Pentax Optio 230 Review

Steve's Digicams

Pentax Optio 230

Steve's Conclusion

If you need a good, small (but not tiny) camera then the Pentax Optio 230 may be just what you're looking for. At first glance you might think the stylish silver body is metal but a touch and a tap will tell you that it's really plastic. Even so it seems to be very well built and should hold up well under normal use. The Optio 230 is an affordable ($392 as of May 2002) 2-megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens. And the lens retracts fully inside of the camera body when powered down and is protected by a builtin lens cap. The Optio 230 makes a great "go anywhere and be ready at a moment's notice" kind of camera due to its diminuitive size and light weight.

Press the power button and the camera is ready to take the first shot in about five seconds if the flash is off or about seven seconds if it's on. Most of that startup time is required to extend the lens. Shot to shot time in single exposure mode is about three seconds without flash or seven seconds with flash. If you need to grab several shots in sequence change into continuous mode or capture motion video at 320 x 240 resolution at 15fps for up to 30 seconds per clip. The optical zoom is useable during movie recording because it does not record audio, there is no microphone. Images and movies are recorded on standard CompactFlash Type I cards. The average "best" quality 1600x1200 JPEG image is between 750KB and 1.1MB in size. A thirty- second movie clip is between 2.5 and 3.3MB in size.

One of the unique features of the Optio 230 is the 3D image mode. You record two images by following the on-screen prompts and these images are merged into one picture. You now print this picture and use the supplied 3D viewing device to see a stereographic image. I'm not sure how many people will really have a use for this mode but it's here if you want to use it. Another one of the 230's unique features is the 180-degree swing-out color LCD monitor. This is useful for framing self-portrait pictures, too bad it doesn't tilt or else it could be used as a variable angle viewfinder. When used as a live viewfinder the color LCD provides a fast-refresh display but it's covered by highly reflective plastic that makes it difficult to see outdoors. I sure wish the camera makers would use non-glare coated LCD screens, it makes them so much more useable.

The Optio 230 is basically an automatic camera (meaning it has no shutter speed or aperture priority exposure modes), but it offers a multitude of recording options when the mode dial is in the "FULL" position. You can set the focus area to Spot-AF or the default Wide-area AF. It has the usual white balance options but it also has a manual setting and this is usually only found on "higher end" cameras. There's a full compliment of exposure metering options; matrix, center-weighted averaging and spot. You can capture color, B&W or Sepia toned images and have a 3-step control over the sharpness, saturation and contrast. Under the Applied Function menu is the previously explained 3D image mode and the advanced Auto Bracketing mode. Auto bracketing of either exposure or white balance is selectable from the menu. The camera takes a series of three pictures and varies the exposure or the white balance (color temperature) between the frames to make sure that at least one comes out "just right."

Overall the image quality is quite good. The lens produces sharp images and the autofocus speed and accuracy is about average in normal lighting. There will be times when you'll want to use the Spot-AF as the camera can focus on something behind your subject if it has more contrast. Another advanced feature of the Optio 230 is manual focusing. In manual focus mode there is a sliding distance scale on the LCD but it lacks any numeric reference. While you're adjusting the focus the center of the screen is enlarged and displayed in monochrome to aid in critical focusing. However it can often be difficult to judge the focus on such a small screen, especially when you're out in the brightly lit environments.

The bottom line is that the Optio 230 is a pocketable and affordable camera that takes good pictures and is easy to use. It has more than the usual number of extra "bells and whistles" for those times when you want to be more involved in the creative process. It's powered by standard AA size NiMH batteries (or a CR-V3 type) and uses CompactFlash memory cards so it's inexpensive to power or upgrade the image storage capability. It looks and works just like a compact 35mm film camera so it makes going "digital" a snap if this is your first digicam purchase. The best part is that it -is- a digital camera, no waiting to see your pictures and no more film developing fees - ever.

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Imaging-Resource's Optio 230 review

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