Pentax Optio M40 Review
Pentax has added another notch to their popular "M" series line of ultra-compact digicams for 2007. The Optio M40 is the third model
from this line we have seen this year, that includes all of the features found on the Optio M30 (2.5-inch
LCD, 9-point AF system, VGA sized movie mode, ISO up to 3200, smc Pentax 3x optical zoom, Digital Shake Reduction, etc.). However,
resolution has been increased to 8-megapixels. Like its siblings, the Optio M40 is an easy to use "point-n-shoot" model, offering fully
automatic exposure with Green mode, Auto Picture, and 11 Scene modes. For those who would like to control more of the picture taking
process, there's Program mode, which offers manual adjustments for ISO, White balance, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, Exposure
Compensation, and more. Combined, they make the M40 usable by anyone in your household or office.
Like the M30, I was pleased with the design of the M40. This is a very compact model, measuring a mere 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches, and weighing in at just 4.8 ounces (without battery or SD card). This is slightly heavier and only 1/10 of an inch larger than the M30. I found it fits well in your hands, using the "pinch" technique, and will fit in the smallest of pockets or purses without much fuss. It's sure to last too, thanks to the durable metal body. The various controls are well placed and functional, easily accessed by your finger tips. The menu system was also very simple, and we liked the help info that is displayed when hovering over certain exposure modes/settings. For viewing stored images, and composing shots, the M40 features a 2.5-inch LCD. Outdoors, the LCD could benefit from an "anti-glare" coating, but it's still visible thanks to the bright backlight. Indoors (low light), the LCD brightens or "gains up" to help brighten your subject, which is very helpful when shooting in marginal lighting; something that was very difficult if not impossible with 35mm film cameras.
Our shooting performance results were good for a consumer model in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.2 seconds. Shutter lag when pre-focused was approx. 1/10 of a second, slowing to 6/10 of a second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay is normal, single exposure mode averaged about 1.9 seconds between frames without flash, and approx. 1.9 - 2.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. When shooting in Continuous mode, I was able to capture 3 images in 1.4 seconds. Our performance times were measured using a Lexar Professional High-Speed (133x) 2GB SD memory card with the image size/quality set a 8M ***, program mode, flash off, preview off and all other settings at default. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
When shooting outdoors, the M40 captures nice images showing pleasing exposure and rich colors. I did notice a slight amount of softness along the left hand side of the frame in many of our samples. Luckily, this model features in-camera sharpness adjustment, which will allow you to "dial in" the preferred amount. Image noise is an issue we touch on with almost every camera, especially when the model features such high sensitivity settings (like up to 3200 on the M40). With this camera, noise levels were average throughout the sensitivity range, becoming more noticeable from ISO 800 and above. At 3200, you can see noise quite easily when viewing an image at 25% (typical full screen on your monitor), and it's likely you will see some traces in smaller (4x6-inch) prints. I found the Auto setting worked well, keeping the ISO setting as low as possible outdoors.
Pentax fitted the M40 with a smc 3x optical zoom lens. It covers a 35mm equivalent range of 36mm - 108mm. While offering a typical zoom range for an ultra-compact model, you should have no problem capturing most indoor and outdoor shots, just don't expect this lens to bring distant subjects up close and personal. There's also a digital zoom feature, however, we always discourage using this as it degrades image quality. Overall, the lens exhibits noticeable barrel distortion at full wide angle, but relatively no pincushioning at the telephoto end. Also, I saw very few traces of chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) around objects with extreme contrast.
The M40 boasts an impressive flash range of up to 26 feet at wide angle at ISO Auto or up to 50 feet using Digital SR mode. However, I feel these numbers are a bit misleading. In order to accomplish this, the camera boosts the ISO (as high as 3200). Shooting from 5 - 6 feet away, our close-up portraits look good. The camera selected an ISO speed of 800, and flash exposure was very nice. I was surprised that noise levels were very well controlled, however, you can see speckles in the subject's brown T-shirt. On our samples page, you can see where I also manually turned the ISO to 50 (the lowest setting possible). As you can see, the flash has a very weak range without the help of the high sensitivity settings. The dedicated Portrait and Natural Skin Tone modes are the only settings that utilize this camera's Face Recognition AF & AE capabilities. We used the Portrait mode, and were pleased with our results. The Face Recognition system is fast, finding and locking onto a face in the frame within a second. Using this, our portrait subjects showed sharp facial features and accurate skin tones.
Movie mode allows you to record video at either 640x480 or 320x240 resolutions (30fps or 15fps, with audio). Because sound is recorded, the optical zoom may not be used during recording, however, you can preset the focal length before starting. We were able to capture nice video, with minimal compression artifacts, and the AF system did well, even when shooting through glass at the local zoo. The only issue I found was the audio portion of the video has a "wierd" sound to it. This was noticeable even on our videos that were shot out in the open, away from crowded areas.
Power comes from a small 3.7v 740mAh Li-Ion battery pack. Pentax claims you can capture up to 220 shots or 80 minutes of continuous playback. We found battery life was good, capturing over 100 samples (both images and short movie clips) as well as concluding several of our other tests on a single pack. We highly recommend you add at least one extra battery pack to your purchase, and keep it charged and ready at all times.
Bottom line - as we stated with the Optio M20 and M30 earlier this year, Pentax has created yet another appealing ultra-compact digital model. With a street price of US$199 or less, good image quality, class average performance, loads of useful features (Face Recognition, Digital Shake Reduction, 13 exposure modes, etc.), and its stylish and durable metal body, the Pentax Optio M40 offers and outstanding value. Having 8-megapixels of resolution, allows you to create huge prints (13x19-inch or larger), just be sure you're using a lower ISO setting. That said, I feel the Optio M40 will be a very popular model during this upcoming holiday season.
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