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Although it has never been the biggest or most successful camera company in the world, Pentax has survived by specialising in particular sectors of the market and dominating those sectors with high-quality low-priced cameras. At the moment Pentax is king of two separate hills; lightweight compact digital SLRs and ultra-small high-performance compacts. In this latter category the company has a huge range of products, filling every single sub-niche of an already crowded market.
This latest model, the Optio S45, is an entry-level four megapixel model featuring a big 2.5 inch LCD monitor screen, an SMC Pentax Sliding Lens 3x optical zoom, an all-metal body and a range of fun and useful options that puts the competition to shame. It does all of this for under £125 and still manages to look good.
The S45 – and the S55 announced at the same time – is developed from the Optio S40 launched in February of last year. It shares a similarly-sized aluminium body, the same 2x AA battery power source and the same Sliding Lens System 3x zoom SMC (Super Multi Coated) Pentax optics. This lens system is one of the most widely used in the whole of digital photography. It appears on products from Casio, HP, Samsung, Ricoh and BenQ. It is lightweight, compact and efficient, and can produce some excellent results in combination with the right electronics. We’ll come to the results later, after taking a look at the camera’s overall appearance and performance.
Pentax make compact cameras in two sizes. There are the ultra-compacts like the S5i and new S5z which use small proprietary lithium-ion batteries, and then there are the slightly larger models such as the S40 and this S45 that use 2x AA batteries. Not that the S45 is in any way a large camera, in fact it is 10mm shorter, 3mm thinner and 30g lighter than the Olympus Mju 500. It is only by comparison to the tiny S5 range that it looks at all bulky.
There’s no doubt the S45 is an attractive camera, and thanks to the sandblasted matt metal finish it will stay looking good for a long time. Pentax build quality has always been good and the S45 is certainly no exception. The pressed aluminium body feels very strong, with no creaks or flexing when squeezed. Design and handling are superb, with a comfortable handgrip on the front, easy-to-use controls on the back and that huge LCD monitor. The card slot hatch is separate from the battery hatch and is latched and spring-loaded. The battery hatch is on the base of the camera, but since the tripod bush is right over on the left edge it might be possible to change batteries while the camera is fixed on a tripod.
The control interface and menu software are lifted whole from an earlier model, probably the S50, which would explain why the display mode button includes an option to turn off the LCD monitor. This would be useful on the S50, but then that model has an optical viewfinder. The S45 doesn’t, so turning off the monitor isn’t a particularly good idea.