With the no-frills £140 Optio S10, Pentax bucks the trend of loading up point-and-shoot cameras with neat-sounding but dubious features -- okay, we aren't big face-detection fans -- and sticking true to its photographic roots by including some very useful features that we wish we'd see more often.
A basic budget ultracompact, the 10-megapixel S10 incorporates an f/2.8-5.4 38mm-114mm-equivalent 3x zoom lens and 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD. At 53mm by 86mm by 20mm and weighing a mere 116g, the S10 fits comfortably in your jeans pocket. The all-metal body feels generally well made (though the mode/down button on our evaluation unit tended to stick annoyingly) and comes in two versions: dark grey and silver, or blue and silver.
The control layout is pretty typical for a snapshot camera. The power and shutter buttons sit on top, while the zoom switch and review, menu and green programmable function buttons sit on the back next to the LCD. The four-way nav-plus-OK doubles as flash, macro, self-timer and shooting mode direct-access controls. We can't decide whether it's merely an oddity or a real annoyance that both USB and charger connectors sit under the battery/SD card compartment cover.
You can set the green button to bring up any four shooting functions. For example, we set it to access ISO speeds, metering, exposure compensation and focus mode. Though it lacks manual and semi-manual exposure controls like aperture- and shutter-priority modes, the S10 does offer some nice convenience features.
Our favourite is ISO Correction, an auto-ISO mode that lets you set the maximum selected sensitivity to any full stop from ISO 100 to ISO 1,600. Every camera should have this. It also provides both auto and forced flash red-eye reduction modes, where most cameras only supply auto, and a basic lower-power Soft Flash.
The Tracking AF, on the other hand, is a nice idea but doesn't seem to work very well. On the irritating side, however, the macro modes only work within a limited set of focal lengths: 38mm-57mm-equivalent for standard macro and 38mm for super macro. Finally, the SR Shake Reduction is the usual high ISO/high shutter speed option.
The rest of the features fit the typical point-and-shoot profile, including a variety of scene programme modes and several playback and slideshow views.
By the numbers, the S10 performs well for a budget shooter. From power on to first shot it takes 1.8 seconds. Time to focus and snap runs only 0.5 seconds in good light, though that rises to 1.3 seconds in dimmer situations -- pretty good for a snapshot camera, but slower than you really want.
The interval between two consecutive shots is a brisk 1.3 seconds, which rises to 2.5 seconds with flash. It lags behind the competition in burst mode, however, where it snaps at only about 1.1 frames per second.
Unlike many budget models we've seen lately, such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T2, Pentax strikes the right balance between noise suppression and sharpness in the S10. It produces nicely sharp photos with relatively little image noise, which remains usable up to and including ISO 400 -- about a stop beyond the usual.
We were quite impressed with the sharpness of the S10's photos
It displays very good colour, with generally neutral-to-cool white balance, even with exposures and a broad dynamic range. The camera's only apparent weakness is its lens geometry, which exhibits slightly worse-than-usual barrel distortion at its widest end.
Though it's not quite up to the performance standard of the Canon Digital IXUS 70, the Pentax Optio S10, at around £140, certainly holds its own against higher-profile competitors from companies such as Sony and Olympus.
Additional editing by Jon Squire