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The problem is that there are far too many options, and they are all accessed in different ways. For instance, the main mode dial has settings for portrait, landscape and night scene photography, as one might expect. However set the main dial to “Pict” mode, press the OK button and you’re presented with nine options including landscape portrait, self portrait, sunset, beach and snow.
Set the main dial to the icon of an artist’s palette and you get a variety of colour filter options, as well as panorama stitching and two-in-one group portrait function. On top of that there’s a standard program auto mode, but also the “green smiley” mode, a simplified auto-everything option that bypasses all the manual controls and automatically selects the best mode for the conditions.
The impression I get is that the designers of the S55 just wanted to see how much stuff they could cram into one camera. I have to admit it’s an impressive list, but I just wish they’d spend as much time thinking about how all those modes could actually be used. Either a much bigger mode dial or a nice integrated menu system would have made far more sense.
It’s a shame that the interface is so awful, because apart from that the S55 is quite a nice camera, although like all of Pentax’s current Optio range it is a little slow. It starts up in just under three seconds, which is a little bit on the sleepy side, and in continuous drive mode it shoots five frames in just over eight seconds, which while not embarrassingly slow, is put to shame by the rapid drive modes available on some recent rival models, such as the excellent Kodak V550.
The plethora of modes and options listed above at least offer some versatility, and it has some features that are a lot of fun to play with, such as colour mask filters that shoot a black and white picture but with one primary (red, green or blue) in colour. Unfortunately the S55 lacks a real manual mode, but the “Fn” button does allow rapid access to exposure compensation, so some quick creative control is available.