With a 5x optical zoom, HD movie recording and plenty of processing options, is the Pentax Optio S1 the most capable sub-£100 camera available? Our Pentax Optio S1 review finds out...
Almost every manufacturer caters for the novice photographer with a sub-£100 compact offering, and ever-strong competition means that these are now better specified than ever. The Pentax Optio S1, for example, may be priced at a modest £90, yet its impressive spec sheet ups the standard for the entry-level market and proves it’s more than just a no-frills affair designed for the less experienced.
The Pentax Optio S1’s 5x optical zoom lens, for example, travels a capable range between 28-140mm, and contains four aspherical elements to help maintain a consistent standard of image quality. The 14MP CCD sensor, meanwhile, has been fitted with a shifting facility for the purpose of image stabilisation, while HD movie recording is also on hand, recording to a maximum 720p. The camera goes on to offer a Smile Capture function, as well as Face Detection for up to 16 faces per frame, and also provides a raft of processing filters such as Toy Camera, Retro, Miniature and HDR.
Elsewhere the Pentax S1 has pretty much all that’s expected for a camera of its class, with a 2.7in LCD resolving images at 230,000 dots and a 9-point AF system comprising multi-segment, spot and auto‐tracking options. Metering options adhere to the standard evaluative, centre-weighted and spot patterns, and while there’s no HDMI port for transferring images and videos – just USB 2.0 – it’s unlikely this will be a deal-breaker.
All of this comes in petite body measuring just 20mm thick, and weighing 126g with battery and card in place. From the front the camera’s design appears slick and straightforward, and all functionality on the rear is labelled as clearly as needed, although the thick glossy plastic which covers it is not just unattractive, but makes it feel as though you’re operating it through a waterproof housing.
Anyone unfamiliar with Pentax’s long-standing menu format should find it to be a pleasant experience, with a friendly interface and all options logically segregated between Recording, Movie and Settings screens accompanied by chirpy beeps as the camera is operated. The Pentax Optio S1 powers through its 5x zoom range quickly, which is useful if you need either end in a hurry, but less so when more precise control is required. Thankfully, through, this speedy pace continues when images are being written to the memory card, and while focusing speed is short of excellent it’s certainly impressive for this class of camera.
Movie recording is one area where the camera falls down a touch, with a cast of noise obscuring details in even fine conditions, although it’s by no means the worst performer we’ve seen. With images, the camera does well to capture accurate and detailed scenes in optimum light, and noise is minimal at the base sensitivity of ISO 64. Although the Optio S1’s metering system does a grand job of nailing exposure correctly, in stronger light it becomes obvious that the lens isn’t well protected against flare, and contrast and tone suffer because of this.
The Pentax Optio S1’s Auto White Balance system can also be a little unpredictable, particularly under artificial sources where odd colour casts creep into images, and while colour is pleasing in good conditions, elsewhere it has a tendency of being a little flat and lacklustre. Many images are also noticeably soft in their corners, even those taken at smaller apertures where this tends to improve results. A little purple fringing is visible across contrasting edges.
The Pentax Optio S1 brings together a capable zoom range and user-friendly features inside a tiny body, and in fine lighting conditions it can record noise-free images with good detail and colour. Sadly, image quality is let down by an unpredictable Auto White Balance system and plenty of softness in the corners of the frame.