The Pentax Optio RS1000 is a stylish, well-made box of a digital camera for around £100. But can its performance and image quality transcend the bargain-bucket price?
With near-credit-card proportions of 92 by 56 by 20mm and a weight of 130g (loaded with rechargeable battery and optional SD card), the Pentax Optio RS1000 is a pocket-friendly point-and-shoot model in every sense. On paper, at least, things look promising.
For a modest outlay, Pentax has provided the headline features of a 14-megapixel resolution; 3-inch, 230k-dot LCD at the rear for composition and review; 720p HD video-shooting capability at 30/15fps; and a 4x optical zoom lens with a range equivalent to 27.5-110mm. This retracts within the body when the camera is inactive. In terms of handling, we had the usual problem of screen visibility suffering in bright sunlight, where it was more a case of 'point and hope', but this wasn't unexpected.
You also have the chameleon-like option to customise the appearance of the front of the camera, courtesy of printed templates downloadable from the Pentax website that slip between the transparent cover -- screwed onto the Optio RS1000's faceplate -- and the front of the camera itself. A pack of pre-cut glossy photo paper was also included with our sample, allowing us to print our own favourite shots and use them for the front. Gimmicky? Certainly. Yet, even without such accoutrements, this Pentax looks more sophisticated than a camera at this price should.
That said, once you start playing with the device you discover the options therein are pretty basic. This is a point-and-shoot 'auto everything' camera with very little user control or input required, save for framing up the shot and firing the shutter.
On the plus side, this had a surprising effect. Freed from the opportunity to tweak settings and generally fiddle about with endless menu options, the moments we would have spent doing this were instead given over to our subjects. Framing and lighting became more considered in the effort to grab a decent image despite the camera's limitations. In turn, the RS1000 responded -- JPEGs straight from the camera came out well exposed, well saturated in terms of colours and moreover sharper than we expected.
Thanks to its large, obvious buttons and colourfully cartoonish shooting mode icons, this is a camera that anyone can pick up and use straight away. If there's anything that might trip you up it's the on/off button -- this has a red dot at its centre that makes it look like it might be a video-record button.
Give this a press and the camera powers up in two seconds, lens extending from flush with the body to maximum wide-angle setting with an audible buzz, while the rear LCD blinks into life. In auto picture mode, the Pentax selects what it deems the most appropriate setting from 15 pre-optimised scene and subject offerings, and for the most part gets it right. There's even an auto-tracking AF mode to maintain focus on moving subjects. Should you be happy to witness a resolution drop to a lowly 640x480 pixels, a burst-shooting mode is selectable that allows up to 16 images to be captured over a period of just two seconds. These are features we wouldn't have previously found on a £100 compact.
Face detection is also automatic, the device recognising up to 32 faces in the frame and biasing focus and exposure towards them. Smile capture fires the shutter when it registers the subject is grinning, and blink detection warns of closed eyes, helping to avoid the usual pitfalls of snapshot photography. Being a Pentax, you also get a smattering of digital-effects filters from the playback menu, including the pinhole 'toy camera' mode alongside the common black-and-white and sepia-tinted image options. These are applied after the picture has been taken.
The RS1000 might not be lightning fast in operation, but it avoids sluggishness. A half press of the shutter release button and focus/exposure is determined in just under two seconds. A full-resolution, lowest-compression JPEG file is committed to memory in just over two seconds, with the screen briefly blanking out and then freezing to display the captured image while it is undertaking the process.
Unfortunately, when it comes to shooting video, the optical zoom stays put. A press of the zoom rocker switch prompts a horribly jerky 6.7x digital zoom to kick in instead. This incrementally degrades image quality, so it's only worth using as a last resort.
A la mode
Once again, the small dimensions of this camera mean you don't get any proper handgrip. While fingers slide about on the plastic faceplate at the front, a row of three raised nodules at the back attempt to prevent the thumb from slipping onto the screen itself. It's more likely to press up against the rocker switch for operating the zoom, as it's located top-right of the camera's back plate.
Beneath this are dedicated playback and face-detection mode buttons, and underneath this is a four-way control pad with a central 'OK' button for effecting function changes. Ranged around this are four settings for adjusting the self timer, switching to macro/close-up focus, activating (or disabling) the built-in flash and, finally, a dedicated shooting-mode option that probably could have done with its own button, but nevertheless falls within thumb reach.
The last buttons on the camera's rear are a self-explanatory menu button and one for switching to Pentax's 'green' (read: easy) mode. A press of this and the screen's display icons automatically enlarge. A subsequent press of the menu button strips away all the shooting options that could have a bearing on image quality. All you can do here is point and shoot, so this setting is perfect for when you're handing the camera to someone else and don't want them inadvertently changing anything. That said, the choice of formatting the card, and therefore wiping all those precious photos, is still provided within the set-up options.
With the RS1000's lens starting at a wide 27.7mm equivalent in 35mm terms, the Pentax proves itself a handy tool for shooting landscapes, where its warm colour tones are to the benefit of greens in the foreground and blues in the background. We particularly enjoyed the results achievable when selecting 'blue sky' mode from among the shooting settings. Under such circumstances, the camera also proved itself capable of maintaining shadow and highlight detail within the same exposure, though of course noise/grain does creep in at higher ISO settings (up to ISO 6,400 offered here). With a battery life limited to 200 shots, however, this is a more a camera for a weekend away than a holiday of a lifetime.
The Pentax Optio RS1000 comes across as a tool that is fairly limited in terms of real photographic control, but it manages to deliver a still-image quality that, for the most part, is more impressive than its budget price would have you believe. Sure, there are better cameras out there, but for what's being asked of your wallet, you can't go wrong with the RS1000.
Edited by Emma Bayly