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*To test the accuracy of the Optio S5z’s reproduced color tones, we recorded a series of images of an industry standard GretagMacbeth color chart and imported the results into Imatest Imaging Software. The software analyzes the uploaded files and produces a series of charts indicating the degree in which each tone strays from the original. The S5z’s color results are displayed in the graph below. Within each color tile, the outer square is the camera’s produced tone, while the vertical rectangle is the ideal. The inner square displays the camera’s produced hues after they’ve been corrected for luminance.

The graph below displays the same color information as above, in a more linear and quantitative manner. The circles are the camera’s produced tones, while the corresponding squares are the original ideal. The length of the line linking the two shapes represents the degree of error for that particular tone.

The Pentax S5z surprised us with its substandard color performance, earning just a 3.73 overall color score. Many colors produced by the camera were extremely under-saturated, resulting in a dull overall color pallet, while others stayed completely from their intended hue. Cooler tones, namely tones in the blue and green channels, were grossly inaccurate, and some orange tones shifted colors to near white (#16 and green #11). While many compact digital cameras earn low scores on color accuracy tests, none we’ve tested so far have strayed so significantly from the ideal tones. The S5z, like many compact cameras, will consistently produce images with inaccurate color tones; however, the problem is severe enough on the S5z to render many of the produced images unusable.

Still Life Scene

Below is a shot of our highly allegorical still life scene photographed with the Optio S5z.


Click on the above image to view a full resolution version (CAUTION: the linked file is very large!)](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/viewer.php?picture=Pentax-S5z-StillLifeLG.jpg)

Resolution / Sharpness*(2.54)

*To test the resolution and sharpness of images produced by the Pentax Optio S5z, we captured an abundance of images of an ISO resolution chat and imported the results into Imatest Imaging Software. The software analyzes the image and determines the number of horizontal and vertical pixels active in forming the composition. Because no camera ever quite uses all of the advertised megapixels, we classify cameras that utilize 70 percent of their advertised pixel count as "good" performers, while cameras that use more than 80 percent are "very good." Anything exceeding 90 percent is "excellent" and quite a rare find.

Click on the image above to view the full resolution chart.

The Pentax Optio S5z again performed far below expectation, forming images with just 2.54 active megapixels. This is just 52 percent of its advertised resolution and far below most competing point-and-shoot models. For users looking to display their images as they shoot on the camera’s LCD, the lack of resolution might not be too much of an issue; however, for those looking to make prints, the S5z will show its limitations.

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Noise – Auto ISO*(6.71)

*Particularly important for point-and-shoot cameras, since they are designed as snapshot imagers, is their ability to produce images in full auto mode with sharp definition, good color reproduction and low noise. While sharpness and color can be adjusted post-capture, it is far more difficult to cleanly remove noise. We also test for noise, using our GretagMacbeth color chart and Imatest Imaging Software.

The Pentax Optio S5z performed well in auto mode, earning a 6.71 overall score. This is quite high for a point-and-shoot imager and given ample lighting, the S5z should attain usable images without much perceivable noise.

Noise – Manual ISO*(9.77)

*For cameras that offer alterable ISO settings, we test for noise at each offered setting and import the results into a regression analysis to determine an overall noise score. Incremental noise readings are plotted in the chart below; the horizontal axis contains the S5z’s ISO ratings, while the vertical axis displays the emitted noise.

In sharp contrast to the S5z’s color reproduction, this camera attained one of the strongest noise scores for its styling. In fact, to balance out the abysmal color score, the S5z’s 9.77 overall noise score is the highest noise score we have achieved from a point-and-shoot camera that contains a typical 80-400 ISO range. Some point-and-shoot models have scored better, but this is largely attributable to a more expansive sensitivity range, rather than performance at the offered settings. The S5z produces clean images across its ISO range, even at its ISO 400 setting. Many compact cameras, particularly those that heavily rely on automatic settings, are strong up to ISO 200 and then show a significant decline. This is not true with the S5z and potential consumers should see this as an extreme advantage. Unfortunately however, users that wish to take advantage of this performance strength will have to expend additional efforts correcting color post-capture.

Low Light Performance*(1.5)

*We tested the low light capabilities of the Optio S5z by exposing a series of images at decreasing light levels. Shots were taken at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux to sample the camera’s performance capabilities in common low light situations; 60 lux appears similarly to a bedroom after dusk, illuminated by two small table lamps, while 30 lux equates roughly to a single 40 watt lightbulb. 15 and 5 lux indicate the camera’s recording potential in near darkness. Images are recorded at the camera’s highest ISO setting without the assistance of a flash, with white balance customized for each shot.

Click on any of the above charts to view additional image analysis

While the Pentax S5z handled noise admirably in reasonable lighting, the 400 ISO limitation proved to be a substantial roadblock for the camera’s low light potential. Even at 60 lux, the brightest of our low light setups, the camera could not produce an acceptable image. The lack of light sensitivity in the S5z’s imaging sensor hindered it from producing a visible image, and the already compromised colors lost further distinction and begin to blend together. The drop to 30 lux resulted in images that were barely pronounced and certainly not usable. The lack of sensitivity means users of the S5z who are intent on night scenes will have to adjust to the camera’s limited flash capabilities (see the components section of the review for further elaboration) or look elsewhere.

