Image stabilisation is certainly a useful feature, but on a 3x zoom camera it's not vital, and the S12 makes up for its lack in other ways. As I've mentioned, the design of the body is virtually unchanged from earlier models in the series. Although the S12 is a very small and slim camera it is surprisingly easy to handle and the combination of the subtly textured surface and the raised detail on the front make it easy to grip securely. The simple control layout leaves plenty of room on the back for your thumb, with a small row of raised dots providing a little extra purchase. The controls themselves are small but well spaced and easy to operate, with a nice firm positive action. The zoom control is quick and responsive, but the six steps between minimum and maximum zoom make it difficult to frame shots accurately.
The S12 is a relatively straightforward point-and-shoot compact, but it still has quite a bit of versatility to offer. Like most of Pentax's compact camera range it has two main shooting modes, an Auto Picture mode in which the camera automatically selects the best scene program for the particular circumstances and many of the menu options are disabled, and a Program mode, in which scene programs can be manually selected, along with a small but useful selection of other options, including wide area, centre spot or subject-tracking autofocus, multi-segment, centre-weighted or spot exposure metering, and adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness. There are several drive options as well, including multi-exposure and the facility to use an optional remote control.
The only new feature on the S12 is a dynamic range adjustment option, a feature which is appearing on a lot of recent high-resolution compacts, in an effort to counteract the inherent DR limitations of small, crowded sensors. IN this case it has four settings; off, weak, strong and automatic. Like most such systems it works by darkening highlights and brightening shadows, and as in many other cases this can result in increased image noise in darker areas of the image. However left in automatic mode it copes reasonably well, and picture quality doesn't suffer noticeably in most cases.
The main menu is nice and simple, with just six screens divided into two sections, one for recording options and the other for basic setup. One feature I particularly like is the customisable green function button. A useful array of options can be assigned to the function menu, speeding up camera operation for frequently-used options.
As well as the main menu there is the Mode menu. In shooting mode this accesses the scene programs, as well as the video and sound recording modes. There are 11 main scene programs, but several of these has sub-options, for instance the text mode has monochrome or colour modes, as well as negative modes and adjustable contrast. One amusing option is the pets mode, which has options for light, medium or dark coloured pets, as well as separate setting for cats and dogs. These are of course exactly the same, just with different icons. Of course the much-loved frame composite mode is still an option, and the three superimposed frames are just as hilariously awful as ever.
There are several options in playback mode too, including colour filters, a selection of digital effects, red-eye correction and adjustable brightness, as well as the usual options of cropping, rotation and resizing.