The rulebook of "How Not to get Wiped Out by the iPhone Camera" must state somewhere that bigger zoom in a compact form factor is better. Hence, the Pentax (Ricoh) Optio VS20 with a 20x, 28-560mm equivalent focal range. It adheres to the design principals of the compact ultrazoom class with a svelte, decidedly point-and-shoot look and feel. This is no DSLR-esque ultrazoom.
It also offers a 16 megapixel CCD sensor with three flavors of SR Shake Reduction image stabilization: Sensor-Shift, Digital and Movie SR. Digital SR will boost ISO to 3200 up to 6400 and limit image size to 5 megapixels when it is enabled, and Movie SR narrows the angle of view. A nice 460k-dot 3.0-inch LCD graces the back panel of the camera.
A true design departure from the current compact mold is the addition of a vertical shutter button with zoom control and a vertical tripod socket. These are things basically unheard of in a compact camera. On top of that, a digital level feature is available as is wireless control via optional infrared remote. Curiously, HD video recording tops out at 720p. A 3-point AF system is also on board with macro shooting as close as 1cm.
Did we get our hands on a pre-production sample at CES? Why, yes we did. Build quality is nice, and expectedly, the lens is massive. It dominates the front of an otherwise unexceptional camera body.
There's a slightly built-up grip on the front of the camera for a comfortable feel in the right hand. The back panel offers some raised bumps for a little more stability in the hand. Control-wise, and ignoring the extra shutter button, there's nothing new about the VS20. It appears to be running the same user interface we've seen in all of Pentax's Optio cameras in recent years. Still, the versatility of the VS20 and its huge focal range should appeal to those who want something small and light to bring along on travels.
Pricing and availability
The Pentax Optio VS20 will sell in "noble black" or "brilliant white" for $249.95. Look for it to become available in February 2012.