Pentax Optio S1 Review

June 22, 2011 | Gavin Stoker | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


The Pentax Optio S1 is a stylish new compact digital camera sporting a wide-angle 5x zoom lens. Offering a versatile focal range of 28-140mm, the Pentax S1 also features a 14 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch LCD screen, 720p HD movie recording, 5cm macro mode, range of digital filters and an Auto Picture Mode. Available in three different colours - black, silver and turqouise - the Pentax Optio S1 officially retails for £119.99 / $199.95.

Ease of Use

The budget option doesn't automatically have to mean second best when it comes to camera design. At least if the new 14 megapixel, 5x optical zoom Pentax Optio S1 point and shoot compact is anything to go by. Reminding us of a Dualit classic toaster by virtue of featuring a laser engraved logo and a mirrored chrome finish front, back and sides, which means that you can see your face in it from just about any angle, the Pentax Optio S1 has the requisite wow factor as you separate it from its box.

This also lends the aluminium alloy housed camera more solidity than you'd expect from a pocket snapper with a manufacturer's suggested asking price of £119 and 'thickness' of 20mm, so about the width of a small packet of playing cards. Obviously plastic-y it ain't, though it does quickly become smudged with finger prints and we can't vouch for the attractiveness or otherwise of the alternative glossy black or aquamarine green S1 options. Overall dimensions are 54x90x20mm and the Optio S1 weighs 110g unloaded (or 126g loaded and ready), so though feeling sturdy in the palm it will slip fairly unobtrusively into pocket or bag.

Under the showy exterior lurk the S1's headline features of a 14 effective megapixel stills resolution from a 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor and 5x wide angle optical zoom, starting out at a 28mm equivalent in 35mm film terms, and winding up at an equivalent 140mm. Blurring is theoretically reduced courtesy of what Pentax refers to 'Shake Reduction' - by which it means CCD shift image stabilization. If such a respectably broad focal range isn't quite enough, there's the potential to extend the range to a 33.5x equivalent courtesy of the Pentax's 'intelligent zoom function', in effect a crop.

Pictures and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio 720p HD video at 30fps are composed with the aid of the 2.7-inch, 230k dot 4:3 aspect ratio rear plate LCD with extra wide angle viewing in the expected absence of any optical viewfinder. Being a point and shoot model, these essentials are further bolstered by the hand holding 'auto everything' likes of face recognition, automatic smile capture, blink detection, and 22 scene/subject modes. ISO sensitivity is incrementally adjustable between ISO64 and ISO6400.

Pentax Optio S1 Pentax Optio S1
Front Rear

There's no actual mode wheel but there is 'mode' printed clearly on the lower edge of a four-way control pad. Give this a press and the user is presented with an expansive array of options, displayed as non-threatening cartoon-ish icons, through which you tab left and right and press the central 'OK' button to select. Straightforward stuff indeed, with Auto Picture mode being the first and most prominent option. This is in effect a 'smart' auto mode, as it compares any given scene or subject with 14 different on-board settings and - hopefully - selects the best match for optimum results.

The front of the Pentax Optio S1 looks fairly textbook too. The largest feature is the lens, encircled here in black, just so you don't miss it, an automatic lens cover protecting it and the lens mechanism itself folded within the body when not in use. Top left of this is, at the outer edge, a small porthole housing the AF assist lamp, next to which is a narrow strip of the built in flash, and along from this again a separate self timer lamp, with tiny mono microphone located below the lens in a bottom corner.

The top of the Optio S1 continues the classy design ethic, with lozenge shaped shutter release button and smaller, circular on/off control partially sunk into the top plate and sporting a dapper chequered pattern.

Give the power button a press and the S1 is swift to respond, lens shooting outwards from the body and rear LCD blinking into life with a happy 'chirp' - a process taking just under two seconds. Give the shutter release a squeeze and with contrast detection AF deployed, there's a brief moment's wait whilst focus visibly adjusts and the AF point is highlighted in green almost anywhere on screen accompanied by another fruity chirp to indicate the shot is ready for the taking.

Pentax Optio S1 Pentax Optio S1
Front Top

Depress the shutter release button fully and a maximum resolution picture is committed to removable SD, SDHC or SDXC card (or 42.7MB internal cache) in all of two seconds. We can't fault the S1 for response times at least.

With no zoom encircling said shutter release, this is instead implemented as a clear plastic rocker switch on the camera back. Give this a nudge and the zoom is quick to respond, buzzing through its 5x range in just under two seconds if you keep one edge depressed.

Sitting below this rocker switch, and above the four-way command pad like a pair of Mickey Mouse ears are: a playback button, and alongside it a dedicated video record button, indicated not by the universal red dot, but rather by a red movie camera icon. Press this and the LCD display narrows, black bands cropping the frame to ape a 16:9 widescreen format and video recording commencing after a second's pause. Disappointingly the optical zoom cannot be used when in video mode. Give it a press and we just get a progressive digital crop that is messily jerky.

Ranged around the Pentax Optio S1's four-way command pad meanwhile are self-timer, macro mode, main 'mode' option and flash options. The latter here are auto flash, flash off, forced flash, automatic with red eye reduction and forced flash with red eye reduction. Apart from Auto Picture mode, we have a further Program Auto mode and, following this, the usual assortment of landscape and portrait optimized settings - including miniature, tilt and shift lens apeing and high dynamic range options shoehorned onto the end of the list. Surprisingly the miniature option actually allows the user to decide which part of the frame to keep in focus - bottom, middle or top - and which to blur, which is slightly more than we expected from a £120 compact.

Pentax Optio S1 Pentax Optio S1
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Beneath this command pad are the standard 'menu' button and 'easy' mode button - a press of the latter enlarging on-screen icons - which also doubles up as a delete button when playing back pictures. The menu options are basic but clearly and legibly presented. It's here that the likes of white balance, focus area, metering, sensitivity (ISO64 to ISO6400) and exposure (+/- 2EV) are adjustable. Hidden among these options is a dynamic range setting that can be biased towards correcting for highlights or shadows - or both - as desired. Sharpness, saturation and contrast can also be individually tweaked in camera via sliding levers.

Whilst the left hand flank of the Pentax Optio S1 is devoid of features, the right hand side features an unprotected PC/AV output port, and a lug for attaching a wrist strap.

The bottom of the S1 features a slightly off-centre screw thread for the attachment of a tripod, next to which we find the built in speaker. Despite this teeny outlet the sound is actually fairly clear when a video clip is replayed. Also here at the base is the covered compartment for the removable media card and battery. Battery life is rather poor with just 180 shots provided by a full charge of the tiny rechargeable D-L178 lithium ion cell. Still, this can at least be partly excused by the low-ish price tag.

So, the Pentax Optio S1 is a fairly responsive if unassuming camera on which everything falls readily to hand, making for intuitive use and convenience. However, are its images a match for its outer beauty, or do they pale in comparison? Read on to discover more…

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 2.5Mb.

The Pentax looks great so, perhaps inevitably, the pictures it produces are something of a let down. It's a little disappointing that the camera's Auto Picture mode is hit and miss - opting for macro/close up option when landscape mode was the one to go for, for example, so on a handful of occasions we ended up with frames completely blurred. Which is not what you want from this 'auto everything' point and shoot camera. Pentax suggests in its press blurb that you can 'almost' leave it up to the camera to take the photos for you; here almost in our humble opinion translates as 'not quite'. For auto white balance performance is variable from shot to shot too, meaning that colours can sometimes look a little unusual.

At maximum wideangle setting we're losing a bit of definition towards the edges of the frame though this is far from the worst example we've seen - but again it is a tell tale sign of a budget camera perhaps over stretching its boundaries. Pixel fringing and softness at maximum telephoto are likewise expected issues here and generally we could have done with photos being sharper overall. In terms of colour saturation however the news is slightly better and red and greens are especially vibrant and punchy.

In terms of low light capability the Pentax isn't quite the star performer, despite a broader than average range stretching between ISO 64 to 6400. Though our examples show a little bit of what we've been talking about in terms of variable white balance, we'd also recommend sticking at ISO 800 or below if at all possible. Yes, ISO 1600 would be usable at a push, but is becoming gritty in appearance, whilst ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 merely look soft as noise reduction kicks in.

