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DCRP Review: Pentax Optio SV  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 17, 2005
Last Updated: April 9, 2012

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At first glance, the Pentax Optio SV (street price around $360) looks like just another ultra-compact metal camera. And for the most part, that's just what it is -- with one exception. Unlike nearly all of the competition, the SV packs a powerful 5X zoom lens into its thin frame. So if you've wanted something resembling a pocket ultra zoom camera, this is it. The Optio also features a 5 Megapixel CCD, manual controls, 1.8" LCD display, and plenty of bells and whistles. How does it perform in our tests? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The Optio SV has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Optio SV camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital card
  • D-LI8 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charging stand
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ACDsee software and drivers
  • 175 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Pentax includes a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card with the SV. That's just an okay size to start with, so you'll probably want to buy a larger card right away. I'd say 256MB is a good size for most folks. The Optio can also use MultiMedia (MMC) cards, though I'd advise against it. A high speed SD card is probably an unnecessary purchase based on my experiences with the camera.

The Optio SV uses the D-LI8 lithium-ion battery, which packs just 2.6 Wh of energy, which is pretty bad. And that translates into below average battery life -- the Optio SV can take just 100 photos per charge (using the CIPA battery life standard), tying the Olympus Stylus Verve for the worst battery life in the ultra-compact class. Pentax's own Optio S5i -- an even more compact camera -- can take 160 shots per charge.

No review would be complete without a complaint about proprietary batteries like the one used by the SV. For one, they're expensive, costing $35 a pop (and I do recommend buying a spare, especially given the SV's poor battery life). Secondly, you can't drop in some disposable batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera. Unfortunately ultra-compact cameras with AAs are pretty rare, though Pentax makes one: the Optio S50.

Charging the battery on the Optio SV is a little different than on most cameras. You drop the camera into this charging stand and away you go. It takes about 100 minutes to fully charge the battery. As an added bonus, the stand can also charge a spare battery, though not at the same time. The battery inside the camera is charged first, and then the spare.

The SV has a built-in lens cover, so there are no lens caps to worry about. As you can see, it's a very compact camera.

There aren't too many accessories to mention here. The only things I could find were an AC adapter ($45), external battery charger, your choice of two remote controls ($15-20), a wrist strap ($8), and a soft case.

ACDSee 1.6 for Mac OS X

Pentax includes ACD System's ACDSee for both Mac (v 1.6) and PC (v 5.0) with the camera. While it's not equal to Photoshop, this is still pretty good software. It runs natively in both the Mac OS X and Mac OS 8/9 environments. There's also a program called ACD PhotoStitcher which assembles panoramic shots for you. It's not Mac OS X native, but runs in Classic. Windows users will also be able to use ACD Showtime! (presumably for slide shows) and Fotoslate 2.0 (which is for printing your pictures).

The manual included with the Optio SV is slightly better than average. It's complete, with a minimum of fine print. The writing isn't terribly clear, but after some searching you'll find what you're looking for.

Look and Feel

The Optio SV is a compact metal camera with a few cheap plastic parts thrown in for good measure. For the most part it's pretty solid, though the plastic door over the memory card / battery compartment could bust off, and the tripod mount is plastic. The camera is very small, and can go anywhere you do. Most of the controls are within easy reach, though I didn't care for the placement and feel of the Menu button.

The official dimensions of the camera are 91.5 x 56.0 x 28.0 mm / 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs 150 g / 5.3 ounces empty. There really aren't any other ultra compact/big zoom cameras to compare the SV against.

So, with that out of the way, let's move on.

Despite its ultra compact body, the Optio packs a powerful 5X zoom lens. This F2.8-4.7 lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 29 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 180 mm. Quite a change from the usual 35 - 105 mm, eh? You cannot attach conversion lenses to the Optio SV.

To the upper-left of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.1 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 2.5 m at telephoto, which is pretty good for a small camera. You cannot attach an external flash to the Optio.

The only other thing to mention on the front of the camera can be found to the left of the flash, and that's the remote control receiver and self-timer lamp. There is no AF-assist lamp on the Optio SV, unfortunately.

Now here's the back of the camera. The Optio SV has a standard issue 1.8" LCD display with 118,000 pixels. It shows 100% of the frame. Images on the screen were sharp, and motion was fluid. Outdoor visibility is about average, while in low light the screen was very difficult to see, as it doesn't "gain up" like some others.

