Will technology ever catch up?

Archive for January 4th, 2007

Photography: Pentax Optio W20 First Impressions

Posted by cascadehush on January 4, 2007

First thing you pull out of the Box after the warranty card is the “PC Connection Manual”. This must mean Personal Computer in the broader sense, because even though most of the instructions and software are for PC, it does contain ACDSee for both Windows and Mac.

As usual I ignore the bundled software.

Battery and Memory card
The camera has it’s own lithium battery and charger. As a nice surprise, the charger does not use a wall-wart. The battery did have just enough charge for me to setup the camera and take 3 shots, but one should really charge these things first anyway. The battery takes about 100 minutes to charge (their figure, but it seems about right) and the red light on the charger changes to green when it is done. Nifty!

The W20 takes SD cards, which is nice, since they are the best anyway for anything less than a DSLR. The camera supports SD HC, so large capacity cards should not be a problem.

Both the battery and the memory card are inserted by opening a hinged door on the base. Next to these you’ll also find the USB socket and a power socket. It is necessary for all these sockets to be hidden under this door because it allows for a single waterproof seal. It is not entirely convenient to have to have the door open whilst you are using the USB connection to transfer photos, but it is the price you pay for a waterproof camera.

Unlike my Canon S3 IS, digital zoom is on my default. Naturally I turned it off as soon as I got it out of the box. The camera has a 3x zoom which is surprisingly useful. Since my other camera is a superzoom, I had thought that a 3x zoom would not amount to much more than a rarely used gimmick. Quite the contrary. It provides great flexibility when framing shots.

In-Camera Sharpening
was not able to turn down the sharpening. I’m sure there is a way to do it but it seems odd that the menu option does not respond to any button presses. Zooming in on the Images, the default sharpening is conservative enough to prevent halos whilst still providing the sharpening effect. It also seems smart enough not to sharpen any noise. For any snapshotters this setting is a sensible default, and this really is a snapshotting camera.

Noise, Anti-Shake and ISO
Noise levels are about what I expected, maybe even a little better than I expected. The camera does not have and anti-shake system, but the auto-ISO mode works well to help alleviate blurring due to low light. You can specify how low an ISO mode is allowed, so you can avoid overly noisy shots. There is a special Anti-Blur picture mode which quickens up the shutter time and sets the auto-ISO mode to the widest range of settings (64 to 1600 ISO). It is probably better than nothing, but this is not to be confused with the types of image stabilization systems that Canon and Panasonic use.

Naturally the higher the ISO, the more noise, but a 400 ISO image had much less noise than the Canon S3 IS at that setting. In general I can say that leaving the camera to set the ISO with the range set to 64-400 is a good practice because it provides an excellent balance between possible blurring and noise. This is the range that the Auto Picture mode uses by default.

Green Mode, Auto Picture mode and the Flash
Initially I have been using Auto Picture mode, which offers a few more options than Green mode, the Pentax standard automatic mode. There is a green button dedicated to this function. So, if yo get totally stuck, or are new to photography, just ‘press the green button’ if anything goes wrong to revert to a setting that should work in most situations.

The camera has a habit of setting off the flash when the subject of the photo was way out of range. It’s a shame the camera isn’t smart enough to work this out, but for most people I guess it won’t matter anyway, except for wasting batteries. It is possible, however, to turn off the flash and still have the camera in ‘green mode’. It’s not hard to do (i.e. I didn’t have to read the manual to discover this).

Menu System
Speaking of turning off the flash, the camera has a nifty set of dual-purpose buttons. The 4 cursor buttons each have a clearly marked function associated with them when you are not in the settings menu and therefore don’t have any use for cursor buttons. There is a button for flash mode, timer/high speed mode, focusing mode (including macro) and picture mode.

Picture mode includes the usual setting like portrait and landscape plus some unusual ones like food and text. Personally I like taking pictures of things that I eat on special occasions, and I also take lots of pictures of signposts and tourist info boards. It will be interesting to see if these modes really make any difference.

Startup time is about a second, which is quite good. There is a high speed shot mode that unfortunately locks the display so you don’t have any idea what you are shooting. There is a delay if you want to switch between shooting mode and picture view mode, but it is not a long time.

First Impressions are good. The camera is a little heavier and bulkier that I would have liked, but this is down to the sturdy construction and waterproofing. As a camera you can take almost anywhere, startup quickly and take shots in a wide range of light conditions, it seems pretty good. I’ll write another review when I have had time to use it more extensively.

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PC Website: BoxGods.com

Posted by cascadehush on January 4, 2007

BoxGods.com – Worship the Machine
PC Case, Cooling and related hardware reviews. Also covers case modding.

Posted in Hardware, PC | Leave a Comment »