Pentax Optio S6 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The Optio S6 is the latest addition to Pentax's popular Optio "S" line, and continues the tradition of compact and stylish design combined with ease of use, that users love. Many of its features are similar to past models, like the Pentax 3x optical zoom lens, its large 2.5-inch LCD, and 640x480 movie mode. However the S6 is improved with higher resolution at 6-megapixels, digital Anti-Shake system for Movie mode (Only) as well as a larger internal memory capacity (23MB over the 10MB seen on the S5z.)

Although this model is what we consider an "Ultra-Compact", ergonomics were good with the controls being easily accessed by your finger tips. The onscreen Menu system was very simple to navigate, with legible text. I had no problems with its LCD when shooting outdoors in bight sunlight; which is an improvement over the S5z. Although the display does not "gain up" when using it in marginal lighting conditions, the camera's exposure system is sensitive and allowed us to frame subjects in your typical tungsten lit living room; however the display does get just a little bit grainy.

Shooting performance was average for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.5 seconds. Shutter lag when pre-focused was approx. 2/10 second, and about 8/10 second including autofocus time; both times include about 1/10 second delay in the LCD's live image presentation. The shot to shot time in normal, single exposure mode averaged about 1.9 seconds without flash, and approx. 3.8 - 5.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. When shooting in Continuous mode, the S6 captured images at 1.8 second intervals, the number of shots limited only by the amount of remaining memory on the SD card. This performance was measured using a Transcend 60x 512MB SD memory card with the image size/quality set a 6M/ , program mode, flash off and all other settings at default. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

The S6 features a Pentax smc 3x optical zoom lens, which covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 38mm - 114mm. I found its moderate 38mm wide angle end affords decent landscape shots as well as interior group portraits. While the telephoto end of the zoom range won't bring distance subjects very close, it does offer versatility for shot composition and worked very well when shooting close up individual portraits. There is a noticeable amount of barrel distortion present at full wide angle, but relatively no pin cushioning at the telephoto end. I also saw slight traces of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around brightly lit subjects.

Image quality was not that impressive for a 6-megapixel model, but don't get me wrong, it did produce nice photos. Our outdoor samples were relatively sharp with some edge softness visible on several samples. Overall the exposure system did well and images showed pleasing color saturation. Noise levels were average for a consumer model in this class, becoming more noticeable as you increase the ISO sensitivity. You can see what I mean by looking at our available light shot of the M&M man on our samples page.

Indoors it did well, with the exception of the flash. These tiny cameras have tiny flashes and if you are using the zoom at all, you'll be lucky to properly illuminate a subject 6 or 7 feet away. However, I found it did work very well when shooting portraits from about 4 or 5 feet. Our people shots showed sharp facial features, good flash exposure and very natural skin tones. To sum it up, I found that portrait photography was the S6's best suit.

Movie mode was disappointing. While it did produce video with a small amount of compression artifacts and its AF system did very well while panning, for some reason all the movies are very choppy. They actually look as if someone is stopping the action for a brief second. While we are uncertain if this is common, it happened to every movie we captured with the model that we have for testing.

The S6's battery life was good, especially when you consider how small its 3.7v 710mAh battery pack is. Pentax claims you can capture approx. 130 image on a single charge. I was able to shoot about 100 photos and conclude some of our other tests before the battery needed recharging. Because this is not a type of battery you can pick up at your local electronics store, we recommend you purchase at least one extra pack and keep it charged and ready at all times.

Bottom line - Like some of its predecessors, the Pentax Optio S6 offers some appealing features like its extremely pocketable size, all-metal construction and 6-megapixel sensor. It's not quite the performer we had hoped it wold be and like I stated above, image quality is average. While it comes with approx. 23MB of internal memory, there is no SD memory card included. And with the average file size of its 6-megapixel images being around 2.2MB, we strongly recommend you add at least a 256MB SD card to your purchase; you'll thanks us in the long run. At about $350, the S6 doesn't offer that good of a value, and we would recommend you look at some similar models like Sony's Cyber-shot P200, Casio's Exilim EX-Z750 or Canon's PowerShot SD550 just to name a few which can be found for about the same price. All of these will offer you better image quality and performance, but still allow you to tuck it away in almost any size pocket or purse.

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