We associate Pentax compacts with cheery, child-like styling, but the top-of-the-range Optio A40 is striving to be taken rather more seriously. Optical image stabilisation, a 12-megapixel resolution, fast performance and excellent image quality all bolster its case -- it's still cute, though
The Pentax Optio A40 is at the top end of the company's Optio range, boasting 12 megapixels and a £185 price tag. But we still associate Pentax compacts with cheery, child-like styling and such novelties as the sound of a cat miaowing when you press a button. Can the A40 prove itself a more serious point-and-shoot?
Despite having an all-metal body in either matte black or silver, we think the A40 has a toy-like feel to its design. Even with swirly chrome accents, the rounded corners and lack of sharp edges give the camera a cheerful appearance. The controls heighten the friendly effect, with a large flat zoom rocker and chunky round buttons. The buttons all have sizeable writing on them, while the one-touch automatic mode has a big green 'press me!' button.
The monitor is the average 64mm (2.5-inch) screen. All told, the A40 weighs 150g including battery and card, and feels agreeably sturdy.
The happy toy-like feel continues with the cartoony onscreen menu icons. The menu options are clear and bright, although we felt there was possibly one too many screens to go through for shooting options.
The 3x optical zoom lens has a 35mm equivalent to 38-114mm, which isn't anything to write home about. Face detection is nothing exciting these days, but we're still pleased to see optical image stabilisation on cameras such as this.
Modes include shutter priority and (nominally) manual control. These allow you to set minimum and maximum aperture values, or choose from a range of shutter speeds from four seconds to 1/2,000 second.
The dynamic range-adjustment feature tweaks sensitivity so that detail isn't blocked out in darker areas or blown out in highlights. It can be turned off or set to weak, strong and automatic.
The A40's image quality is excellent. Colours were slightly pale, but portrait mode warmed skin tones nicely. Exposure and white balance is well handled, and we couldn't detect any distortion or purple fringing.
The A40 starts up in less than 3 seconds, and has a shot-to-shot time of less than 1.5 seconds. In burst mode, it managed 2.3 frames per second, which we were pleased with. We also like the battery life, with our testing involving more than 250 shots, including some with flash.
Dynamic range adjustment made some difference to shadow detail in high-contrast images, such as bright sky against backlit buildings. Darker areas are the most prone to noise at ISO levels above 400, but noise reduction is unobtrusive, so detail isn't smeared. Images taken at ISO 800 are really only suitable for Internet sharing, and at the maximum ISO speed of 3,200 are basically unusable.
The kiddycam styling and ordinariness of the specs make this a pricey camera at £185. The Casio Exilim EX-Z1200 looks sharper and includes more features with the same number of megapixels, while the Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS has sharper style. Still, if the price drops, and if you can cope with the cutesy looks, this friendly point-and-shoot does the business.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide