Looking for an easy-to-use pocket snapper with a price tag to befit an age of austerity? With credit-card-sized proportions, a lightweight yet solid build, 12.1-megapixel resolution and internally stacked 5x optical zoom, the Pentax Optio M900 appears a close rival of Nikon's . The M900 has the street price advantage at around £100, costing £50 less than the Nikon. But does that make it any better, or has performance been compromised to hit that all-important low price point?
Flesh on the bones
Whereas the Coolpix S5100 wears a jazzy metal exterior, Pentax has plumped for a more sober matte finish. The M900 is available in two colours: the black-and-chrome version of our review unit, and a more enticing burgundy red. Its aluminium skeleton is enshrouded by a thin rubber coating to aid grip, a useful feature also seen on Pentax's high-zoommodel. It's a sensible move, as there's nothing else on the camera that allows a firm hold. A rocker switch for operating the zoom is located where your thumb would otherwise comfortably rest at the back. The tactile coating also makes the camera feel less plasticky than you'd expect from a £100 snapshot.
Press the power button and the lens extends from flush with the body to its maximum wide-angle setting. A lilac light illuminates and the rear screen blinks into life. The lens is rather noisy as it travels -- in fact, it sounds disturbingly like an old man wheezing. It's no surprise, then, that the zoom rocker switch is disabled in movie mode because of the grating zoom mechanism.
Pictures are composed via a modest yet adequate 2.7-inch, 230k-resolution LCD screen, which offers a 4:3 aspect ratio and anti-reflective coating. A large rectangular shutter-release button and smaller on/off control are set into a tapered chrome strip on the top plate, which also runs down each side.
Until relatively recently, a camera in this price bracket would have been powered by two AA batteries. Instead, the M900 packs a rechargeable lithium ion cell, which has helped keep the size of the camera down. The battery is stored at the camera's base, where it snuggles next to a slot for an optional SD/SDHC media card.
A Pentax that isn't taxing
Resolution options range from 12 megapixels down to 640x480 pixels, with JPEG-compression/image-quality levels set either at 'good', 'better' or 'best'.
A simple quick-start sheet is provided out of the box, with the full user manual loaded onto the software CD (ArcSoft MediaImpression and Adobe Reader 9, both for Windows). It's lucky, then, that getting a picture out of the M900 is as simple as pointing and shooting. Pentax obviously had this in mind when they pared the camera's features right down to the basics.
There's no standard mode wheel offered, just a button marked 'scene' on the back plate. Press this, and you'll be met with an array of 20 cartoonish icons for standard shooting modes, including a 640x480-pixel video option (no HD movies here) at 30 frames per second. Otherwise, the default option is 'auto picture' mode. The user tabs through scene and subject-optimised settings via the four-way control pad just beneath the scene button. Each setting's function is highlighted in a single word as its corresponding icon is selected.