The model 50 is the 14th camera to be launched in Pentax’s Optio digital range and with prices going down, and features going up, it offers a glimpse of the tough competition other manufactures will face in the second half of 2005 and the Christmas run.
Currently the Optio 50 is the second cheapest camera in the 5.0Megapixel band available from online camera retailers pixmania.com, knocked from the top spot, by a measly £3, by Olympus’s Camedia C-180.
For those with a functioning knowledge of the current Optio range the model 50, closely resembles the S50, launched in Autumn 2004, In fact if you pull up a comparison of the camera’s specifications that even though the 50 is almost £30 cheaper, both cameras are virtually identical.
This newer, cheaper, model would seems aimed at the beginner who wants quality combined with functional simplicity, without breaking the bank to get it. The body is predominantly silver plastic, with a strip of metal flashing on the top edge by the main command-dial and the shutter release. The overall dimensions, 61mm height x 27mm wide x 91mm long, are only a few millimetres different to the S50 and the weights are identical at 130g. Power comes from 2 AA batteries, further indicating the camera’s targeting at an audience who want to be able to change batteries wherever they are without the pain of re-chargable lithium-ion’s. It simultaneously reduces production cost as expensive batteries, chargers and cables don’t have to be included - you’re expected to get those yourself, and if you’re upgrading, you’ll already have a set. We’ve also got to be grateful that it uses an even number of cells, so any multipack you buy on the road will divide up nicely.
Another indicator of the camera’s intended audience is the inbuilt 12Mb memory. Pentax, as well as other manufactures, seem to offer this in a lot more of their recent cameras. The Optio 50’s internal flash memory can store about 16, 1.2Mb 3star quality shots. That’s a nifty amount, especially if, like me, you have loads of different SD cards knocking around your desk and can’t find any of them when you need to. Once an SD card can be located, and inserted in the slot next to the batteries, the camera automatically switches from the internal memory to the card. This can be a little confusing when you come to view images back again, as the pictures stored on the internal memory can only be accessed by popping the SD card out.
The lens is of standard Pentax design, complete the with the ‘eye-lid’ style parting lens covers that can get dislodged, if the lens barrel is knocked in a bag, although that happened on a previous model. The lens its self offers a respectable 3x optical zoom with a 4x digital booster, an improvement over the S50 which only offered a x2.6 digital zoom and although the apertures on both models are identical, f2.8 - f4.8, the focal length of the model 50 lens offers a little more zoom and a little less telephoto that the S50.
Camera functions themselves have been kept very simple. The command-dial on the top of the camera offers 8 options, two primary shooting modes with 4 additional pre-sets (landscape, portrait, sports and night time) one set-up menu and a movies option, with the power button located in the centre. The core shooting modes, ‘Simple’ and ‘Program’, are billed as being different, but with no dedicated aperture or shutter speed control available both ‘P’ and ‘S’ are effectively the same. The supposed advantage of the ‘S’ mode is that the camera will alter the settings to suit the environment, although in practice this happens just as well in the ‘P’ as to make the settings interchangeable. The presets are exactly as they describe themselves. And the movies are recorded in .mov format with sound, the resolution sits at a ‘slimline’ 320x240 but at 20fps shooting speed you get a viewable end result. The set-up menus on the command-dial relate to the camera inner-functions, such as date and time and card formatting, while the menu button, on the camera’s reverse, allows calibration of function such as resolution of image, ranging from 0.3Mpixels (640x480) up to the full 5Mpixels (2560x1920).
Gripes, well the low-light AF still needs working on. Much like the Optio WP, reviewed earlier in the year, the Optio 50 lacks a AF assist-light which means that even in quite well lit location the cameras simply cannot pull and lock focus. The AE works well enough but as you’ll see, in one of the test shots, in bright direct light the TTL multi-segment metering censor can get overloaded, resulting in overexposed images. The battery power indicator also needs work. In the course of the review I changed batteries 3 times, this wasn’t to do with poor power consumption, but more to do with the batteries that I inserted not having their current power levels clearly illustrated on the 1.8” preview screen, on two separate occasions the camera ceased to function due to the batteries running out without adequate prior warning.
Overall the Optio 50 is an opportunity to own a camera with respectable resolution for around £100. The functionality is ‘wholesome' without being over complicated and the Optio 50 would make an ideal first time camera for a novice or someone wanting to move to digital from film. The included ‘PictBridge' technology means that users can direct-print, without the need for a PC, further strengthening the camera's position as a stand-alone technology, ideal for those who want to dabble without having to commit to further expensive purchases.