Pentax Optio S40 review: Pentax Optio S40

There's also a Two-In-One multiple-exposure mode that slices the frame in half and lets you expose each half separately, and a Panorama Assist mode that stitches a series of pictures together vertically or horizontally. A little fine-tuning is available, including manual adjustments for sharpness, saturation, and contrast, along with eight color and black-and-white effects. The 3X zoom lens has a range equivalent to 35mm to 105mm on a 35mm camera, and this Pentax's close-up capabilities really shine. Its autofocus system takes you down to 7 inches in Macro mode at any zoom setting and as close as 2.4 inches in Super Macro or Manual Focus mode. When you focus manually, the Optio S40 enlarges the center portion of the image on the LCD, a distance-scale bar appears, and you can adjust focus by pressing the four-way controller's up and down arrows.

Another useful feature is the ability to resize pictures to a lower resolution or to crop excess image area, then save the slimmer picture as a new file. You can also replace the original shot to stretch the storage space in the Optio S40's 11MB of built-in memory or SD/MMC memory card.

The camera's movie and sound capabilities are a mixed bag. It can record AVI clips (limited to 320x240 pixels) at a smooth 30 frames per second (fps) for as long as your memory card holds out. Sound on the clips is tinny but serviceable. A separate mode lets the camera double as a voice recorder, and you can also add voice memos up to 30 seconds in length to each picture.

Those who want to put themselves in the picture will like one of the two optional wireless remote controls, including a deluxe model that can activate the camera's zoom as well as the shutter release and the self-timer.

You can power the camera with rechargeable AA batteries or a CR-V3 lithium battery.

The tiny viewfinder and the relatively small LCD don't provide a very good view, especially in bright light.

Most of the Pentax Optio S40's performance figures were mediocre at best. The time from wake-up to first shot was a middle-of-the-road 4.69 seconds, and the shot-to-shot times of about 4.5 seconds (7 seconds with flash) seemed even longer during fast-moving action. The burst mode let us take 35 pictures at full resolution at a poky 0.5fps, but we managed to fill up a memory card with 512 shots in a little less than 10 shutter-finger-numbing minutes at minimum resolution and maximum compression.

The non-light-assisted autofocus was zippy enough to clip shutter lag down to 0.6 second under contrasty lighting conditions, but the delay doubled to 1.2 seconds under more difficult low-contrast illumination.

Viewing ease isn't one of this camera's strengths. To frame a shot, you must choose between a bright optical viewfinder that shows only about 80 percent of your image in a tiny, inaccurate window, and a 1.6-inch LCD that washes out in sunlight, even at the highest user-adjustable brightness setting. Indoors, you'll probably opt for the LCD, which shows 100 percent of the picture, but outside you may end up making the best of the microscopic optical window and wishing you had access to the bigger LCD view.

The Pentax Optio S40 didn't impress us with its average image quality. Although exposures were generally good, we frequently got underexposures with flash, and red eyes were often a problem, even with the Optio's red-eye-protection feature activated. We noticed a slight bluish cast to some pictures, and shadow detail was generally not as good as we would have liked. Highlights, however, tended not to blow out, and overall sharpness was good. We unfortunately encountered several clusters of dead pixels in our review unit, so do a little quality-control check on your images while your warranty is in effect.