Review: Pentax Optio S
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 29, 2003
April 30, 2003
most stunning camera this year has to be the Pentax
Optio S ($399).
This 3.2 Megapixel camera (along with its cousin, the Casio Exilim
EX-Z3) packs a real 3X optical zoom into an ultra-slim
body. In case you haven't heard, it fits into an Altoids tin.
It's the DiMAGE X of 2003.
engineering alone doesn't make a great camera. How did the Optio
S perform in our tests? Find out now.
in the Box?
Optio S has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
3.2 (effective) Mpixel Pentax Optio S camera
rechargeable Li-ion battery
featuring ACDSee software + drivers
page camera manual (printed)
only thing keeping the Optio's bundle from greatness it
the lack of a memory card. The camera does have 11MB of built-in
is really too little to be useful. So you'll want to buy a Secure
Digital or MultiMediaCard right away. I'd suggest 64MB as a place
small camera needs a small battery, and the Optio S has one.
The D-LI8 battery is one of the smallest li-ion batteries I've
seen, and it packs a fairly low 2.6 Wh of power. Pentax estimates
that you can take about 160 pictures (with 50% flash use) per
charge, or spend 110 minutes in playback mode. That's not horrible
for a tiny camera.
Battery charger + battery
it's time to charge the battery, just pop it in the included charger.
It takes roughly 100 minutes to recharge.
other thing to note about these proprietary batteries: they are
very expensive. Buying another one (which I recommend) will set
Optio S has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap
to worry about. You can really get a feel for its size in this shot.
what the heck is 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
aren't too many accessories available for the Optio S. The only
ones that I could find are an AC adapter, wireless remote
control (two of them actually -- one is just a shutter release,
while the other lets you control the zoom), and a leather case.
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 S is about average. Everything
you need to know is in it, but it may be a bit hard to read.
Optio's design can be described in one word: stunning. Its
aluminum is "spindle-patterned", giving it a very unique
look (which is hard to photograph, as you'll see). One thing
about this camera
is that you need to take good care of it -- it scratches easily.
I kept my review unit in the foam packaging whenever I took it
seen the Optio S in an Altoids tin numerous times, so here it
is next to another stunning piece of consumer electronics (which
is sadly now outdated).
camera can fit in any pocket and can easily be operated with
just one hand. The dimensions of the Optio S are 3.3 x 2.0 x
0.8 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 98 grams empty. For
the sake of comparison, the Canon PowerShot S400's numbers are
3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 and 185 grams, respectively.
being our tour of this unique camera now!
Optio's lens design is most impressive -- especially when you
see how far it sticks out when you turn on the camera. This F2.6-F4.8,
3X optical zoom lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm. That's
equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. This shouldn't surprise you, but there
are no lens accessories available for this camera.
the upper-left of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has
a working range of 0.2 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.1 - 2.0 at
other items on the front of the camera include a light sensor,
remote control receiver, and self-timer lamp. The microphone
can be found to the lower-left of the lens.
no AF illuminator on the Optio S.
now is the back of the Optio S.
camera has a very bright and sharp 1.6" LCD display. Images on
it move smoothly, though it can be hard to see in extreme light
conditions (which is typical).
above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is decent-sized,
considering how small this camera is. There's no diopter correction
-- typical for a tiny camera.
the LCD are three buttons: menu, display (for toggling LCD and
info on/off), and playback mode. To enter playback mode directly
when the camera is off, you can just hold down the playback button
while turning on the camera.
the right of the LCD is one of the worst four-way controllers
I've ever seen. The range of motion is so small that you press
the wrong direction more often that the correct one. In addition
to navigating menus, the controller is also used for setting
the self-timer, DPOF marking images, and switching modes.
Optio uses a virtual mode wheel to switch between the various
camera modes. The choices here are:
- Surf & snow
- Autumn colors
- Night scene mode - why this isn't with the others is beyond
- Movie mode
- Panorama assist mode
- 3D image mode - for creating the 3D stereo images that I described
- Filter mode
- Color filters
- Black & white
- Slim Filter - set the degree of "slimness" in 8 steps,
vertically or horizontally
- User mode - quickly access your favorite settings
there should be self-explanatory, so let's continue.
the four-way controller is the speaker. Above it are two more
buttons. These control:
mode (Auto, flash off, fill flash, auto w/redeye reduction,
fill flash w/redeye reduction) / Delete photo
mode (Autofocus, macro, super macro, infinity, manual focus,
focusing area mode) / Protect photo
cover the macro modes later.
manual focus feature will put a distance meter on the LCD, and
will also digitally enlarge
the subject, so you can make sure you're properly focused.
focusing area feature lets you use the four-way controller
to choose the
camera to focus
on. It's much like Canon's FlexiZone system, along a bit
more restricted (the positions you can move to are fixed, but
there are still many of them).
the right of those buttons is the zoom controller. You can go
from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds. The zoom is
quiet and fairly precise.
only things on the top of the camera are the shutter release
and power button. The two are too close to each other -- and
too similar in shape for my taste. They have a slightly different
feel, but you can still hit the wrong one.
power button is also used to enter voice recording mode (by holding
it down for two seconds). You can record as much audio as your
memory card can hold. The audio
is saved in WAV format.
much to see on this side of the camera. Look how long that lens
sticks out when compared to the thickness of the body!
the other side of the camera are the I/O port, which are under
plastic covers. The ports are DC-in (for optional AC adapter)
and USB + A/V (one connector for both).
the bottom of the camera is the battery compartment, memory card
slot, and tripod mount. It's a shame that with such a nice metal
body, Pentax chose to put a cheap plastic tripod mount on the
Optio. The mount is right in the center of the camera.
open up the door covering the compartments and take a closer
look. I'm not a huge fan of the door construction, by the way.
not much to say here that I haven't said already. The battery
compartment is on the top, while the SD/MMC card slot is on the
the Pentax Optio S
Optio S displays a startup screen, extends the lens, and is ready
to shoot in about 3.5 seconds. The Optio's autofocus speed was
about average -- a little under a second outdoors, a second or
so indoors. There were many times where the camera couldn't lock
focus under strong indoor lighting, and it wasn't any better
in low light. Having an AF-assist lamp would've certainly helped,
though I'm not sure if there's any room for one.
are better in the shutter lag department. I found the Optio
S to be quite responsive, even at slower shutter speeds.
