Pentax Optio M20 Digital Camera Review

A review of the Pentax Optio M20

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Testing / Performance



Color*(7.09)*Like all other digital cameras that are reviewed at our office, we put the Pentax Optio M20 through a series of tests to determine exactly how good its pictures are. For starters, we tested its ability to reproduce color. We did this by photographing the industry standard GretagMacbeth color chart, which displays 24 different colors. The M20’s images of the chart were uploaded to Imatest imaging software, which is programmed to compare cameras’ produced colors to the original colors of the chart. Below is a chart modified by the software to show the original colors (vertical rectangle), Pentax M20’s colors (outer portion of tile), and luminance-corrected ideal colors (inner square).


Below is another chart that explains the M20's color reproduction characteristics further. The center of the chart is completely unsaturated, and the edges of the chart are fully saturated. The 24 squares represent the ideal colors on the GretagMacbeth chart. The circles represent the colors produced by the Pentax Optio M20. The line connecting the two shows the degree of error. Ideally, the two shapes should be atop each other, but as seen below, there is a lot of variance.


Many of the Optio M20's cooler hues are off. In addition, the colors are undersaturated (notice the circles leaning toward the inner portion of the chart). The M20 came out with an average saturation of 97.15 percent, which is a little strange because most compact models oversaturate by a few percentage points to enhance skin tones and make images look more flattering than reality. This Pentax has a mean color error of 8.37, which isn’t anything worth bragging over. A 7.09 overall color score isn’t impressive, but it’s better than the Pentax Optio W10’s horrible 5.56 rating.  **Still Life Scene

**Below is a shot of our still life scene recorded by the Pentax M20.


*Click on the image above to view the full resolution photo.*

**Resolution ***(3.77)*The Pentax Optio M20 has a 1/2.5-inch CCD with 7 effective megapixels on it. We mounted the digital camera on a stable tripod and used the self-timer to get the absolute sharpest shots. We varied the aperture and focal length to find where the lens was its sharpest. We found the best shot the M20 delivered was taken at f/5.1 and 14.3mm; it is shown below.


Click on the res chart above to view the full resolution file

If you click on the image, a full-resolution file can be seen. It shows serious barrel distortion, especially noticeable by the black lines on the top and bottom of the chart. Those lines run straight horizontally on the actual ISO resolution chart we used, but the lines show up bowed into the frame of the Pentax M20’s images. The sharpness of the edges suffers significantly too. Although, it looks the worst on the right side; it is apparent on both edges.  This image was analyzed by Imatest software, and its resolution was quantified in units of line widths per picture height (lw/ph). This tells how many theoretical alternating black and white lines the camera could clearly discern before the lines began to blur together. The Pentax Optio M20 resolved 1682 lw/ph horizontally with 11 percent oversharpening, and 1670 lw/ph vertically with 10.1 percent oversharpening. These numbers aren’t impressive since compact digital cameras with the same advertised resolution produced much better results. The 7.1-megapixel Canon PowerShot A620 read 1708 lw/ph horizontally and 1787 lw/ph vertically. The lack of detail garnered a 3.77 overall resolution score, but the barrel distortion that will visibly warp pictures when printed is most disturbing.  **Noise – Auto ****ISO*** (1.31)*Many users of this digital camera will use the automatic ISO setting, so we tested to see how well it worked. In our brightly lit studio, the Pentax Optio M20 automatically set the camera to 400, which is much too high. The amount of noise at this rating is terrible, resulting in an overall auto ISO noise score of 1.31. This is worse than the Pentax W10 and WP that we’ve tested.  **Noise – Manual ****ISO*******(5.72)*Using the bright studio lighting and the color chart, we adjusted the ISO settings and tested each one to see how much noise was produced. The results are shown below with the horizontal axis representing the manual ISO settings and the vertical axis showing the amount of noise produced at each.


There is a lot of noise to start with even at the lowest ISO 64 setting. It continues to build until it is basically unusable at ISO 1600. Pictures at the highest setting will look grainy. The Pentax Optio M20 managed a 5.72 overall score derived from a regression analysis on the individual ISO settings’ noise levels.  **Low Light***(3.75)*The Pentax M20 has a host of automated modes, few of which cater to low light photography. Nevertheless, we tested the camera at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. The lighting in the first test at 60 lux is comfortable enough to read a book. The 30 lux test would cause the eyes to strain a little. The 15 lux test necessitates squinting, and the 5 lux test is nearly impossible to read unless you have a flashlight.   This digital camera kept colors illuminated more than the Pextax W10 did, but the noise level in the M20’s images is still very disappointing. The M20 also had trouble focusing in low light and often used short exposures. Even considering the short exposures, there was a lot of noise in pictures. Below is a chart showing just how much, with the horizontal axis representing the shutter speed and the vertical axis representing the noise level.

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The Pentax Optio M20 had trouble keeping noise under control beyond just 1/15th of a second. Overall, this digital camera isn’t made for shooting in low light. Its exposures are too short, its focus too finicky, and its high ISO settings too noisy to produce anything decent. The M20 is best fit for shooting outdoors in daylight.  **Speed / Timing **

Startup to First Shot (6.58)

The Pentax Optio M20 took 3.42 seconds from the time we turned it on until it took its first shot. Many compact cameras take about 2 seconds to start up, which can still be a long delay. M20 users should turn the camera in advance of picture-taking opportunities.

*Shot to Shot (8.84)

*The Pentax Optio M20 has a burst mode, but in our tests, the mode doesn’t have a steady burst rate. The second shot is 0.9 seconds after the first shot, the third shot is 0.72 seconds after the second shot, the fourth shot is 2.7 seconds later, and the subsequent shots are spaced at about 1.35 seconds apart. The average for the first 6 shots is 0.7 frames per second.

