Pentax Optio RS1000 Review
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The Pentax Optio RS1000 is a well-specified entry-level compact camera with a clever twist - its front panel can be personalised with your own photographs or illustrations, potentially making every RS1000 unique. There is also a RS1000 website where you can can choose, download and print ready-made templates. In addition, the Pentax RS1000 has 14 megapixels, 4x zoom lens, a 3 inch LCD screen, Auto Picture Mode, 720p video, Auto-tracking AF mode and a range of nine digital filters. Available in a black or white base colour, the Pentax Optio RS1000 is available for £119.99 / $149.95.
Ease of Use
Nowadays, more than ever it seems, the humble digital snapshot needs a special gimmick in order not to drown amidst a sea of otherwise nigh identically specified rivals, whether that gimmick be a touch screen, flip out USB arm, or something else.
In the case of the boxy 14 megapixel Optio RS1000 from Pentax, the 'something else' comes in its ability to download (from pentax.co.uk) and custom make printed 'skins' for its faceplate. These are slipped under the transparent cover provided, which is already screwed onto its front as you lift the camera from its box. A pack of pre-cut glossy photo paper came included with our review sample, allowing us to print our own favourite shots and use them to personalise the front. For those who can be bothered it's another way to make the user/manufacturer experience more interactive.
Even without such art and craft accoutrements, the camera in its minimalist 'naked' state still looks pretty neat. An underlying design of concentric circles spreading out from the lens itself - more noticeable on the black liveried version than the white alternative we were subsequently sent - at least hints that some effort has been made, whilst the Perspex-like cover has a mirrored effect when viewed at certain angles.
This initial favourable impression continues when we examine the build quality, which feels solid and not at all plastic-y. A good sign, especially when you consider the RS1000 has a street/online price around the £100 mark, based on its manufacturer's £120 recommendation. This suggests possible gifting potential - for teens and twentysomethings perhaps, who may conceivably want to change their camera's appearance as often as their protest placards.
With a width and height barely larger than a credit card this Pentax will unsurprisingly will fit unobtrusively into any pocket or bag, and weighs just 130g with battery and optional SD card loaded into the compartment at its base. Incidentally, here we find one of the weak points, in that after a couple of weeks of using the camera the door protecting said compartment was refusing to shut properly.
Of a more immediate practical concern is the fact that there's no grip of any shape or description provided on the RS1000, and our fingers did tend to slide around on the Optio's transparent cover. There's no rest for the thumb at the back either; it instead falls upon a rather stiff lever for operating its retractable 4x optical zoom lens which boasts a modest yet usefully wide angle focal range equivalent to 27.5-110mm in 35mm terms. The possibility for camera shake seems inevitable - the one concession Pentax seems to have made being a rounded indentation at the left hand edge of the top plate, into which the forefinger of your left hand slips comfortably if you attempt to steady the camera in both hands.
There is also a row of three tiny raised nodules at the back to attempt to prevent the thumb from slipping onto the 3-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD screen, used for both composition and review in the absence of any optical viewfinder. Despite the standard resolution it's impressively clear, though visibility does suffer under sunlight. Curiously, when shooting a close subject at maximum wide angle our review sample's rear LCD displayed a quite pronounced fish eye effect - but when downloaded this hadn't translated to the images themselves. Though that was welcome, it's also slightly worrying when what you see isn't exactly what you get.
Controls are reasonably idiot proof, up to a point. While the red dot button on its top plate misleads with impressions of it perhaps being a dedicated video record button - it's actually the on/off button - video does feature here and impressively at a high resolution 1280x720 pixels, with a choice of transitional rates of either 15fps or 30fps.
While that sounds good on paper, the built-in microphone (at the side, presumably so it's not muffled by the accessory faceplate) picks up wind noise when shooting outdoors. Also rather frustrating is the fact that the optical zoom is disabled when shooting clips. Nudge the zoom lever when recording video and the camera makes a couple of unattractively lurching digital crops instead, so it's best to leave this facility alone entirely if aiming for the smoothest results.
In fact, this appears to be a general rule of thumb when operating the RS1000. Stick to the basics of pointing and shooting and you'll achieve the best results. Try and push the envelope and you'll regret it. Indeed its limitations prompted us to spend longer than usual on framing and composition to achieve an end result worth keeping - which you can be the judge of by examining our sample images posted. Its intuitiveness and approachability also means that the Pentax is the kind of camera that anyone, from the kids to grandma, should be able to pick up and starting shooting with straightaway.
From the front then the RS1000 presents its best 'fascia'. It looks sleek and cool, lozenge shaped window for the flash sitting next to a small porthole for the AF assist/self timer lamp. Though it inevitably dominates the faceplate in its dormant state, the lens r looks rather short and stubby when the camera is activated, perhaps betraying its 'value' price point.