**Speed / Timing

***Start-up to First Shot (6.41) *

It’s fortunate that the Optio S5z includes a long enduring lithium-ion battery, because users will have to leave the camera on in case of that fleeting memorable moment. In the four seconds it takes the S5z to wake up and ready itself for its first shot, the moment will have long since passed.

*Shot to Shot Time (8.91)

*Even with a continuous shooting mode, the S5z is not a rapid performer. The camera will burst until the card is filled; however, it will still require over a second between recorded frames.

Shutter to Shot Time (8.96)

Shutter lag is generally the most pertinent speed characteristic to snapshooters. With a lag of just 0.02 seconds, the S5z should minimize captures of blinked eyes and turned heads.

**Front ***(7.5)

*The Optio S5z appears a little more polished than the less-expensive Optio S cameras, offering a general impression of classy simplicity. The telescoping lens mount dominates the front of the camera. The mount looks oversized in comparison to the small lens that peeks out from the lower half of the assembly. The odd-looking arrangement accommodates the Pentax "Sliding Lens system" for storing the lens when the camera is powered off. The system slides the middle optical group up and out of the optical path, so that the front and rear elements can slide together, into a flat profile that fits into a camera that's only 0.8 inches deep.

The lens is labeled "5.0 Megapixels SMC PENTAX LENS 3X OPTICAL ZOOM 5.8-17.4mm" around its inner perimeter. An outer ring reads "PENTAX" four times, once at each of the cardinal points. The metal face of the camera is textured with very finely grooved rings that radiate from the lens mount. This makes the textured surface easier to grip than plain metal, and gives the camera a gleaming effect, reminiscent of the data side of a CD.

Two circular windows adorn the upper right and left corners of the Optio S5z's face. The one on the right is the self-timer indicator and the AF assist light. The one on the left is the infrared receiver for signals from an optional remote control. A tiny slot to the right of the lens is the microphone port and the flash is along the top edge of the camera, slightly left of center. Check out the "Components" section of the review for more specifics on the flash, and its limitations.

A vaguely wedge-shaped, shiny horizontal bar accents the left side. The camera is embossed "PENTAX" above the bar, and "Optio" upon it.


*The 2.5-inch LCD takes up about three-quarters of the back of the camera. It's surrounded by a black border, which is labeled "Pentax" at the bottom. The remaining quarter of the back, along the right side, is home to most of the camera's controls. From the top, they are: two very small status lights, a red one for the flash and a green one for focus; the zoom/magnification rocker, which operates the zoom lens in shooting mode, and the image magnification control in playback; the Quick/Trash button, which, in shooting mode, sets all the controls to automatic, and in playback mode, deletes images; the playback button, which switches the camera into and out of playback mode; the four-way controller, which allows navigation through menus and image playback, and controls flash mode, focus mode and self-timer/burst mode; the menu button; and the mode button.

Just below the zoom control, along the side of the camera, five rubber bumps form a grip for the user's thumb. They're very effective – it's easy to grab the camera, and it's easy to feel the bumps, which indicate to the user that their thumb is in the right place. Read the "Design/Layout" section of the review for more on usability.

Left Side*(5.5)

*The left side of the Optio S5z features nine holes arranged in a square to form the speaker grill. There are also two screw heads. The seam between the front and back of the camera runs down the side, and on the model we reviewed, the seam is uneven. It fits well toward the top of the camera, but there's a gap between the halves at the bottom.

Right Side*(6.5)

*The right side of the Optio S5z features a swiveling lug for a wrist strap. The swivel is a useful feature, helping the strap remain untangled, although it might require the assistance of a thin loop of cord to attach the strap. Two sliding doors cover jacks for a USB and A/V port, and a power supply. The sliding doors are a pretty durable option for covering ports. On the Optio S5z, Pentax uses a tethered, rubber cover with a friction fit, which also seems pretty robust. Both are better choices than the hinged hard plastic doors on many competing cameras. The Kodak EasyShare C360 is an example of what to avoid – its hard plastic, hinged door seems more vulnerable to breakage than the little sliders on the Optio S5z.


*The top of the Optio S5z is home to the power switch and the shutter release. Both are on a chrome pad on the right side of the top. The pad turns up at either end, creating a comfortable indent for the user's right index finger. The shutter release itself is chrome and about a half-inch long, making it easy to locate by feel. There is a status light at the center of the Optio S5z’s power switch. When the camera is set to take pictures, it glows green. When the camera is set to record audio, it glows red.

Pentax printed "Optio S5z" on the top of the camera to the left of the controls. Our sample unit arrived with some of the paint scuffed off, leaving the camera looking a little worn. The camera wasn't abused – it hadn't been dropped, and the metal under the paint wasn't harmed, so it seems that the paint came off in the course of normal use. Losing a painted label certainly wouldn't affect use of the camera, but it's too bad that the markings are so vulnerable.

Most users would rather have their new camera look pristine for a little longer than ours did (assuming it ever looked pristine in the first place).