*Shutter to Shot (9.37)

*The Optio M20 took 0.63 of a second from the time we pressed the shutter to take a picture. That’s a long time – long enough to miss really great shots. Users can press the shutter just before they expect the perfect moment but anticipating a great moment by half a second is tough. We consider a 0.2 of a second delay to be good for compact cameras but anticipating by that much can still be difficult. The M20 is not a strong option for action photography. A delay of more than half a second can be frustrating even for posed pictures.

Physical Tour

Front ***(6.75)*

The front of the Pentax Optio M20 has an extending lens that emerges from under an automatic lens cover on the right side of the camera body. The 6.3-18.9mm 3x optical zoom lens has a polished silver ring surrounding it. Above the lens, in the upper right corner of the front face, is its poorly placed and horizontally oriented flash. It was far too easy to cover this flash with fingers of the left hand during two-handed shooting. The in-camera microphone is located to the left of the lens, underneath three cutout holes. Above these three holes is a red self-timer lamp to indicate when the self-timer is turned on.  The front of the Pentax Optio M20 is slightly thicker on the left side. The thicker body helps with one-handed shooting. Although, it does take a bit of maneuvering to adequately control it during extended shooting. It would have been nice if Pentax put a bit of grip or texture on the front for when hands get a bit slippery, but the current design is functional.     Back *(6.0)*A 2.5-inch LCD screen fills two-thirds of the Pentax Optio M20’s back face. The LCD is raised from the camera body by a quarter of an inch and is framed by a small band of black. The Pentax logo appears beneath the LCD screen along the bottom of the camera body.  To the right of the LCD along the upper edge of the camera body is the zoom control. The zoom control is a single button that can be pressed on the left side to control wide-angle and on the right side to manipulate telephoto zoom. In review mode, the zoom button doubles as the playback display toggle allowing the user to move from multi-up view to playback zoom up to 8x. The playback/shooting mode button is located beneath the wide-angle portion of the zoom control. It is clearly labeled with the universal playback triangle symbol for easy identification. Four raised dots are arranged vertically to the right of the playback button along the camera’s edge and are certainly useful in providing grip to the thumb when quickly shooting one-handed. A four-way control with a centrally positioned OK button can be found beneath the playback control. Pentax has chosen to split the four-way control into four separate buttons arranged in a circular pattern that mimics a compass’ cardinal directions. With generous space between these larger than normal buttons, photographers with physical setbacks or just larger fingers will find that the design of this control interface is especially friendly. In addition to providing navigation through menu interfaces, these controls have an additional control parameter when the camera is in shooting mode.  
The up arrow will open an onscreen menu for self-timer and burst mode settings, the right arrow will open the focus mode menu, the down arrow opens the mode menu and the left arrow activates the flash setting display. Each control is clearly labeled with either an icon or full text label to inform photographers of the dualistic capabilities. Some users may not recognize the symbols for flash, self-timer and focus at first glance, but with a little time and some practice, they should become second nature. Beneath the four-way control and directly beside the LCD screen is the menu button for both shooting and review modes. To the right of the menu button is the Green mode button that also doubles as the delete button when in review mode.  Green mode is the closest to a fully automatic mode with controls being restricted to two AF settings, two flash settings and one self-timer mode. Once users have become confident with shooting in Green mode and have begun exploring their cameras’ other shooting modes and control options, they can switch the green button from activating the Green mode to activating a number of image settings and manual control options. This is a nice customization option that will grant immediate access to an oft-used control or setting. Green button options can be switched in the setup menu under the green button sub-menu. Only one function can be assigned to this button at a time and choices include the following options: recorded pixels, quality level, white balance, AF focusing area, ISO, EV compensation, sharpness, saturation and contrast.
 ****Left Side *(6.75)*There are no features or components on the left side of the Pentax Optio M20. Of note are the rounded edges on the camera body. 


****Right Side ***(6.75)*A sizable polished silver wrist-strap eyelet protrudes from the right side of the Pentax Optio M20, making it easier to thread and use, which is handy if you have arthritis, bad eyesight, or big hands. Above this centrally positioned eyelet is a rubber cover that opens along its back edge. When open, this cover flips down and reveals the PC/AV port for connection to a television, personal computer or printer. Although these are the only two components on the right side of the camera, there is another small port cover located in the lower front corner that opens to the AA battery compartment. It didn’t take too much work to open. Unfortunately, it seems that this design is ideal for allowing water or moisture to enter the battery compartment.


Top* (6.5)*The top of the Pentax Optio M20 has a raised darker silver bar that extends from the left side of the camera across two-thirds of the camera length. In the middle of this bar is a cluster of ten cutout pinholes that act as a cover for the in-camera monaural speaker. The polished silver on/off button is located to the right of the in-camera speaker and is labeled using a slight embossing. To the right of the power button is a sizable shutter button positioned for comfortable activation with the second finger of the right hand. An ambient light sensor is located on the back edge of the M20’s top face where the upper right corner of the LCD frame connects with the camera body.


Bottom* (5.0)*The tripod socket is located on the far left edge of the Pentax Optio M20’s bottom face. It is located far enough away from the battery/memory card slot that photographers will be able to make alterations to those two features without having to take the camera off of the tripod. Unfortunately though, the socket is made of plastic. Since a plastic socket is easy to strip without too much effort, this feature will be rendered useless. A metal socket wouldn’t have cost that much more to the manufacturer and the durability would have been vastly superior to the plastic socket on the Pentax M20. To the right of center on the bottom is the ImageLink terminal for direct printing connection to compatible printers. To the right of the ImageLink terminal, there is another cover that opens by pressing on it slightly and shifting it to the right. This cover opens easily and is hinged along the left edge. The hinge appears to be strong enough to deal with some mishandling and abuse. Under this cover are the battery and memory card slots for the Pentax Optio M20. The batteries are AA and photographers shooting on a tripod should be aware that there is no mechanism holding these batteries into the camera body once the cover has been opened, forgetting this will inevitably mean hunting around for batteries at one’s feet. 




