Pentax's Optio range has offered increasingly good value and steady, consistent performance, even if it hasn't always boasted the talking points and gimmicks of other brands -- and curiously, when it has attempted to do so, with rotating or waterproofed bodies, it's come across more as dipping a hesitant toe in the water rather than making a concerted effort.
The Optio E40, however, looks and feels like a no-nonsense proposition -- 8 megapixels, face priority and a 3x optical zoom for under £100. Where can it possibly go wrong?
The fact that the E40 is powered by two alkaline AAs has meant
that the body is slightly wider than many 8-megapixel rivals -- but then the likes of Panasonic's FX55 or Casio S880 cost almost three times as much. In fact, this has meant a subtly curved grip to one side that makes it easier to maintain a firm hold and avoid camera shake. There's also digital shake reduction offered -- with light sensitivity boosted up to an equivalent ISO 1,000. The plastic build may be immediately noticeable, but again, at this price it's forgivable.
As you'd expect, the E40's control layout is simplicity itself. The main shutter button is large and springy to the touch and the on/off button equally round and obvious. Give it a press and the stubby lens extends from the body and the 61mm (2.4-inch) LCD screen kicks into action -- a process that lasts a leisurely 2-3 seconds. However, the E40 is quick to determine focus and exposure, any shutter delay is slight, white balance is accurate and you can commit up to three highest-resolution JPEGs to memory before the buffer clogs up.
Like Panasonic's new intelligent auto mode, the Pentax's 'auto picture' option automatically determines whether a shot works better in landscape, portrait, night scene or normal setting. This happens with a single press of the green (read: easy) mode button that usefully doubles up as a delete button in playback mode. Though the zoom buzzes like a gnat, it's reasonably zippy and smooth when in use.
Unlike many cheaper snapshots, a press of the menu button allows the manual selection of ISO sensitivity, sharpness, saturation and contrast, and battery life is also surprisingly good. Whereas early digital compacts would eat through two AAs in five minutes, the Pentax's supply is good for up to 240 shots.