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Pentax Optio S55 review: Pentax Optio S55

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The Good Attractive design. Easy-to-pocket ultracompact. Large display. Can shoot low-res 30fps movie clips limited only by size of SD/MMC card. In-camera help function. Can apply filters to photos after capture.

The Bad Sluggish shot-to-shot and continuous shooting. Output not terribly sharp. Movie clips are 320x240 max. Tendency toward slight underexposure.

The Bottom Line The Pentax Optio S55 is a fun ultracompact camera with some handy features, but the camera's slow continuous shooting and inconsistent image quality might compromise your enjoyment.

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Pentax currently has a slew of 5-megapixel cameras on the shelves. Among them is the Pentax Optio S55, an ultracompact model with a 3X zoom, tailored slightly more toward the novice than the company's S5z. Though remarkably similar to that model, the Pentax Optio S55 is a smidge larger and touts a help function to better explain its various modes and buttons without sending you to the operating manual. Like the S5z, the Optio S55 offers a large 2.5-inch LCD, point-and-shoot simplicity, and a 30 frames-per-second (fps) movie mode limited only by the capacity of your camera's memory card. Some features -- a maximum movie resolution of only 320x240, for instance -- are less impressive than the S5z's, and the S55 retails for AU$100 less. This Optio offers slightly more than point-and-shoot control, and while its image quality won't wow most judges, it usually produces pleasing photos.

Design
The ultracompact Pentax Optio S55 is a handsome, solidly built, stylised rectangle with an aluminum exterior and a molded metallic grip. With two AA batteries installed, it weighs 185 grams, a bit more than its lithium-rechargeable-using sibling, the Optio S5z. Due in part to its reliance on AA (or CRV3) batteries, the S55 has slightly larger dimensions, but even with the added thickness, it's still easily pocketable.

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The mode dial next to the large shutter-release button lets you select photo-capture modes as well as voice and video recording.
The basic control layout is logical and intuitive. We like the large shutter release on top of the camera and the small but easily adjustable command dial next to it, which lets you choose from seven photo-shooting settings as well as movie capture and audio recording. The power button sits flush in the middle of the command dial, where you aren't likely to accidentally push it.

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Two buttons above the LCD let you delete photos and change the information display.

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The four-way controller lets you navigate menus and provides direct access to a few features, including continuous-shooting mode, flash settings and focus modes.
Unfortunately, some of the icons on this Optio can be confusing. A green smiley face represents the fully automatic Auto Select mode, and the letters Pict designate something called Picture mode. Further investigation reveals that Pict provides access to nine additional, menu-selectable scene modes, such as Flower and Food. While in the Auto Select (smiley-face) mode, the camera offers access to a beginner's help function, in which pushing a tiny button labelled with a question mark provides explanations for the various settings and buttons. You'll need to spend some time with the manual just to know how to use that help function, but it's a handy tool for refreshing your memory.

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The zoom toggle and the buttons for playback and help are on the back of the camera.
Various buttons on the camera's back provide dedicated menu shortcuts. Some (flash, focus mode) are clearly marked, while others (exposure compensation, image size and quality) require pushing the mysterious question mark first. Once you know what you're doing, however, the system is convenient. The menus are clearly labelled, and you can zoom in to magnify the text on the spacious 2.5-inch LCD -- a boon for those who have trouble remembering their reading glasses.

Features
The Pentax Optio S55 doesn't allow much photographic control: you cannot manually adjust shutter speed or aperture. You can, however, adjust exposure compensation (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments) and bump sharpness, colour saturation, and contrast up or down. You can also choose from three preset scene modes on the command dial or nine additional scenes in Picture mode. The camera has manual focus, but using the focus-range indicator is usually more effective than trying to determine focus through the monitor.

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While no SD/MMC memory card ships with the camera, the Optio S55 does have 11MB of internal memory.

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