 **Viewfinder *(0.0)*The Pentax Optio M20 does not come with a viewfinder. This decision allows for Pentax to condense their camera size without compromising the LCD size or control interface. Additionally, the inevitable optical viewfinders found on smaller budget cameras are generally both undersized and inaccurate. The one major benefit of an optical viewfinder is the power-saving potential when running low on batteries. An optical viewfinder doesn’t require the battery power necessary to run an LCD screen and enables users to continue shooting for an extended period. The easiest way to make up for this is to carry a couple sets of extra AA batteries which is advisable anyway since there’s nothing worse than being caught out in the middle of nowhere with dead batteries and a beautiful shot. ****LCD Screen (5.5)

The 2.5-inch TFT backlit LCD screen of the Pentax Optio M20 has a total pixel count of 115,000 pixels. This LCD adjusts brightness automatically to changes in situational lighting through the ambient light sensor located on the top of the camera body. The LCD screen performed well in strongly lit situations like full daylight where many monitors would have become washed out. In lower lighting, however, the monitor struggled a bit. The LCD screen fills the left two-thirds of the camera's back face and is large enough to accommodate the on-screen graphics that indicate shooting mode, focus, and other information without feeling cluttered. Pentax has also included control over monitor content. Users can select between the bare minimum of info - which only displays the corner of a centrally positioned framing device - all the way to a full information screen that includes image size, quality, white balance, settings, battery life, memory card, ISO and a live histogram display. The histogram is certainly a welcome surprise, and it should help ensure users will attain a proper exposure.   Overall, the LCD screen has a moderately wide view and is good even in strong lighting. However, it only offers half the resolution of many 230,000 pixel monitors included on Optio M20's direct competitors.  ** **Flash (6.25)
The horizontal rectangular flash of the Pentax Optio M20 is a component that leaves much to be desired in terms of performance, design, and physical placement on the camera body. Before getting to these problems let’s cover the control options that are available. The left arrow of the four-way control doubles as the flash button when not in menu or review mode. This is a fact that can be confirmed by noting the flash insignia printed on this control. The M20's flash settings are displayed on the LCD screen once this button is pressed. It will provide users with the following settings when entered into the program mode: flash auto, flash off, flash on, flash mode auto + red-eye, flash on + red-eye and soft flash. The soft flash is a great option for shooting close-range portraits or club candid shots of friends since the overall flash is reigned in slightly. The flash range for the Pentax Optio M20 is 0.5-4 meters in wide while it becomes truncated in telephoto to 0.6-2 meters. Placing the flash just above the lens axis will minimize the amount of horizontal shadow casting that often plagues point-and-shoot cameras. The problem with the placement of this flash is the proximity to the right edge of the camera body.  When shooting two-handed, it was almost impossible not to have one or even two fingers wrap slightly around the front face and over the flash. Often during the course of testing, nearly half the resulting image would be cast in darkness while the other half of the image would be lit with the full flash.  While a readjustment of hand position will alleviate this shortcoming, there are many occasions where fleeting shots could be compromised because of the design.   
Zoom Lens***(6.0)*
The Pentax Optio M20 has a telescoping lens barrel that extends slightly from the right side of the camera body when activated. When powered down, the 3x optical zoom lens is protected by an automatic lens cover. The fully extended lens barrel is composed of two sections. The Pentax zoom lens has focal lengths of 6.3-18.9mm; this range is equivalent to 38-114mm in 35mm format. The aperture for this lens is f/3.1 to f/5.9 and is composed of six elements in five groups. A maximum aperture of f/3.1 is underwhelming when compared to most other cameras on the market, and when considering the widest angle measures a mere 38mm. Photographers may find both their framing and exposure options to be limited.   The actual zoom levels are controlled through a zoom button on the back of the camera body in the upper right corner. The zoom button is split into two parts (although it is a single mechanism) that allows users to press the right side for telephoto adjustment and the left for wide-angle adjustment. When the zoom button is pressed, a zoom level indicator appears horizontally along the bottom of the LCD monitor. This bar is easy to see and is able to show both optical and digital zoom together, or it can be set to only display and control optical zoom when digital zoom is disengaged in the shooting menu. The control is large enough for competent adjustments to be made and - while overly sensitive - it is able to produce up to nine stops of zoom when paying careful attention and making minute adjustments. Adjusting the zoom levels in normal shooting will produce far fewer stops due in large part to the overly fast movement through the zoom range. There is no way to slow down the shifts in zoom levels and oftentimes making the appropriate adjustment required a couple of extra nudges and bumps. The other setback for this control is when the widest wide-angle setting is reached the camera oscillates wildly before settling on the appropriate depth. This will temporarily render the camera useless, and it will delay and lengthen shooting time.  

