At first impression, you can really appreciate the RS1500's design; simple and fun. The body is very lightweight at about the size and shape of a deck of cards. The hard plastic body is very smooth, making this camera easy to put in and out of your pocket. The most interesting feature of the RS1500's look is the removable clear, plastic face which allows you to customize the look from a variety of interchangeable designs. There is also a different colored (orange) lens bezel included for further customization. The ability to consistently change the look of this camera would be great for anyone who appreciates their own style (which also changes faster than a girl changes clothes). You can even go to Pentax's website to create your own "skin" for the RS1500. Another simple, yet practical design is the slight fingertip intent on the left side of the camera. This provides a natural place for your other hand to maintain a firm grasp on the camera (and a handy reminder to keep your fingers from obstructing the lens).
Atop from the simple, yet flashy body, the RS1500 provides a button layout that's just as straightforward with easy-to-understand labels. The face detection button will also give access to the smile detection mode, which you will be able quickly switch to when trying to catch Uncle Darrel smiling. I really appreciate that the menu and playback buttons are separated, for the reason that sometimes they are labeled, and/or positioned in a way that is easily to confuse which is which.
With Pentax's easily comprehensible exposure mode icons and basic menu exposure settings, the RS1500 makes for effortless and pleasurable photography. For each preprogrammed exposure setting, there is a handy short description for which that setting works best for, i.e. sports, landscapes, surf/snow, macro, etc. Included in with the RS1500 is the Auto Picture mode that will automatically and intelligently analyze the environment of which you are shooting, and select the appropriate scene mode to produce the best quality photos. The Green mode that is also included will adjust exposure and sensitivity as well. However, it will not produce the excellent pictures that Auto Picture will, and unlike Auto Picture, it has little to no menu modifications available.
Another fun attribute included is the in-camera photo editing. This provides the user with editing tools on the camera that are typically found in photo editing software, such as cropping, red eye, rotation, and digital filtering. The digital filter supplies a fun way to alter your photos without the need of a computer.
A 3-inch "high-brightness" LCD makes for viewing the RS1500's photos and data easy to read both inside and out. With approximately 230,000 dots, it gives a suitable output for the viewing of your live feed, menus, modes, and playback images. We found that the screen timeout, which dims the backlight, to be more annoying than helpful in outdoor sunlight, despite its good intentions to save battery life. This feature can be either turned off or set to desired time limit to dim. This could be a nifty feature if you were low on battery life and indoors. Although, like mentioned earlier, if you are in the sunlight and the backlight dims, the LCD is very challenging to see; we just turned this feature off when outdoors.
Directly to the right of the LCD is the RS1500's rocker zoom control that utilizes a 4x optical zoom lens covering a focal range equivalent to approximately 27.5mm wide angle to 110mm telephoto. While trying to frame subjects, we found the jerky (almost discrete) jumps in the zoom difficult to acquire precise framing. We had to resort to "zooming with our feet" to get the composition we were aiming for. This isn't so much of an issue when space is available, however if there is limited space to move around, this is a potential issue.
Looking over the photos we captured with the RS1500 reveals that the camera is able to produce nice looking photos when viewed on a computer screen. At normal viewing sizes (20-30% depending on the size of your monitor), the images look rather pleasing, with good exposure and sharpness. Colors are a bit over saturated in Auto Picture mode, which helps photos "pop" more, but the color does not always look natural; not an accurate representation of what the scene may have looked like when you were shooting. You can see some side by side examples on our Sample Photos page where we illustrate the differences between Auto Picture, and Program mode. When critically inspecting photos at 100%, you can see a good amount of noise throughout photos, even at the lower ISO settings. We also saw some edge softness on the right hand side, which caused some strange noise that almost makes some objects look as though a watercolor filter had been applied. Of course, these issues are only really seen when viewing images at 100%.
When shooting indoors, we found the flash was quite anemic, which is typical with most compact point-n-shoots. We achieved the best results when shooting from 5 feet or so away, which provided good illumination for the subject; however, left the background was quite dark. The face detection system was able to quickly find faces within the frame, and the Smile detection function is also a helpful tool in capturing people or portrait type photos, which will automatically snap a photos ones the detected face or faces are smiling. Both of which will help ensure you capture pleasing faces with plenty of detail and good exposure.
Video quality is average for an affordable point-n-shoot camera. You can shoot video at standard resolutions of 1280x720 (720p), 640x480 (VGA), and 320x240 (QVGA). Sound is recorded, and the frame rate can be set at 15 or 30fps; with the latter producing the best quality possible. Our videos lack any real fine detail, and the audio portion isn't the best. However, they play back smoothly and allow you to capture special moments to share later with friends, that sometimes a photo can't compare to.
Battery life from the RS1500's 720mAh Li-ion battery pack is pretty average. They claim you can snap approx. 210 photos on a single charge, which should get you through most any social event. However, we recommend you snag a spare pack is funds allow if you are looking to snap more than 200 photos in a day; instances like graduation and vacation come to mind.
Bottom Line - Pentax has created a fun and affordable, compact digital camera that is sure to please the younger masses. It produces average 14-megapixel images, with good shooting performance, and various easy to use exposure setting to make picture taking hassle free. With loads of customization options, you're sure to have a camera that looks like no other, all for $150 US or less.
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