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is average-sized. It lacks a diopter correction knob, though most cameras in this class don't have this feature either.

Just to the right of the viewfinder is the mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Picture (scene) mode You choose one of 12 situations and the camera uses the correct settings; choose from landscape, flower, portrait, self-portrait, sports, surf & snow, autumn colors, sunset, museum, food, 3D, and panorama assist.
Program mode Fully automatic shooting with full menu access
Manual mode Contains shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual modes. The shutter speed range is 4 - 1/1000 sec. The aperture range is F2.8 - F8.
User mode Your favorite camera settings, easy to access.
Audio recording mode Record audio clips (in WAV format) until the memory card is full
Movie mode More on this later
Night scene mode For taking long exposures

As you can see, the Optio has full manual control over shutter speed and aperture. I wish the shutter and aperture priority options weren't buried in the menu, though.

To the right of the mode dial is the button for entering playback mode. To the right of that is the zoom controller, which moves the lens through the 5X zoom range in just 1.5 seconds. I counted 11 steps in the zoom range, which you can access by quickly pressing the controller.

To the right of the LCD are three buttons:

  • Flash setting (Auto, flash off, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction)
  • Focus mode (AF, macro, super macro, infinite focus, manual focus, focusing area) / Delete photo
  • Drive (Normal, self-timer {2 and 10 sec}, continuous shooting, auto bracketing, interval shooting, remote control)

Time for some further explanation for some of those.

Manual focus (enlargement feature in use)

First, the focus modes. I'll cover the macro items later, but I do want to discuss the manual focus feature. When this feature is activated, you use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide showing that distance is shown on the LCD, and the frame is digitally enlarged so you can make sure that your subject is in focus. The focusing area feature lets you manually select one of five focus points.

Now for the drive options. Continuous shooting mode will keep taking pictures until the memory card is full. At the highest JPEG quality setting, the camera was shooting at a miserly 0.6 frames/second. The LCD screen goes black between shots, which makes tracking your subject fairly difficult (you may want to use the optical viewfinder instead).

The auto bracketing feature on the Optio is quite impressive. You can bracket exposure, white balance, saturation, contrast, or sharpness. The camera will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure (or whatever you're bracketing). For exposure you can choose an interval of ±0.3EV to ±2.0EV in 1/3EV increments. For white balance it's ±1 to ±5 stops (one image will be normal, the next redder, and the last one bluer). Finally, for saturation, contrast, or sharpness, it's ±1.

Interval shooting will take up to 99 shots at a chosen interval. You can choose intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 99 minutes. You can also set the start time up to 24 hours ahead. The AC adapter is an unofficial requirement for this feature.

The next item on the back of the camera is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, adjusting the exposure compensation (the usual ±2EV in 1/3EV increments), and selecting manual settings. Pressing the OK button in the middle will also toggle what is shown on the LCD.

Below the LCD are two buttons -- Menu and Function -- and I wasn't thrilled with their placement or feel (they're too flush with the body). The Menu button does just what it sounds like, while the Function button is customizable. You can choose any menu item and pair it with one of the four directions on the four-way controller (up to four options can be stored). Then, just hold down the Function button while pressing the four-way controller in the desired direction for easy access to that option.

The only things to mention on the top of the Optio SV are the power and shutter release buttons.

Nothing to see here. The lens is at the full wide-angle position.

Here's the other side of the SV, with the lens at full telephoto.

Under two rubber covers are the camera's I/O ports. They include USB + A/V (one port for both) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The Optio SV supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

We end the tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and plastic (boo!) tripod mount. The memory card / battery compartment is covered by a flimsy plastic door that could bust off if forced. Also, you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included battery and memory card are shown at right.

Using the Pentax Optio SV

Record Mode

It takes just over 3 seconds for the Optio to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.

The SV's LCD shows a histogram as well as highlights (in red) and shadows (in yellow)

Autofocus speeds were average, or maybe a bit worse. Typical focus times hovered around 0.7 - 0.9 seconds, with longer delays if the AF has to "hunt". Low light focusing was poor, due in part to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.

On the other hand, shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot speed is just okay. About two seconds pass before you can take another photo (with the post-shot review feature turned off).

You can delete a photo right after it is taken by pressing the delete photo button on the back of the camera.