Design / Layout


 **Model Design / Appearance (5.5)*The Pentax Optio M20 adds itself to the list of unassuming plastic bodied, matte silver point-and-shoot cameras currently on the market. While not a bad thing, the milieu of look-a-like cameras is becoming a bit absurd. Pentax attempts to distinguish itself visually from competitors by including polished silver highlights on the top and front-left side of the camera body. While not distinct in design, the body is functional and the placement of controls, LCD, and microphone are practical.  The Pentax M20 does have two design flaws to note. The first issue is the flash placement.  It’s located in the upper right corner of the camera’s front face and will be easily covered by the fingers of the left hand if users are not careful. The Pentax M20 also contains a piece of gray rubber on the right side of the camera body near the bottom edge. On second inspection, it becomes quickly apparent that this odd little quirk can be flipped out from the body of the camera with a little finagling. Upon successfully flipping this piece of hinged rubber, the photographer will discover that what lies beneath are the AA batteries. A little exposure to water and the batteries will begin corroding and damaging the interior of the battery compartment.  Also located beneath this cover is the SD memory card slot that is also easily damageable when exposed to moisture. * Other than these two setbacks, the design and layout of the Pentax Optio M20 is functional and should perform without impeding ease of use or shooting comfort. **Size / Portability *(6.5)*The Optio M20 is a camera that can be held with one hand when shooting. It will also fit comfortably into the palm of a hand anytime. It’s a bit thick for fitting into a pants pocket and probably a bit too heavy to put into a shirt pocket. It will fit into a suit coat or jacket without any hassle. The smooth body and lack of a protruding lens further aids in portability while the inclusion of a sizeable wrist strap eyelet and optional wrist strap enables users to comfortably thread and engage this additional safety measure.   The Pentax Optio M20 camera body measures 3.7 inches in width, 2.4 inches in height and 0.9 inches in thickness. These measurements exclude the additional protrusions like the wrist strap eyelet located on the right side of the camera body.  Additionally, the camera weighs around 6 oz with both memory card and batteries in place. This is a comfortable weight and size range for carrying in the hand or around the wrist for a day-trip or shorter event. Longer or rougher travel would make the additional purchase of a carrying case highly recommended for both transport and style points. ****Handling Ability ***(6.0)*The Pentax Optio M20 is a small rectangular camera with rounded edges and little grip or ergonomics put into its design. Fingers have no real set position needed for proper shooting. This is reflected in the tendency for fingers of the left hand to splay across the flash lackadaisically during shooting.  While the small body size means one-handed shooting is easier to accomplish than larger and heavier camera bodies, the smooth plastic exterior and lack of grip on the front of the Optio M20 translates to a lot of shifting to retain grip. Oftentimes, it was just easier to use two hands and give up one-handed shooting entirely.



Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size ***(7.0)*The control positions and button size on the M20 body is generous. Photographers with marginal arthritis or large fingers may find that the interface is comfortable and logical to use. Pentax has stripped down the exterior and left only those controls which are essential. The shutter button is almost oversized, but this isn’t a bad thing at all. It is easy to locate and access when looking at the LCD. Buttons with dual functionality are clearly labeled and, aside from the embossed labels found with the power button and the zoom control, the bold and painted text and symbol labels are easy to identify and select. ** **Menu *(7.0)*The Pentax Optio M20 menus display a simple design with a semi-transparent overlay that provides a live image preview when in shooting mode, and selected image viewing when in playback mode. The setup menu will appear as either a live view (when in shooting mode) or a selected image view (in review mode). The menus are logical and easily maneuverable in playback and shooting modes, allowing for quick changes to be made without having to struggle with complicated or unnecessarily lengthy menu systems. In playback mode, the textual list of menu options is replaced with an icon-based system that displays a full-text description of each icon a few seconds after being highlighted. These text descriptions are helpful for beginners but may eventually get in the way once users have become more familiar with the camera.   In the shooting menu, the options for sub-menus are displayed as full text descriptions. The menu system is navigated vertically via the up and down arrows of the four-way controller. Entering into a sub-menu’s control options is accomplished by pressing the right arrow - simple, efficient and functional.  Inside the manual control sub-menus, the user is able to make adjustments to white balance while viewing an unobstructed live-view that is great when user's are unsure of what option to select. It would have been ideal if this had been continued on to the exposure compensation and ISO settings as well.  Like the shooting modes menu, the setup menu employs a semi-transparent overlay and the same text-based system that can be scanned using the up and down arrows. The most interesting feature option to note in the setup menu is the green button sub-menu.  This option allows users to switch the default green button setting of Green Mode to alternate control settings if desired. The Green Mode provides instant access to control options like white balance, AF focusing area, ISO, EV Comp and other image parameters.  This small customization can be great for users looking to avoid entering the menu system to access a feature they use frequently.    As mentioned above, the playback menu of the Pentax Optio M20 doesn’t employ the same text-based menu structure found in the shooting and setup menus. The playback menu instead has a somewhat cutesy icon system. Access to this menu is accomplished through the mode button that is also the down arrow of the four-way control. The menu button is still functional in this mode, but instead of opening the playback options, this button will open and provide access to the shooting mode and setup menus. The playback menu system is less intuitive because of the graphic interface. To combat the potential confusion with the icons, Pentax has included a pop-up window with a full text description of the currently highlighted feature. The following editing options are also provided in-camera: resizing, trimming, rotation and filters.     Ease of Use (7.75)*This camera excels in the ease of use category with both a simple exterior interface and a series of menu structures and displays that are intuitive, informative and logical in design. The shooting and setup menus employ a simple linear full text scrolling menu system while the playback and mode menus are designed with a graphic icon interface that includes full text descriptions when individual options are highlighted for more than a few seconds. While the auto mode is straightforward, it also provides access to both menu structures and manual controls that may be confusing to beginners. In order to avoid confusion, Pentax included a Green mode that is accessed by pressing the green button located in the lower right corner on the back face of the M20. The Green mode restricts users to two flash settings, three focus modes, a burst setting and a self-timer option. This is the ultimate in terms of simplicity and if worried about dealing with digital technology, it’s a great way to learn until more comfortable or proficient.  * 


