DigitalCameraReview.com
Pentax Optio M40 Review
by Jim Keenan -  9/11/2007

The Pentax Optio M40 is a newly-introduced "ultra-slim, sophisticated metallic body" point & shoot (P&S) that is a refresh of the Optio M30 – the new camera gets a few more pixels on a slightly larger sensor, a higher resolution monitor, stronger flash, slightly better shutter-lag response and a miniscule change in lens focal lengths. But the true test is not how the M40 stacks up against the M30, but rather how it does in an increasingly crowded (and capable) 7 and 8 megapixel compact digital field. 

pentax optio m40
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The M40 enters this arena with an 8 megapixel sensor, 2.5" LCD monitor, and a 3X optical zoom that provides a 36 to 108mm focal length range (35mm film equivalent). Face Recognition focus and exposure technology, 21.9MB of internal memory and an ISO range to 3200 round out the major assets of what Pentax describes as a "user-friendly" camera. Here’s the focal range covered by the M40:

pentax optio m40 sample image
Wide angle (view medium image) (view large image)
pentax optio m40 sample image
Telephoto (view medium image) (view large image)

A CLOSER LOOK 

"User-friendly" equates to "automatic" – the M40 offers "auto" and "program" (P) auto shooting along with thirteen other subject-specific shooting modes. There is a somewhat surprising capability to manually set ISO, exposure compensation and some image parameters (sharpness, contrast, saturation) in various shooting modes, but the M40 clearly targets users who wish to leave most or all image capture decisions up to the camera.

Pentax includes a wrist strap, Li-ion battery and charger, USB and A/V cables, CD-ROM software and operating manual with each camera. The camera accepts SD or SDHC memory cards.

Camera dimensions are about 3.8 x 2.3 x .7 inches with a shooting weight (battery and memory card installed) of approximately 4.8 ounces.

The M40 will capture JPEG still images in the following pixel sizes: 3264 x 2448 (8M), 2592 x 1944 (5M), 2304 x 1728 (4M), 2048 x 1536 (3M), 1600 x 1200 (2M), 1024 x 768 (1024) and 640 x 480 (640). Images may also be captured in "good, "better" or "best" quality levels, with "better" being the default setting. Unless otherwise indicated, images captured by the M40 to illustrate this review were at the 8M/best settings.

As a practical matter, there was not a lot of difference in apparent quality between the "good", "better" and "best" settings in snapshot-sized images.

Movies may be captured in AVI format at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, and 15 or 30 frames per second.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The Optio M40 features a silver brushed aluminum alloy and chrome body which feels and looks to be well built.

pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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SHOOTING WITH THE OPTIO M40 

Auto Mode 

The M40 comes with default settings of 8M/better quality images, auto ISO and white balance, and "multiple" focusing area. In general, the default settings provided good exposure in good light conditions with most subjects, although there was some tendency to lose highlights with bright and high contrast scenes. With dimmer light or darker subjects, the camera seemed to ramp up the auto ISO fairly quickly, and as with most cameras in this class, image quality begins to degrade due to noise once you get past 200 ISO. If I were the user of an M40 I might be very tempted to shoot a lot in P mode with ISO manually set in the 50 – 200 range, at least until shutter speeds made camera shake an issue.

Additional Shooting Modes 

The M40 provides thirteen additional shooting modes (fourteen if you count voice recording): night scene, movie, landscape, flower, natural skin tone, portrait, surf & snow, sport, digital shake reduction, kids, pet, food and frame composite. Users of the M40 (or any digital employing shooting modes for that matter) may want to experiment with various modes to see which works best for any particular situation. For example, I found "sport" produced the best exposures of surfers – this mode tended to not lose highlights on the whitewater portions of waves, while "auto" had a higher incidence of lost highlights, with "surf & snow" falling between the two extremes.

One nice feature of the M40 is that it will allow you to employ exposure compensation and/or manually set ISO for the various shooting modes – you can also set a manual ISO for "auto", but not exposure compensation. The first two shots that follow were made in "night scene" with ISO set for 50, and "digital shake reduction" with auto ISO. Both shots were made with a tripod and the camera’s self-timer to trip the shutter. The ISO 50 shot ended up with a shutter speed of about ¼ second; the "shake reduction" was 1/60th second due to the ISO being ramped up. The advantage of the lower ISO is clear (no pun intended) – the "night scene" is much more noise free than the "shake reduction". On the other hand, "shake reduction" did provide a shutter speed that would be fast enough to give a good chance of hand-holding the camera to produce an acceptably sharp image. The third image was made in "night scene" with the manual ISO of 50, at a distance of about 60 yards on the tripod. The detail of show times speaks for itself. I made similar shots in "auto" and "P" mode with manual ISO at 50, and the images from each mode was virtually identical.

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Night scene, ISO 50

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Shake Reduction, auto ISO

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Night scene, ISO 50

The M40 also will display the name and a brief description of each particular mode when the cursor is placed over each icon in the shooting mode menu on the monitor. 

