Pentax Optio S5i
Although definitely targeting snapshooters who are looking for an ultracompact and stylish camera, the Optio S5i also offers enough features to please those who will want to tweak their photos as their skills grow. Pentax couples an array of fun features with the image quality you'd expect from a 5-megapixel shooter. The chief drawbacks are a sluggish burst mode (it measures in seconds per frame rather than frames per second at full resolution), a smallish optical viewfinder that made composing images difficult, and diminutive controls that might prove awkward for those with large hands.
This Optio's sleek, textured, silver aluminum-alloy body, available in silver or indigo blue, measures just 3.3 by 2 by 0.8 inches and weighs a featherlight 4 ounces with its rechargeable lithium-ion battery and an optional SD memory card aboard. The camera ships with 10MB of internal memory, good for a mere three pictures at full resolution and minimum compression, so add an SD card to your wish list.
Its controls are logically arranged for the most part, though not always well separated: if there's a way to open the battery/memory card door without simultaneously turning the camera on, it escapes me. Atop the camera is a power switch that glows green when the camera is on and a shutter-release button. One-handed operation is awkward if you want to rest one finger on the shutter release while thumbing the back-mounted zoom rocker. The back panel is studded with no fewer than six control buttons (for macro, flash, focus/burst, playback, menu, and display options), plus a four-way cursor pad with a central Set/OK key.
You can preset the Quick button to any of 10 optional functions that you perform frequently, including switching to movie mode, activating the Mode palette, setting the white balance, formatting either the internal memory or the memory card, or resizing and trimming images. In addition, the left/right cursor arrows can be assigned a custom function, such as making exposure value (EV) adjustments. The up/down keys are permanently dedicated to activating the Mode palette (which crams all 21 available scene modes onto a single screen), and adjusting the self-timer/remote control/burst mode or choosing DPOF (digital print order format) print options.
Its 21 scene modes handle everything from fast-moving sports to underwater photography and movies (using an optional waterproof housing). They include unusual options such as 3D stereoscope photos, a posterization effect, and a "slim" effect that horizontally compresses the image to create an anamorphic look. The modes include some offbeat choices such as Food or Museum; a few genuinely useful special modes such as an action-freezing Sports mode, 3D image, and panorama; plus the usual assortment of landscape, portrait, self-portrait, surf and snow, sunset, soft-focus, and text modes.