 **Auto Mode *(7.5)*The auto mode of the Pentax Optio M20 is two-parts with both an auto mode setting and a Pentax specific "Green" shooting mode that is more explicitly automatic when compared to the auto mode. First though, let’s examine the auto mode. The auto mode for the Pentax Optio M20 allows users to select pixel count, quality level, ISO, movie mode settings, digital zoom, flash, focus presets and manual focus. The auto mode doesn’t allow for access to settings like white balance or exposure compensation, but the options that are included will at least allow novice users to get their feet wet in the manual control realm. The second, and previously mentioned automatic mode, is the Green mode that restricts the camera controls to two flash settings, three AF options, zoom, and a self-timer setting. This mode locks out the menu systems, manual focus, mode menus and other options.  It’s definitely easy to use, as all one can really do is point and shoot. ****Movie Mode (7.0)*The movie mode on the Pentax Optio M20 captures smooth and clean video at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 fps. Audio is simultaneously captured and the microphone is well placed away from fingers so that clean and unobstructed recording is possible. Listening to the quality of the audio on PC is what can be expected from a cheap monaural, in-camera microphone, it is a bit muffled, although, the overall audio content was decipherable and camera noise was minimal. However, playing back audio on the built-in mono speaker isn’t very impressive.  Switching to movie mode can be accomplished by pressing the down arrow/mode button and selecting the movie option.  The movie mode settings are located within the standard shooting mode menu in the appropriately named movie sub-menu.  The movie sub-menu allows for the resolution to be set to either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240; three quality settings of ***, ****, ; frame rates of 15 fps or 30 fps; three color modes that digitally alter the footage to sepia, black and white or full color; and movie anti-shake activation. ****Drive / Burst Mode *(5.5)*Access to the drive mode of the Pentax Optio M20 is accomplished by pressing the up arrow of the four-way control. The drive mode on the M20 is limited to a single continuous shooting setting that captures images until either the memory card or internal memory is filled. The burst mode wasn’t very fast, and it had a slightly longer delay at the beginning of capture. Achieving a consistent speed was nearly impossible and several trial runs showed that the camera tended to stop shooting at about ten shots unless coaxed and cajoled and delicately engaged.  At times, the speed between shots lagged several seconds - a delay that won’t win this camera any awards. ****Playback Mode *(8.0)*The playback mode uses a graphic interface that is identical to the mode menu setup. The graphic display is overlaid onto the currently selected picture or video. Accessing the mode options is accomplished by pressing the mode button while the menu button continues to provide access to the shooting and setup menu systems; this can be a bit confusing. The graphic interface is navigated with the four-way controls, and it provides users with a number of in-camera editing and filter options prior to exporting images to a printer or computer. Playback options include slideshow, resize, trim, image/sound copy, image rotation, digital filter, brightness filter, frame composite, red-eye compensation, voice memo, protect, DPOF and start-up screen. Options in the digital filter include black and white, sepia, pink, red, purple, blue, green, yellow and soft, while the brightness control allows for a varying number of +/- steps of exposure; we found +/- 6 steps are available. The only problem with these in-camera features is that there is a near 30-second delay when the user attempts to save these images to memory.   The Pentax Optio M20 includes an option in playback mode to view images as either a single image or a multi-up nine-image display before entering into a calendar display where users can move quickly from day to day.  In addition to these multi-up display settings, the camera is capable of up to 8x digital playback zoom by pressing the telephoto side of the zoom button repeatedly.  Moving through an image in playback zoom can be accomplished by navigating with the four-way controls. The camera's graphic-based system in its playback mode is easy to move through and access its various settings. Other than the delay when writing the changes to memory, the M20 provides a host of options to keep users entertained after capturing the images.  Custom Image Presets ***(7.0)*Pressing the down arrow of the four-way control accesses the custom image preset options along with other shooting modes. The scene modes are displayed on this screen in a grid of icons. There are eleven settings that cover situations and subjects that include Night scene, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Surf and Snow, Sport, Blur reduction, Kids, Pet, Food and Frame composite.  Moving through this screen display is done with any of the four-way controls and when a setting is highlighted for more than a few seconds, a second overlay screen will appear and provide a full text description of when and where this preset could come in handy.  For example, the "kids" mode states that it may be used "For capturing moving kids.  Reproduces healthy and bright skin tone."  Obviously the preset mode options can be used to capture any scene regardless of the intended subject or situational matter but in most situations sticking close to the proposed content is advised.  If an option is not selected and approved using the OK button, the camera pauses for an extended period before selecting the option itself.  This can be a bit irksome if accidentally leaving the camera in this menu mode while momentarily attending to something else.  However, it is a quick fix since the user merely has to re-enter the mode display and select the appropriate setting. 

