On the down side, the SVi has a rather disappointing movie mode. It can shoot relatively small 320 x 240 pixel AVI movies at 30 frames per second with audio, with clip duration from one second up to the capacity of the SD memory card. Full VGA resolution would have been better, and the fact that the zoom lens cannot be used while recording is also a drawback. Considering the advanced movie modes available on some rival models, this is something else that Pentax needs to address in its next generation of Optio models.
Of course there’s not much point having lots of nice creative features if you don’t have the picture quality to back them up, but here the Optio SVi scores major points. In every circumstance it turned in nothing but superb top-quality pictures, both social snapshots and artistic photography. Colour rendition was perfect, as were exposure and focusing, all of which coped well with a wide variety of lighting conditions.
Pentax’s compact lens systems, particularly the 3x zoom Sliding Lens System found on a lot of sub-compact cameras, have been criticised for producing significant distortion at wide angle settings, but the is no such problem with the 5x zoom lens on the SVi. Whether wide-angle or full telephoto, images were extremely sharp across the entire frame. There was a little purple fringing visible on some very high contrast shots, but it was minimal and not enough to cause a significant problem. Noise control was also extremely good, with no real noise appearing on shots up to 200 ISO, although there was a fair bit of it visible in 400 ISO shots. Indoor flash performance was very good, with an effective range of around four metres.
Battery life appears to be very good, although the camera is powered by the same 710mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery as the S5 range, which might be a bit small considering the extra work it has to do in the SVi. Nonetheless, it held out for two days of heavy use without a recharge, so maybe it’s tougher than it looks.
An excellent photographer’s camera at a very reasonable price – the SVi has a lot of creative versatility and the image quality to back it up. Superb build quality, nice handling and an attractive design make it an outstanding all-round camera, especially for the more ambitious photographer or newcomer who wants a camera that will let them learn. Very slow start-up, sluggish performance and slow autofocus system are handicaps however.