Pentax Optio S1 review

Ben Pitt
11 Aug 2011
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

A competent low-cost camera with an impressive set of features, but paying just a little more brings big benefits



1/2.3in 13.8-megapixel sensor, 5.0x zoom (28-140mm equivalent), 126g

The average person shopping for a £100 camera probably just wants three things: a brand they've heard of, a high megapixel rating and a smart design. Pentax's latest budget snapper ticks all those boxes, but it also includes a few features to impress more discerning shoppers.

There's optical stabilisation built into the sensor, which allows slower shutter speeds in low light without succumbing to camera shake. This is an essential feature these days as it helps in the battle against noise, which is so often exacerbated by high-megapixel sensors. The S1 is one of the cheapest cameras we've seen to include it.

Pentax Optio S1

The 5x optical zoom is a little better than we're used to seeing at this price, and so too is the range of photographic controls. There's a tracking option among the autofocus settings, which follows subjects as they move around the frame. The usual white balance, ISO speed and drive mode options are all present, and a custom button can be assigned to any of these functions for quick access. It's even possible to adjust the contrast, sharpness and saturation of photos.

We're really impressed to see 720p HD video capture at this price. It's not the best ever example – focus and optical zoom are locked while recording, there was quite a lot of image noise and the Motion JPEG format gobbles up memory card capacity – but videos were still a vast improvement over the VGA clips from most sub-£100 cameras.

Photo quality was also better than most cameras in this price range can manage. Digital processing took care of lens distortions, and was applied to photos, videos and the live preview – the only evidence of its existence was that it isn't applied while the zoom is being adjusted. The automatic white balance was sometimes fooled by scenes with a dominant colour, though. For example, the camera mistook a green lawn for a green colour cast, and tried to fix it by giving photos a purple tint.

Pentax Optio S1 sample 3

Occasionally, the white balance made some comically bad errors

Details were crisp, without resorting to the excessive digital sharpening we saw from Pentax's last budget camera, the RS1500. Colours in bright conditions were smooth, with little sign of noise, but they weren't quite as smooth as from our current favourite budget camera, the Canon PowerShot A3200 IS.