With a press of the top mounted power button the RS1000 shimmies into life in just over a second, lens extending to maximum wideangle setting and the rear LCD screen bursting into life with a sprightly audio flourish that sounds like a chirruping bird.
Shooting modes aren't given their own button or dial on the RS1000. Instead they're to be found at six o'clock on a familiar four-way command pad on the backplate.
Press this and a two-tiered toolbar of cartoonish icons - much resembling a collection of scene modes - appears across two successive screens. Included here are the default of Auto Picture mode, alongside program mode and video shooting mode. Whilst those are the basics, we also get 19 further options, including pre-optimised settings for the regulars of portraits and landscapes, as well as photographs of children, pets and night scenes. There's even an auto tracking AF mode to maintain focus on moving subjects, and, should you be happy to witness a resolution drop to a lowly 640x480 pixels, a burst shooting mode selectable when in alternative Program mode allowing up to 16 images to be captured over a period of just two seconds. When shooting natural landscapes we particularly enjoyed the results achievable when selecting 'blue sky mode' from among the same shooting settings, which added an extra punch of colour.
Select one of the above options, press the shutter release button, set into a globule-like template next to the power button, and there's the briefest of pauses while the Pentax determines focus and exposure, AF point highlighted in green with a further 'chirrup' of affirmation that the user is now free to proceed and fire the camera's shutter. Do so and a full resolution JPEG is committed to memory in around two seconds, screen briefly blanking out and then freezing to display the captured image whilst it is undertaking the process; again not a bad timing given this class of camera.
Most of the RS1000's controls are to be found at the rear, ranged to the right of the backplate LCD. Beneath the rocker switch for adjusting the zoom are featured dedicated playback and face detection mode buttons, and underneath this again we get that four-way control pad with central 'OK' button for effecting function changes. Ranged around this are four settings for adjusting the self timer, switching to macro/close up focus, activating (or disabling) the built-in flash, and the shooting mode option which we've just dealt with.
When in playback mode a subsequent press of the 'mode' option and a toolbar appears across the screen. It's here we find a slideshow option and several ways of making rudimentary image edits, such as cropping, rotating and resizing pictures. There are also a handful of funky digital effects, including a wacky small face filter for those with porky chops, blemish-smoothing 'natural skin tone' option, plus the ability to turn a pre-captured colour picture to black and white, sepia, or add cutesy hearts or star filters to a shot.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
It was when attempting to do the latter that we experienced the first problem over a two-week test period with the RS1000. Trying to apply a digital filter to a pre-captured image and save a new file alongside the old, the camera froze up whilst it was attempting to do so. We tried the old failsafe of removing and re-inserting the battery to find that, whilst the camera was otherwise working normally, the LCD screen and resulting images had turned a lurid Wizard of Oz shade of green. Clearly something had gone horribly wrong in RS1000 world. A quick diagnosis from Pentax confirmed the blue colour channel had 'dropped out' leaving just the red and green working, possibly due to an internal short circuit - not something we'd previously come across in a decade of camera reviews. A second review sample was dutifully dispatched, we tried the same filter application again, and are happy to report the above issue seems like an unfortunate one-off.
The last buttons on the Pentax Optio's back plate are a self-explanatory menu button and an adjacent one for switching to Pentax's 'green' [read 'easy') mode, the latter doubling up as a delete button if in playback mode. A press of the 'green' button and the screen display icons automatically enlarge for improved legibility, whilst a subsequent press of the menu button reveals that all the shooting options that could otherwise have a bearing on image quality have been stripped away. All you can do here is point and shoot - so the setting is perfect for when you're handing the camera to someone else and don't want them inadvertently changing anything. That said, the choice of formatting the card, and therefore wiping all those precious photos, is still perhaps unwisely provided within the set up options.
One flank of the camera meanwhile features nothing but a built-in mono microphone, and at the other side, we find an unprotected joint AV/USB output port along with a lug for attaching a wrist strap.
At the base of the camera, protected by a sliding catch, is a compartment housing both the camera's rechargeable lithium ion battery and a vacant slot for the optional SD/SDHC card. The catch feels slightly flimsy in its plastic-ness and we can see this weakening over time. Again we have to bear in mind this camera's £100 price point however, which forgives a little corner cutting here and there. That extends to the slightly disappointing battery life which is limited to 200 shots, making this more a camera for a quick weekend break than a week's holiday, unless also packing the mains plug charger.
So while there is both good and bad about the RS1000's handling and performance - for our money, fortunately, more weighted toward the former than latter - how do the images it delivers measure up? Normally we can't expect greatness at this price point, so does the Optio confirm or confound our expectations? Read on to find out…