Control Options


Manual Control Options**While not necessarily expansive in the controls that they cover, the manual options found on the Pentax Optio M20 are easy to locate, engage, and adjust, helping minimize the amount of time novice users will have to spend reading the manual.  Manual options are listed through external controls like the four-way buttons or in the shooting menu. Manual controls that can be set with the four-way buttons include focus mode via the right arrow and flash via the left arrow. Manual controls found within the shooting menu will allow users to make adjustments to exposure compensation, image sensitivity (ISO) and white balance. Aperture, shutter and exposure metering are all fully automatic. Users will find that in shooting situations with backlighting, for example, the fully automatic metering mode will fall short of the results attained with other cameras that have a manually selectable spot, center-weighted and multi metering options.  If consumers want a digital camera with more manual controls, they should keep looking. There are a number of cameras on the market now that will provide equal (or better) image quality, along with far more manual control, for the same general price.   **Focus***Auto Focus (7.0)*Auto focus is an area that is chock full of control. The auto focus is set through the use of a TTL contrast detection system with a 9-point array. The auto focus settings are found by pressing the right arrow of the four-way control; this action opens a display on the right side of the LCD that easily scrolls through with the up and down arrows on the same four-way control. AF options on the Optio M20 include standard, macro, super-macro, infinity and pan focus. In addition to these auto focus options, users can further customize their AF shooting by selecting from three AF area options listed within the shooting menu of the camera: multiple, spot and automatic tracking AF.  The focusing range for the Pentax Optio M20 in normal shooting mode is approximately 0.4 meters to infinity, while macro shoots from approximately 0.1-1.0 meter in full wide-angle.  When switched into the super-macro AF mode, the range is reduced to 0.05-0.4 meters. The extreme opposite of this is the landscape mode that shoots in the full zoom range to infinity. The pan focus in wide-angle is successful from around 1.4 meters to infinity; while in telephoto, the range begins at 5.8 meters and continues out to infinity.   Accessing and adjusting the AF area options will depend on which shooting mode the camera is currently selected. In Program mode, all three options are available, while in modes like frame composite, auto, portrait and movie, the options are restricted individually to a specific setting or settings. The auto focus took about a second to function and more complicated shots lagged several seconds. The system takes its time, but it works effectively. Occasionally, the camera displayed a red frame to indicate the need to recompose the shot in order to attain proper focus. This happened often in low light situations, however, the inclusion of the red frame indicator was helpful in confirming focus. 

 *Manual Focus (5.5)*Manual focus is accessible through the sub-menu that opens when the right arrow of the four-way control is pressed. Manual focus is not accessible in the following modes: frame composite, voice recording, green, and movie modes. Users can activate the manual focus setting in the remaining auto, preset, and program modes. This is a great option to include in all modes since it’s a concept that is familiar to all photographers regardless of skill. While success with it may be varied, it is at least an option that remains on the table even when employing a preset mode option like sports mode.  When activated, the manual focus setting opens a vertical bar along the left side of the LCD screen. Moving through this vertical scale is accomplished by pressing the up and down arrows of the four-way control in the appropriate direction. Movement from infinity to one meter is a bit hasty while the lag from one meter to 0.1 meters is several seconds at its fastest. The range for manual focus is approximately 0.1 meters to infinity in wide-angle and 0.6 meters to infinity in telephoto. Switching out of manual focus is accomplished by pressing the right arrow once if the vertical bar display is currently shown or twice if the bar is not shown. This will return the user to the general focal mode display that is positioned on the right side of the LCD screen. **Metering *(4.0)*Metering is not a manual control option included on the Pentax Optio M20 and photographers will need to rely on the occasionally successful but often problematic TTL multi-metering system. I say problematic because when forced to handle backlighting or multiple light sources, the camera tends to produce sub-par results that require either adjustments to lighting or camera position. While a number of overall metering systems would be fooled by similar situations, unfortunately, the M20 does not include a spot meter or any other options to help handle challenging lighting. Exposure (7.0)*The M20’s exposure compensation sub-menu is found in the shooting menu of the program mode and 12 of the 13 preset modes.  Exposure compensation is not available when shooting in Green mode, auto, and voice recording modes. This control option allows for a +/-2 EV range to be transitioned through in 1/3-stop steps. To bias the exposure, users can adjust the EV compensation by pressing the left and right arrows of the four-way control in the appropriate direction. While monitoring of adjustment can be accomplished due to the semi-transparent menu structure, Pentax doesn’t allow for the unblocked live view provided with white balance control. While not a huge drawback in terms of functionality, it would be nice to have that same clear view available when making adjustments to exposure.

**White Balance *
*(7.25)*White balance is an area of manual control where the Pentax Optio M20 excels in the options provided and interface design. White balance options are located within the shooting menu. However, white balance can also be set to the green button by making the appropriate adjustment to the green button setting in the setup menu. White balance options on the M20 will be displayed on the left side of the LCD monitor. The sub-menu for white balance is displayed only along the perimeter of the LCD and leaves a large portion of the screen free for live view. This is a great asset for the novice user looking to expand into manual control but is unsure of the result. The inclusion of an unobstructed live view means that no doubt will remain when preset options are scanned through or the custom white balance mode is engaged. Setting custom white balance is easily accomplished by selecting the custom option and pressing the shutter button. A temporary filler screen is displayed during adjustment that is then replaced by the live view image post-adjustment. The white balance in custom mode performed competently , and it was able to make up for bright daylight, fluorescent, and incandescent interior lighting without setbacks.  If looking to make white balance adjustments and you are lacking a white surface or are unsure of the results found with custom mode, the Pentax Optio M20 comes with daylight, shade, tungsten light and fluorescent light presets.
 ****ISO (8.25)*ISO is another parameter that can be manually controlled by the photographer shooting with the Pentax Optio M20. The sensitivity menu option is accessible in all but the green, video, voice recording and blur-reduction shooting modes. The ISO range is expansive, with ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 settings provided, in addition to the auto setting. The higher ISO settings like 400, 800, and 1600 produced a large amount of noise in the final image. Check the Testing section for more performance details. At the higher ISO levels, the noise is unavoidable and, if objectionable, it will require users to either find better lighting or use the harsh in-camera flash.  * **Shutter Speed (0.0)*Not surprisingly, the shutter speed for the Pentax Optio M20 is a fully automatic setting that cannot be manually set by the user. The shutter of the Optio M20 is an electronic/mechanical shutter, and it has a speed range of 1/2000th of a second to 4 seconds – although the camera seems to favor exposures under a half-second even under very low light. * **Aperture ***(0.0)*Aperture, like shutter speed, is a fully automatic feature.  With a maximum aperture of f/3.1 being anything but impressive, photographers may find it necessary to rely on the camera's flash unit in less than ideal lighting conditions. The full aperture range for this digital camera is f/3.1 to f/5.9. This maximum aperture is barely better than cameras like the Olympus FE-200, and it falls short when compared to a number of cameras by Kodak that can be found at half the price. 