Let's move on to the SV's image quality options now with a look at our usual chart. Pentax uses a "star system" for compression, where three stars is "best", two is "better", and one is "good". Now, here's the chart:

Resolution Quality # images on 32MB card
2560 x 1920 Best 21
Better 33
Good 47
2048 x 1536 Best 31
Better 48
Good 66
1600 x 1200 Best 41
Better 64
Good 87
1024 x 768 Best 66
Better 101
Good 137
640 x 480 Best 96
Better 148
Good 175

There's no RAW or TIFF mode on the Optio SV.

As 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.

The Optio SV has the standard Pentax menu system. It's pretty basic in terms of appearance, but it gets the job done. By pressing the zoom controller, you can shift to a "simple" menu with fewer options. The options in the full record menu include:

  • Recorded pixels (see chart)
  • Quality level (see chart)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual) - the manual option lets you use a white or gray card as a reference, for perfect color in any lighting
  • Focusing area (Multiple, spot)
  • AE metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Sensitivity (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Auto bracket (±2.0EV in 1/3EV increments) - choose the interval for the feature described earlier
  • Interval shooting - described earlier
  • Focus limiter (on/off) - limits the focus range to long distances only; speeds up focusing times
  • Time-lapse movie (Off, 2X, 5X, 10X, 20X) - called "fast forward movie" on older Optio cameras; this slows down the frame rate so when you view it at normal speed, it appears speeded-up
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this lowers the quality of your photos
  • Instant review (Off, 0.5 sec, 1 - 5 sec) - post-shot review feature
  • 3D mode (Parallel, cross) - choose the viewing method for 3D images; requires the optional 3D viewer
  • Memory - the camera will store the selected settings in memory so they aren't lost when you turn off the camera. The available settings include:
    • Flash
    • Drive
    • Focus mode
    • Zoom position
    • Manual focus position
    • White balance
    • Focusing area
    • AE Metering
    • Sensitivity
    • Exposure compensation
    • Digital zoom
    • Display mode
    • File numbering
  • Manual (Aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual) - choose the shooting mode when the mode dial is set to M
  • User - store your favorite settings to the User spot on the mode dial
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise in long exposures
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
  • Saturation (Low, standard, high)
  • Contrast (Low, standard, high)

In addition to the record menu, there's also a setup menu. The options in this menu include:

  • Format
  • Sound - adjust the annoying beep sounds or create your own
    • Operation volume
    • Playback volume
    • Startup sound (Off, 1-3)
    • Shutter sound (Off, 1-3)
    • Operation sound (Off, 1-3)
    • Self-timer sound (Off, 1-3)
  • Date adjust
    • Date style
    • Date
    • Time
  • World time - view the time around the world
  • Language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Folder name (Standard, date)
  • Screen setting
    • Startup screen (on/off) - you can use one of your own pics as well
    • Background color
    • Screen effect (on/off)
  • LCD brightness
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • USB connection (PC, PictBridge)
  • Sleep timeout (Off, 30 sec, 1-2 min) - turn the LCD off after inactivity
  • Auto power off (Off, 3, 5 min) - turn off the camera after inactivity
  • Function setting - define what the various directions on the four-way controller do while the function button is held down; almost any menu option can go here
  • Reset - turn settings to back their default values

Well, enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The Optio SV did a pretty good job with our usual macro test subject. Colors look good (thanks to the custom white balance option) and the subject is fairly sharp, save for some strange fuzziness around some of the edges (look at the top of the hat).

There are two macro modes on the Optio. In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 12 cm to your subject. To get even closer, you can use super macro mode, which lowers that distance to just 3 cm, which is excellent. You can then fill the frame with a subject 32 x 43 mm in size. Do note that the lens is fixed at the wide-angle position while in super macro mode.

The night shot was just okay. The camera took in enough light, though a second longer exposure wouldn't have hurt. Unfortunately the SV can't go any slower than 4 seconds (which is what I used here), so that's the best I could get. The image is on the soft side, and there's a bit of noise as well. One thing you can't see here is purple fringing, which is a good thing.

Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

As you can see, taking the ISO above 100 results in lost detail. I don't think that ISO 400 is usable.

There's mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the Optio SV's 5X zoom lens. There are hints of vignetting (dark corners) in this test as well, but I didn't see any of that in my real world photos.

There's a fair amount of redeye in our flash test shot. This isn't surprising considering how close the flash is to the lens. While your mileage may vary, I'd expect to see at least some redeye in your flash photos.

