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Pentax Optio S6 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 03/03/06
Rating: Above Average
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Introduction: Announced on the 1st of September 05, the Pentax Optio S6 is an ultra-compact 6 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens and a high resolution 2.5" screen with 232k pixels. The lens is a new version of Pentax's SMC lens, and is the smallest they've ever made, as a result the silver aluminium clad camera is the thinnest Optio S camera yet, measuring 19mm thick by 85.5mm wide, and 53.5mm high. The camera is also one of the lightest digital cameras available weighing only 100grams without the battery or memory card, or 120g with the battery and memory card.

The camera features ISO settings from ISO64 up to ISO800 in candlelight / 3mp mode. The Pentax Optio S6 is available from around £180, making this ultra compact digital camera rather good value for money. The Optio S6 records 640x480 movies with sound at 30fps in MPEG4 / DIVX format allowing you to record longer videos than other digital cameras with MPEG4 / DIVX recording. The camera takes a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The camera seems to have some relations to the BenQ X600 (very similar!), and Casio Exilim EX-S600 (same lens but smaller / thinner).

Pentax have this to say about the camera:

"The PENTAX Optio S series is all grown up with 6.0 megapixels and a gorgeous chassis, but it never outgrew the mint tin. The new PENTAX Optio S6 slides right in. This latest tiny digital features a generous 2.5 inch monitor, 6.0 megapixels, and a powerful 3X zoom sliding lens system. Slim is still in, and the Optio S6 offers the slimmest PENTAX digital body available. Expect substance and style to blend perfectly in the PENTAX Optio S6. The PENTAX Optio S6 is the first digital imaging device in the world to feature DivX®, a fully Certified Encoder device that captures full-screen VGA (640 x 480, 30 fps) video. Equipped with DivX, the Optio S6 camera allows users to capture, create, play and share high-quality video content across a range of other DivX equipped devices and platforms such as DVD players, recorders and portable media players."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Olympus SP-500UZ)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, flash, microphone, focus assist lamp, infra-red receiver.


Back - 2.5" screen (232k pixels), zoom control, playback button, 4-way controller, OK button, Menu, Function / Delete button.


Top / left: Speaker, On/Off, Shutter release with power light.


Bottom / right - plastic tripod mount.


Side on - lens extended.


Battery compartment - Memory compartment, USB connection, and DC in.

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


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison - compared to 7 megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z120.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6 Megapixel CCD
  • 2.5" screen, 232,000 pixels
  • 3x optical zoom lens - 35mm Equivalent - 38mm -114mm Aperture Range - F2.7 – F5.2
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • ISO AUTO, 64, 100, 200, 400, with ISO800 available in Candlelight mode at 3MP resolution
  • Video mode: 640 x 480 pixels, 30 fps with sound - MPEG4 / DIVX with anti-shake
  • 15cm Macro mode
  • Pictbridge support

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Built in memory (23mb)
  • Lithium-Ion Battery (D-LI 8)
  • Battery Charger
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Hand strap
  • Owner's manual (183 page)
  • CD-ROMs: Software

Average box contents - you will need to buy a larger memory card, and a case, as with almost all digital cameras.

Battery usage: The battery should provide 130 shots, this is average for an ultra-compact digital camera, but much less than the excellent 500-shot Fuji F10 for example. The battery is rated to last only 50 minutes when recording videos - so even though a large memory card may let you record 2 hours - the battery won't last that long!

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the mode button on the 4-way controller.

Modes: Program, Movie, Voice Recording, Panorama Assist.

Scene modes: Night scene, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Candlelight, Surf and Snow, Sport, Pet, Text, Food, Frame composite.

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 232,000 pixels is good, and features a live histogram. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick, although initial display can seem a bit sluggish. The zoom is quick, and allows you to zoom up to 8x.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 23mb memory built into the camera:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
 
SuperFine
(***)
Fine
(**)
Standard
(*)
6mp 2816 x 2112
9
14
22
5mp 2592 x 1944
11
18
27
4mp 2304 x 1728
14
22
33
3mp 2048 x 1536
17
26
40
2mp 1600 x 1200
24
37
56
1mp 1024 x 768
45
68
103
0.3mp 640 x 480
84
126
190

As shown in the table above, you can fit a very small number of images on the 23mb memory - a large 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 compression ratios.

