting mode will take shots sequentially until the memory card
is full. The frame rate will vary depending on the image resolution
and quality setting. At the highest JPEG setting, it seemed like
the rate was around 1 frame/sec, which isn't terribly impressive.
multiple exposure feature allows you to superimpose an image
on top of one you've already recorded. You can give priority
to the brighter image, the darker image, or you can just average
focusing area" will let you choose one of five focus points
on the LCD (center, left, right, top, bottom). Manual focus will
let you use the four-way switch to choose a focus distance. The
center of the frame is enlarged so you can be sure that your
subject is in focus. A little gauge on the LCD will report the
current focus distance.
to our tour now: the zoom controller is well-placed, and it quickly
moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under two seconds.
the right of the LCD is the playback mode button. It does just
what it sounds like. Below that is the four-way switch, used
for menu navigation, manipulating manual controls, and setting
the exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, 1/3EV increments).
two buttons below the LCD are for Menu/Function and Display (turns
LCD on and off). The function button allows you to quickly access
your favorite settings, by pressing it along with one of the
directions on the four-way switch. You can put most menu functions
in this spot.
the top of the camera, you'll see the speaker, diopter control
slider, power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button.
mode wheel has the following options:
mode - you choose both shutter speed and aperture, using the
priority (Tv) mode - you choose shutter speed, camera chooses
aperture. Shutter speed range is 4 - 1/1000 sec.
priority (Av) mode - you choose aperture, camera chooses shutter
speed. Aperture range is F2.8 - F7.9
mode - fully automatic, with full access to camera settings
scene (the only way to get the 8 sec max exposure time)
- Surf & snow
image mode - for creating the 3D stereo images that I described
- Black & white
Filter - gives pictures a "fuzzy" look
mode - quickly access your favorite settings
recording - save audio clips in WAV format. Record until the
memory card is full (which is about 30 minutes on a 16MB card)
only thing to note here is the 4 second shutter speed limitation
in the manual modes. The camera can actually go as slow as 8
secs, but apparently the only way to do so is by using the night
much to see on this side of the camera. You can see how compact
the lens is, though!
the other side of the camera you'll find the I/O ports, which
are kept under a plastic cover. The ports include USB/video out,
as well as DC-in for the optional AC adapter.
the bottom of the camera is the battery compartment, memory card
slot, and tripod mount.
a shame that with such a nice metal body, Pentax chose to put
a cheap plastic tripod mount on the Optio. The mount is toward
in the center of the camera. The plastic door covering the battery/memory
card slot seems rather flimsy as well.
memory card slot can use SD or MMC (MultiMediaCard) formats.
important thing to note: you cannot change the memory card (or
battery for that matter) while the camera is on a tripod.
the Pentax Optio 550
takes a little over 5.5 seconds for the Optio to extend the lens
and "warm up" before you can begin shooting.
the shutter release button halfway, and the camera locks focus
in under a second -- about average. Low light autofocus wasn't
bad, and I think we have the passive AF sensor to thank for that.
terms of shutter lag, the Optio 550 did well. At faster shutter
speeds, there was no major lag. When the shutter speed approaches "tripod
levels", there will be a bit of lag, but you probably shouldn't
be hand-holding the camera anyway.
The Optio's LCD can show a lot of info
in record mode, including a histogram
speed was excellent as well. Assuming you have the post-shot
review feature turned off, you can take another picture in about
here's a look at the image size and quality choices available
on the Optio 550. Pentax uses a "star system" to represent
image quality. Here are the number of shots that you can store
on the included 16MB memory card.
shots on 16MB card
you can see, there's a TIFF mode on the Optio 550. You can also
see that you can't actually fit one of these images on the included
far as file numbering goes, the camera names files as IMGP####.JPG,
where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even
if you erase the card.
not the best looking menu system, the Optio 550's system is easy
to navigate. The menu items include:
pixels (see chart)
level (see chart)
balance (Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
area (Wide, spot)
metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
(Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400)
bracket - see below
zoom (on/off) - using this lowers the quality of your photos
review (Off, 0.5, 1-5 sec)
fwd movie (Off, x2, x5, x10, x20, x50, x100) - see below
mode (Parallel, cross) - choose the viewing method for 3D images
- the camera will store the selected settings in memory so
they aren't lost when you turn off the camera. The available
(Soft, normal, hard)
(Soft, normal, hard)
(Soft, normal, hard)
- store your favorite camera settings to the "user" spot
on the mode wheel.
for some further explanation.
you can see, the Optio has manual white balance controls. That's
the best way to get perfect white balance under any lighting.
bracketing system is excellent. Not only can you bracket exposure,
but you can also do it for white balance, sharpness, saturation,
and contrast as well. The camera takes three shots in a row,
with an interval you can choose (for white balance and exposure).
If you've got enough room on your memory card, this is a great
way to ensure perfect pictures.
interval shooting feature will take a set number of shots at
a chosen interval. You can even tell the camera when to start,
up to 24 hours ahead of time. Up to 99 pictures can be taken
in this mode. An AC adapter is basically a requirement.
forward movie" feature is like a "time lapse" movie.