Image Parameters

 **Picture Quality / Size Options (8.5)*Picture quality and size options on Pentax Optio M20 are listed within the shooting menu in two separate sub-menus. The picture size options for the Pentax Optio M20 have a high resolution setting of 7 MP (3072 x 2304) and scale down from there with options of 5M (2560 x 1920), 4M (2304 x 1728), 3M (2048 x 1536), 2M (1600 x 1200), 1024 (1024 x 768) and 640 (640 x 480).  It is also possible to reduce the picture size in playback mode to 320 (320 x 240) for faster uploading to either email or Internet profile sites. Directly beneath the recorded pixels sub-menu, the compression can be changed to *** (best), **** (better), and ** (good). Both the image quality and size settings are easy to adjust and understand without having consulted the manual or a dozen online help sites.** ****Picture Effects Mode***(8.0)*There is control over picture effects when in both the shooting and playback modes on the Pentax Optio M20. Adjustments to contrast, sharpness and saturation can be made prior to recording; the scale consists only of +, 0, and – options though. This isn’t going to provide the user with the nuance or control found with the most basic post-production image editing software. In addition to these three marginal effects, the playback mode offers brightness and digital filters. The brightness filter enables the user to adjust overall brightness +/-6 steps if manipulated with enough control and delicacy. The digital filter options allow for selections between soft, black and white, sepia, red, pink, purple, blue, green and yellow.  These filters work well, but it will take forever to process. Users have to wait upwards of 12 seconds to record an effect.  It is fun to apply these digital effects on one or two images, but it will drive the user crazy if processing a number of images.    

Connectivity / Extras

 **Connectivity***Software (6.0)*Included with the purchase of the Pentax Optio M20 is ACDSee for Pentax software for PC and Macintosh computers. The program is more of an image viewer and less of an image editing platform. This software was easy to install. The interface isn’t necessarily the most intuitive, and it has minimal options and an overall mid-nineties aesthetic reminiscent of Tetris. It is possible to auto adjust image levels with varied success, and rotation of images occurs from the Image option in the toolbar. Other than these basic options and the slideshow feature, there are no other image manipulation possibilities.   *Jacks, ports, plugs (3.5)*There are three locations for jacks, ports and plugs on the Pentax Optio M20. On the right face of the camera body, near the top of the camera and aligned with the back edge of this side, is a small light gray rubber port cover that flips open from the back edge. This cover is hinged along the bottom and moves easily out of the way to allow access to the AV/PC port of the camera. This port allows direct connection to television monitor, personal computer or printer. This cover has an embossed label on its surface and is fairly easy to locate.   The second location for ports is located on the bottom of the camera body. The cover for both the SD memory card and AA batteries can be opened by pressing in slightly while sliding the cover to the right to reveal the battery and memory card slots beneath. The slight bulging on the front of the camera’s right side allows room for the AA batteries to reside. As mentioned in several other places in the review, a small rubber flap can be found on the right side of the camera that flips open to reveal the AA batteries which lay directly on the other side. This is an odd design flaw because of how easily moisture can pass through the flap when open even slightly. It popped open when swapping batteries and was only noticed after nearly an hour of handling.  When the box was first opened upon receiving the product, the flap was slightly set out of the camera body in a position that would allow for water or other moisture to enter the battery and memory card slots and wreak havoc on electronic components as well corrode the batteries.  The third and final port can be located on the bottom of the Pentax Optio M20 to the left of the battery and memory card port cover.  This uncovered port allows the camera to be directly connected to an ImageLink printer without cables or other accessory devices.  This is certainly helpful and hassle-free when compared to the somewhat preposterous cabling requirements found on some older digital cameras. *Direct Print Options (7.0)*The direct print options for this camera are two-fold: PictBridge and ImageLink systems are compatible. The Pentax Optio M20 has a port that connects directly to ImageLink printers, but it also has a USB port to connect to PictBridge printers via the included cable. Before printing, users may find that it’s necessary to switch the USB mode in the setup menu from the default PC option to the PictBridge setting. This slows down the initial printing and if the manual isn’t read; it could cause a few minutes of consternation and rehashing of favorite obscenities.  Once connected to a printer, the camera must be powered on and a new display system appears.  This allows users to select between printing all images, select images, or DPOF images.  When selecting images, users can adjust the number of copies, paper size, type, quality, as well as border status.  This display system is easy to move through without strain. *Battery (7.5)*

