Pentax Optio M20 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The Pentax Optio M20 is an impressive and well balanced compact digital camera and includes many high-end features like a 7-megapixel imager, 3x optical zoom lens, digital Shake Reduction technology, large 2.5-inch LCD as well as various user friendly exposure modes. This is a fully automatic camera that is great for the beginner or novice user who likes to just point-n-shoot, without much fuss.

The M20 is small enough to fit in a pocket or purse and the durable metal body helps to ensure being able to stand up to plenty of wear and tear. For this model's small size, I found the feel to be quite comfortable in my hands, with controls being well placed and easy to access. The Menu system was also easy to use, with camera modes and settings available at your finger tips. The large 2.5-inch LCD is this camera's only viewfinder, and is used for image composition and review as well as menu navigation. Shooting outdoors was accomplished quite easily because of the bright LCD. When shooting in marginal lighting, the display "gains up" well to help brighten your subject, which is crucial for framing in these conditions.

Shooting performance was a little sluggish for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.7 seconds. Shutter lag when pre-focused was approx. 1/10 of a second, slowing to .5 seconds including autofocus time. The shot to shot time in normal, single exposure mode averaged about 3.2 seconds without flash, and approx. 3.7 - 5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. When shooting in Continuous mode, I was able to capture the first 3 images out of 5 in 2.4 seconds but the last 2 slowed to total about 5.4 seconds. This performance was measured using a Delkin eFilm 1GB SD memory card with the image size/quality set a 7M ***, program mode, flash off and all other settings at default. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

The M20 features a Pentax smc 3x optical zoom lens, which covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 38mm - 114mm. I found the moderate wide angle end makes decent landscape shots as well as group portraits. With the 114mm telephoto end of the zoom range, don't expect to bring far away subjects up close. The zoom does however, offer good versatility for composing shots and worked very well when shooting individual portraits. Some barrel distortion was present at full wide angle, but relatively no pincushioning at the telephoto end. There was very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) present in the sample pictures that were taken.

The 7M *** image quality mode produces good results for a consumer model. Sample images show good overall exposure, colors were nicely saturated, and for the most part, images were sharp. Although, The M20 performs very well in the portrait department, both indoors and out, offering very sharp images in Portrait mode with pleasing skin tones. Even though the flash unit is tiny I found the Fill-in flash had no problem working outdoors, and as long as you are no more than say 6 feet away, producing good flash exposures indoors is a snap. With the small size, there is not enough power to illuminate open rooms; so be sure there is plenty of ambient lighting if you want to use the telephoto across a large room.

A feature becoming more and more popular among compact models is the Blur Reduction mode. This mode helps users capture better handheld images in lower lighting (without the flash), where slow shutter speed will constantly produce "camera shake" or "motion blur". I was able to capture a portrait using only the ambient light from our home's indoor lighting. While the image is not tack sharp, by all means they are still quite usable for 4x6-inch or larger prints. Normally you would have to be using a shutter speed of at least 1/50 of a second (with very steady hands or a tripod of some sort) to capture a decent available light shot. Therefore, this is a welcomed addition to the already appealing features of the M20.

Movie mode was useable for this compact model. You can record Quick-Time video at either 640x480 or 320x240 resolutions with sound. The zoom controls work well while recording videos and the AF system did Ok at keeping up with moving subjects. Marginal lighting conditions indoors will produce a viewable movie but the quality of the movie does suffer without bright light.

The M20 is powered by two AA Batteries (Alkaline, rechargeable NiMH, or Lithium), making thisJ a perfect camera for those "on-the-go" photographers. Pentax claims their ultra- efficient power management system can shoot up to 700 shots with lithium AA batteries. We found battery life was very good, capturing over 100 samples (both images and short movie clips) as well as concluding several of our other tests on a single pack. I also liked the image storage of the Optio M20, which supports two removable storage media: the conventional SD memory cards and the higher capacity SDHC memory cards.

Bottom line - The Pentax Optio M20, with features such as Auto Picture, Blur reduction, Movies with Anti-Shake, Face Recognition AF and AE, and an outstanding battery life, make this an impressive model. It's compact, yet fits well in your hand and has enough features to keep most camera buffs happy. With a price of under $200, the M20 is a well-balanced addition to Pentax's Optio line.

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