*Aesthetics rarely if ever apply to camera bottoms, and the Optio S5z is no exception. The tripod mount is directly under center, which is a reasonable spot for it on this camera. On cameras that might be used with a tripod more frequently, it's best to have the mount centered under the lens, but the Optio S5z’s lens is too far to one side for that. The tripod mount is made of plastic, so it would be very easy to strip the threads and ruin the mount by over-tightening or cross-threading it.

The battery and SD data card slot are accessible through a door in the bottom of the Optio S5z. The door is hard plastic, painted to match the aluminum that covers the rest of the camera. The door slides closed with a click. The door is not as heavily-built or durable as it should be. In general, doors that simply snap shut aren't as tough as ones with a latch.


*The Optio S5z has no optical viewfinder. This should not be viewed as a particular disadvantage; the S5z’s LCD provides an accurate viewfinder that's easy to see. Kodak puts viewfinders on many of its small cameras, such as the EasyShare Z700 and the C360, but they're terribly inaccurate and too small to use conveniently.

LCD Screen* (7.5)

*The Optio S5z has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 110,000 pixels. Most 2.5-inch displays have at least 115,000 pixels, so in terms of screen quality, the Optio S5z falls short of its competition. Some point-and-shoot models today are equipped with nearly twice that much, such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1, which utilizes 211,000 pixels to form images on its LCD. The additional resolution offers a significant advantage to users who rely on the LCD to focus and compose images. However, for those who use their compact cameras as digital photo albums, keeping favorite images in memory and showing them to friends on the LCD, the display on the Optio S5z should be adequate.

One way to compensate for the LCD's low resolution when attempting to gauge focus is to magnify the image as much as possible. Though it shows a very small part of the image, a magnified view can be very telling. Unfortunately, the Optio S5z only magnifies onscreen images up to 8x, which is not as much as some competing cameras. The Casio EX-Z57 magnifies up to 12x, for instance.


*The Optio S5z’s flash has all the drawbacks that are common to small, built-in flashes. The flash unit fixed to the S5z is relatively weak, effective to only 11 feet at the wide angle end of the zoom range and 7 feet at the telephoto setting.

I can cover the Optio S5z's flash with my fingernail, which means it's an awfully small light source. That's exactly the wrong sort of light for taking flattering pictures of friends and family. As light sources get bigger, they get softer and more flattering. Wrinkles go away, and even discolorations tend to fade. Conversely, as a light source gets smaller, it becomes harsher. The Optio S5z's flash is just the right size to record every clogged pore on Cousin Joe-Bob's forehead.

Furthermore, the positioning of the flash will be troublesome. Pentax put the Optio S5z's flash well off to the right of the lens, rather than directly above it. This will result in distracting shadows cast to the left of the subject.

The Optio S5z offers several flash modes, which are directly controllable via the left button on the four-way controller. The modes are: Auto, which allows the camera to control whether the flash fires; Off, which doesn't allow the flash to fire; On, which forces the flash to fire; Auto Red-Eye, which turns on the red-eye reduction pre-flash; and On Red-Eye, which forces the flash to fire, with the red-eye pre-flash.

As most compact cameras do, the Optio S5z addresses red-eye with pre-flashes. You press the shutter, and the flash goes off three times, twice to make the subjects' pupils shrink, and then again a second later to take the picture. The drawbacks of the pre-flash system are twofold (at least): there is at least a one-second delay between the moment you press the shutter, and the moment the picture is taken; and the flash goes off more than once, which inevitably adds to the annoyance of the subject. With red-eye reduction on, the delay is about a second.

Zoom Lens*(6.0)

*The Optio S5z sports a 5.8 to 17.4mm zoom, which offers a slight wide angle to a mild telephoto range. A comparable lens on a 35mm camera would range from about 35mm to 105mm. At the wide angle end, it's wide enough to take pictures of small groups of people even in relatively small rooms, but not wide enough to document cramped spaces – you won't get the whole tub enclosure in the shot that immortalizes your bathroom renovation. At the telephoto end, it's long enough for portraits from about six feet away, but too short for getting shots of stage productions or sporting events.

The maximum aperture ranges from f/2.6 at 5.8mm to f/4.4 at 17.4mm. The minimum apertures range from f/4.6 to f/7.7 over the zoom range. Such small lenses can't perform well at apertures much below f/8. 


Model Design / Appearance* (7.5)

*The Optio S5z is the high end of the Optio S series. The series is a moderately attractive group of cameras, and clearly Pentax has put in a fair amount of effort to make the Optio S5z a bit more attractive, or at least more sumptuous than the others. The proportions are very nicely balanced: the lens dominates the front, but that's appropriate, and it doesn't overwhelm. The contours and rounded details soften the camera's rectangular silhouette in subtle, pleasant ways. The top of the camera is rounded, from front to back, a little like a loaf of bread. The buttons are small, but they're identified with readable icons or labels.

The circular texture on the front of the camera is very striking, producing highlights that radiate from the lens, but it's hard to keep clean. Fingerprints show up on it as prominent smudges.

