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Pentax Optio V20: Affordable compact raises the game

The Pentax Optio V20 sports a 5x zoom and a large 76mm screen, which is impressive for a camera that should be pretty wallet-friendly when it debuts in April

The Pentax Optio V20 is an 8-megapixel point-and-shoot. While it isn't going to set the world alight, we like the fact that this affordable new compact camera includes a number of features that elevate it above the humdrum, and sets an example to any manufacturers thinking they can get away with stagnant design.

The headline feature on the V20 is a whopping 5x optical zoom. It's not especially wide at the wide end, with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 36mm, but that quintuple zoom goes to 180mm. This isn't the first compact to boast a 5x zoom -- it probably won't even be the only compact we see today that boasts a 5x zoom -- so we'd like to think this is a burgeoning trend in the all-too-often conservative compact market.

The V20 also sports a 76mm (3-inch) LCD screen. Bigger screens are also hot right now, and if cuddly Pentax with its friendly green modes -- photography for dummies -- and budget prices is sticking them in its affable compacts, maybe bigger zooms and screens are becoming the norm.

Equally, the usual features are given a boost: face detection is joined by one of those ridiculous smile shutters, and a slightly less silly blink detection. It would be useful if this snapped the picture only when it was sure all eyes were open, but it seems to just inform you when someone has blinked so you can have another crack.

One feature we definitely like the sound of is an automatic macro mode, which, when we think about it, sounds so simple that we wonder why it isn't on every camera everywhere. The Pentax Optio V20 will be available to our stateside cousins in May for $280, while over here it should end up well on the right side of affordable with an RRP of £165. -Rich Trenholm