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Pentax Optio S50 review: Pentax Optio S50

With 10 selectable scene modes and dial settings for digital effects, portrait photos, night shots, and landscapes, the S50's feature set won't bowl anyone over but goes toe-to-toe with most entry-level snapshot cameras. We appreciate the inclusion of a continuous-shooting mode, even one that lags considerably at 2 seconds per frame; for a more seamless effect, the S50 also captures 320x200 AVI video at 30fps for a duration limited only by the capacity of your SD media card. Vacation photographers will like the 3X-zooming lens's middle-of-the-road focal range of 35.6mm to 107mm (35mm equivalent).

In CNET's tests, the Pentax Optio S50 logged shutter-lag times of 0.5 second in the best case and 0.9 second in the worst case; these are average but not great numbers for a snapshot camera. In practice--or more accurately, at a peewee football game--the S50's performance was simply frustrating. We would frequently press the shutter release with our running subject framed in the center of the scene, only to find that the photo showed only a foot exiting the right side. The camera's lag was significant enough that even attempting to lead our young wide receiver by snapping the photo ahead of time could not produce consistent results, and with the S50's poor shot-to-shot time of 3.5 seconds, we often didn't have the opportunity for a second-chance shot. Given the capricious nature of children as photographic subjects, parents may want to look elsewhere for a camera less apt to miss precious moments.

When we managed to get the shots we wanted, the Pentax Optio S50 produced pleasing results. Despite higher-than-average noise even at low ISO-sensitivity levels, most photos were evenly exposed and showed good dynamic range. Colors were neutral rather than oversaturated, and though they tended to look a bit cool indoors, we achieved more vivid results in daylight. We were a bit disappointed by the S50's weak low-light performance, though underpowered flashes aren't uncommon among smaller point-and-shoot cameras. The S50 captures details sharply and crisply, though the lens blurs objects along the left of the frame. While the S50's photo quality is certainly less of a mixed bag than its performance, only photographers with the most stationary of subjects should consider it as a first option.

Shooting speed
Measured in seconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Time to first shot  
Canon PowerShot SD20
2.8 
0.8 
3.0 
Nikon Coolpix 5200
1.8 
0.7 
4.6 
Pentax Optio S50
3.5 
0.5 
4.6 
Pentax Optio SV
4.45 
0.9 
6.2 
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-P93
2.5 
0.5 
2.6 


Continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Frames per second   


Battery life
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Number of shots  
Canon PowerShot SD20
467 (600mAh LiIon)  
Nikon Coolpix 5200
483 (1,100mAh LiIon)  
Pentax Optio S50
760 (two 1,850mAh NiMH)  
Pentax Optio SV
464 (710mAh lithium-ion)  
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-P93
931 (two 1,850mAh NiMH) 

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