So in summation not an unexpectedly mixed imaging performance given the affordable price tag and trinket-like appearance of the S1, but not a great one either.


There are 8 ISO settings available on the Pentax Optio S1. The resolution is automatically reduced to 5 megapixels for ISO 3200 and 6400. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 64 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

Focal Range

The Pentax Optio S1's 5x zoom lens offers quite a versatile focal range, as illustrated by these examples:




Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are just a little soft at the default sharpening setting. You can change the in-camera sharpening level if you don't like the default look.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Pentax Optio S1 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review, with some purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Pentax Optio S1 has a fantastic Super Macro mode that allows you to focus on a subject that is 5cms away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.


100% Crop


The flash settings on the Pentax Optio S1 are Flash-on, Flash-off, Red-eye reduction, and Soft Flash. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (140mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (140mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. Neither the Flash On or the Red-eye-Reduction settings caused any red-eye.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Pentax Optio S1's maximum shutter speed is 4 seconds in the Night Scene mode, which is not very good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1/15th seconds at ISO 800.


Night (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Pentax Optio S1 camera, which were all taken using the 14 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 24 second movie is 54.2Mb in size.

Product Images

Pentax Optio S1

Front of the Camera

Pentax Optio S1

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Pentax Optio S1

Isometric View

Pentax Optio S1

Isometric View

Pentax Optio S1

Isometric View

Pentax Optio S1

Isometric View

Pentax Optio S1

Rear of the Camera

Pentax Optio S1

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed


Pentax Optio S1

Top of the Camera

Pentax Optio S1
Bottom of the Camera
Pentax Optio S1
Side of the Camera
Pentax Optio S1
Memory Card Slot
Pentax Optio S1
Battery Compartment


We liked Pentax's low cost snappers of last year in the RS1000 (superceded by the RS1500) and i-10, which like the S1 majored heavily on funky design but for us delivered a more consistent imaging performance than the S1, which is slightly more variable in terms of quality and reliability than we would have hoped for. Because of ease of use, affordable price tag and those snazzy good looks, the S1 inevitably has gifting potential however, and would no doubt go down well with the younger members of the family who are perhaps more concerned with personal image than pin sharp photographic image.

We'd have liked to have been pleasantly surprised by the S1, but eye catching styling and an eye catching performance going hand in hand was not to be on this occasion. So while this is one of the loveliest Pentax cameras we've seen (and style counting for a lot, it will be relatively critic proof because of it), those wanting a more consistent and rather better performance from an inexpensive compact are directed towards the likes of the Nikon Coolpix S3100, which would make for a better investment.

The saving grace is that those spending around £100 won't be hoping for miracles so to an extent a hit and miss performance here is forgivable if not exactly desirable.

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 3
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3
Value for money 4

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Pentax Optio S1 from around the web. »

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...
Read the full review » »

Ever since the Optio S, Pentax have carved themselves a niche making incredibly slim compact digital cameras with a metal chassis that have a strong style element to them. When it was first introduced, the three megapixel Optio S was incredibly popular due to its diminutive dimensions and excellent build and optical quality.
Read the full review »


