The new Optio RS1500 (which replaces the Pentax Optio RS1000) is the latest addition to the Pentax compact digital camera catalog. This flashy little digicam was obviously designed for casual shooters who want an inexpensive digital camera that makes 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 point-and-shoot on the market.
The RS1000 features a removable transparent faceplate held in place with screws and also features a new design. The 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.
The base RS1500 is an easily pocketable ultra-compact digicam available in either pearl white or silver. The RS1500 is actually rather plain and somewhat underwhelming in its naked state, but add one of the included skins (like dressing up a Barbie doll) and the camera magically assumes an alternate identity. For those wannabe camera customizers out there who seek to add a little flair to their image making device, the 10 included skins depict an interesting variety of scenes - like the Leica style rangefinder skin (one of the two I opted to try during my test of the camera), a faux reptile hide cover, a pastoral scene with cows, a textured black skin, a "kiddie" skin, a skin with blue & white stripes, a textured red skin, a magazine graphic skin, a brown, blue, and orange psychedelic skin, and an urban camouflage (the other skin I tried).
For those who need more skin options there 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 5 super hero faceplates (Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Superman) and for those fashionistas with a slightly darker side - 2 Super Villain (Catwoman and the Joker) faceplates, a 4GB SD card, and a plastic Green Lantern camera case.
Looks-wise the RS1500 won't appeal to everybody. With its boxy design, it 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 used) looks like it was manufactured from recycled Clorox bottles. The young skateboarders and BMXers I showed it to at the Extreme Park thought it looked cool, but an older friend (almost 60) thought it looked silly.
The RS1500's very basic user interface and minimalist control layout make this digicam dead simple to operate. 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 RS1500 features 14 megapixel resolution, a 4x (27.5-110mm equivalent) optical zoom, a 3.0-inch (230k-dot) TFT LCD screen, a 720p HD movie mode, Face Detection AF, digital filters (including Toy Camera, Retro, and Sepia), and what Pentax calls digital blur removal - which means electronic Image Stabilization (higher sensitivity and faster shutter speeds are used to counter camera shake) rather than an optical or mechanical IS system.
In movie mode the RS1500 features what Pentax calls Movie SR (Shake Reduction) to automatically compensate for camera shake during video shooting. Digital cameras at the $150 price point don't always include optical or mechanical image stabilization systems and (in good lighting) the RS1500's 4x zoom is short enough to preclude much of the camera shake that one would get with a longer zoom.
So how does a camera that was designed to appeal to fashion mavens work as an image capture device? The rectangular little RS1500 may not look much like your run of the mill digicam, but underneath it all (with apologies to Gwen Stefani) the RS1500 seems to be a fairly typical ultra-compact digicam. I've only had the camera for a few days, but so far, the images look pretty good and the camera functions as expected. Check back soon for our full review of the Pentax Optio RS1500.