**Size / Portability ***(6.5)

*The Optio S5z is a mere 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches and 4.2 ounces, smaller than a typical computer mouse, and easy to carry in a pocket. When it's turned off, the surfaces are relatively smooth, and the lens retracts all the way into the camera, where it is well-protected.

The Optio S5z's metal shell offers good protection against pressure and torsion that the camera is likely to sustain, but the exterior casing is not sealed well against dust. The lens cover’s two halves butt up against each other, rather than overlap, and there is no seal around the edge of the opening they cover.

The sliding port covers for the data and power jacks don't seal tightly, and the seams between the front and back of the camera aren't tight. It's wise to protect any camera from dust, but the Optio S5z has a few prominent paths which dust might follow into the camera's internal components. If you want a camera to carry in a pocket or backpack, you probably ought to get one that's more dust-resistant than the Optio S5z.

Handling Ability*(6.0)

*The Optio S5z is a small pocket-sized camera. While small size is an advantage when you're carrying or storing a camera, it can be a problem when you use one. Both size and weight can be useful means of stability. Cameras as small as the Optio S5z, with limited surface area, are forced to scale their controls to the size of the frame and will generally be somewhat tedious to handle. Pentax designers compensate partially with intelligent placement of controls and by leaving space on the camera for grip.

The most natural way to hold the camera is to squeeze it between the right thumb, which lands on the excellently textured spot on the back of the camera, and the first two right-hand fingers. However, other than the finely grooved surface there is no texture on the front of the camera, making it difficult to get a solid grasp on the frame. The thumb and index finger of the left hand can grip the camera from the top and bottom without hitting any controls or covering any indicator lights. As I hold the Optio S5z, my right middle finger sometimes blocks the red window in the upper left corner of the front of the camera. Fortunately, the designers anticipated that – the window is the remote control receiver, which is only useful when the camera is on a tripod, not when anyone is holding it.

Also, the slab-like shape of the Optio S5z gives it a relatively high center of gravity, while larger compact cameras are built low and spread out somewhat. While this may not affect handling much, it does make the camera far more likely to tip over if balanced on edge.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(6.5)

*The Optio S5z buttons are small and closer together than they should be. Following a trend in very small cameras, the designers of the Optio S5z made the camera’s essential controls fairly stiff—corresponding buttons on larger cameras respond to a lighter touch than these. It seems as though this is a response to users' frustration at accidentally activating controls. It's a reasonable solution with buttons that are essentially on/off switches, such as the Playback button, but it doesn't work well with the zoom rocker. Once you press that hard enough to get the lens moving, you have zoomed quite a bit. If you try to make a small adjustment, you'll overshoot your goal more often than not.

The shutter release is nicely formed and is far less stiff than the camera’s other controls. You don't have to press it far to activate focus, but it is easy to feel when it locks.

The Optio S5z’s power switch is a button; press it once, the camera turns on, press it again, the camera shuts down. The button is recessed and requires a determined push to operate, which should cut down on the chance that the camera will accidentally be turned on in a pocket or bag. Still, sliding or turning switches are a better option than a button for turning cameras on or off. Check out the Kodak EasyShare C360, which uses its large mode dial as the power control. It would be just about impossible to accidentally turn on the C360.

The Optio S5z's "Quick" button actuates two functions that are likely to be popular with users: in shooting mode, it sets the camera to full auto, and in Playback mode, it deletes images. It's an example of good judgment by the camera's designers – such a small camera really shouldn't have any extra buttons, but it's very useful to have direct access to frequently-used controls.

It's notable that the Optio S5z designers chose not to spread out the controls on this camera. The next step down in the Optio line, the S55, has the Playback and Trash buttons on top of the camera, above the LCD. That design left more room open on the back of the camera, and meant that the two controls could be spaced well apart. The same strategy on the Optio S5z wouldn't have worked – the camera is so small that the user's left index finger would have rested on them.

Overall, the Optio S5z controls are well-implemented, given the size constraints of the camera body. The buttons don't get smaller than a fairly workable minimum size and they control the functions that are most likely to require direct access.


*The menus on the Optio S5z are attractive and easy to read. They appear in large, white type, rimmed in black, and they're superimposed over the live image feed. The menu is subdivided into two tabs, one called "Rec. Mode" for shooting options, and one called "Set-up," for interface options and utilities. Both are fairly long submenus – Rec. Mode has 18 options and Set-up has 15, so it takes a fair amount of scrolling to reach every option. Fortunately, the most often used submenu items are placed toward the top of the list.

On the Rec. Mode list, they start with "Recorded Pixels," or file size; Quality Level, which sets the amount of JPEG compression; White Balance; Metering Sensitivity, which sets the metering pattern; ISO; EV compensation; Movie mode, which switches the movie mode between normal and time-lapse movies; Digital Zoom; Aux AF Light; Instant Review, which sets how long images are displayed after they're shot; Memory, which controls whether custom settings are saved when the camera is turned off; Fn setting, which allows the user to customize the functions of the four-way controller; Quick Button, which sets the function of the Quick Button; Sharpness; Saturation; and Contrast.

