The Pentax Optio S5n is the successor to the Pentax Optio S5i. Arriving just five months later, it's very similar to the earlier model, with identical dimensions, weight and lens. The major differences are the larger 51mm (2.0-inch) LCD, versus the 46mm (1.8-inch) screen on the S5i, and the absence of an optical viewfinder. Some of the S5i's 21 shooting modes have also been sacrificed, leaving the S5n with 16.
While there's little reason to upgrade from the S5i, there's a lot to like about the S5n. From the compact size and the tweedle-beep that it makes on start-up to the bright contrasty LCD and the icon-based menus, it's a cute little camera that'll find a home in your heart as well as your pocket.
Measuring 83 by 52 by 21mm, the Optio S5n is slightly smaller than a credit card. The lens slides away flush with the face and none of the controls protrude more than a couple of millimetres, so it's easy to pocket -- and at just 120g with memory card and battery, it won't pull your trousers over your hips. The only annoyance is the ring for the wrist strap, which rattles.
The front is finished with fine engraving. It's easier to grip than a polished finish, but harder to keep clean. A rubber thumb-stop on the back also helps with the ergonomics, but shooting one-handed is a risky proposition -- you'll get better results if you steady the camera with your free hand.
The controls have been kept simple, with just the power button (small and recessed) and the shutter button (large and raised) on the top of the camera. Round the back you'll find a rocker switch that controls the zoom, a Quick button that gives you fast access to snapshot mode, a Playback button for switching in and out of review mode, a small Menu button, a small Mode button for selecting shooting modes and a four-way controller with a central OK button. The controller provides shortcuts to the flash, self-timer and macro settings as well as enabling you to navigate the menus.
The 51mm (2.0-inch) LCD takes up the rest of the rear surface. It's bright and sharp, which is fortunate because the S5i doesn't have an optical viewfinder. We found the LCD usable even in bright sunshine, so on balance it isn't a bad trade-off. The optical viewfinders on ultracompacts tend to be so small and inaccurate that few people ever use them.
Sliding doors on one end conceal the USB/AV and charging ports. The latter is not normally required, because the Optio S5n comes with a charging stand. Dropping the camera into the stand connects it to the power via a set of contacts in the bottom, making charging very simple. Also on the bottom is a slide-and-hinge door that provides access to the battery and memory card slots. You'll need to purchase an SD memory card separately -- all you get with the camera is 9.3MB of built-in memory.
The Optio S5n comes with a 168-page manual that's frighteningly comprehensive. The section on taking pictures starts on page 47... or you can just turn on the camera and experiment. Clearly labelled buttons and a simple menu system make it easy to take snapshots and review them on the LCD.
The camera normally fires up in Capture mode, although you can force it into Playback mode by holding down the Playback button as you power up. In normal operation, pressing Playback switches you from Capture to Playback mode, or vice versa. You can also switch from Playback to Capture by pressing the shutter button.
The S5n has 16 shooting modes, including a Green mode where you simply point and press. You can switch back to this mode at any time by pressing the green Quick button, which is handy for those 'quick, where's the camera' moments. In this mode you have access only to the most basic settings: Macro On, Macro Off, Flash On and Flash Off.
Normal shooting takes place in Program mode, where you can adjust a wide range of settings including image size, image quality, white balance, focusing area (centre or multi-point), exposure metering, exposure compensation, white balance and ISO. If fiddling with the settings seems too complicated, you can switch to one of the scene modes: Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-portrait, Sunset, Food, Pet, Text, Sports or Surf & Snow. We were intrigued by the Pet mode, which lets you select the colour of your pet (black, mid-tone or white) and then compensates the exposure automatically, enabling you to photograph the proverbial black cat in a coal cellar. You can save your own favourite settings to create a custom scene mode.
There's also a Movie mode that captures 640 x 480-pixel clips at 30fps, a Panorama Assist mode that helps you capture a sequence of overlapping shots, and a Special Effects mode. The last has three options: Posterize, Soft and Slim. How can you resist a camera that compresses the image to shave those kilos from your hips? Other shooting features include a (small) live histogram for monitoring image contrast and a superimposable grid for rule-of-thirds composition.
Playback features are unexceptional, although you can perform some basic in-camera editing to adjust the size, crop the image, apply colour filters or tweak the brightness. You can also add voice memos to your images.
Snapshots were bright and sharp, with neutral colours. There was some barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens and some purple fringing on backlit subjects, but you'd only notice these problems if you went out of your way to test the lens. We doubt that anyone using this camera for its intended purpose -- casual snapshots -- would find anything to complain about.
We tested the Pet mode on a white swan, using the white cat option. While it did make the swan Persil white, we preferred the photographs taken using the default settings in Program mode, which preserved more of the detail in the feathers. The S5n also struggled with a display of bright red tulips, converting the petals into red smudges. It coped with a red post box, however, so this only seems to be a problem with very intense reds.
Macro shots were detailed and correctly exposed. The Super Macro mode lets you put the lens 60mm from your subject and worked well for spring flowers. Portraits taken with flash came out slightly pink. We felt the slight yellow cast of the portraits taken with the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z57 was more flattering.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Nick Hide