Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
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.
On the negative side the budget pricing has meant you get a plastic body and no SD card supplied, while power comes courtesy of those two bog-standard AAs -- but you get what you pay for, and with the Optio E40 you ain't paying much.
Image colours are naturalistic and there's a reasonable amount of shadow detail captured, with the camera underexposing to preserve this. Though this means certain shots benefit from an application of Levels in Photoshop, there's also a range of in-camera editing effects for novices.
Unsurprisingly there's pixel fringing evident between areas of high contrast, but it's no better or worse an offender than many. Similarly, while images at ISO 1,000 are grainy, noise is reasonably well controlled and doesn't render shots throwaway. All in all, this is a respectable performance for the price.
The E40 looks and feels like a budget model, but that's exactly what it is, at around £100. Having said that, its performance is on a par with, or betters, some 8-megapixel models costing twice as much.
So if you can live with the plastic and those AAs -- or indeed consider the latter an advantage -- and aren't bothered about two many bells and whistles, then the E40 is the very definition of a best buy for the undemanding user or digital virgin.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire