Pentax Optio VS20 Review

January 24, 2013 | Gavin Stoker | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


The Pentax Optio VS20 is a travel-zoom camera with a difference - it has not one but two shutter release buttons for easier portrait oriented shooting. Featuring a 20x, 28-560mm lens with a sensor-shift Shake Reduction system, the VS20's focal range should cover most photographic bases. Also on offer are a 16 megapixel sensor, 720p HD movies, 3-inch LCD screen, a digital level gauge, Handheld Night Snap mode, a range of creative digital filters, and a 1cm macro mode. The Pentax Optio VS20 is available in black or silver and has a recommended retail price of £199.99 / $249.95.

Ease of Use

While ideally each new camera should have a special, unique feature that sells it on its own terms and distinguishes it from the pack, depressingly most don’t. But, in the case of the Optio VS20 from Pentax we don’t quite know whether to rejoice in or ridicule its points of difference.

A casual glance and impressions are positive enough; the headline features here are 16 megapixels and a 20x optical zoom supported by CCD sensor shift image stabilisation and a broad focal range the equivalent of 28mm to 560mm in 35mm film terms. Both lens and sensor are packed into a snapshot camera that will fit into your pocket and one that won’t break the bank either. The Pentax VS20 retails for a very affordable suggested price of £199.99. This outlay places the Pentax in direct competition with Olympus’ recently launched SZ-14 to take one example, 14 megapixels and a 24x zoom, while the basic spec matches up to Panasonic’s mighty if pricier TZ zoom series.

Constructed from the usual mix of metal and plastic with more of the latter on show, the Pentax Optio VS20’s body is a little wider than models costing £100 more. The rear of the camera looks distinctly utilitarian and frill free – accentuated by the gunmetal grey of our review sample. That said we do get the standard 3-inch, square-ish 4:3 aspect ratio LCD with anti reflective coating with which to compose and review stills and 1280x720 pixels video clips. Here it’s a screen that offers a higher resolution than we’d expect of an entry-level snapper at 460k dots. Adding slightly more sophistication to our review sample is a black faceplate too – with white being the alternative choice. There’s also a gentle curve to one end by way of a hand grip, plus a rubber pad at the opposite end for those preferring the two handed approach when lacking a tripod.

Pentax VS20 Pentax VS20
Front Rear

But OK, we’re teasing you. The real talking point with the Pentax Optio VS20 is the fact that it offers dual sets of the essential controls: namely the shutter release button and the zoom lever that encircles it, plus screw hole for attaching the compact to a tripod. We get shutter release and zoom controls up top, and screw thread at the bottom as usual, plus also a second set of these on the right and left hand flanks of the camera. As with a battery grip for a DSLR, the thinking is that it will make for more comfortable shooting whether the camera is held vertically or horizontally.

Such doubling up makes sense when the camera we’re talking about is a bulky professional DSLR, whereby getting at all the controls can occasionally be a stretch for the fingers. But do we really need a second shutter release on a compact camera that will fit in the pocket of your trousers? The suspicion here is that the VS20 could be a display of needless gimmickry rather than necessary functionality. It’s rather odd. Also, when we did try and shoot with the camera by turning it on its side, and holding the grip, we had to be careful to avoid fingers straying in front of the lens.

Other features worth flagging up on the ‘all purpose’ pocket camera are a dedicated one touch video record button top right of the backplate – albeit the camera lacks HDMI output, with joint standard AV and USB output port provided instead – plus a macro mode allowing us to get as close as 1cm from our subject. At the other end of the scale the VS20 also features what Pentax calls an Intelligent Zoom function that extends the core 20x range by 144x to provide a lens reach of a frankly preposterous 4032mm in terms of a 35mm film camera. This is basically the camera’s digital zoom, which kicks in if you leave a finger resting on the zoom lever even though it’s reached the end of its optical range. For low light shooting there is an ISO range extending up to ISO6400 too, though the resolution drops down to five megapixels at ISO3200 and above. All this sounds quite respectable from a camera costing under £200.

But as if that wasn’t enough, alongside intelligent auto shooting that matches the scene or subject before the lens to one of 15 on-board presets, we have the option of slightly broader user control via program mode plus a choice of scene modes and the now ubiquitous digital filter special effects. Here we get the tilt and shift lens approximating miniature mode, which in our opinion blurs so much of the frame it looks like the lens is simply faulty, plus a slightly more successful Sketch mode for those who like their photos to resemble pencil drawings, or the alternative of the perspective warping fisheye.

Pentax VS20 Pentax VS20
Front Top

While the front of the Pentax Optio VS20 in reality is boxier than the glossy press shots might suggest, it is not unattractive, with the lens unsurprisingly dominating proceedings and a suggestion of a lens ring given in the rigged edge above and below the lens barrel. Top left of the lens is a small round porthole containing the lamp for the self timer/AF assist light, while to the left of this again is a narrow lozenge shaped window for the built in flash, its positioning at the top of the curve of the handgrip meaning that occasionally one of our fingers strayed in front.

Top right of the lens is a small pinprick housing the integral mono microphone which is set into a rubber surround that wraps around the right hand flank of the camera, as viewed from the front. A means of support left and right of the faceplate along with the boxy build means that at least this isn’t a travel zoom that feels as though it might slip from your grasp at any moment.

Moving up to the top plate and we encounter that first, standard set of controls; raised shutter release button surrounded by a lever for operating the zoom – ridged front lip slightly extended so it more readily falls under the pad of your forefinger. Along from this is a recessed button for turning the power on and off – and that’s it. No shooting mode dial or other spurious accompaniments.

A press of the on/off button and the camera responds by readying itself for action in just over two seconds, lens extending from flush to the body accompanied by a whirr of mechanics. At the same time the rear LCD bursts into life with a musical flourish. Press down on the shutter release button to find the halfway point and prompt the camera to determine focus and exposure and it takes a noticeable second or so to do this. The adjustment is relayed on screen so that the user actually loses sight of the subject for a brief instant, which isn’t ideal. Rather slow also is the camera’s writing speed – taking a leisurely four seconds to commit a 16 megapixel JPEG to memory. Here that ‘memory’ is either an SD, SDHC or SDXC card inserted into the base of the camera’s handgrip, located next to the battery compartment, or a 16MB on-board capacity.

Pentax VS20 Pentax VS20
Double Shutter Buttons Second Shutter Button

On the backplate the Pentax Optio VS20’s array of controls is similarly stripped back and straightforward. Here we find the dedicated video record button, a press of which will commerce recording no matter which other stills mode has been selected at the time. Plus we get a separate playback button, familiar four-direction control pad for tabbing through shooting icons and menu settings with a central ‘OK’ button at its midst for effecting changes. Last up, nearer the base are a menu and dual-use delete/easy mode buttons. A press of the latter enlarges the screen icons for instance, lending them an almost toy-like appearance.

Located at points north, east, south and west of the VS20’s control pad are, respectively, a means of adjusting the self timer/drive mode (including a +/- 3EV auto bracketing option, and a remote option, though the actual remote is extra), switching to macro mode, selecting the shooting modes themselves – which appear on-screen in two rows of cartoon-ish icons – plus choosing which flash option to use. The latter offers up auto flash, auto with red eye reduction, forced flash with red eye reduction, forced flash without, or the ability to turn the flash off.

There is a combination of 20 shooting modes/scene modes on the Pentax Optio VS20, presented across two screens and tabbed through using the multi directional pad. The intelligent Auto Picture mode and Program Auto we’ve already mentioned. Joining these are a natural skin tone portrait mode, handheld night snap, night scene portrait, night scene, digital panorama (already covered), plus the self-explanatory landscape, blue sky, sunset, flower and digital shake reduction option. The second screen and second dozen options cover kids, pets, generic portraits, food (enhances saturation and contrast), fireworks, surf and snow, sport, plus the digital effects filters which comprise fish eye, sketch and miniature, along with text mode and frame composite mode – adding a border to your image but fixing the pixel count at 3MP at the same time. All pretty straightforward stuff that wouldn’t trouble anyone picking up the Pentax for the first time.

A press of the menu button just below the control pad and we’re presented with up to four ‘record’ screens governing stills shooting, a separate one for adjusting movie mode options, and finally three set up screens. In record mode is where resolution is changed if required, along with white balance and sensitivity, which here runs from ISO100 up to ISO6400. If you are going to be shooting on auto there is the opportunity to limit the ISO range the camera is working from to between ISO100-200, ISO100-400, or a more sensible ISO100-800 to get the best (noise free) results. There’s also the ability to boost this to between ISO100-1600 – the latter being the last setting at which a full resolution image can be captured, with the camera defaulting to five megapixel shots if choosing ISO3200 or ISO6400.