A large 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 S6:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £7.76, 512mb: £12.93, 1gb (1000mb): £27.99, 2gb (2000mb): £57.23.
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 speed is average to switch on and take photos, being ready in around 2 - 3 seconds, the lens extending seems to slow the camera down. Focusing seemed average in low-light, despite the focus assist lamp focusing did struggle in low-light, and was slower than the Casio Exilim EX-Z120 (without focus assist lamp!). The playback mode is fairly quick, but displays a blurred image first, and then a clearer version second. The camera shutter response seemed very quick (around 0.1 - 0.2 seconds) when pre-focused - although shot to shot time was a bit sluggish, with a delay of around 3 seconds between shots without flash with the camera refocusing each time (on the same subject). The flash recharge time was quite quick. The cameras menu's seemed quick. Continuous shooting is average, at roughly 1fps at the highest resolution (without flash).

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in AUTO / Program mode or one of the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straight forward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. 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, although the playback menu is accessed by pressing the mode button instead of using the menu button which was slightly confusing. The green button isn't labelled very well - it acts like a function button to give quick access to image size / compression etc, and the options can be customised. Most functions can be worked out without having to refer to the manual.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be the right amount of buttons and they allow fairly easy access to the most commonly used functions and features. The buttons feel good. The shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well (see note above in ease of use). I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, with the texture on the front aiding grip. The camera feels like a fairly solid, robust and well built camera, the size of the camera makes it easy to take everywhere. Some of the buttons may seem too small for some.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom (when a feature of the camera), Macro, 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 Pentax Optio S6 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO200) Group photo (Auto ISO200)

Inside: The camera has fairly good colour with saturated colours - there is no red-eye in the photos. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, although if the subject is too close to the camera then it can overexpose the subject. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting is often increased upto ISO400 which creates images with a lot of noise. The camera did a fairly poor job focusing in low-light, often not focusing correctly - even though the camera does have a focus assist lamp. See Other Image Quality Issues for more information.

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 (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, and 800 in Candlelight mode at 3mp) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.

ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash off ISO64 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels - Candlelight 3mp

Noise is acceptable upto ISO200. At ISO400 noise is clearly visible, and this setting should be avoided - beware of the auto mode choosing this in dark conditions. The Candlelight mode is best avoided as well, but could be used for acceptable 6x4 prints when you didn't want to use the flash. The best results are achieved by sticking with the lowest ISO settings, such as ISO64 and ISO100.

Outside:

Shops Red Berries

Outside, the camera had good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was an average amount of detail with images appearing soft - sharpness can be altered in camera, so better results may be possible. There seemed to be good dynamic range. Noise seemed fairly low, although was visible in darker areas. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images. There was very little purple fringing in photos.

Zoom: The camera has a 3x optical zoom lens, with 6 steps between wide and telephoto,. The camera also features a 4x digital zoom. Using the digital zoom degrades image quality and is best avoided, I've included examples below to show the results.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Digital Zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems quite good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible. There is very low purple fringing.

Lens noise: The lens is fairly loud when switching the camera on or off, and fairly loud when focusing. The shutter is quiet.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was low. Focusing issues were quite common indoors despite the camera having a bright focus assist lamp. Flash over-exposure was also fairly common. Both problems seemed to happen more often on this camera than other cameras I've tested recently. For the target market, trendy young people, (or anyone else interested in indoor photography), this could quickly become annoying if a lot of the photos are out of focus or overexposed when the flash is used. I tested this with another camera at the same distance from the subject and the Pentax regularly overexposed the subject. Below are some examples, both from the Pentax Optio S6 - the one on the left came out well, the one on the right, taken on the same day didn't:

Correctly focused and Exposed, flash on Out of focus, over-exposed, flash on

Macro: You can use the flash in macro mode, although if the subject is too close, then the overpowering flash will overexpose the subject. The camera can be roughly as close as 15cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in wide setting, when set to macro mode.

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode is fairly disappointing - you can't get especially close to the object you are photographing. Colour and detail is okay, and there appears to be fairly low noise at ISO200 or below. However I did notice moire as you can see above, with pink and green areas. You'll need to be careful when / if using the flash, to ensure the picture is correctly exposed, and to ensure that the lens doesn't cause a shadow over the subject.

