Pentax Optio SV Review
One of Pentax's more advanced "high-end" Optios, the Optio SV shares many features found on last year's Optio 550, like a 5-megapixel imager and Pentax smc 5x optical zoom lens. This is a compact and durable camera that has an exposure mode for every experience level user in your house hold. For the beginner, it offers a fully automatic Program exposure mode and 12 creative scene modes. And those that like more controls over the capturing process can select from Manual, Aperture priority, and Shutter priority modes. There is also a USER position on the Mode dial that allows you to create a personalized exposure mode that can be accessed quickly by a simple turn of the dial.
The ergonomics are good, controls are easy to operate and the Function button makes quickly changing settings a snap. The menu system is easy to navigate and thanks to its 1.8-inch LCD the text is larger and more legible. Its LCD worked great outdoors in bright sunlight and when shooting indoors it "gains up" well, although the image does get a little grainy. We were surprised to find a plastic tripod socket on a camera in this price range. This causes some concern about stripping the threads after continuous use with a tripod or monopod. Also for those of us who use our left eye to look through the optical viewfinder, you will sometimes find your nose pushing the focus, drive and flash modes buttons.
Its shooting performance was average for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured just under 5 seconds, most of which is consumed by extending its 5x lens. The all important shutter lag averaged a fast 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, but a much slower 9/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot-to-shot delay averaged 4.2 second without using the flash and 4 to 6 seconds with the flash. Using its continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture 10 frames in approx. 12.2 seconds. However when using this mode the LCD goes blank and then shows the last image captured, making it difficult to follow fast moving objects; this is when the optical viewfinder comes in handy. There is also Auto Bracketing and Interval Shooting functions. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 512MB SD card, Program mode, 2560x1920/Best size/quality, preview off, flash off and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
I was pleased with the overall image quality when using 2560x1920/Best mode. Its Pentax smc 5x optical zoom lens produced sharp images throughout its range with very little barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight pin cushioning at full telephoto. When you consider the focal range of this lens, it exhibits very little distortion. We saw almost no occurrences of chromatic aberration, also known as "purple fringing". Outdoors it captures consistently well exposed images with good color balance. However we did notice an average amount of noise in high and low contrast areas. You can see this by looking at the open blue sky areas in our samples. Also I noticed when using its Portrait PICTure mode and the Auto ISO (sensitivity) option, the camera seems to go with a higher value than normal, which in turn shows more noise. However, our indoor results were good. Its flash has sufficient range for most interior shooting and its 5x optical zoom offers versatility in composing your shots. The flash also works well with Macro mode by "throttling down" to ensure you don't overexpose the subject. Its autofocus system was accurate in most lighting conditions, but it would benefit from a focus-assist lamp for low-light situations.
You can also capture motion video (.AVI) files at 320x240 resolution (30fps) with sound, with the length being limited only by the amount of available memory. There's also a Time-lapse mode that captures frames at a delayed rate, when played back it makes movement seem sped up. Overall the movies we recorded were average. Its autofocus system doesn't always keep up with the action and there was visible amounts of compression noise. As with most cameras that capture video plus sound - you can't use the zoom during recording, but you can preset it beforehand.
The camera is powered by a relatively small proprietary 3.7v 710mAh lithium-ion battery pack that is charged inside the camera when docked in the included charging cradle or it can re charged by itself. This means you can charge one pack while using another. The small battery packs enough power for an average day's shooting, especially when you use the color LCD sparingly. As always we recommend the purchase of a second battery or your picture taking fun is over when the battery goes dead. You should also consider the purchase of a larger SD card. The camera does ship with a larger card than most cameras in this class, but with 5-megapixels it can fill up fast; especially when using its 2560x1920/Best setting.
Bottom line - the Optio SV was a mixed bag. It does capture good quality 5- megapixel images, but its performance was not what I expected and really drags it down. However if you don't need to capture fast moving subjects (like kids or animals), this camera will please you. Its 2560x1920/Best images have plenty of resolution to create great looking 13x19-inch prints. With an MSRP of around $499, its a bit expensive. If you'd like something with a little better performance, check out our review of the Optio S5i that can be had for about $100 less.
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