The Set-up list begins with Format, which wipes all data from the SD memory card; Sound, which offers a range of noises for the camera to make as various functions are accomplished; Date Adjust; World Time, which sets the time zone in which the camera is being used; Language; USB connection, for choosing between connecting the camera to a computer or to a printer; Video out, for setting the analog video out signal to PAL or NTSC; Brightness, for adjusting the LCD display, not the images the camera saves; Quick Zoom, for setting a Playback magnification setting that the camera will jump to when the zoom button is hit once; Quick Delete, to directly erase images; Sleep timeout, to set the amount of time the camera will sit unused before it goes into a power-saving mode; Auto Power Off, to set the amount of time before the camera shuts off entirely, if left unattended; Guide Display, which controls what information is displayed on the LCD in shooting and Playback modes; and Reset, which returns the camera to factory settings.

In addition to the standard text menus, the Optio S5z interface includes a separate, icon-based Mode menu, which accesses image presets, movie mode, and automatic mode.

In Playback, the Mode button brings up an icon-based menu of image editing controls for both still images and video. The still image editing tools allow sizing and cropping, plus colorizing and brightness adjustment. The menu also includes direct printing controls, and the option to record voice memos attached to images. On the video side, editing options include splitting clips and cutting sections.

Ease of Use* (6.5)

*The Optio S5z allows easy control of its various automatic settings and functions, and also contains useful shortcuts to access frequently-used modes. The camera's layout makes the most of the limited space available, so holding the camera and operating it is as easy as it could be on such a small model.

However, the flaws inherent in the camera’s design will still be prohibitive for a number of users. The camera’s buttons are small and grouped close together. Camera size is all about tradeoffs. Optio S5z users get portability, but they give up a considerable amount of smooth handling.

Auto Mode*(7.0)

*The Optio S5z offers two general automatic modes: Green Mode and Program. In Green Mode, the camera locks the user out of all controls except the zoom and the shutter release. Apparently, that means all shooting controls, including file size and quality. Photos taken in green mode during testing were all taken at the full 5 megapixel resolution and the intermediate compression setting, no matter what settings were saved on the camera.

The less automatic auto mode is "P" or Program, in which the Optio S5z sets the aperture and shutter speed, but does not override settings for ISO, white balance, focus or flash. All those settings can be set to automatic via menu controls, so it's still possible to use the camera fully automatically in Program – in fact, the camera defaults to that setting.

Custom Image Presets*(5.0)

*The Optio S5z offers 10 picture modes. This is quite limited compared to other snapshot-oriented cameras. Without a manual setting, users will be forced to rely on preset options to shape the image.

The included modes are: Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-Portrait, Sunset, Food, Pet, Text, Sports, and Surf & Snow. Pentax doesn't specify how the modes change the camera settings. Instead, the manual is pretty vague about the settings; it says that the Landscape mode allows you to capture the "natural colors" of a landscape, while the Flower mode produces "brightly colored" images. The portrait mode emphasizes a "spacial effect," which seems to mean that the aperture is kept wide to minimize depth of field. Sunset reproduces "beautiful colors," and "Food" produces "appetizing" pictures. The manual is more specific about "Pet," which allows the user to adjust for pets with light, medium or dark fur. (You can also choose between cat and dog icons, but they have no influence on the pictures you take.) "Sports" biases the exposure toward a fast, action-stopping shutter speed, and "Surf & Snow" compensates for very bright backgrounds. Pentax treats the "Night Scene" differently from the other modes. Night Scene enables exposures as long as 4 seconds, so a tripod or other support is necessary.

EV compensation, saturation, contrast, white balance and sharpness are adjustable while the camera is set to a picture mode.

Drive / Burst Mode*(3.0)

*The Optio S5z has a burst mode, but don't expect miracles. About one frame every two seconds is the best speed I could get at full resolution, though at VGA resolution, the camera snapped away a bit faster than one frame per second. Either way, the camera will continue at that rate until the SD card is full.

Playback Mode*(8.0)

*The Optio S5z's Playback is straightforward. Press the Playback button, and the most recent image appears on screen. The left and right buttons on the four-way controller will scroll through recorded images. Pressing the zoom control in the telephoto direction magnifies the image up to 8x, which is a bit short of many similarly styled cameras which offer 10x and 12x magnification. When the image is magnified, the four-way controller buttons scroll the view around the image.

Pressing the zoom control on the Optio S5z to the wide angle setting brings up a thumbnail view of sorts, showing nine images at a time. In that view, the four-way controller buttons scroll through all the thumbnails on the SD card. Interestingly, you scroll left, not up, to get to the first image on the camera.

If there are movies on the SD card, the first frame shows up in either thumbnail or regular view. The camera can play back movies and pause them during playback. When a movie is paused, you can magnify the paused frame with the zoom control. Movies can be trimmed and split into pieces using in-camera editing tools.

Still images can be edited in the Optio S5z. They can be rotated, cropped and resized. There is also an option to adjust brightness and to colorize images or make them black-and-white.

The Optio S5z offers a slide show function. Images on the SD card or in the built-in memory can be shown at 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, or 30-second intervals. Movies in memory are also shown, and they are not cut off, even if they're longer than the interval. The slide show continues until someone presses any button on the camera, or until the battery is drained. The Optio S5z offers an analog video out port, and includes the cable, so users can show slide shows on television sets. The camera can produce PAL and NTSC signals, the two major standards for television.

