Pentax Optio S6|
The little Optio that could
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Of all the contestants in this thin-is-in lineup, the Pentax Optio S6 comes closest to the very high standard set by the Casio S500-- a camera that simply sticks out not only with its red body but also its incredibly thin futuristic design. The Optio, however, does it the old-fashioned way, without any of the visual tricks employed by the seductive Casio. The Pentax is is a conventionally styled metallic little box, the way we've come to expect ultra-compact cameras to be over the past several years. It uses the time-honored variety of shiny, brushed and matte metal finishes to make for a high-tech look that doesn't look so high tech anymore. And it strictly adheres to the "the boxier the better" school of design that has served digital camera manufacturers so well ever since the inital Canon Elphs.
However, somehow this time Pentax managed to do it better than virtually anyone else. This is a truly tiny camera. Because it's a little box it doesn't appear as slender, but it is among the very thinnest, has the second smallest volume, and at an incredible 4.2 ounces including its battery it weighs the least, by a good margin. It does all that and still packs a 6-megapixel CCD imager, a huge 2.5-inch LCD with the highest resolution of all cameras in this roundup, and onboard power and I/O jacks. That's truly an accomplishment Pentax can be proud of.
Cameras as tiny as the Optio S6 often have tiny, confusing controls, but not this one. If anything, they are clearer and more logical than most. Pentax also avoided one of the great sins committed by most of the competition, that of assigning double and triple functions to each button. There are designated menu, trash and replay buttons, and the standard navigation ring is clearly marked. There is no mode slider; Pentax does that onscreen. The menus are easy to navigate. The only thing you need to get used to is selecting movie and record modes via menu instead of a slider. You can, however, assign functions to one of the buttons, so switching to movie mode can be a push of a button away.
There is no weakness in the audio department. You can use the S6 as a voice recorder until its memory is full, and you can assign 30 second voice annotations to pictures. Playback volume is low, but that applies to most of the cameras.
The movie mode is technologically up-to-date with 640 x 480 clips at 30 frames per second. You can't zoom during recording, but there is an anti-shake feature and you can record time-lapse movies. For that you can reduce the frame rate between two and 30 times. That's different from the ultra-ultra time lapse the Olympus Stylus 60 offers, and perhaps more useful.
In the best of all worlds, this little marvel would also have an optical viewfinder, but it doesn't. Instead, the 232k pixel 2.5-inch display is the next best thing. The difference between it and the crop of 85-115k pixel LCDs most of the cameras here have is amazing. We also appreciate the relatively generous 23MB of onboard memory that can be used in addition to whatever SD Card you're using.
And yet another area where Pentax goes the extra mile: in this day and age where many manufacturers include minimalist instructions in eight languages, Pentax supplies an excellent, informative 183-page manual. We appreciate electronic PDF versions of manuals, but having a nice printed manual can't be beat. At least not yet.
The little Optio exceeded our image quality expectations, almost matching that of the top-ranked Konica Minolta X1. Its best pictures were sensational, but occasionally it did an average one, making it a bit less consistent than the X1.
Not so much:
- Lightest of all, and among the smallest
- Simple, downright brilliant design
- Large LCD with highest resolution
- Onboard power and I/O jacks
- Not many functions and features
- No zoom during video recording