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Pentax has pretty much reinvented itself over the past few years. There’s no doubt that the company has invested a huge amount of time and resource into the design of its latest camera range, and you’d be hard pushed to find compact digital cameras that look more appealing than the latest Optios. I suspect that it’s no coincidence that the Optio SV in my hand reminds me of the Canon Digital Ixus 500 that I reviewed last year, and if you place the two cameras next to each other, you’ll see that they sport almost identical dimensions.
It’s not just the dimensions of the Optio SV that remind me of the Ixus 500, the specs are very similar too, with a five megapixel CCD – although the maximum image resolution is slightly lower at 2,560 x 1,920. But where the Optio SV does have the edge over its rival is in the optical zoom department. Whereas the Ixus 500 has a 3x optical zoom, Pentax has managed to squeeze a 5x optical zoom into the Optio SV – that’s equivalent to 36mm – 180mm in 35mm language. Pentax attributes this feat to its newly designed “Sliding-Lens Technology”, but marketing babble aside, having a 5x optical zoom in a camera this small is definitely a bonus. There’s also a 4x digital zoom, but I’d never recommend anyone to use a digital zoom – you’re better off cropping and zooming in Photoshop later.
OK, so I’ve mentioned that the Optio SV is very similar to the Ixus 500, and I’ve covered its impressive zoom lens, but what else does it have to offer? Well, like any good compact camera, the Optio SV feels great in the hand. The whole body is constructed from brushed aluminium, and as a result, it feels reassuringly cold to the touch. However, Pentax is also aware that aluminium is slippery, so it has strategically placed rubber strips at the front and rear of the body to ensure a solid purchase.
The rear of the Optio SV is dominated by the 1.8in LCD viewfinder screen – it is noticeably larger than the 1.5in screen on the Ixus 500. The LCD screen is superb, and there’s not a single hint of lag when you’re panning around, making it easy to catch those fleeting moments and immortalise them. You can choose how much information you want displayed on the LCD while you’re framing your shot – you can have anything from no info at all, to pretty much every possible setting visible while you’re shooting.
Pressing the Fn button, below the screen, overlays a four-way menu on the viewfinder. By default, pressing up takes you to image resolution adjustment, pressing down takes you to image quality adjustment, pressing left takes you to white balance adjustment and finally pressing right allows you to change the auto-focus area. However, you can manually assign different functions to different directions on the Fn menu – you could for example choose to change the resolution setting to ISO selection.
The other button below the screen is the Menu button, which unsurprisingly takes you into the extensive settings menus. Here you’ll gain access to everything you need in order to customise the Optio SV to your own needs.
To the right of the screen is a four-way rocker switch, which allows you to navigate the menus – at the centre of the rocker switch is the OK button for making selections. There are three buttons above the rocker switch. The first button cycles through self timer and remote control modes, as well as burst mode – the self timer can be set to either 10 seconds or two seconds, while the infrared remote control shutter release is an optional extra.