The Optio's LCD can show a lot of info in record mode
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 S. Pentax uses a "star system" to represent image quality.
Here are the number of shots that you can store on an 16MB memory
card. Keep in mind that this is optional and that the built-in
memory will hold about 1/3 fewer photos.
shots on 16MB card
no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera. The camera names
files as IMGP####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains
the numbering even if you erase the card.
Optio S has a simple-to-operate menu system. The menu items include:
pixels (see chart)
level (see chart)
balance (Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
area (Multiple, spot)
metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
(Auto, 500, 100, 200)
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)
compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
only thing that really requires any explanation is the "fast
forward movie" feature. Basically this is a fancy way of saying
"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 by 12 frames/sec multiplied by the chosen factor.
Sound is not recorded. I hope this makes sense -- try it and
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)
out (NTSC, PAL)
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 left/right directions on
the four-way controller do.
enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
macro test results were mixed. The colors are right on, but the
image is a little too soft for my taste. The Optio has two macro
modes: regular and super. Regular macro mode has a focal range
of 18 - 50 cm, while the super mode's range is 6 - 20 cm. In
super mode, the lens is fixed in the middle of the zoom range.
If you'd like to see a super macro sample (just a closer view
of the normal shot), click here.
a different night shot location! I was out and about and wanted
to try something new. The exposure wasn't nearly as long as my
typical night shot -- be warned. Anyhow, the image turned pretty
nicely, though there's some noise in the sky. Also, and I'll
discuss this more below, have a look at the left side of the
photo -- does it seem blurry?
Optio can keep the shutter open for as long as 4 seconds, though
you cannot set the shutter speed manually.
not surprised at all about the redeye test results -- with the
flash practically on top of the lens, it's a given. Redeye can
be removed to a degree in software.
the distortion test comes in handy! What stands out the most
here is the higher-than-average amount of barrel distortion and
the blurriness is the corners.
A blurry corner of this image
blurriness doesn't just show up in that test shot either -- you
can find it in the majority of my sample
photos. While incredibly
innovative, new lens designs like those found on the Optio
S and Minolta's DiMAGE X series seem to have a lot of trouble
in the corners of the frame. Images are soft and a little noisy
as well. Purple fringing was not a problem in my test shots,
and both exposure and color were good.
always, don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the
photo gallery and judge the quality for yourself!
briefly covered the 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 30 seconds of video at 320 x 240, with sound.
Files are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
a sample movie for you. Note the "banding" in the sky.
to play movie (1.1MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Optio S has a very nice playback mode. There doesn't seem to
be a way to switch between internal memory and the memory card
slot, if you've got a card inserted. So they only way to view
photos in internal memory is to remove the memory card, or to
copy the photos from internal memory to the card.
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 4X into your photo, and then scroll around. both the
zooming and scrolling are sluggish, though, and the poorly designed
four-way controller doesn't help matters either.
of the more advanced features include resizing and trimming.
You can resize an image to any of the smaller resolutions, 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
Optio can show plenty of information about your photos -- just
press the display button. The camera moves through images extremely
quickly -- there's no delay between images.
Does it Compare?
terms of design, you can't beat the Pentax Optio S. It's a stunning
work of engineering that gets attention wherever it goes. That's
nice and all, but what about photo quality? In general, it's
good, but it has one big flaw: blurry edges and corners. The
Minolta DiMAGE X -- which also has a unique lens design -- had
the same problem. Every picture didn't have the blurry edges,
but most of them did. Whether it's a deal breaker is up to you.
I see the Optio as more of a "second camera", which you can take
anywhere, rather than your primary camera.
other notes about the Optio S: startup, shot-to-shot- and playback
speeds were all very good. The autofocus
system could be better
though -- it was a little slow, and low light focusing was challenging.
Two other minor issues are design-related: the power button is
too close/similar to the shutter release button. Also, the four-way
controller leaves much to be desired.
I do like the Optio S quite a bit -- but mostly for its design.
A lot of people are comparing this camera to the Canon PowerShot
S400, which in my opinion is the better of the two cameras, especially
in terms of photo quality. Of course, the S400 is a lot bigger
(relatively speaking). I can see the S400 as a primary camera,
but not the Optio.
for thought -- I hope.
design and engineering
value at under $400
battery life for a tiny camera
a few controls for a point-and-shoot
3D photo, fast forward movie features
I didn't care for:
quality -- blurry edges/corners, some noise
designed four-way controller; Power/shutter release buttons too close together, too similar
- No AF illuminator
memory card included; paltry 11MB of built-in memory.
other small 3/4 Megapixel cameras include the Canon PowerShot
S230 and S400, Casio
Exilim EX-Z3 (similar to Optio S) and QV-R3/R4,
FinePix F410, Minolta
DiMAGE Xi (and forthcoming Xt), Nikon
Olympus Stylus 300/400,
and the Sony
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
the Optio S and its competitors before you buy!
how the photo quality stacks up in our
a review of the Optio S over at Steve's
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests
for personal camera recommendations.