Pentax Optio S – 15 year old camera review

Do you still own your first digital camera? My original Pentax Optio S from 2003 refuses to quit working after 15 years, so let’s see how much it holds up by modern standards. Looking through my older image files, I believe I had used this camera for three years before changing to a bridge camera. Seeing is believing, so check out the video for image and video samples!

The Optio S was introduced as an ultra-compact zoom-camera with tiny 83x52x20mm dimensions and 115g which is still smaller than a modern Sony RX100 at 100x58x41mm and lighter than most smartphones. Reviews from back in the days praised its compactness and design as a technical marvel but noted the soft lens with some vignetting. How did Pentax achieve that?

Pentax has achieved this feat of miniaturization by altering the lens design so that when retracted three of the lens elements actually move upwards allowing the lens to take up less space.

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Ultra-compact and light with an aluminum case and fully extended lens

The fluted aluminum case remains unique after all these years and the green light around the power switch tells you that the camera is ready for your vacation pics. The original battery is still charging after 15 years.

Check out my Flickr set with this lens for full images. So what about resolution, contrast, colors and ergonomics? Overall performance is… pretty modest by modern standards with a notably exception for very nice macros. Take a closer look at the following sample images (unedited jpgs, there is no RAW support).

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This tower does not warp in reality
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Iso support ranges from 50-200

The inbuilt zoom-lens supports a 35-105mm focal length at F2.6-F4.8 without wide-angle support here. The ancient 4:3 CCD sensor has 3 MP at 2048×1536 which is still enough to fill your FHD monitor or smartphone screen. But do not get your hopes up too early – even 3 MP are an optimistic estimation considering the soft lens and I feel that we are closer to 1 MP in actual resolution.

Looking at these old images I feel reminded of analog prints from the same era. Maybe it’s the CCD sensor or the ancient color firmware but these remind me of my earlier Polaroids.

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Is this a Polaroid film?

One very notable exception is the super-macro function which allows for close-ups from 6cm distance at a much increased resolution and clarity. I am not sure what is going on but I suspect the shifting lens design creates some magic.

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Surprisingly good macro capabilities

Talking about video – we have 320×240, 12 fps, up to 30 seconds in MJPG, an ancient codec that can still be found today in your new Canon 5D Mark IV for 4K video. Check out the video at the beginning to see some original sample videos.

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We have video at 320×240!

Ergonomics are fine for most people but can be too delicate for larger fingers. Miniaturization has its price. The living hinge broke of shortly after buying the camera and is held by tape ever since. The 1.6″ LCD monitor is surprisingly bright and has fairly good resolution. Everything still works to my surprise.

In summary: the first generation of digital cameras were truly innovative with new designs and we would have forgotten many moments without them. Today any smartphone can beat these early models so the market has upshifted towards luxury 1″ compacts.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of this blog or my YouTube channel.

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