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Pentax Optio S45 review: Pentax Optio S45

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The Good Ultracompact and portable; attractive design; large LCD; onboard help; settings can be saved; decent image quality.

The Bad Sluggish performance; slightly soft images; some features too well hidden.

The Bottom Line The Pentax Optio S45 produces decent snaps, but its sluggish performance puts a damper on an otherwise useful little camera.

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6.0 Overall

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The 4-megapixel sibling of Pentax's 5-megapixel Optio S55, the Pentax Optio S45 offers the same ultracompact body, large LCD, 3X optical zoom, and streamlined feature set as its predecessor. It also has a number of helpful and fun features that aren't as easy to find as they could be, so you'll need to read the manual to acquaint yourself with everything this camera can do. But for out-of-the-box use, the Optio S45 is snapshot simple.

There's a price to pay for an ultracompact body outfitted with a large LCD: small external controls. We've seen less manageable buttons and dials, but aside from pressing the huge shutter button, you'll need relatively small hands to operate the Pentax Optio S45 comfortably. However, the camera's pocketable size and light weight--6.3 ounces with two AA batteries and an SD/MMC card (not included)--will appeal to people on the go.

Although the control layout is fairly standard, the mode dial has a couple of settings that will be clear only to those who read the manual or are willing to explore on their own. As expected, the Pentax Optio S45 has a nice variety of scene modes, some of which can be accessed via the mode dial. The other scene modes, however, are well hidden in Pict mode. A few other features are equally enigmatic, including the onboard help, accessible only in the ultrasimple Green Mode indicated by a smiley-face icon.

Strictly designed for the snapshot crowd, the Pentax Optio S45 offers little in the way of exposure control other than exposure compensation. But there's a manual white-balance option and three-step control over sharpness, contrast, and saturation; these settings can be changed via the camera's clear menu system. A Function button provides quick onscreen access to resolution, compression, and exposure compensation settings, and it doubles as the help button in Green Mode, but there's not much more capture control. Two autofocus options (spot and multi-area), fun digital effects, easy resizing and copying from internal memory to SD/MMC media, and a low-resolution movie mode with sound round out the camera's feature set.

Aside from its minimal shutter lag in bright light and its smooth-moving 3X zoom lens (35.6mm to 107mm, 35mm-camera equivalent), the Pentax Optio S45 is incredibly slow. Even the continuous-shooting mode plods along at about 0.7fps at best, and the camera takes almost 5 seconds to go from start-up to first shot.

Good but not great test shots were the norm for the Pentax Optio S45. Colors were generally accurate and well saturated, but transitions between colors were less than smooth. While the camera did a decent enough job focusing, many of our images were softer than they should have been, especially at full telephoto. We noticed some purple fringing along high-contrast edges but nothing extreme. All in all, the Pentax Optio S45 will produce more than acceptable snapshot-size prints.

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