The Pentax Optio 230 presents a friendly face to anyone who is intimidated by the world of digital photography. In fact, this compact point-and-shoot's only distinguishing digital characteristic when viewed from the front is the "2.0 Megapixel" label. But behind its traditional exterior and 3X zoom lens, the Optio 230 boasts a good variety of more advanced digital camera features. Plus, it's the only camera of its kind to throw in a free pair of 3D glasses. The Pentax Optio 230 presents a friendly face to anyone who is intimidated by the world of digital photography. In fact, this compact point-and-shoot's only distinguishing digital characteristic when viewed from the front is the "2.0 Megapixel" label. But behind its traditional exterior and 3X zoom lens, the Optio 230 boasts a good variety of more advanced digital camera features. Plus, it's the only camera of its kind to throw in a free pair of 3D glasses.
Snapshots and stereoscopics
A touch bigger than the latest crop of 2-megapixel ultracompacts, the Optio 230 is solidly built but lightweight at 8.1 ounces with the battery and the media installed. Its plastic body belies the metallic feel that's falsely promised by the camera's shiny exterior. The 230 is well designed for beginning snapshooters, from the straightforward command dial to the uncluttered interface on the camera back.
You can easily access commonly adjusted functions such as flash, self-timer, macro, and infinite focus through buttons. The camera's more advanced features require some menu surfing, but the menus are clearly labeled and easy to navigate. Beware the power button, however; it can be tripped easily while the camera rests in your bag or pocket. The camera's 1.6-inch LCD conveniently swings out 180 degrees for self-portraits, though it would be more useful if it also twisted on its axis.
The 230 limits you to automatic exposure, but it also offers more advanced options such as spot metering; uncompressed output; exposure and white-balance bracketing; and adjustable saturation, sharpness, and contrast. You don't get a lot of preset scene modes, but you do get Night Portrait (slow-sync flash) and Movie (up to 30 seconds without sound) modes, both of which are selectable via the command dial.
You also get a unique 3D image mode, but we can't imagine that you'll use it regularly. The camera ships with plastic stereoscopic 3D glasses that allow you to take advantage of the feature, which enables you to take two shots in one frame, aided by a guide for the second shot. To see the effect, you'll need to either make an 11cm print of the image or display it at just the right size on your monitor, with your face pushed up against the 3D glasses, which are in turn pushed up against the screen.
A little slow but sure
An average performer, the 230 takes about 7 seconds to start up and can be sluggish between shots in normal capture mode. The ability to take uncompressed TIFFs is a nice option on a camera in this class, but you'll need to occupy yourself somehow during the more than 20-second write time that occurs after shooting one. The LCD lacks sharpness and definition and is even more difficult to see in bright light. On the other hand, the included CR-V3 battery fared well and powered more than 70 images with frequent LCD and flash use. CR-V3s aren't rechargeable, however, so you might want to invest in a couple of AA nickel-metal-hydride batteries, which are also compatible with the camera.
The Optio 230 does reward those who wait with overall pleasing picture quality. Images are sharp with good definition, a natural color balance, and little noise. A minority of our test images did exhibit some problems, though. Artifacts were occasionally visible around the outlines of objects against bright backgrounds, and highlights were sometimes blown out. Barrel distortion was also worse than average when we shot at the wide end of the 230's 3X zoom lens, giving lines that should have been straight in our photos a noticeable curve. The 230's automatic white balance had difficulty getting good results under indoor lighting, but we were able to restore a natural color scheme with the indoor white-balance preset.