Movie Mode*(7.5)

*The Optio S5z records AVI-format video at a 640 x 480 resolution and 30 frames per second, which are close to the specs for home video, but still don’t reproduce the quality most home video makers expect.

The Optio S5z adds a fun twist by offering a time-lapse video capture feature. The final clips will run at 2 times, 5 times, 10 times or 20 times as fast as normal, for views of flowers blooming, candles burning down, traffic zipping, and so on. Rent "Koyaanisqatsi" for ideas. Time-lapse does not record sound. 


**Manual Control Options **

The Optio S5z is fundamentally an automatic camera. There is no way to directly set the aperture or shutter speed, let alone to set them both at once. By setting ISO and changing the EV setting, which changes the exposure, the user can influence aperture and shutter, as well as lighten and darken the image. Manual focus and white balance are also alterable.


***Auto Focus (7.5)

*The Optio S5z has a multi-zone autofocus sensor – it can check focus in many spots across the viewfinder. In its default mode, the camera uses focus points that are centered vertically in the frame. Once it’s ready, two green brackets appear over the spot that's in focus. There are two close-up modes: Macro, for distances from 7 to 20 inches; and Super Macro, for distances from 2.4 to 8 inches. The standard mode focuses from 16 inches to infinity.

In Focus Area mode, the user can select the area of the frame that the camera should get in focus. It's a very flexible system – there are 49 spots to choose from, and they cover the entire image.

The Optio S5z's autofocus tested well, delivering sharp focus in typical lighting; it's not unusual for a small camera with a very short focal-length lens to focus well – small cameras have huge depth of field even at their maximum aperture, which covers up minor focusing errors.

Manual Focus (3.0)

The Optio S5z has three manual focus modes. Infinity locks focus at infinity, for distant landscapes. Pan Focus locks focus at a medium distance, which may be a good compromise in situations where it's hard to get accurate focus. There is also an option to manually focus the image on the screen, using the four-way controller to rack focus in and out from infinity to about six inches. The center of the screen is magnified to aid focusing. While manual focus is often difficult using the LCD interface on compact cameras, the manual focus implementation on the S5z is better than many others; however, the image quality of the Optio S5z’s LCD in manual focus mode is not good enough to show the difference between "in focus" and "almost in focus." The problem is worst with the zoom at wide angle.

**ISO ***(7.0)

*The Optio S5z can be set to ISO 80, 100, 200, or 400, or it can be set to automatically choose a sensitivity rating. Certain scene modes will set the ISO, as will the Green Mode.

While 400 is a very common top ISO setting for small cameras, more and more compact cameras are beginning to offer 800 and 1600 ISO options; a helpful inclusion for night and indoor photography, given how ugly the harsh light from most fixed flash units can be. The Optio S5z shows much more image noise at ISO 400 than at 100, so Pentax's sensor and noise-suppression system clearly couldn't handle a higher ISO. However, it should be noted that the S5z utilized the common 80-400 range better than any compact camera we have tested thus far. Most cameras that offer 800 and 1600 ratings will still outperform the S5z, but its use of the typical range is impressive. If a more expansive sensitivity range is essential, take a look at the Fujifilm FinePix F10 for good low light performance and ISO flexibility.

For more information regarding the S5z’s handling of noise, check out the Testing / Performance sections of the review.

White Balance*(7.0)

*The Optio S5z has six preset white balance options: Daylight, Tungsten, Cloudy, Shade and two fluorescent settings, one for "daylight" tubes and one for "white" tubes. There is also a custom white balance setting, for situations that the presets cannot handle. To set the white balance manually, the user must bring up the white balance option, point the camera at something white, and press the shutter. The LCD shows a live display of the camera adjusting to the lighting, helping users determine the accuracy of the set color balance.


*The Optio S5z's exposure modes are all automatic. In all of them except Green Mode, the EV control can adjust the exposure +/- 2 EV in 1/3-stop intervals. That's a standard range of control, though it's a bit unusual to have it available in so many picture modes.


*As with most compact digital cameras, the Optio S5z uses a multi-pattern metering system by default. Multi-pattern evaluates several segments of the view for exposure, and sets the exposure based on assumptions about typical pictures. For instance, it assumes that large, bright areas in the upper part of the frame are sky, and overexposes them to preserve detail in darker stuff at the center of the frame. Multi-pattern systems vary between manufacturers, but they are by far the most successful system for automated exposure.

The Optio S5z also offers an averaging mode, which measures exposure of the whole frame at once, with a bias for the center, and a spot mode, which measures a small area at the center of the frame. Both averaging and spot modes are useful to photographers who want to take a bit more control.

Shutter Speed*(0.0)

*According to Pentax, the Optio S5z’s purely automatic shutter operates from 4 to 1/2000 of a second; however, exposures longer than 1/4 of a second are only available in Night Mode. If you shut off the flash and try to take a picture in the dark in most modes, the camera stays at 1/4 of a second, no matter how badly that underexposes the picture. The F-stop and shutter speed display turn orange when the exposure won't make a good image, but the camera still goes ahead and takes them.

