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Although the S5n has no manual exposure controls it does have several menu options that will help with creative photography, including a live histogram, a display option that superimposes a rule-of-thirds composition grid over the scene, and adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness. The focus area can be manually controlled and moved to any position in the frame, and by pressing the Mode button you can access 16 different special scene modes, including the usual landscape, night scene, sports and portrait modes, as well as special settings for flowers, self-portraits, sunsets, food, pets, text copying, and beach/snow scenes.
There is also a User mode, in which you can pre-set any menu function. In addition to this there are various special effect options, including posterisation, soft focus and a unique setting that allows you to stretch the image vertically or horizontally, for hilarious “hall-of-mirrors” effects. Further effects can be applied to images in playback mode, including resizing, cropping, copying, colour filters and brightness adjustment. It also has built-in movie editing and audio captioning. This is one of the most complete sets of options on any camera in this class.
Apart from the aforementioned differences, the S5n is very similar to the S5i in terms of both performance and results. The camera starts up in approximately three seconds, and in continuous shooting mode it can capture approximately one shot every two seconds at maximum quality. This isn’t particularly fast, but it will keep shooting until the memory card is full. Lowering the image quality slightly increases the shooting rate to about one shot a second.
The autofocus system is extremely quick so there is no appreciable shutter lag, and thanks the AF illuminator it can focus in complete darkness up to a few metres. One big improvement over the S5i is the movie mode. The S5n can shoot at 640 x 480 pixel resolution at 30fps with audio, which twice the speed and four times the size of the earlier model, and is as good as anything else on the market.
The Optio S5i has an excellent reputation for image quality and is a tough act to follow - however the S5n manages to slightly better its sibling thanks mainly to improved noise control. Shooting at the lowest setting of 80 ISO there was no visible noise and all the images had a very high level of detail. Even at the maximum 400 ISO setting image noise was kept to a minimum, although the noise reduction process did result in some loss of fine detail.
Overall image quality is extremely good, with superb natural colour reproduction, consistently accurate exposure and minimal lens distortion. The Pentax Sliding Lens System, although an admirable piece of optical engineering, does have something of a reputation for barrel distortion and corner blurring at the wide angle setting, however it looks like some improvements have been made this time around because these problems appear to have been all but eliminated. Another problem which plagues many high-performance cameras, the dreaded purple fringe, is also thankfully kept to an almost invisible minimum.
The Optio S5n is a third-generation product, building on a very successful line of cameras, and is certainly one of the best ultra-compacts on the market. It is extremely well made, has a long list of useful and entertaining functions, superb handling and image quality, and it even looks nice. It’s not the cheapest in its class, but you’re getting a lot of camera for your money, and in a very small package.