Pentax has made a lot of improvements in the performance of its compact cameras recently, but unfortunately the V20 seems to be something of a step backwards. The startup time is a little slow at just over three seconds, but it does shut down more quickly in just over two seconds. The performance bottleneck is once again the autofocus system, which is very slow, and as a result the shot-to-shot time in single shot mode is approximately 3.5 seconds, even shooting in good light with a high-contrast target. Continuous mode is a bit better, shooting three frames in quick succession, but for longer bursts the speed slows down to an average of approximately 1.5 seconds per shot.
The AF system is slow, but in good light it is at least very accurate, seldom missing its target. The face detection system as well is very effective in good light. In lower light conditions it performs reasonably well, better at least than some of its competitors, but the lack of an AF assist lamp means that beyond a certain point it is simply too dark for the V20 to focus, which makes it less useful than some of its rivals as a party camera.
As for image quality, here at least the V20 goes some way towards making up for its lack of features and slow performance. The lens is nice and sharp right across the frame, with particularly good corner sharpness and no noticeable chromatic aberration. There is some barrel distortion at wide angle, but it's no worse than most other pocket compacts. The level of fine detail is exceptionally good for an eight-megapixel camera, and colour reproduction is excellent. My only real criticism is that at the default settings the images appear very over-sharpened. Reducing the sharpness setting in the menu helped somewhat, but images still look over-processed.
The V20 has a small 1/2.35-inch sensor, but even so image noise is reasonably well controlled at normal ISO settings. The quality is very good at the lowest setting, and there is still a good level of detail at 400 ISO, however the noise reduction system really kicks in at 800 and above, smearing out detail and reducing overall quality. The quality is further reduced at 1600 ISO, and the reduction in image size to five megapixels at 3200 and 6400 ISO leads to very poor image quality at these settings, although overall colour balance remains reasonably consistent. Dynamic range is better than average, producing a good balance between shadow and highlight detail in high contrast shots.
The Optio V20 is an attractively designed and well made ultra-compact camera, and the 5x zoom, large wide-view monitor screen and simple control interface make it versatile and pleasant to use, although it lacks a number of useful features, including effective image stabilisation. Image quality is generally good, although the limited low-light performance is a disadvantage. The only real problem is the slow performance, and the currently high retail price, although this will most likely drop in the near future.