It seems that the Optio S5z is designed to protect the user from taking blurred pictures, but the result is no better - solid black pictures instead. A better choice would have been a warning message on the LCD, recommending a tripod or the flash.


*The 5.8-17.4mm Pentax zoom lens has a maximum aperture that ranges from f/2.6 at the wide end to f/4.8 at the telephoto end. Pentax doesn't list minimum apertures, but in use, they seem to range from f/4.6 to f/7.7. That's pretty limiting, compared to the aperture ranges on film cameras, but smaller apertures aren't feasible with such small sensors. 


Picture Quality / Size Options*(6.0)

*Following a standard pattern for compact 5 megapixel cameras from a variety of manufacturers, the Optio S5z offers six image sizes and three quality settings. The sizes are 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 megapixels, plus 640 x 480 pixels.

Again, conforming to the trend, Pentax uses vague and optimistic names for the quality settings - "Best, Better, Good." "Best" images look much better than "Good" images on the Optio S5z. In the camera's manual, Pentax recommends only "Best" quality images for printing. "Better" is for computer screen viewing, and "Good" is for email. Quality is only one side of the coin in this measuring system, because "Best" images take up about three times more memory than "Good" images—which might not be the best thing, depending upon your situation.

Picture Effects Mode*(6.0)

*Pentax went a little nuts with the effects modes on the Optio S5z, which actually adds a bit of interest and personality to the camera. The commonly included effects are black-and-white and sepia modes. The camera also offers a Comment Space mode, which puts a white strip along the bottom or left edge of the image, so users can write notes on their prints.

Pentax has also gone a bit beyond to include a Posterization mode, which flattens gradations of color into flat patches. The S5z also includes a Soft-focus mode, for all that wonderful private boudoir photography that the digital revolution enables so well. Finally, the Optio S5z offers a distortion mode called the "Slim" filter. Indeed, it can slim down subjects, squeezing the image. It can also fatten them up. The examples in the manual show the effect on a wire-haired terrier, but the results will probably be more interesting if you use them on people who, up until now, think you're a nice person. 


Software (5.0)

The Optio S5z ships with ACDSee for Pentax, in a Windows and Macintosh version, and PhotoShow Express for Windows only. Let's take care of the Mac users first: ACDSee for Macintosh is a downloader and viewer, but does not offer any editing functions. It's inferior to iPhoto, which is already on your computer. Don't bother loading ACDSee onto your machine unless you don't have another option. A separate program for making panoramas works as well.

For Windows-based users, ACDSee for Pentax offers sorting, printing, emailing and a range of editing features, including color and tone correction, red-eye repair, sharpen and blur, cropping and sizing, and special effects that purport to make photos look like oil paintings. It also stitches images into panoramas. PhotoShow Express is similar. Both programs are limited versions of commercial software, and their menus include links to company websites where the full programs are for sale. Essentially, they have advertising permanently integrated.

*Jacks, Ports, Plugs (6.0) *

The Optio S5z has a single data port that serves as a USB connection and an analog video out. Since it's one port, the two functions can't be used simultaneously. The USB port can be set to connect with either a computer or a printer. There is also a port for a 4.5-volt DC power supply, which Pentax does not include. It would be useful for running long slide shows. A separate charger for the battery comes with the camera.

*Direct Print Options (6.0)

*The Optio S5z is compatible with PictBridge and DPOF, which allow the user to print images with the camera connected directly to a printer, or by putting the SD card directly in a compatible printer. The Optio S5z allows the user to set the print size, paper type, quality and border status. Many competing compact cameras do not offer these settings, so this is an advantage for the Optio S5z.

*Battery (7.5) *

The Optio S5z comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Lithium-ion is the best battery technology available in compact cameras. The batteries are very light, and typically provide long life between recharges. Competing cameras that use AA batteries (even rechargeable ones) don't work nearly as long between changes.

*Memory (5.0)

*The Optio S5z has 9.3MB of built-in memory. That's enough to hold four images at the camera's biggest file size, and about 100 images at the very smallest size (an image suitable for emailing), and various numbers of the many sizes in between. The camera accepts SD memory cards, when additional storage is needed.

**Other Features ***(6.0)*

Self-Timer – The Optio S5z's self timer offers a 2-second or 10-second delay. Some competing cameras, such as the Casio EX-Z57, have an option to take a few pictures after the delay, which is a useful option for group pictures – it gives you three chances to get a picture in which everyone has their eyes open.

Programmable Features – The Optio S5z offers the option to create a custom shooting mode, and to reassign the four-way controller buttons to directly access menu options.

Voice Recording – The Optio S5z can record sound clips. Clip length is limited by storage space on the SD media card.

Wireless Remote Control – The Optio S5z is compatible with two optional infrared remote controls.


*The Optio S5z is the top of the Pentax Optio S line, so it's the most expensive one as well. At $50 more than the next camera down, the S55, the S5z has the same resolution and is built with the same lens. Its most important positive distinction is its size: the Optio S5z is 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches and 4.2 ounces, as opposed to the S55, which is 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches and 6.5 ounces. The big difference is the depth – the S5z is more than a quarter-inch flatter than the S55, so the S5z is significantly more compact.

