Targeted primarily at casual snappers and young about-town types, the Pentax Optio LS456 is a style-driven, easy-to-use budget compact that comes boxed with a set of interchangeable front covers that allow it’s outer appearance to be personalised to your liking. Given that it retails for less than £100 it’s somewhat inevitable that a few compromises have had to be made. That said, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve and for anyone looking for a camera that’s small enough to take anywhere and which is capable of better image quality than a 5-12MP cameraphone, the LS465 still ticks most of the boxes.
At its heart the LS465 uses a 16MP sensor that is of the 1/2.3in basic CCD variety rather than the more effective backlit CMOS type. While 16MP is fast becoming the 'going rate' for many compacts (including budget models like this) it does mean that the individual light capturing diodes have to be very small and very densely packed, which in turn can lead to problems with noise at all but the lowest sensitivity settings. To this end the LS465 offers a fairly limited standard sensitivity range of ISO 64 to 1600, along with expanded sensitivity settings of ISO 3200 and 6400, both of which are captured at a reduced resolution of 7MP.
Other highlights include a 5x optical zoom that offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of 28mm to 140mm; a digital zoom feature that can extend the focal range to a maximum of 36x (albeit at the cost of fairly dreadful image quality); one-touch 720p HD movie recording at 30fps; a range of digital filters including Toy Camera, Retro and Miniturisation effects that can be applied to your images after you've captured them via the Playback menu; a 16:9 aspect LCD monitor with 230k-dot resolution; the ability to shoot in 16:9 and 1:1 aspects; and last but not least, the aforementioned set of snap-on covers that can be used to personalise the camera's appearance.
In total there are ten covers in the box. Made from strips of thin flexible plastic they range from black and white optical illusion-type covers to polka dot designs, faux retro leather, along with a couple of striped and check patterns. After some deliberation we decided to opt for the cowhide cover, for no great reason other than we thought it might keep our review sample in tune with the rural setting in which it was tested. Getting the covers on and off is all fairly straightforward; simply remove the plastic lens ring, slip your chosen cover on and snap the lens ring back into place – job done.
Of course, while personalised covers are likely to chime quite well with the LS465's target audience of youthful snappers about town, they will only be of so much appeal to everyone else. So what about the actual camera beneath them? Is the LS465 all style and no substance, or is there actually a good little camera underneath the fancy wrapping?
Well, as might be expected the LS465 is a pretty straightforward and while it does offer some useful features, at heart it's essentially a bit of a no-frills model. Exposure modes are all of the fully automatic point-and-shoot variety and extend to an Auto Picture scene-recognition mode, backed up by a Program mode and 22 individually selectable Scene modes.
Within the selection of Scene modes you’ll find an automatic HDR option along with a Miniaturisation filter that both offer easy in-camera effects without the need for a computer or any fancy image editing software. In addition to these the LS465 offers a selection of alternative digital filter effects, although you’ll need to take a regular picture first and then add the effect in afterwards via the filters option in the Playback menu.
One area where the price does lead to a compromise is in the LS465’s movie recording abilities. Unlike more expensive compacts the LS465 isn’t able to record 1080p Full HD videos, however it does offer 720p HD capture at 30fps alongside a standard definition option To make things easy there’s also a dedicated one-touch movie record button on the back of the camera so you can start shooting movies regardless of what shooting mode it’s in. It’s worth bearing in mind that any 720p HD movies recorded to the camera cannot be played directly to a HDTV using the AV Out connection, so you’ll need to transfer them to a computer first.