BUILD AND DESIGN
The RS1500 was clearly designed for casual shooters who want an inexpensive auto-exposure digital camera that allows them to make a personal fashion statement. The RS1500 appears to differ from its predecessor primarily in the method for attaching the decorative skins that set this digicam apart from every other P&S digital camera on the market.
The RS1000 featured a removable transparent faceplate held in place with screws - the RS1500's removable faceplate is held in place by a snap-off lens ring - orange and black rings are included to further expand customization options. The RS1500 comes with 10 decorative exterior skins that slide into place under the removable transparent faceplate of the camera.
Along with included skins are dozens of additional patterns available (in PDF format) via the Pentax Skins Gallery at pentaximaging.com. Stylistas can also design (and print) their own PDF skins with the Personal Skin Designer which can be downloaded free from the Pentax website.
If all those skin options aren't enough, Pentax is offering a special edition Pentax Optio DC Super Heroes RS1500 model which will come with five super hero faceplates (Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Superman). For those fashionistas with a slightly darker side - two Super Villain (Catwoman and the Joker) faceplates, a 4GB SD card, and a plastic Green Lantern camera case.
The base RS1500 looks like a toy camera or an ultra-compact 21st century version of the old disposable cardboard 35mm cameras that folks used to buy at the drug store. The body-shell of the pearl white version (the one I tested) looks like it was manufactured from recycled Clorox bottles. The young skateboarders and BMXers I showed it to at the Extreme Park thought it was cool, but an older friend (almost 60) thought it looked pretty silly.
Ergonomics and Controls
The RS1500's very basic user interface and minimalist control layout make this digicam remarkably easy to use. All controls and buttons are easily accessed by right handed shooters, but the buttons are all rather small. There is no mode dial - shooters must select the shooting mode via a dedicated mode selection position on the compass switch.
The top of the camera is uncluttered with nothing but the power button and the shutter button on the right end and a finger dimple on the left side to make gripping the camera easier and more secure for the standard 'arms extended with both hands gripping the camera' P&S shooting stance.
On the back of the camera are the rocker switch for the zoom, the review button, the Face Detection AF button (provides direct access to Face Detection and Smile Capture modes), the compass switch (4-way controller), the menu button and the green button. In review mode, the green button functions as the delete button, but in all shooting modes the green button can be enabled to provide direct access to ISO/sensitivity settings, exposure compensation, or to change image file size.
The green button can be also configured to take users directly to the camera's video mode, but there is no "one-touch" video button - and since HD video is one of this camera's selling points, there should have been.
Menus and Modes
The Pentax Optio RS1500 features a fairly basic three tab menu. The menu system (accessed via a dedicated button beneath the compass switch) is logical, easy to navigate, and very simple since the camera permits only minimal user input. Even though the RS1500 appears to be aimed at a younger demographic, the menu's large font and big icons seem designed more for older shooters with reduced visual acuity. In review mode the RS1500 offers some pretty nifty options including crop, resize and the ability to apply a skin tone filter to smooth out blemishes in portraits.
The RS1500 provides a reasonable selection of automatic shooting modes including Program, Smart Auto, a selection of scene modes, and a video/movie mode. Here's a complete listing of the RS1500's shooting modes:
Like most current point-and-shoots, the RS1500 eschews an optical viewfinder. The RS1500 relies on the same 3.0-inch 230,000 pixel TFT LCD that graced its predecessor for framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. The RS1500's LCD screen is fairly bright, hue accurate, relatively fluid, automatically boosts gain in dim/low light and it displays almost 100 percent of the image frame.
Images viewed on the RS1500's LCD screen are a bit dim and a little coarse. The RS1500's LCD screen is sharp enough for most compositional and captured image review chores, however this screen lacks the critical sharpness needed to properly assess macro image quality. The RS1500's display provides all the info the camera's target audience is likely to need. All LCD screens are subject to fade in the glare of bright outdoor lighting, but the RS1500's screen seems to be especially susceptible to glare and fade. The default (full screen) aspect ratio is 4:3, but the 16:9 (wide screen) aspect ratio is available in video mode.
The DCR test lab measures LCD peak brightness and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed buying decisions. A good LCD contrast ratio should fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1. That would be bright enough to use the LCD for framing and composition in outdoor lighting, and it would also provide a better sense of color saturation and contrast. The RS1500 weighs in on the very low end of that scale at 139:1 - for comparison purposes, Canon's A495 entry-level digicam scores in the mid 400's. Peak brightness for the RS1500 (the panel's output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 291 nits and on the dark side of the measurement is 2.1 nits. For reference purposes, anything above 500 nits will remain very bright even in sunny outdoor lighting.
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