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A start-up time of three seconds is nothing exceptional, but isn’t too shabby for a camera in this class. Shot-to-shot performance has never been a Pentax Optio strongpoint, and still isn’t with the S45. In continuous mode it can shoot 10 frames at full resolution in 17 seconds, and manage 13 frames at this rate before having to pause for five seconds to empty the buffer. This is fairly sluggish performance by today’s standards, and something that Pentax will need to address in the near future if its cameras are to remain competitive.
Low-light focusing has also been a problem for some previous Pentax Optio models, but this at least appears to have been markedly improved. Although the S45 has no AF illuminator it is able to focus fairly quickly in light levels that would require a shutter speed of 1/4 second at f2.6, which is fairly respectable performance.
Where the S45 scores major points is with its fantastic range of features. On the main mode dial it has the usual program AE, portrait, landscape and night scene modes, but it also has ‘pict’ mode. This has very little to do with blue-painted Scotsmen. Instead it offers a further nine picture modes, including special settings for museums, flowers, text copying, self portraits, food, surf, snow and sunsets.
If that isn’t enough, there’s also a mode dial setting with a logo of an artist’s palette. This activates the digital filter mode. As well as sepia and monochrome, the S45 also has red, green and blue colour filters, and a lovely feature first seen on the Optio 33L back in 2003. It has a selective colour filter that renders the image in monochrome except for pixels in one particular colour, either red, green or blue. This is sometimes called the ‘Schindler’s List’ effect, after the movie in which it famously appeared. The camera does this on the fly, taking just a couple of extra seconds to process the image in this mode. Check out the last page for an example of this mode. Also available are automatic panorama mode and a double exposure mode that allows you to appear in shots alongside subjects you have photographed.
In terms of image quality, the S45 is comfortably above average, although it does have some noticeable issues. Noise control is very good with only a trace of colour distortion and speckling visible at 200 ISO, and even producing useable images at 400 ISO. Colour rendition is superb, even though the test shots were taken on an overcast day.
Unfortunately the S45, or at least our test model, had some major problems with lens distortion, especially at wide angle. Only the centre part of the image was really sharp, with very visible distortion over much of the rest of the image. Check out the test shot of the red door with the hanging baskets to see this effect. If you are considering buying an S45 it might be as well to check out this issue in the store before paying.
A nicely designed and well-made budget compact camera with excellent handling and a number of useful and novel features. Shot-to-shot performance is a bit slow, but the major problem seems to be bad lens distortion, which if not corrected cripples an otherwise good camera.