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Pentax Optio SVi – Digital Camera Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £195.00

When the vast majority of compact digital cameras have 3x optical zoom lenses, a camera that offers a larger 5x zoom range, while still remaining small enough to slip into a jacket pocket, is going to have a distinct advantage. The Optio SVi is the latest addition to Pentax’s already extensive range of 5 megapixel compact cameras, and offers just such a bonus. Priced at an extremely competitive £195, it is positioned toward the upper end of the compact snapshot market, and does offer some very useful creative features for the more experienced photographer.


Like the rest of the Optio range, the SVi is an attractively styled and exceptionally well made camera. It has a strong stainless steel case, the front panel of which is textured with a fine pattern of concentric circles, making it very easy to grip. The SVi, although very compact compared to most other manufacturer’s cameras, is somewhat larger than some of Pentax’s other models, primarily to accommodate its larger lens. As a result there is more room on the body to space out the controls and still leave somewhere to put your thumb.


There are a couple of problems with the control layout though, particularly the menu and function buttons which are mounted flush with the bottom corners of the plastic surround of the monitor screen. These look all nice and stylish but they are fiddly to operate, especially when the camera is mounted on a tripod. Fortunately the buttons do have a nice solid ‘click’ when pressed, so at least you know when you’ve pressed them.


Main mode selection is via a knurled wheel on the back panel above the monitor screen. Available modes are program auto, manual exposure, night shooting, picture mode (scene programs), movie mode, sound recording and a user-defined setting.


A 1.8in LCD monitor is quite small by recent standards, but with 115,000 pixels it is very sharp, and is bright enough to work well in direct sunlight. It also leaves room for a decent optical viewfinder, which seems to be a rare luxury these days.

In terms of general performance the Optio SVi is a bit on the sluggish side. Start-up time is a positively glacial four seconds, while shot-to-shot time in continuous shooting mode is rather slow at two seconds. For general snapshot shooting the sluggish autofocus means that many spur-of-the-moment shots will be lost because the camera just can’t focus on a moving subject fast enough. Pentax makes many outstanding cameras, but it really needs to work on improving things like start-up times, shot-to-shot times and autofocus speed. In all of these areas it is lagging dangerously behind its rivals.


Many Pentax compacts are loaded with odd features such as colour masking filters, but the SVi seems at first to be a bit lacking in this department. It has picture modes for portraits, landscapes, action, snow scenes, sunsets, flowers, autumn colours, museums and food, as well as Pentax’s unique stereoscopic 3D mode and a panorama stitching mode. There are special effects modes, but they are implemented differently on the SVi.


Instead of slowing down picture taking by adding special effects while shooting, the camera has the option to add effects in playback mode, including the aforementioned colour mask filters, as well as sepia, monochrome, soft focus, full-spectrum colour alteration and a special ‘illustration’ mode that resembles the Photoshop ‘posterisation’ filter. This means that you can take the shot you want then experiment on it with different effects afterwards. After adding filters and effects you can save the altered image as a different file, keeping your original photo intact.


Creativity is further enhanced by a good range of focus modes, including manual focus and selectable 5-point AF. Most importantly there is also an extremely good and easy-to-use manual exposure mode with shutter speeds of 4 to 1/1000th seconds and full aperture control from F2.8 to F8.0. This well-thought-out range of creative features and options sets the SVi apart from mere snapshot cameras and actually turns it into a useful creative photographic tool.

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.


”’Verdict”’


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.

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A range of test shots are shown over the next three pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The following pages consist of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the pages downloads.



At the minimum setting of 50 ISO there is no visible image noise, and the F2.8 aperture ensures a good shutter speed despite the shady location.



At 100 ISO there is also no visible noise, and the shot is virtually identical to the previous one.



At 200 ISO some image noise is creeping into the shadow areas, but it isn’t enough to cause a major problem.



There is quite a bit of image noise at 400 ISO, but colour distortion is kept to a minimum and the result is still usable.

This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure



Very bright sunshine can cause problems with some exposure systems, but the Optio SVi has coped well and produced a nice picture.


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Colour rendition is perfect, and not just in bright sunlight. There is a similar shot in the review of the Goodmans G-Shot 3027 that shows how not to do it.


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The SVi’s exposure meter is able to cope with extreme lighting conditions, producing this dramatic shot with ease.


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This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure



Indoor flash range is listed as 4.2 meters, and this appears to be accurate, as are exposure and colour rendition.


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The 5-point selectable focusing option lets you focus on objects that are not in the centre of the frame.


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Despite the high contrast light conditions and the predominantly dark foreground, the sky is still perfectly exposed. Impressive.


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This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure



Do not underestimate the power of the super-macro mode.


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Equivalent to 35mm on a conventional camera, the wide angle setting provides good distortion-free images.


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The 5x optical zoom is a bit more versatile than the usual 3x optics found on most compact cameras. This is equivalent to 180mm.


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Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 9
  • Image Quality 9

Features

Camera type Digital Compact
Megapixels (Megapixel) 5 Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 5x

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