Camera Type Digital zoom compact camera
Type 1/2.3'' CCD
Size 1/2.3''
Effective Pixels Approx. 14 megapixels
Still 14M, 10M (1:1) 10M (16:9), 7M, 2M (16:9), 640 (640 x 480 pixels)
Movie HDTV 720p (1280x720), VGA (640x480), QVGA (320x240)? at 30 or 15 fps
Colour Depth 12 bits x 3 colours
Sensitivity Auto, Fixed (ISO 64 - 6400)
Shake Reduction CCD-shift Shake Reduction
Focal Length 5?25mm f/3.9(W) - f/5.7(T), equ. to 28?140mm in 35mm
Digital Zoom Optical zoom: 5x
Digital zoom: approx. 6.7x
Intelligent zoom: approx. 7x at 7M, approx. 33.5x at 640 (including optical zoom)
Construction PENTAX zoom lens, 9 elements in 8 groups (4 aspherical elements)
Focusing System
Type TTL Contrast detection Autofocus system
Functions 9-point Multi?AF, Spot AF, Auto?tracking AF (anticipating moving subject)
Focus Range (automatic) Normal : 0.4m ? infinity (at wide setting), 1m ? infinity (at tele setting)
Macro : 0.1m ? 0.5m (at wide setting), 0.3 m ? 0.5m (at medium magnification)
Super macro : 0.05m ? 0.30m (at wide setting)
Infinity-landscape, Pan Focus, Manual Focus: available? ?
AF assist AF assist lamp at front
Type 2.7'' (6.86cm) colour LCD, extra wide angle viewing with AR coating
Resolution approx. 230k dots
Playback Blink detection, Slideshow, Miniature Filter, Image Rotation, HDR Filter, Digital Filters, Frame Composite, Movie Edit, Red eye Compensation, Resize, Cropping, Image/Sound Copy, Voice Memo, Protect, DPOF, Start-up Image
Type Program controlled electronic auto exposure with electronic shutter with CCD
Speed 1/6000  - 1/4 sec.  4 sec max. (Night Scene mode)
Exposure system
Metering Multi-segment metering, Centre-weighted metering, Spot metering
Exposure Modes Auto Picture, Program, Blue Sky, Landscape, Flower, Sunset, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Portrait, Natural Skin Tone, Food, Digital SR, Kids, Pet, Sport, Surf & Snow, Fireworks, Frame Composite, Party, Candlelight, Text, Miniature Filter, HDR Filter, Movie, Green
Compensation +/- 2EV (1/3EV steps)
Type Integrated auto flash control
Modes Flash-on and Flash-off modes
"Red-eye" reduction function
Effective Range Wide: approx. 0.3 ? 3.6m (ISO Auto)
Tele: approx. 1.0 ? 2.5m (ISO Auto)
Exposure Parameters
Modes One shot, Self-timer (2 or 10 sec), Continuous shooting, Burst shooting, Remote Control
Face Recognition Face recognition (detects up to 16 faces), Smile capture, Smile detection and auto-picture)
White Balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten light, Fluorescent light, Manual setting
Digital Filter B&W, Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Colour, Extract Colour, Colour Emphasis, Soft, Brightness?
Recording Sound : Yes
Movie “Shake reduction” ? stabilized video
Duration : Depends on memory card capacity
Resolution : HDTV (1280x720), VGA (640x480), QVGA (320x240), at 30 or 15 fps
Dedicated REC button at the camera's back
Editing Yes
Options Slideshow, Image Rotation, Miniature Filter, HDR Filter, Digital Filter(B&W , Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color, Extract Color, Color Emphasis,  Soft, Brightness Filter), Frame Composite, Movie Edit, Red-eye Compensation, Resize, Cropping, Image/Sound Copy,  Voice Memo, Protect, DPOF, Startup Screen?
Internal Approx 42.7 MB
External Compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC cards
File Format JPEG (Exif 2.3), DCF 2.0, DPOF
Print image Matching III
AVI (Motion JPEG), WAV (PCM) mono
Special Features
Features World time: 75 cities, 28 time zones Others:
CCD-shift Shake Reduction
Digital Shake Reduction
Movie Shake Reduction
Noise reduction if shutter speed exceeds 0.25 sec ?
Language English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Greek, Russian, Thai, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese
Interface USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), PC / AV terminal (PAL / NTSC)
Source Rechargeable D?LI78 Lithium?ion battery
Performance Approx. 180 shots and 120 min in play mode  
Height 54 mm
Width 90 mm
Depth 20 mm
Weight 110 g unloaded, 126 g loaded and ready
PC Windows XP SP3, VistaTM and 7
Mac OS X 10.3.9 or above
Included Software Arcsoft Media Impression for PENTAX
Kit Content AV cable, USB cable, Li-ion battery, power adapter, strap and software
Optional Leather case, leather strap, weatherproof remote control, battery charger

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