The RS1000's overall performance is surprisingly good by budget compact standards. It starts up and can take a picture in comfortably under three seconds, and has a consistent shot-to-shot time of 2.7 seconds in single-shot mode. In continuous mode it shoots three frames in just under three seconds, but after that it slows down to one shot every 2.7 seconds. It has a high-speed continuous shooting mode that can shoot at three frames a second, but only at five megapixel resolution, and a 16-shot burst mode at 640 x 480 resolution.
The autofocus system is a bit on the slow side, but not to the point of annoyance. It is accurate and reliable though, and the face tracking is extremely quick and will track multiple faces. It even works well in dim light, at least up to a certain point. In the equivalent of a candle-lit room it just gives up even trying to focus and just presents you with a yellow warning sign, as if to say “Well, you're on your own.” There's no AF assist lamp either. That LED on the front panel is just an indicator for the self-timer.
So far so not bad, the RS1000 is looking like a decent cheap little camera with a silly but fun gimmick, but then unfortunately we come to image quality, and that's where it all goes horribly wrong.
Pentax has always had an excellent reputation for its lens quality, and indeed its SLR lenses are second to none, but the horrible bit of glass on the front of the RS1000 does a major disservice to the brand name above it. It is soft even in the centre, and the uncorrected wide-angle images shown in the image review have so much barrel distortion they look like a comedy fish-eye filter. The parallels are partially corrected in processing, but this leaves the corners distorted and lacking detail, with the added attraction of glaring chromatic aberration.
There's a limit to how far image processing can go to compensate for a bad lens, and the RS1000 exceeds it. Images look over-processed, and lack fine detail. They are also heavily compressed, with file sizes averaging around 2.4MB despite the 14-megapixel sensor resolution. Colours are pale and washed out, dynamic range is very poor even with the Shadow Correction feature, and to make matters worse exposure metering is unreliable, under-exposing some shots and over-exposing others. Image noise is also a big problem, with significant noise and loss of detail at 400 ISO, while the advertised 6400 ISO maximum setting is pretty much useless. Even considering the RS1000's low price this is very poor performance. There are budget compacts of around the same price that offer vastly superior results.
At the risk of using a cliché, the Pentax Optio RS1000 is an example of style over substance. The gimmick skinnable front is a cute idea, but unfortunately the camera behind it will disappoint anyone drawn in by the bright facade. Performance and build quality are decent for the price, but low-light ability and image quality are very poor, even compared to other budget cameras.