You can reduce the frame rate by a factor of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50,
or 100. When you play the movie back, they are played back at
15 frames/sec multiplied by the chosen factor. Sound is not recorded.
I hope this makes sense -- try it and you'll see.
addition to the record menu, there's also a setup menu. The interesting
choices in that menu include:
- adjust the annoying beep sounds
time - view the time around the world
(English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese)
screen (on/off) - use the default Optio picture, or one of
out (NTSC, PAL)
timeout (Off, 30 sec, 1-2 min) - turn the LCD off after inactivity
power off (Off, 3, 5 min) - turn off the camera after inactivity
delete (on/off) - took me a while to figure this one out. When
on, it shortens the photo deletion process by one button press.
zoom (on/off) - when on, "zoom and scroll" feature
automatically jumps to highest zoom ratio
setting (Exposure compensation, recorded pixels, quality level,
white balance, focusing area, AE metering, instant review,
fast fwd movie) - define what the various directions on the
four-way controller do.
limiter (on/off) - limits the movement of the lens when shooting.
I'm not sure what this is really for.
enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
Optio 550 did an excellent job with the macro test shot. Color,
sharpness, and detail are all excellent. You can easily make
out the dust and hair on the figurine. The 550 has two macro
modes: regular and super. Regular macro mode gives you a focus
distance of 15 - 65 cm. Super macro mode gets you even closer:
just 2 cm from your subject. The catch is that the lens is locked
at wide-angle in super macro mode.
Optio produced a well-exposed, though somewhat noisy night test
shot. It took in plenty of light, which is easy with the 550's
shutter speed controls. There's a bit of purple fringing here
was definitely some redeye in our flash test shot, which is not
terribly surprising, given the proximity of the flash to the
lens. You can remove redeye pretty well in software.
distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion and just a slight
hint of vignetting (dark corners). I saw a little bit of vignetting
in my real world photos, but it wasn't bad.
I was very pleased with the photo quality on the Optio 550. Colors
and detail were both excellent. I was also impressed with how
well it exposed some very challenging scenes (see the various
BART pictures in the gallery). Noise
levels were a little higher than I like to see, but Pentax is
going for the ultra-sharp look, which tends to raise the noise
a bit. Purple fringing was apparent, which is common with these
longer zoom lenses. It wasn't horrible, but just be aware of
just take my words as gospel: view the pictures in the gallery and
make your own decision about he Optio 550's photo quality!
covered one part of the Optio's movie mode in the previous section,
when I tried (not very well) to explain the fast forward movie
feature. Now here's some info about the standard movie mode.
can record up to 10 minutes of video at 320 x 240, with sound.
Do note that the 16MB card can only hold 40 seconds of video.
are saved in QuickTime format, at a frame rate of 15 frames/sec.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
a sample movie for you. It's not terribly exciting, but it's
all I've got:
Click to play movie (3.2MB, QuickTime
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Optio 550 has a very nice playback mode. The
Optio has the basic playback features nailed: slide shows, DPOF
print marking, thumbnail mode, and image protection are all here.
zoom and scroll feature is here too, allow you to zoom in as
much as 8X into your photo, and then scroll around. Zoom and
scroll speeds are about average.
of the more advanced features include resizing and trimming.
You can resize an image to any of the smaller resolutions (plus
320 x 240), and you can change the quality as well. The trimming
feature allows you to crop a photo -- the resolution and quality
settings are the same as the original image. In both cases, the
original image is kept.
Optio can show plenty of information about your photos, including
a histogram -- just press the display button. The camera moves
through images extremely quickly, with virtually no delay between
Does it Compare?
must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the Pentax Optio
550. I really enjoyed using it. It's pretty much the ultra-compact
camera out there with a "big zoom" lens on it (though
it's only 5X). The photo quality was impressive, as were the
performance, full manual controls, build quality, and battery
life. The movie and playback modes were pretty good too, and
I appreciate the live histogram in record mode. Downsides include
the redeye, noise, and purple fringing in some images (not major
though), and the skimpy 16MB memory card included with the camera.
In other words, there isn't a lot to complain about. If you want
more zoom in a smaller package, you definitely should check out
the 550, or its 4 Megapixel sibling, the Optio
zoom in an attractive, compact body
battery life for a compact camera
can be 10 min long
AF sensor helps with focusing
histogram in record mode
macro mode allows you to get as close as 2 cm to subject
3D photo, fast forward movie features
I didn't care for:
purple fringing and noise in photos
body scratches easily
may be a problem
16MB SD card included
compact 5 Megapixel cameras include the Canon
PowerShot S50, HP
Photosmart 935, Konica
Finecam S5, Minolta
DiMAGE F300, Olympus
C-50Z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P10, DSC-P92,
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
out the Optio 550 and its competitors before you buy!