The Pentax Optio S1 is a tiny, eye-catching camera that screams “entry level.” Because of that and its low price (it’s a mere $109-$199, depending on retailer), it’s a great option for a very certain set of consumers: Teens, first-time users, people who break cameras, and people who just want to grab an inexpensive camera to click away at birthday parties.
While there isn’t much that’s outstanding about the Optio S1, the camera isn’t trying to be something it’s not. The low price and stylish design are both good arguments to consider the Optio S1 when you’re shopping in the sub-$200 category.
Features and design
Right off the bat, one of the best things we noticed about the Pentax Optio S1’s design is how ideal it is for entry-level shooters. There are literally no protruding edges or features of any sort: This thing is as compact as it gets. Its size isn’t the only eye-catching thing about it, either. It’s a stylish camera that comes in a variety of colors (including a chrome model for those who like the old standard) and keeps its controls as basic as can be.
The top of the camera bears its power and shutter buttons. The power button is a little smaller than we’d hope for, but it isn’t a major complaint. The shutter rises so slightly from the camera’s body that it’s almost undetectable. You can identify it by touch thanks to the malleable button material, which is good given how otherwise indistinct it is.
The Optio S1’s back panel sports its 2.7-inch LCD display, zoom toggle, mode dial, playback, record, menu, and trash functions. The back of the camera has spacious, almost sparse look, which again is great for entry-level shooters. It has an incredible simple and stylish interface that is easy to take to.
We’re not huge fans of the Optio S1’s in-camera UI, however. Instead of minimal or simple like it is on the outside, it just feels elementary. The cartoonish icons don’t do anything for us, but we will admit that once again there is nothing confusing about navigating the camera, and beginners might be more apt to experiment with more manual features, given how easy it is.
As far as hardware features are concerned, the Optio S1 sports a 14-megapixel resolution and 5x optical zoom, which aren’t necessarily a specs to write home about but are solid for a camera in this price range. The included bevy of preset scenes and in-camera editing aren’t the highest quality out there, but for this market they are welcome additions that some manufacturers skimp on.
What’s in the box
The camera comes with a USB cable, an AV cable, a rechargeable li-Ion battery, a USB power adapter kit, a camera strap, and user software.
The Optio S1 is an undeniably easy-to-use camera, making it Pentax’s answer to point-and-shoots like Canon’s A-series PowerShot and a handful of the Nikon CoolPix S-series cams. Those are some lofty aspirations for a name not normally associated with compacts, and while we wouldn’t say the camera compares to these top-tier choices, it should certainly enter the discussion.
The camera feels a little smaller than we’re used to working with, but that’s a convenience for the entry-level users Pentax is targeting with the Optio S1. It’s a camera for people who want to take pictures with something they can throw in their bag and ignore until they need it. More importantly, it’s for people who don’t want to worry about investing in something they plan on upgrading often, or fear breaking.
The most noteworthy aspect of the Optio S1 is its fast response. Powering up is about a two-second process, and in no time you’re snapping consecutive photos (obviously slowed down if you’re using flash, but still not bad). We mostly used the manual settings, which were easy to manipulate and set. Image quality sits somewhere between fair and average, getting noisy anywhere above ISO 800. Rather than erring toward natural tones, images seemed a little oversaturated with boosted contrast.
The camera’s 5x wide-angle optical zoom is another expected aspect for a device in this price range and size. While it didn’t turn out any frame-worthy images, we were able to capture a few decent close-ups.
What we actually appreciated during these zoom-heavy conditions was the anti-shake mechanism. Taking photos of action down on the field in unfavorable weather conditions amidst a throbbing crowd of football fans isn’t exactly ideal or stable, but hand-shake wasn’t an issue. When you’re shooting with a compact like this one, you aren’t always (sometimes rarely) using the display as a viewfinder. Many a photo is taken by generally aiming the camera in the desired direction. Given the target buyers for this camera, reducing human error and doing it well is a must.
The camera captures 720p HD video, and as far as shooting singular scenes, it does fairly well. But try to zoom or pan around your location and you’ll be disappointed. Zooming (which, to the Optio S1’s credit, many point and shoots disable in video mode) is anything but smooth and we had minor issues with focusing when moving the camera between different light settings. In general, video was pretty grainy as well.
We wouldn’t rave about the camera’s performance in low-light scenarios or its flash. The preinstalled modes were fun to play with, but don’t yield fantastic results. However, the built-in editing features are a great inclusion of the Optio S1. Using the mode dial, you can edit or ad filters to all your pictures in playback. Options include simple tasks like image rotation, red eye fix, rotation, resize, cropping, and the like. You can also get more creative with color filters, HDR effects, or a toy camera look. The results aren’t mind-blowing, but you get some fun and interesting images.
We’re also advocates for including built-in editors we’re you make a camera for entry-level shooters: Photoshop is expensive, and people who take photos on the fly don’t always want to invest time in post-production editing.
People need inexpensive and adequate digital cameras, and Pentax produced the Optio S1 to meet that need. There’s nothing revolutionary or mind blowing about its technology, but it is easy to use and takes decent to above-average photos, if you’re willing to learn a little and use manual settings where you can.
Pentax outfitted this camera for a very certain buyer, and it meets that buyer’s needs well: Style, convenience, bonus features like a built-in editor, and image quality that manages to outdo some in this price bracket.
The Optio S1 gets points for style, size, and convenience. And when paired with its adequate performance, it’s a respectable choice… the hitch being that it’s only a respectable choice for what’s becoming a narrower target. Many of the same people who would have been interested in the S1 two years ago are probably gravitating toward smartphones for the same tasks today. Be forewarned: People outgrow technology faster than they use to, and consumers mildly interested in electronics and photography will find themselves wanting more from the Optio S1 quickly.
- Simple, clean design
- Easy to use
- Built-in editor, filters are great for entry-level shooters
- Noisy above ISO 800
- Poor low-light performance