Pentax VS20 Pentax VS20
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

If you’ve chosen Auto Picture mode then half of the settings in menu aren’t illuminated; switching to Program of course provides more hands on control – limited here though it is. In Program we can narrow or enlarge the focus area, as well as activate AF tracking. Exposure can also be tweaked between +/- 2EV, the camera’s dynamic range can be adjusted for highlight correction, shadow correction or both, plus the likes of shake reduction, face detection, blink detection and the digital zoom implemented if desired. Furthermore, use of the green button can be customized to govern exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity or recorded pixels instead of just being an easy mode. Additionally, an electronic spirit level can be summoned up and sharpness, saturation and contrast adjusted in camera before the point of capture via three +/- sliders. Largely unnecessary for someone who just wants to point and shoot perhaps, but it’s there.

In movie menu mode there’s the ability to specify the recorded number of pixels, with 1280x720 at a smooth 30 frames per second being the maximum, but being able to drop this right down to an email friendly 240x320 pixels if you really want. Movie shake reduction and the ability to shoot with a limited number of effects filters is also provided here. We get black and white, fisheye, sepia, miniature and sketch.

Lastly the set up menu provides access to the likes of adjusting screen brightness, adjusting sound, time and date, plus reseting all the functions and, as usual, formatting the memory in use – whether removable card or very modest internal capacity.

With the right hand side of the Pentax Optio VS20 – if still viewing it from the back – featuring that second shutter release button and zoom lever, also present is a built in speaker alongside the AV/USB output port. With lugs for attaching a wrist strap presented top and bottom of the same side – the opposite end as we’ve noted offers up only a screw thread for a tripod. Another is provided as per normal dead centre at the base of the camera, slap bang next to the cover for the vacant ports housing the SD card and battery, the latter being good for a modest 200 shots – so we found ourselves recharging the battery every couple of days. Fine then for a weekend break, but a week or more away and you’ll want to pack that charger too.

Despite the (we’d argue superfluous) doubling up of basic controls, this is a pretty standard issue run-of-the-mill point and shoot camera with its broad focal range being more of a selling point, especially at its sub-£200 suggested price. But of course, apparent good value on the shop shelf doesn’t always make for the greatest of performances in the field. So will the VS20 transcend or confirm our modest expectations? Click forward to the next category to find out.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 16 megapixel Best JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 4.5Mb.

Can we really achieve the best of both worlds and have a broad focal range within a still relatively small chassis that produces sharp results at either end – and all for a pocket money price? Occasionally, when using the Pentax Optio VS20, the answer is yes.  We say occasionally, because unfortunately results are hit and miss. Yes, you can achieve sharp, well exposed results shooting handheld at maximum telephoto from 100 yards away, but you’ll need four or five attempts to get that winning shot. On the rest the focus or exposure will have wandered, although, to be more positive, when shooting in daylight we didn’t suffer unduly from the blurring effects of camera shake at the extremities of the zoom. Sensor shift image stabilization aside, this is partly because of the chunky depth of the camera helping to provide just that little more weight and support than your usual slender pocket snapper. For the most part the Pentax maintains detail into the corners of the shot at maximum wideangle, with minimal if any barrel distortion too. Brighter conditions do inevitably result in over exposed highlight detail plus perhaps inevitably pixel fringing between areas of high contrast, but the latter only becomes an issue on close inspection.

In terms of low light performance, predictably we’re getting serviceable results up to and including ISO800. At ISO1600 – the highest setting we can shoot at and still maintain full resolution, we’ve got an odd daylight colour cast to our sample image, and at ISO3200 and particularly ISO6400 we’re noticing the dropping of resolution and evaporation of detail. Having said that, switch to the night scene mode and, as long as you have a steady surface at your disposal it’s possible to achieve some really quite acceptable results. Pity then that there’s a question mark over the camera’s reliability on a day-to-day basis, which at the end of the day means we wouldn’t want to be spending more than the budget price being asked here.


There are 7 ISO settings available on the Pentax Optio VS20. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

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 VS20's 20x zoom lens provides a focal length of 22.3-580mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.




