Pentax Optio S1: Build and Design

June 14, 2011 by Andy Stanton Reads (3,668)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 5
    • Features
    • 7
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 6
    • Expandability
    • 0
    • Total Score:
    • 5.20
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

The Optio S1’s body has an aluminum shell and feels solid and well-built. It is small but not tiny, at 4.49 inches wide, 2.28 inches tall and 1.1 inches thick (114 x 58 x 28 mm). It weighs in at 157 grams, including battery. Its rounded corners enables it to fit easily into a pocket or purse. Its buttons and dials are clear plastic. Overall the Optio S1 has a classy appearance.

Ergonomics and Controls
The physical layout of the Optio S1 is clean and straightforward. The flash is located at the top of the camera’s front plate but more towards the center, rather than the corner, which makes it less likely to be blocked by a stray finger. A combination self timer/auto focus assist lamp is on one side of the flash and the remote control receiver on the other side. The telescoping lens is towards the side of the camera, rather than in the middle as is the case with many compact cameras.

Pentax Optio S1

The front panel also contains a pinhole opening for the microphone – the Optio S1 records monaural sound. At the top of the camera there is an on/off button and an oblong shutter button, both of which protrude just enough to make them comfortable to use, but not so much that they disrupt the camera’s sleek lines. One side of the camera contains the wrist strap attachment and a port for the USB/AV cables. The bottom of the camera includes the speaker, a plastic tripod socket and a compartment for the battery and memory card, secured by a sturdy sliding door.

Pentax Optio S1

At the rear of the camera, you’ll find the 2.7-inch 240,000 dot LCD screen in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The camera’s controls are to the right of the screen. At the top is a rocker switch for controlling the zoom and, below that, a circular controller bordered by four buttons. The controller brings up a focus mode menu when pressed on the right, a drive mode menu (including continuous shooting, self-timer and remote control) when pressed up, a flash menu when pressed to the left and a mode menu when pressed down. An OK button is at the center of the controller. The four buttons include playback, a dedicated movie control, access to the general menu and trash can.

Pentax Optio S1

Despite the camera’s glossy metal skin, I had no problem holding it to take pictures, even with only one hand, as the space between the zoom rocker switch and the playback and movie buttons is a convenient place to rest your thumb. All the camera’s controls worked well without any problems.

Menus and Modes
As I referred to earlier, menus can be brought up by pressing several buttons at the rear of the camera. Pressing the bottom of the circular controller brings up the mode menu, which allows you to select from certain shooting modes including Auto Picture, Program and various scene modes.

Pentax Optio S1

A brief explanation of the selected mode is set forth at the bottom of the screen. Pressing the menu button permits you to select the desired movie mode.

The camera’s shooting modes are as follows:

  • Green Mode: A basic mode in which all camera functions are set to auto and the user has no independent control.
  • Auto Picture: The camera automatically selects the appropriate scene mode based on the prevailing shooting conditions, including standard, night scene, landscape, portrait, night scene portrait, flower, candlelight, blue sky, portrait-blue sky, portrait-backlight, sunset, portrait-sunset, group photograph, text. When shooting in this mode, very few options can be adjusted.
  • Program: The user can select shooting options such as white balance, focusing area, metering, exposure compensation, dynamic range setting, sharpness, saturation and contrast.
  • Scene modes: The user can select among 21 scene modes including blue sky, landscape, flower, sunset, night scene (needs a tripod), night scene portrait (tripod needed), portrait, natural skin tone (enhances skin tones and removes blemishes), food, digital shake reduction, kids, pets, sport tracking, surf and snow, fireworks (tripod needed), frame composite (adds a frame), party, candlelight, text, miniature filter and HDR.
  • Movie: Can take movies at either 1280 x 720 pixels (30 or 15 frames per second), 640 x 480 pixels (30 or 15 frames per second, or 320 x 240 pixels (30 or 15 frame per second). Movies can be shot for as long as 120 minutes for each session, though the maximum size of a movie file is 2GB.

The Optio S1 includes several additional shooting options, including face detection, blink detection, smile capture (automatically takes the picture when the camera detects the subject smiling) and D range setting (compensates for high contrast areas that are too bright or too dark), and the ability to adjust for sharpness, saturation and contrast. The camera uses a sensor shift image stabilization system. The Optio S1 does not have a panorama mode.

Pentax S1 Sample Image
D Range Off
Pentax S1 Sample Image
D Range On

When the camera is in playback mode, the user has the opportunity to use various filters on photos that have already been taken. A photo can be transformed to black and white, sepia, toy camera, retro, color (six color filters), color extract, color emphasis, soft and brightness.

Pentax S1 Sample Image
Black and White
Pentax S1 Sample Image
Pentax S1 Sample Image
Toy Camera
Pentax S1 Sample Image
Pentax S1 Sample Image

Like most small cameras, the Optio S1 lacks a viewfinder and users will have to rely solely on its 2.7-inch, 230,000 dot LCD. The screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio and can be adjusted to one of seven different brightness levels.

DCR tests cameras for LCD screen quality, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCDs have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and at least 500 nits. The LCD screen of the Optio S1 was found to have a contrast ratio of 638:1 and to measure 255 nits for peak brightness and 0.40 for dark. While the contrast ratio is good, the peak brightness figure is rather low. With its brightness level set to the middle level, I found the LCD hard to see in bright, sunny conditions. Indoors it was fine.

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