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Pentax Optio S45 S55 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 22/09/05
Rating: Recommended

S45: £110 S55: £167 | $219
Read reviews on: Pentax Optio S45

Introduction: The Pentax Optio S45 and S55 feature a Pentax SMC 3x optical zoom lens, a 4 megapixel sensor in the S45, and a 5 megapixel sensor in the S55, and a large 2.5" screen, all encased in a small aluminium body. The Pentax Optio S45 is available from around £110, and the Pentax Optio S55 is available from around £167 | $219 making the S45 very good value for money and the S55 very good value for money (in the US). The camera's 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 35.6 – 107mm on a 35mm camera. It records unlimited 320 x 240 / 30fps videos with sound. The camera's very compact (on the box it reads 'ultra-compact', and it will easily fit into trouser pockets), takes AA batteries and measures: 89 x 58.5 x 27.5mm - only slightly larger than the Canon Digital IXUS 700, and weighs 135g (without batteries and memory card)

Pentax Optio S55 on the left, Pentax Optio S45 on the right.

Pentax have this to say about the camera:

"Continuing to make digital photography accessible to all, Pentax announces the arrival of two entry-level digital compact cameras, the OptioS45 and the OptioS55. Both feature a large, easy-to-view monitor, making composition simple. Both offer all-round functionality that will appeal to any user, regardless of their experience or budget. The cameras also feature 3x optical zoom and 12 picture modes to ensure all picture environments can be supported."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: It's very compact for a digital camera that takes AA batteries, and made out of silver aluminium.
(Photos of the camera taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ3)

Front - Camera off.

Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, infra-red reciever, microphone.

Back - the 2.5" TFT screen, display, delete, zoom control, playback, help/function button, 4-way controller, OK button, menu button.

Top - speaker, power led, mode dial with on/off switch in the middle, shutter release.

Bottom, under the camera there is a plastic tripod mount, and battery compartment.

Left Side (from back) lens extended - PC/AV, and DC in.

Wrist strap hole, and memory card cover/slot.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Size comparison next to the 8megapixel Konica Minolta Dimage X1. (picture taken with the Konica Minolta Dynax 5D)

Specifications / Features:

  • S45: 4 megapixels
  • S55: 5 megapixels
  • 3x optical zoom
  • 2.5" TFT Screen
  • 320x240 30 fps video mode with sound
  • 6cm Super Macro mode
  • ISO Speed Equivalent: AUTO, 50, 100, 200, 400
  • Audio recording
  • 11mb built in memory
  • Infra-red support (for optional remote control)

Box Contents:

  • Optio digital camera
  • Software CD-ROM
  • 2x AA Battery
  • Strap
  • AV cable
  • USB Cable

Average box contents, although with the camera's small 11mb of memory, you will need to buy a larger memory card.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed average, and battery life using the provided alkaline batteries was particularly short. You get much better battery life by using high power rechargable batteries.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the rotating dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode - camera focused Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 115,000 pixels is quite low for a large 2.5" screen. The screen updates smoothly and the colours appear accurate. There is a live histogram available, the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: there is no optical viewfinder.

Menu options are: Image size, quality (compression), White balance (includes custom), Focusing area (Multi / Spot), AE Metering, ISO Sensitivity, Movie frame rate, Digital zoom, Instant review, Memory, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, Exposure compensation.

Built in help (OK for more info) Setup menu

Setup menu options: Format, Sound, Date, World Time, Language, Sceen Setting, Brightness level, Video out, USB connection, Auto power off, Fn Setting, Reset.

Pict / Scene mode Digital Effect Mode

PICT Scenes: Museum, Text, Food, Landscape Portrait, Flower, Self-portrait, Surf, Snow, Sunset.

Digital Effect Mode: Black and White and Red / Green or Blue, Two in One shot, Panorama assist, Black and White filter, Sepia Filter, Red / Green / Blue filter.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. The zoom is quick up to 12x. Playback mode displays photo settings, exposure compensation, date and time, as well as a histogram.

Playback menu options: Protect, DPOF, Slideshow, Resize, Image/Sound copy, Digital Filter, Record voice memo, quick zoom, quizk delete.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 11mb memory provided with the camera:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored
  SuperFine (***) Fine (**) Normal (*)
S55 Only: 5mp 2560x 3 6 10
4mp 2304x 4 8 12
3mp 2048x 5 9 14
2mp 1600x 8 15 21
1mp 1024x 19 36 47
VGA 640x480 44 69 92
Video 320x240 30fps 15 seconds

You can fit a very small number of images on the built in memory - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a good choice of image sizes, and a good choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Pentax Optio S45 / S55:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 128mb: £9.99, 256mb: £16.99, 512mb: £22.99, 1gb (1000mb): £38.99.
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is quick to switch on, however it takes a couple of seconds before it's ready to take a photo. Low light focusing seems fairly decent (tested with one light source). The screen updates are quick and smooth (in good light). The playback mode is also quick. Playback mode allows you to zoom as close as 12x. The camera shutter response seemed quite quick when pre-focused - and shot to shot time was also noticably quick - although this was made slower by the flash recharging. The flash recharge time seemed about average (not noticably quick, but not noticably slow either).