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 VS20 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review, with purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)


The Pentax Optio VS20 allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm 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.


Macro (100% Crop)


The flash settings on the Pentax Optio VS20 are Flash-on, Flash-off, Red-eye reduction, Low-speed synchro, and Low-speed synchro + Red-eye. 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 (560mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (560mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, 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 VS20 is not very well suited to night photography, as you cannot use truly slow shutter speeds. The photo below was taken in the Night Scene mode at a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds, sensitivity setting of ISO 800 and aperture of f/3.1, all chosen by the camera. The 100% crop demonstrates the quality you can expect.


Night (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Pentax Optio VS20 camera, which were all taken using the 16 megapixel Best 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 21 second movie is 69.1Mb in size.

Product Images

Pentax VS20

Front of the Camera

Pentax VS20

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Pentax VS20

Isometric View

Pentax VS20

Isometric View

Pentax VS20

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Pentax VS20

Rear of the Camera

Pentax VS20

Top of the Camera

Pentax VS20

Bottom of the Camera

Pentax VS20

Side of the Camera


Pentax VS20

Side of the Camera

Pentax VS20
Front of the Camera
Pentax VS20
Side of the Camera
Pentax VS20
Side of the Camera
Pentax VS20
Front of the Camera
Pentax VS20
Memory Card Slot
Pentax VS20
Battery Compartment


Viewed purely as a 20x optical travel zoom costing £199 the Pentax Optio VS20 would seem like an enticing prospect enough, so perhaps we can forgive it the slightly crazy and unnecessary addition of two sets of shutter release buttons and matching tripod slots, which in combination make for a thicker depth than similarly specified cameras now manage.

On the other hand, when coupled with sensor shift anti shake this perhaps in part allowed us to achieve a higher proportion of sharper shots at maximum telephoto setting than we might otherwise have managed. Shame then that the VS20’s auto focus is occasionally hit and miss – particularly when zoomed right in – and white balance and exposure can vary from shot to shot. When you’re buying a point and shoot camera you are, after all, looking to do just that, ideally ending up with results that won’t require work in Photoshop to rescue, if indeed it proves possible.

To sum up then: great zoom range, great price, but with the compromise of variable image quality, so-so construction, below average battery life, plus a bulkier than average build. If you’ve got this sort of money to spend then Olympus’ 24x zoom SZ-14 is also worth checking out for an identical outlay and for us gives the more consistent performance of the two. We’re pretty sure though that Pentax can and will do better.

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 VS20 from around the web. »

Most compact digital cameras are depressingly identikit, so our spirits lift when a manufacturer attempts a different approach. But is the 16 megapixel Pentax Optio VS20 trading on gimmicks?
Read the full review » »

The Pentax Optio VS20 is a 20x optical zoom, 16MP compact with the ability to shoot 720p video. The most impressive feature of this model, or at least the one which makes it stand out from the crowd, is the dual shutter releases and zoom controls.
Read the full review » »

You'll struggle to find a new camera with such impressive specs any cheaper. Sadly, the Pentax Optio VS20's performance didn't stand up to close scrutiny. The dual shutter buttons are a neat feature, but you may be better provided by a high-end camera from last year, which will come close to matching the specs at a similar price.
Read the full review » »

The Pentax Optio VS20 is the latest compact camera from Pentax and features a 20x optical zoom lens, a 16 megapixel sensor, a 3 inch screen and interestingly a vertical shutter button with zoom control, as well as a second tripod socket on the side of the camera.
Read the full review »


Camera Type Super Zoom Compact Camera
Type CCD
Size 1/2.33’’ CCD
Total Pixels approx. 16.00 megapixels
Effective Pixels

16.56 MP

Still 16M (4608x3456), 12M [1:1] (3456x3456), 12M [16:9] (4608x2592), 7M (3072x2304), 2M [16:9] (1920x1080), 640 (640x480)

Compatibility AVI (Motion JPEG)

Resolution :

