Face detection, smile detection and now blink detection -- Pentax ups the facial recognition stakes with an auto-everything snapper that claims to deliver the perfect portrait. It's an 8-megapixel compact with a large screen and zoom, and is available now for around £160.
The amount of sheer camera you get for just over £150 these days is impressive. Build quality is good all round -- the metal shell is light but solid, and the 76mm (3-inch) screen is crisp and colourful in full daylight, although it fades somewhat in the dark.
Pentax has packed the V20 with a generous 5x lens that's both fast and responsive when zooming and about as sharp as could you reasonably hope. There are few signs of distortion or purple fringing. Focusing options are simply excellent, including a choice of target areas, tracking focus for moving subjects, useful presets and manual focusing.
For its features, the movie mode -- VGA up to 30 frames per second -- delivers rich, smooth colours and soft, flattering skin tones. The 'Smile Capture' is very effective, capturing grins and smirks at least as well as Sony's Smile Shutter. Colours and exposure are well-judged, making for decent portraits and the built-in flash has enough reach for most indoor shots. Noise is low, up to around ISO 800 at least. Post-shooting features are good too, with red-eye elimination and lots of editing options including movie trimming.
There are bound to be some construction compromises in such a reasonably priced compact. It's not entirely surprising that the long lens has only digital stabilisation that's rather useless and that battery life is a below average 200 shots per charge.
Face detection works fine, following multiple mugs simultaneously, but it's not as smart as Fujifilm's system as it misses faces seen from the side. The blink alert is pretty ridiculous too -- by the time you've acknowledged it, eyes will be open again. A shutter delay of around a second means you'll end up with just as many missed moments as you ever did.
The Auto Picture mode, which selects focusing and program modes automatically, struggled to cope with the real world. Focusing generally is a hit and mostly miss affair. Despite all the fancy 'smart' options, you're better off leaving it in 'spot' mode, then simply half-pressing and re-framing as required.
While image quality is acceptable overall, aggressive noise reduction robs even bright daylight shots at the lowest ISO 80 setting of depth and sharpness.
Given the V20's extensive feature list and extremely reasonable price point, it seems churlish to complain too loudly about its over-ambitious 'smart' modes. The truth is that you'll get better snaps by relying on your head rather than its built-in face, blink and smile detectors or automatic focus and scene selectors. The large screen, good ease of use and big zoom still help to make it an excellent budget choice.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday