A small 4-megapixel camera indeed! Pentax combines simplicity, good image quality, and lots of useful camera controls in the tiny Optio 430. It offers easy operation to digital novices while providing more advanced shooters with lots of interesting features--all at a competitive price. A small 4-megapixel camera indeed! Pentax combines simplicity, good image quality, and lots of useful camera controls in the tiny Optio 430. It offers easy operation to digital novices while providing more advanced shooters with lots of interesting features--all at a competitive price.
With its ultracompact steel body and retractable 3X zoom lens, the Optio 430 will appeal to fans of 21st-century pop-culture designs. Although its construction gives the camera a solid feel, it weighs in at a mere 8.5 ounces with the battery and included 16MB CompactFlash card installed. Putting a steel body on such a diminutive digicam also gives it a tendency to warm up when you've been shooting for a little while--just about enough heat to serve as a hand warmer in winter but not enough to burn your fingers.
A simple mode dial encircles the Optio 430's shutter-release button, while six well-spaced and clearly marked buttons and a four-way controller provide access to the rest of the camera's features from the rear. The LCD is adequately bright, and its menus are organized clearly in plain English without cryptic symbols or initials, making it less intimidating to experiment with settings beyond the default. There's also a helpful Memory menu that lets you check off the settings that you want saved when you turn off the camera.
Pentax has supplemented the Optio 430's good selection of popular camera controls with some unusual capabilities--and we're not just talking about the alarm clock and the world time feature. A touch of the Display button overlays a dynamic histogram at the center of the viewfinder image. This useful tool provides a graphic display of the brightness levels in the image to help you get the right exposure. There's also a Multiple Exposure mode that allows you to shoot superimposed images.
Among the more typical--but equally useful--features are a quickly accessible Continuous Shooting mode and selectable auto-focus areas. Auto-bracketing is not available, but we appreciated the easy access to exposure compensation through the right and left arrows on the four-way controller. The controller also lets you change shutter speed and choose between two aperture settings when the camera is in Manual mode. With the Movie mode, you can shoot 30 seconds of silent video.
The Optio 430 performed pretty well for a little guy, with a negligible shutter lag and a relatively quick shot-to-shot time of about five seconds. But while the camera offers several focusing modes, its auto-focus is a little slow to capture moving subjects, making for occasional missed moments. The manual focus makes a surprisingly loud chugging noise when it operates and is of limited use. On a brighter note, one charge on the included lithium-ion battery will give you a reasonable amount of shots. However, if you want to take this camera out for an afternoon of steady shooting, you'll do well to bring a spare.
This little Pentax produces images that compare favorably to those produced by some of the better 4-megapixel models. But the 430's image quality isn't outstanding. Outdoors, colors are pleasing and true; indoors, low-light shots have minimal noise. We found the picture quality slightly soft, and very bright highlights tended to get blown out. On the other hand, common image flaws--such as the blooming of bright light into dark areas and purple fringing--were not strongly apparent, even in the most extreme conditions. The flash delivers ample coverage for such a small camera, though red eyes will glow brightly without the Reduction mode activated.
Sadly, the Optio has one flaw that may make fans of 4-megapixel cameras look elsewhere. Pentax offers only three quality settings (from one to three stars), all of which compress the large files this camera delivers. If there were an uncompressed setting, the largest images might not show such obvious digital artifacts. However, for those who don't want to take full advantage of the 4-megapixel potential by printing at very large sizes, this is not really a serious issue.