  • HD: 1280(1280 x 720): approx. 30/15 fps.
  • VGA: (640 x 480): approx. 30/15 fps.
  • 320:(?320 x 240): approx. 30/15 fps.
Sensitivity Auto ISO, manual (80 ? 6400 ISO)
Shake Reduction CCD-shift Shake Reduction
Focal Length 5-100mm, equ. to 28-560mm in 35mm, aperture : F/3,1 - 4,8
Digital Zoom
  • Optical Zoom:20X
  • Digital Zoom: Approx. 7.2 X
  • Smart Zoom Approx. 30x at 7M, approx. 144X at 640 (including optical zoom)
Construction 11 elements in 8 groups (1 aspherical elements )
Focusing System
Type TTL autofocus with contrast détention
Functions Manual Focus, Infinity-landscape
Focus Range (automatic)

AF points


1.6m - infinity (at tele setting)

3-point AF, Spot AF, Auto tracking AF (anticipating moving subject), 0.4m - infinity (at wide setting)


0.1m - 0.5m (at wide setting)

Super Macro

0.01m - 0.2m (middle zoom position)

Type 3’’ LCD Colour screen
Resolution approx.460K points
Type Electronical shutter with sheduled automatic exposition
Speed 1/2500  - 1/4 sec.  4 sec max. (Night Scene mode setting)
Exposure system
Metering Multi-segment metering  
Exposure Modes

Auto Picture, Program, Natural Skin Tone, Handheld Night Snap, Night Scene Portrait, Night Scene, Digital Panorama, Landscape, Blue Sky, Sunset, Flower, Digital SR, Kids, Pet, Portrait, Food, Fireworks, Surf & Snow, Sport, Fish-eye, Sketch, Miniature Filter, Text, Frame composite, Movie, Green.

Compensation +/-2EV (1/3 EV steps)

Integrated auto flash control

Automatic activation in low light conditions.
Modes Flash-on and Flash-off modes "Red-eye" reduction function
Effective Range

Flash range

Wide: approx. 0.2 ? 5.1m (ISO Auto) Tele: approx. 1.6 ? 3.3m (ISO Auto)

Exposure Parameters
Modes Mode: Standard, self timer,burst shooting, high speed burst (L,M,H****), Remote control DRE: "Dynamic Range Enlargement", shades compensation: high lights 
Face Recognition

Face recognition AF&AE is available for all modes up to 32 faces, Smile Capture, Blink Detection, animal recognition

White Balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual setting
Digital Filter

B&W/Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color, Extract Color, Starburst, Soft, Fish-eye, Brightness, Miniature, Natural Skin Tone, Sketch


Sound : Yes

Movie : Shake reduction Mode (SR)

Duration : Depends on memory card capacity

Resolution :

  • VGA (640x480), approx 30/15 fps
  • QVGA (320x240), approx 30/15 fps
  • HD 1280 (1280 x 720p), approx 30:15 fps
Editing Record as pictures, spilt movies.
Digital Filter

B&W/Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color, Extract Color, Starburst, Soft, Fish-eye, Brightness, Miniature, Natural Skin Tone, Sketch


Slideshow, Image Rotation, Stretch Filter, Small Face Filter, Digital Filter (B&W/Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color, Extract Color, Starburst, Soft, Fish-eye, Brightness, Miniature, Natural Skin Tone, Sketch), Frame Composite, Movie Editing, Red-eye Compensation, Resize, Cropping, Image Copy, Protect, DPOF, Startup Screen

Internal Approx. 16MB
External Compatible with SD, SDHC, SDXC memory cards
File Format

Photo format : JPEG (Exif 2.3), DCF 2.0, DPOF, PRINT Image Matching III

Video format : AVI (Motion JPEG), with sound

Special Features

Text size: Standard, large

World time : 75 cities, 28 time zones


English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Greek, Russian, Thai, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese

Interface USB2.0 (Hi-Speed), PC/AV terminal (NTSC/PAL, mono)

Battery : Rechargeable D-LI122 Luthium-ion battery

Optional AC adapter also available

Performance Recording capacity approx. 200 shots and 180 min in play mode.
Height 60mm
Width 108mm
Depth 34mm
Weight 191g (charged with battery) Approx. 170g (body only)
PC Windows XP SP3, (SP3), VistaTM and 7
Mac OS X 10.3.9 or above
Included Software Software: (CD-ROM) S-SW121
Kit Content USB cable I-USB7, AV-IAVC7 video cable,  rechargeable battery Li-ion D-DLI92, battery charger D-BC92, O-ST104 strap and software.
Optional Optional AC adapter

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