Pentax currently has a slew of 5-megapixel cameras on the shelves. Among them is the Pentax Optio S55, an ultracompact model with a 3X zoom, tailored slightly more toward the novice than the company’s S5z. Though remarkably similar to that model, the Pentax Optio S55 is a smidge larger and touts a help function to better explain its various modes and buttons without sending you to the operating manual.
The ultracompact Pentax Optio S55 is a handsome, solidly built, stylized rectangle with an aluminum exterior and a molded metallic grip. With two AA batteries installed, it weighs 6.3 ounces, a bit more than its lithium-rechargeable-using sibling, the Optio S5z. Due in part to its reliance on AA (or CRV3) batteries, the S55 has slightly larger dimensions, but even with the added thickness, it’s still easily pocketable.
The Pentax Optio S55 is no speed demon. After disabling the start-up screen, we clocked the camera’s start-up time at 4.41 seconds; shutter lag isn’t usually an issue, though it can be noticeable depending on what you’re shooting. It came in at 0.55 second in our tests. Shot-to-shot times are worse: 4.5 seconds without flash, 6.74 seconds with flash. Continuous shooting is remarkably slow and, on this camera, more about endurance than speed: you can keep shooting until your card fills up but at the less-than-blistering pace of 0.5fps and 0.67fps. This is no action cam.
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The impression I get is that the designers of the Pentax Optio S55 just wanted to see how much stuff they could cram into one camera. I have to admit it’s an impressive list, but I just wish they’d spend as much time thinking about how all those modes could actually be used. Either a much bigger mode dial or a nice integrated menu system would have made far more sense.
It’s a shame that the interface is so awful, because apart from that the S55 is quite a nice camera, although like all of Pentax’s current Optio range it is a little slow. It starts up in just under three seconds, which is a little bit on the sleepy side, and in continuous drive mode it shoots five frames in just over eight seconds, which while not embarrassingly slow, is put to shame by the rapid drive modes available on some recent rival models, such as the excellent Kodak Easyshare V550.
As a budget compact, the Optio S55 has a lot going for it, but unfortunately it is let down by image noise problems and a very confusing list of modes and options. It is rugged and well made though, so you could do worse for your winter holidays.
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In the compact Pentax Optio S55, Pentax has included a 1/2.5-inch 5.36 total megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom lens, equivalent to 35.6 - 107mm in 35mm format. Available online for as low as $212 (USD), the Optio S55 offers point-and-shoot consumers an economic, fairly nondescript alternative with some advanced features and some strong limitations. The camera is packaged in a stylized silver body and designed for ease of use. Marketed as a digital camera with “no experience required,” Pentax has applied a large 2.5-inch LCD with a magnified-text setting for increasing visibility of on-screen menus and a “Help” function in the “Auto-select” mode to help guide less knowledgeable users through the photographic process. Cased in a 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.1-inch aluminum alloy frame, the Optio S55 extends a bit thicker than some of its direct competitors. This will provide more stability than many of the S55’s counterparts, but sacrifices a bit of pocket-portability. The Optio S55 joins a dense pack of sub-$300 point-and-shoot offerings and looks to a combination of ease of use, solid build, and extra features to set it apart from the rest.
Many fundamental aspects of the Optio S55 – its size, 5 megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom lens, 115,000-pixel LCD, $250-or-so street price – are decidedly middle-of-the-road. There are loads of cameras with those specs, because many, many snapshooters will get the results they want with cameras like that. The camera is easy to use in automatic mode and built well enough to survive rough handling – if you forget about it in the bottom of your backpack for a while, it will probably emerge okay. The on-screen help features should be useful to casual users as well. Unfortunately, the S55 also contains some glaring flaws that will frustrate even the most complacent snapshooter. Pentax heavily markets the camera’s large LCD screen, omitting the fact that its quality is extremely substandard, making it difficult to accurately perceive the frame and review images. There is also no manual mode included, forcing those beginner users looking to grow into the medium to look elsewhere or buy multiple cameras. Furthermore, the S55 eats through batteries faster than any other camera that we have reviewed, and for those who like the freedom of AAs, the seemingly affordable point-and-shoot will soon become a constant cash-consumer. Therefore, those users looking to learn more about photography should look at other cameras that offer more manual control, but for the snapshooter on a tight budget, with a slight decrease in price (below $200), the S55 would be a reasonable choice.
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