Full reviewThe aluminum-alloy, 6-megapixel Pentax Optio S6 is a well-designed digital camera that will please casual shooters with its ease of use and build quality. Though some photo-quality shortcomings and sluggish shooting mar its overall value, Pentax's slimmest offering is a good choice for anyone looking for a pocketable camera that produces decent snapshots and looks great while doing it.
The 122g S6 is a clean block of silver metal dominated by a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen and the usual array of point-and-shoot controls on the back. In addition to the standard power, shutter, zoom, playback and menu buttons, there is a programmable function button that shifts the four-way controller to give direct access to four additional settings. Combined, the camera offers one-touch access to drive, flash, autofocus and shooting modes as well as options such as image size, compression, white balance and ISO sensitivity. Achieved through a clean button layout that complements an easy-to-use menu system, the S6 is a pleasure to use for snapshooters and more advanced users alike. There is no optical viewfinder, a feature being omitted from more and more manufacturers trying to squeeze bigger LCDs into ever-smaller cameras.
While the Pentax Optio S6 offers nothing terribly exciting in the features department, users will appreciate several conveniences with practical benefits. The LCD can be shut off to save battery power, though the lack of an optical viewfinder makes shooting this way difficult. An SD card slot supplements the 23MB of built-in memory and several image parameters -- sharpness, saturation and contrast -- can be adjusted beyond the default settings. There are also 13 built-in colour-effect controls, including black-and-white, sepia and other solid colour tints and a brightness filter to correct a too-dark image after it has been shot. While there are no manual or semiautomatic exposure modes, there are 13 scene modes besides Program Auto. A TV-quality movie mode captures 30fps, 640x480-pixel MPEG-4 movies using the DivX encoder. The 37.5-to-112.5mm (35mm-film equivalent) lens is pretty slow at f/2.7 to f/5.2. It's also a poor macro performer, working at only the widest angle with a closest-focusing distance of 150mm.
The Pentax Optio S6 feels snappy when operating the lens, menus and image playback, but it lumbers during shooting. It takes 4.9 seconds to fire off a shot after pressing the power button, 5.2 seconds between shots without flash, and 1.5 seconds to focus on and capture a high-contrast test subject. Continuous shooting is unimpressive at a maximum 1.2fps.
The S6 also suffers from less than stellar photo quality. While many of its flaws aren't noticeable in common snapshots, discerning eyes looking at enlargements will be disappointed. Numerous lens flaws contribute to corner softness and vignetting (darkening of the corners), as well as a slight and asymmetrical barrel distortion -- in which straight lines bend outwards -- that remains, oddly, in the telephoto end, where lines usually curve inward. There's also a noticeable green fringing around moderately backlit objects. Both of these oddities can likely be attributed to Pentax's new lens design. The sensor is remarkably clean until ISO 400, where it exhibits an ugly multicoloured noise pattern. But it also yields a sometimes oversharpened, videocam look with white halos around high-contrast areas, as well as poor shadow detail. All is not poor in the S6's image, though. Colours, including flesh tones, are natural and pleasing and flash exposure is even and accurate, with an additional Soft Flash option for close-ups.
The Pentax Optio S6 is a great camera -- as long as you're shooting slow-moving subjects for 100x150mm prints or Web galleries. For real snapshot photography, it's just OK.
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Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Kate Macefield