Pentax Optio VS20 review
1/2.33in 15.9-megapixel sensor, 20.0x zoom (28-560mm equivalent), 191g
It's not often that we see a camera with a groundbreaking design, but the VS20 is exactly that. It has two shutter buttons, each with a zoom lever encircling it. One is in the usual place on top of the camera, while the other is on the right edge when viewed from the back. It's designed for more comfortable operation when shooting in portrait orientation. It's a common feature on professional and semi-pro SLRs – often in the form of an optional battery-grip unit – but this is the first time we've seen it in a compact camera. Pentax has seen the concept through, with an additional tripod thread for portrait shooting. On-screen information is automatically reoriented, but menus always remain in landscape orientation.
Sadly, this camera isn't the ergonomic triumph we'd hoped for. When shooting in landscape orientation, the area below the shutter button gives plenty to hold onto, and the various buttons fall under the thumb. However, when we switched to portrait orientation and the alternative shutter button, the natural tendency was to hold the camera in such a way that the lower part of our thumb obscured the screen. We could avoid this when holding the camera with two hands but it still wasn't particularly comfortable and made the buttons hard to reach.
After a bad start, the VS20 continued by piling on the disappointments. The plastic body looks cheap, and at 39mm deep, it's much chunkier than other big-zoom compacts such as the excellent Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. A promotional sticker was attached to the front of the model we tested, and removing it left an aggravating sticky residue.
The controls are basic, with most functions only accessible via the main menu. It's an odd selection of photographic functions, with exposure bracketing but no manual exposure control or metering modes. It is possible to control the range of the Auto ISO mode, though, and there's a customisable button that can be assigned to exposure compensation, ISO speed or resolution. Performance is pedestrian, taking 2.5 seconds to switch on and shoot, and over three seconds between shots. The screen was blank for most of these three seconds, so when the shot needed to be recomposed, we were further delayed. Flash photography shots were up to 10 seconds apart.