Pentax Optio A40 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

Pentax's Optio A40 is an ultra-compact digicam that is full of features. It has a 12-megapixel imaging sensor, Triple Shake Reduction technology, Enhanced Face Detection, Dynamic Range Adjustment and a 2.5" LCD screen with bright mode and a wide field of view. The face detection will select the proper exposure and focus based on the faces detected, giving you a properly exposed image every time, while Dynamic Range Adjustment automatically adjusts highlights and shadows to properly expose the whole image.

The ultra-compact design of the A40 allows it to fit very easily into a pocket or small bag, while still being comfortable in your hands. It is possible to operate with just one hand, but is more comfortable when using two. Camera controls are well placed over the body, and there's a button on the left side, opposite the shutter release, that allows you to preview the shake reduction. The menu system is incredibly easy to navigate, allowing you to quickly change settings. The 2.5" LCD screen can be seen in any lighting situation, including direct sunlight or in low light, as it will gain up to assist you in framing your shot.

Shooting performance was average when in single drive mode, but far behind the competition in continuous mode. The A40 was able to capture its first image 2.5 seconds after being turned on. The shutter delay was almost instantaneous when pre-focused, and 4/10 of a second when allowing the camera to focus. The shot to shot delay was 1.4 seconds between shots without the flash and 2.5 seconds with the flash. There is one "burst" mode available, which was actually slower than shooting in single shot mode with a delay of 1.6 seconds between shots. All of our tests were completed using an Ultra 150x 4GB SDHC memory card, program mode, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults. Results may vary depending on lighting conditions, battery power, memory card etc.

Outdoor image quality from the A40 is excellent. The camera produced great exposures with average amounts of noise and vivid colors. The 3x optical zoom, with a 35mm equivalent of 37-111mm, is great for shooting landscapes, group and individual photographs, but it is not enough to get you closer to distant objects. There is some moderate barrel distortion on the wide end and some slight edge softness throughout the focal range. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) have been well controlled and are not noticeable in most images.

Indoor image quality was a bit disappointing. The exposures were good as long as the ISO was not set too low, which caused shots to be a bit dark. The flash has a range of up to 23', depending on the zoom and ISO setting. In order to achieve that range, the camera raises the ISO higher than it needs to. As you can see from our example on the samples page, Portrait mode likes to set the sensitivity at ISO 400, which adds a lot of noise; especially in low contrast (shadow) areas. The colors with or without the flash were very natural looking as were skin tones. Overall, the A40's flash is very weak, and to compensate this the camera boosts the ISO, which in the end adds unwanted noise.

The video quality from the A40 was good. The movies run smooth with very little noticeable compression artifacts. This is because the camera uses a DIVX (MPEG 4) compression. This also helps keep the file sizes much smaller than the standard .AVI files that you will find on most other digicams. The video options are very simple, you only have the ability to change the resolution from 640x480 to 320x240 and the frame rate from 15 to 30 fps. The only other option available to you is the use of Shake Reduction, which helps keep your handheld videos shake free.

Powering the A40 is a 3.7v 710 mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack. I was able to capture 120 images, several videos and completed all of our tests without having to recharge the battery. There is also an external battery charger included making it easy to keep a spare battery charged and on call at all times.

Bottom Line - The quality of the images from the 12-megapixel Pentax Optio A40 is excellent, as long as you are outdoors or have plenty of ambient light. This is a very compact and stylish model that is full of features. However, the sluggish burst mode and poor indoor or low light shooting was disappointing. When looking at the feature set and MSRP of US$300, the Optio A40 seems like an appealing "ultra- compact", but the downfalls we found point towards looking at other cameras in this price range.

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