Movie: The movie mode on this camera, thanks to the VGA resolution, 30fps mode and MPEG4 / DIVX compression is very good, however the 50 minute battery limit is severely limiting. The camera did well even in low light. Videos are recorded as .AVI files and will need a DIVX codec installed for playback.

MPEG4 / DIVX video recording on this digital camera allows you to record much longer videos than normal digital cameras. The movies are compressed in a much more advanced way without a great loss in quality. For example, on a 512mb card, on the highest quality setting, 640x480, 30fps, 3 Stars (***), you can record 21 minutes, on the 1 star setting you can record 29 minutes. At the 320x240, 30fps, 3 Star setting you can record 57 minutes, and on the 1 star setting you can record 1 hour and 9 minutes. With a 1GB card expect to record double these figures. All of this is fairly academic, as the battery is only rated to last 50 minutes in video mode - so unless you're prepared to purchase an AC adapter for the camera you are quite limited.

Conclusion


Pentax Optio S6
Buy Now: £176
Amazon.co.uk

Buy Now: $280 Amazon.com

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Image Quality: Image quality isn't this camera's strongest point - the camera does produce good results but not as often as it should. Outdoors the camera does better, but indoors the camera has focus problems, and flash overexposing problems. Images were generally soft indoors and outside, and the macro mode was below average only allowing you to be 15cm away from the subject at the closest. Noise was fairly well controlled at ISO200 or below. The camera generally has good colour - colours have good saturation and contrast - this can be further tweaked in camera with contrast, saturation and sharpness controls. Better results can also be achieved by using custom white balance, and manual focus. There is a good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good the majority of the time. Red-eye was not a huge problem. The video mode is better than average, offering MPEG4 / DIVX recording with a 640x480 resolution at 30fps with sound - this should give much longer recording, however the camera is limited to only 50 minutes recording due to the cameras battery life. (6/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera scores quite highly on features and build quality, with advanced features like MPEG4 / DIVX video recording, custom white balance, manual focusing, and numerous scene modes. Build quality and design are quite good as the camera feels well made, and easy to use and hold despite it's small size. The camera will very easily fit into almost every pocket, famously fitting into an "Altoids tin" - this makes the camera excellent for someone concerned with size above all else, as this camera is something they can take with them everywhere they go. The camera speed is average to good, with an average switch on time, quick focusing time, quick shutter response, good flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and average continuous shooting. (8/10)

Value for Money: The Pentax Optio S6, at around £176 / $280, offers good value for money for an ultra-compact digital camera, although there is a lot of competition in the ultra-compact market, with nearly every other manufacturer offering their own version. Alternatives worth looking at include the Casio Exilim EX-S500 (Mpeg4, ultra slim), Z500 (2.7" screen), Canon Digital IXUS 55, Sony Cybershot DSC-T7 (ultra-slim), Sony Cybershot DSC-T9, Olympus Mju Mini S, Olympus Mju 700 (7mp), Fujifilm FinePix Z1 / Z2, Konica Minolta Dimage X1 (8mp), Nikon Coolpix S3. See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here. (8/10)

Summary: The Pentax Optio S6 is an ultra compact digital camera featuring 6 megapixels, a 3x optical zoom lens, and a high resolution 2.5" screen. The easy to use camera offers several useful scene modes and features such as custom white balance, manual focusing, panoramic assist. The cameras MPEG4 / DIVX video mode is good as it allows you to fit longer videos on your memory card, however battery life is an Achilles heel in this regard as you are limited to a maximum recording time of 50 minutes, and then the battery goes flat! Image quality was good outdoors, but poor indoors due to focusing problems and the flash overexposing the subject. Overall, this camera is a mixed bag - if style, size and features are a priority then have a look at this camera, however I believe there are better ultra compact digital cameras out there.

Pentax Optio S6 Rating: Above Average (7.5/10)
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What I like:

  • MPEG4 / DIVX Video recording mode
  • High resolution 2.5" screen
  • Extremely small, metal body
  • Good results outdoors with saturated colours and good contrast
  • Good value for money
  • Low purple fringing

What I don't like:

  • Struggles to focus in low light
  • Soft images
  • Disappointing image quality
  • Flash overexposes close subjects
  • Uses high ISOs on Auto mode
  • Disappointing Macro mode
  • Battery life could be better - Battery only lasts 50 minutes in video recording mode

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the Pentax Optio S6 Sample Photo Gallery.
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