In-Camera Editing Tools 

The M40 user can resize images (change image size and quality), crop images, copy images and sound files, alter images by means of ten digital filters (nine color, one soft), adjust the brightness of images, add a frame to images, and correct red eye. 

Exposure Compensation 

Exposure compensation of +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV steps is available for most shooting modes. 

Light Metering 

Light metering is limited to multi-segment – there are no center-weighted or spot options available. 

Focus/Macro Focus 

Normal focus range for the M40 is about 16 inches to infinity; macro range is about 4 inches to 39.5 inches, and super macro about 2 inches to 15.75 inches.

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Macro shot

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Macro shot

The M40 acquires focus reasonably quickly in good lighting conditions with subjects of reasonable contrast. The camera does not have a focus-assist lamp and focus acquisition in low light is slow to non-existent. The camera does have a manual focus capability. Face Recognition AF is only available in "portrait" or "natural skin tone" shooting modes.

Monitor 

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is of 150,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven brightness settings. None of the brightness settings is of much use in strong outdoor light – the monitor is difficult to use in such conditions, both for picture composition and/or editing. There is no viewfinder. 

Flash 

Pentax lists the M40’s flash range as out to approximately 26 feet at wide angle, and about 13 feet at telephoto. Range in digital shake reduction mode can approach 51 feet. Auto, on, off and red eye reduction modes are available. Color reproduction and fidelity with flash was accurate.

Color 

Default color was generally accurate in both daylight and flash conditions. The M40 permits camera settings to increase sharpness, saturation, and contrast over the default values. The shots that follow illustrate the default setting, increased sharpness, increased saturation, increased contrast and finally all three values increased on a single image.

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Default settings

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Increased sharpness

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Increased saturation

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Increased contrast

pentax optio m40 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Increased sharpness, saturation, and contrast

ISO 

The M40 auto ISO setting ranges from 50 to 800. Manual sensitivities can be set from 50 to 3200, and the digital shake reduction mode will set sensitivities up to 3200. Noise performance is typical for cameras in this class – 50, 100 and 200 sensitivities are relatively consistent, with increased levels of noise becoming apparent at 400 and up. Here’s blue sky and "real world" shots at various sensitivities – blue sky tends to be "worst case scenario" and quite often normal shots, particularly if not enlarged greatly, don’t look as bad as you’d expect.


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

 


(view medium image) (view large image) ISO 200

(view medium image) (view large image) ISO 400

(view medium image) (view large image) ISO 800

(view medium image) (view large image) ISO 1600

(view medium image) (view large image) ISO 3200

White Balance 

Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent and manual (custom) white balance settings are available. Auto was used for all the images made by the M40 for this review.

Battery Performance 

Pentax credits the M40 with a 230 shot battery capacity, and my experience proved this to be accurate. The camera does not accept alternate battery sources such as AA or AAA, so a second rechargeable would be a prudent investment. The camera has a handy battery "fuel gauge" that displays on the monitor.

Shutter Performance 

The M40 shutter can range from 4 seconds to approximately 1/2000th second. Shutter lag is listed as .04 seconds and is good in most cases (there is a delay shooting in red eye reduction mode as a pre-flash is fired before the shutter trips), particularly if focus has been acquired. There is a continuous shooting capability, but the speed varies with image quality and size, and focus and exposure are based on the first shot of the sequence. Unless the subject is stationary or nearly so, subsequent shots are likely to be less sharp and perhaps suffer from exposure problems as well.

Lens Performance 

The M40 had barrel distortion at wide angle (straight lines bow out from center of image) and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward center of image) at the telephoto end, and I couldn’t seem to find a focal length where one or the other wasn’t present to some degree. Sharp-eyed viewers may notice "bent" lines in images with horizontal or vertical lines, particularly enlargements beyond snapshot size. Purple fringing was present in high contrast boundary areas, although it became objectionable only under great enlargement. There seemed to be a hint of vignetting at the sides and corners of the frame at wide angle, and the lens seemed a little soft across the frame at both wide and tele ends.

There is also a 4X digital zoom capability, but no means to disable this feature. The monitor displays a "zoom bar" that tracks the extent of the zoom – there is a brief pause before the lens moves from optical into digital zoom, but the bar can be hard to see in bright conditions.

MISCELLANEOUS 

The M40 features the Pentax "green button" mode, which in its default setting returns the camera to the default shooting mode. The button can be programmed to go to a number of other camera functions instead, should the user so desire. The M40 is also PictBridge compliant, and can print directly from an appropriate printer without need for a computer.

pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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pentax optio m40
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CONCLUSION 

The Pentax Optio M40 is an entry-level compact digital P&S that provides a basic feature set, yet throws in some manual inputs not normally encountered in cameras of this class. The ability to set ISO and exposure compensation in most of the various shooting modes is a welcomed departure from the norm, although it seems somewhat incongruous in a camera that really is targeting users who wouldn’t ordinarily be expected to care about, let alone use such features. Performance in good lighting conditions is adequate, but the camera struggles to focus and shoot in dim light.

PROS 

CONS