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, although the camera does have a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive and easy to read. The camera is compact and fits very easily into trouser pockets. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - there's a basic mode (with a green smiley face) for simple point and shoot operation, as well as scene modes, and built in help to help beginners.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent (although I found it easy to accidentally take a photo when I was only trying to focus). The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt quite good ergonomically. There isn't much in the way of a hand grip, however the grip is good considering the small size of the camera. The zoom control seemed decent. The tripod mount position is right at the edge of the camera which could make it difficult to use this camera with a small tripod.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Sample Photo Galleries!


Heather and Flower (S45) Group photo (S55)

Inside: The camera has good saturated colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos. The camera did a good job at focusing the majority of the time - however it took me a while to get the Heather and Flower photo in sharp focus. Red-eye didn't seem to be huge a problem, although it was noticable in these photos.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO50, 100, 200, 400) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.

Noise test photo - flash on

Pentax Optio S45 Pentax Optio S55
ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO50 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise levels appear really low at ISO50 / 100. At ISO200 noise becomes more noticable but is still acceptable, at ISO400 and above noise seems high and detail is being lost due to noise reduction. Noise is lower on the S45, and higher on the S55, but not a major problem for either camera.


Shops (S55) Liverpool Catholic Cathedral (S45)

Outside, the camera had good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail, although some images were slightly soft. Noise seemed well controlled. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images. Purple fringing is quite noticable, especially in the clock tower photos. The 5 megapixel Pentax Optio S55 had slightly more detail due to the higher megapixel sensor.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the 3x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 3x Optical zoom + 4x digital zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock towers seems good, leaving the main subject (the clock tower) correctly exposed.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is fairly quiet. The lens is quick at going from wide to telephoto - there are about 6 steps between wide and telephoto - this gives you good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: I did notice purple fringing in some photos, i.e. the clock tower photos. Purple fringing is fairly low, however it would be nice if there was less.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you switch to macro mode - you can use the macro mode at wide angle, all the way to telephoto. The camera also has a super macro mode that sets the lens at a specific zoom position. You can use the flash in macro mode. The camera can be roughly as close as 6cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in super macro mode.

Macro Watch S45 Actual Pixels (Custom WB) S55 Actual Pixels (Custom WB)

The super macro mode is very good - colour and detail is good, and the camera allows you to get close to the subject. Images did seem a bit soft - and benefitted from sharpening - the S45 struggled to focus sharply on this subject. The custom white balance meant this picture turned out better than the same photo taken with several other cameras that lack custom white balance.

Movie: 320 x 240, 30/15fps - unlimited length videos with sound can be recorded. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file. Unfortunately you can't use the optical zoom whilst recording videos, although you can zoom digitally. The quality of the movie(s) is quite good, colour is good, the camera also does a good job in low-light. The frame rate is good.


Image Quality: Image quality is good, the images have saturated colour, good contrast and good detail - however there is some purple fringing, and some images were quite soft. Images tend to come out of the camera looking very good. The camera did a good job focusing the majority of the time, only slightly struggling in low light. Noise was well controlled and low upto ISO200 but at ISO400 resulted in slight loss of detail. I did not notice vignetting in photos. There is a good range of image sizes and a good choice of compression options. The macro mode is good, allowing you to be as close as 6cm away from the subject, this provides good detail. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good, the custom white balance helping in trickier situations. Red-eye was noticable. The movie mode is good, but nothing spectacular, at 320 x 240 / 30fps with sound.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is very compact and is designed well - the camera feels comfortable in my hands. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options, for example ''Digital Effect' / scene modes, custom white balance, manual focus, although no shutter / aperture controls. The camera speed is good, with an good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, and fairly quick flash recharge time. The camera seems like a very good compact all round camera, with additional features such as audio recording, and good photo control provided with saturation / contrast / sharpness controls. Suitable for point and shoot users or beginners with built in help as well as more advanced users.

Alternative digital cameras: See the recommended Canon Powershot A520, Kodak Easyshare DX7440, Fujifilm FinePix F10, or see more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Pentax Optio S45 and S55 are both good all round digital cameras - easy to fit into pockets, full of features to suit all level of photographer. The cameras take AA batteries, and have a metal body so would make a great travel camera. The easy to use camera is capable of good results, although there is some purple fringing and images are slightly soft. The super macro mode is good. Both cameras are very good value for money at around £110 for the S45, and £165 for the S55. I would recommend this camera to someone looking for a versatile, highly pocketable digital camera. If you were to choose between the two, my preference would be towards the 4 megapixel Optio S45 which will produce photos capable of being printed at upto A4 and offers excellent value for money - for slightly more detail then I'd recommend the Optio S55.

Pentax Optio S45 / S55 Rating: Recommended
Buy the Optio S55 Now: £167 | $219
Buy the Optio S45 Now: £110

What I like:

  • Good photo quality
  • Custom White Balance
  • Manual Focus
  • Excellent value for money fully featured compact digital cameras
  • Contrast / Saturation / Sharpness controls (this should be standard on all digital cameras!)
  • Audio recording (I'd like it if this was standard on all P&S digital cameras)
  • Takes AA batteries
  • Very compact
  • Low noise upto ISO200

What I don't like:

  • Tripod mount at very edge of camera
  • Only 11mb memory provided
  • Lacks manual aperture / shutter controls
  • S45 photos seemed more blue and struggled to focus

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.