The extra features of the S5z– time-lapse video and image distortion, for instance – are only distractions from the fact that for $50 less, the same manufacturer makes a camera with the same zoom range and resolution, and more accurate color. Of course, other manufacturers offer far better color for less money. (See the Testing/Performance section of this review for more information.)

The Optio S5z's excellent performance in our manual ISO mode image noise test is impressive, but its value is limited for the average user. First, most snapshooters do not prefer to set ISO manually; second, the advantage still leaves the user with an image that needs color-correction, and most users of this camera will lack the skill and inclination to do this.

**Comparisons **

Pentax Optio S55 – The Optio S55 is three-tenths of an inch thicker than the S5z. The extra size may make the S55 a little harder to stow and carry, but it makes the camera easier to hold, and makes the controls far easier to use. The S55 is not a good performer in our color tests, but it's far better than the S5z, which has among the worst scores we've recorded for color accuracy. The S5z offers higher-resolution video – 640 x 480, much better than the S55's 320 x 240. Both run at 30 fps, but the resolution gain makes the S5z video useful, while the S55’s choppy clips remain in the range of novelty. For users not concerned with video capture, the S55 may be the better choice.

Kodak EasyShare C360 – The Kodak EasyShare C360 is another 5 megapixel compact camera with a 3x zoom. It offers 24 fps video recording, which is not as fast as the Optio S5z's 30 fps, and its LCD is only 2 inches, which is cramped compared to the 2.5-inch display on the Optio S5z. However, the EasyShare model lives up to its name; it's easier to use than the Optio S5z. The C360 has 32MB of internal memory, which will hold a reasonable set of family pictures, if they're not at full resolution. The Optio S5z's 9.3MB storage is only about a fourth of the capacity.

Fujifilm E550 – The Fujifilm E550 is a 6 megapixel, 4x zoom compact camera. It beats the Optio S5z on resolution and zoom but it's also cheaper. The E550's color accuracy far outstrips the Optio S5z. The E550 has ISO settings up to 800, and good performance at 800, so it handles low light situations better, too. Its 2-inch LCD has 154,000 pixels, and yields a sharper image than the Optio S5z.


Canon A510 – The Canon A510 is only a 3 megapixel camera, but its excellent color and noise performance make it a very attractive alternative – particularly for its online price of about $165. Because of the camera’s color and noise performance, snapshot-size prints from the A510 ought to be much better quality than Optio S5z snapshots. With great manual controls and a 4x zoom, the A510 is a flexible picture-taker for people who don't need the Optio S5z's styling, or its 2.5-inch LCD – the screen on the A510 is only 1.8 inches, though both have 115,000 pixels. **

Who It’s For **

Point-and-Shooters – The Optio S5z is a point-and-shoot camera with a wide range of features in a small package. Many casual users will enjoy the automatic features, and won't miss the manual controls that this camera lacks.

Budget Consumers – The Optio S5z is a premium camera – Pentax charges $50 less for their Optio S55, which is also a 5 megapixel camera with a 3x zoom. With the S5z, you're paying extra for smaller size and more glitter. The basic functions offered here are available elsewhere for less.

Gadget Freaks – The Optio S5z is a little too straightforward for the gadget crowd, though many of them probably want its distortion effects (see the Image Parameters section).

Manual Control Freaks – The Optio S5z lacks manual exposure control entirely, and the manual controls it does have are nothing unusual. The Canon PowerShot A520 would be a better choice for this market segment.

Pros / Serious Hobbyists – Pro and Prosumer cameras are big, heavy things, so you can imagine that these users might occasionally want a light, compact alternative. But they'd probably want a camera with some sort of above-average capability – the Canon PowerShot A520 for manual control, or the Fujifilm FinePix F10 for low light performance.


Conclusion **

The Optio S5z doesn't overcome the limitations inherent in such a small camera – it's hard to hold steady, the buttons are small, and the zoom is pretty short.

Just about every camera we have tested renders colors more accurately than the Optio S5z; however, its handling of noise is far superior to most. Since many prospective buyers are looking for images that look good straight from the camera, consumers will have to weigh the lack of color vibrancy against the increased clarity.

Pentax has made some wise choices in crafting the user interface of the Optio S5z. Check out the Design/Layout section of the review for more details, but here are some key points: It's too small to have a mode dial, so Pentax implemented a good alternative – the mode menu. It's easy to cover a window or sensor when gripping a camera this size, so Pentax put the least important one – the remote control sensor – in the most vulnerable spot. The "Quick" button can be programmed to provide shortcuts to just about any user's top priority controls. On the other hand, the camera should be easier to grip; there's a good spot for the right thumb on the back of the camera, but nothing comparable for the right fingers on the front of the camera.

As it stands, the S5z offers a few strong interface features, time-lapse video and a sturdy stylish build, but hardly enough to outweigh some hefty performance limitations.

**Specs Table **

Meet the tester

Patrick Singleton

Patrick Singleton


Patrick Singleton is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

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