I was a bit disappointed with the Optio SV's image quality. While they are well-exposed with accurate color and little purple fringing, they seemed soft and fuzzy to me, with a lot of detail missing. Photos seem like they're from a camcorder or a video grab rather than from a 5 Megapixel digital camera. Noise levels were quite high as well -- images on the SV are noisier than on most of the 8 Megapixel cameras I've seen lately. Now I don't want to discourage you completely. If your plans are to make 4 x 6 inch prints, these issues are minor. For large prints or 100% on-screen viewing, you'll likely be disappointed.

As I always say, don't just take my word for all this. View our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the Optio SV's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The Optio SV's movie mode is average. You can record video at 320 x 240 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. With the included 32MB memory card that takes a little over a minute, so you'll want a larger card for longer movies.

The SV also has a "time-lapse movie" feature which I described earlier.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's another exciting sample movie of a train. Let's just say that the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.

Click to play movie (16.9 MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The Optio has a pretty nice movie mode too. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice annotations, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll are all here. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The "zoom and scroll" feature lets you enlarge your image by as much as 4 times, and then move around in it. This is a great way to check focus. This feature wasn't as responsive as I would've liked. If you want to jump right to a the maximum zoom ratio (4x), you can turn on the "Quick Zoom" option in the playback menu.

The Optio lets you easily resize, trim (crop), and rotate images. You can also apply "digital filters" to your photos. You can choose from black and white, sepia, color, red/green/blue-tinted B&W, illustration, slimming, or softness filters.

By default the camera doesn't show any useful exposure information about the image you're viewing. But press the "OK" button in the four-way controller and you'll get the screen above, which includes a histogram.

The SV moves through images at an average clip. It shows a low res version of the photo instantly, with the high res version following about a second later.

How Does it Compare?

While on paper the Pentax Optio SV sounds like a real winner, in reality it left me feeling somewhat disappointed. Sure, it's small, stylish, and offers way more zoom than the competition. However, image quality, battery life, and overall performance are below average. First, here's what I liked about the Optio SV. It's a compact metal camera that packs a "big" 5X zoom lens -- way more zoom power than the typical ultra-compact camera. Construction is good for the most part, save for the plastic door over the memory card / battery compartment. The SV offers a full suite of a manual controls, though the longest shutter speed is 4 seconds (which is long enough for most people). Other bells and whistles include a super macro mode that lets you get 3 cm from your subject, a digital filter function (in playback mode), and a 30 frame/second movie mode (albeit at 320 x 240 and with awful sound recording). The included charging stand is a nice bonus, as it can recharge a spare battery along with the one in the camera.

Now, the bad news. Image quality was disappointing, with above average noise and an overall "fuzziness" that reminds me of a video capture. Color and exposure were good, however. (Also, keep in mind that the image quality issues that I raised only really matter for larger prints or full size viewing on your computer.) Camera performance isn't great either, with average speeds across the board (though honestly it felt slower than the timings I made). The 0.6 frame/second continuous mode isn't worth writing home about either. Low light photography isn't easy on the Optio SV, with an LCD that's too dark to see and poor focusing performance in those situations. And finally, battery life on the SV is well below average for this class of camera.

Bottom line: unless you absolutely need that 5X zoom in a compact body, I'd pass on the Optio SV -- there are better choices out there.

What I liked:

  • Ultra-compact, stylish metal body with a 5X zoom lens
  • Full manual controls
  • Very good macro mode
  • Can save favorite settings to mode dial
  • Nice features: numerous bracketing options, interval shooting, digital filters
  • Camera charging cradle can charge a spare battery
  • Support for USB 2.0 High Speed
  • Live histogram in record mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Soft, fuzzy images; above average noise levels for a 5MP camera
  • Sluggish performance: average (or maybe worse) focusing and shot-to-shot times, unimpressive continuous shooting mode
  • Redeye
  • LCD difficult to see in low light
  • Poor low light focusing
  • Cheap plastic door over battery/memory card compartment; cannot swap memory cards while camera is on tripod; plastic tripod mount
  • Below average battery life
  • Awful sound quality in movie mode

Some other cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot SD300 (4MP) and S500 Digital ELPH, Casio Exilim EX-Z55, Fuji FinePix F450, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50, Nikon Coolpix 5200, Olympus Stylus Verve (4MP, 2X zoom) and Stylus 500, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 (image stabilizer), Pentax Optio S5i (more compact, 3X zoom) and S50 (same size, uses AA batteries), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33 (coming soon).

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Optio SV and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Read another review at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.