Tiny, shiny and sensibly priced at around £100, the Pentax Optio S1 seems -- in theory, at least -- like an all-round attractive budget option. So how does it measure up in practice?
With the Optio S1, Pentax pulls off a clever trick by building a budget compact that doesn't necessarily look like it's a budget compact. The S1's simple yet effective design results in a small, glossy-looking device that, at only 20mm deep, will happily slink its way into a pocket or handbag without weighing you down. The camera comes in four colours, including an all-black model as well as chrome, turquoise and fiery red variants.
Simplicity extends to its controls, where a minimal selection of buttons and some straightforward menu screens provide access to the device's functions. The interface uses a familiar cursor-pad navigation scheme and menu options are abridged if you choose the Auto Picture mode, which bravely attempts to adapt the camera's settings automatically to suit your subject.
That's not to say that user-selectable options are limited. In fact, there's a relatively rich selection of shooting preferences to play with. Tap the Mode button and you can switch to Program, which un-greys-out all those useful menu settings for you. Alternatively, choose from one of the many other modes. These range from the usual suspects, such as portrait and pet modes, to high dynamic range or miniaturisation effects and a mode that's specifically for capturing text.
The Pentax Optio S1 isn't let down by a second-rate spec list either. The sensor's 14-megapixel resolution is well in line with cameras of double the S1's cost and the 5x optical zoom lens, with a focal length of 28mm to 140mm, is pretty good for the price too. High-definition video recording is also available, though only at 720p, and the camera lacks an HDMI port for direct connection to an HD television set.
Taking the shine off
A few hours of practical use reveals the S1's first obvious flaw. The shiny body is, somewhat predictably, a magnet for fingerprints and it doesn't take long for the whole surface to become a big smeary mess. This can, of course, be easily cured by rubbing the camera on your shirt or by wearing surgical rubber gloves wherever you go, like some kind of serial killer. Cosmetics aside, we also found that the small buttons can be a little fiddly for the more sausage-fingered among us to operate comfortably.