The Pentax Optio M20 comes with two alkaline AA batteries, but consumers may want to consider purchasing rechargeable AAs. Otherwise, alkaline models must be purchased constantly. The rechargeable battery option is a great way of getting around the pricey and short-lived single-use AA battery, and it will definitely  minimize the environmental impact of using this powering option. The camera has a reported maximum battery life of 640 shots if using AA lithium batteries, but when factoring in review time, imaget effects, and shooting mishaps, the battery life becomes drastically shorter.  It’s a wise idea to carry a couple extra batteries in a back pocket when shooting for the day or during an extended period. *Memory (4.0)*The memory options on the Pentax Optio M20 include both an internal memory storage medium as well as SD memory card.  The Optio M20 comes with 21.9 MB of internal memory that allows for six images captured at 7 MP in the best quality to be captured.  Users of the M20 would be wise to purchase an additional memory card.  The Optio M20 accepts SD cards in the memory card slot located beneath a port cover on the bottom of the camera body.  This slot is easy to access, and the position of this cover and slot is far enough away from the tripod socket that users will be able to swap out both memory cards and batteries without having to remove the camera from the tripod and possibly ruin a framed shot.   **Other Features **(7.0)*Green Button* – The green button located in the lower right corner of the M20’s back has a default control of activating the uber-auto Green shooting mode.  If the Green mode is no longer useful, it can be changed to access a handful of image and manual controls.  The control options provided within the green button sub-menu of the setup menu provide choices that include recorded pixels, quality level, white balance, focusing area, ISO sensitivity, EV compensation, sharpness, saturation and contrast.  *Frame Composite* – This option is listed in both playback and shooting modes and applies a graphic frame on top of still images.  Options of frames include choices like a frilly lace heart, a ring of bright red roses or a small pseudo-animated creature that has a speaking bubble that says "Happy."  This is a tacky feature that likely will only be used by people still ordering from the kids’ menu.  *Blur Reduction Shooting Mode* – This preset shooting mode employs a higher sensitivity level in order to reduce blur. In addition to raising the sensitivity, this mode will set the shutter speed to remain faster than 1/15th of a second in order to further battle camera shake and blur reduction. Unfortunately, the battle with noise and image quality will still rage on.  

Overall Impressions

 **Value *(7.0)*The Pentax Optio M20 has a 1/2.5-inch 7 MP CCD, 3x optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch LCD screen, a number of preset shooting modes, a handful of manual options, a fully automatic mode for the novice and a movie mode with audio capture.  The camera impressively remains under $200 and can currently be found online for around $150 without too much searching.  All isn’t candy though, and readers should take into consideration problems like a poorly designed rubber flap that opens onto the battery compartment.  The M20 has an internal interface that challenges the simplicity of a Kodak EasyShare and a quality of construction that falls far short of the competition.  In the end, the M20 is a point-and-shoot digital camera on the cusp when it comes to a value purchase. Sure, it has more megapixels than most cameras found at this price, and the user-friendly design is also an advantage. The low-quality construction and uninspired design allude to its limitations, though, it's still a reasonable alternative and strong value for point-and-shooters on a budget. Comparisons***

Kodak EasyShare C743 *– This model had a recent price reduction on the Kodak website and can now be purchased through Kodak for $199.95 or elsewhere for even less. This camera matches the Pentax M20’s resolution with its 1/2.5 inch 7.1 MP CCD and also comes with a 3x optical zoom lens. The LCD screen is slightly smaller at 2.4 inches, but it does have a real image optical viewfinder if needing to conserve battery power. This model has a slightly smaller shutter speed range, an ISO range that extends to ISO 400 in full resolution (ISO 800 is an option at the lowest resolution), +/-2 EV compensation, +/- 2 bracketing, three preset white balance options and a center-weighted metering mode.  The Kodak EasyShare C743 does have two burst mode settings and a video mode with a full resolution of 640 x 480 at 30 fps.  Kodak has always excelled in their novice-friendly interface that is simple and logical from shot to finished print.  What’s interesting is that manufacturers like Pentax have begun to catch up in this portion of the market and are beginning to produce cameras that challenge the Kodak line-up by providing both simplicity and manual control at a budget price.  One area where Kodak is a distinct leader continues to be the included Kodak EasyShare software that provides users with a basic interface for altering images once exported from camera, an option not found with the ACDSee software of Pentax. *
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W30 *–
This digital camera is available on the Sony website for $200, but it can be found for less. The W30 has a 1/2.5 -nch 6 MP CCD, 32 MB of internal memory, and a 3x optical Carl Zeiss branded lens. The DSC-W30 has a larger maximum aperture of f/2.8, and a user controllable shutter speed range of one second to 1/2000th of a second. Other manual controls include EV compensation, flash settings, and ISO up to 1000. Options like white balance come with a minimum number of preset options but don’t include the custom or number of preset modes found on the M20. Another setback for this camera comes when the movie mode is considered.  It does have the potential to capture at 640 x 480 at 30 fps but only if users purchase a Memory Stick Pro Duo card.  While most users will purchase a memory storage device of some type, the number of options and price range found with SD media is far more varied and more kind to the budget market when compared to the Sony branded Memory Stick Pro Duo.  Additionally, this camera only has seven preset shooting modes. However, the Kodak does have a cleaner, more solid design than the M20, and it can be bought in silver, light blue or white colors. *
Fujifilm FinePix A600 *–
This compact digital camera has a 1/1.7-inch 6.25 MP CCD and is currently available for under $200 online.  The stocky A600 has a 3x optical zoom lens with a better maximum aperture of f/2.8. The manual control options found on this camera include ISO, flash control and EV compensation while presets are only available for white balance alteration.  There are no manual settings for focus, aperture, and metering; there is also a smaller automatic shutter speed range.  The AF settings are drastically limited when compared to the M20’s abundance of options.  Playback functions are also limited to a trimming option and further image editing will need to be completed using editing software.  In addition to all these shortcomings, the camera has a mere 12 MB of internal memory, only 4 preset shooting modes and a stuttering 10 fps movie mode at a reduced resolution of a 320 x 240 pixels.    *
Canon PowerShot A540 *–
The Canon PowerShot A540 is another compact camera currently priced online at around the same amount as the Pentax Optio M20; it has a slightly smaller 1/2.5-inch CCD with 6 megapixels. This camera has a longer 4x optical zoom lens and a wider maximum aperture of f/2.6.  The LCD screen falls a bit short of the mark with 2.5 inches at a sub-par of 85,000 pixels.  The manual controls that are included with this camera include aperture priority, shutter speed priority, EV compensation, white balance, metering, and ISO. Other controls include not only flash settings but a flash exposure adjustment as well.  The My Colors in-camera image alteration and photo effects options blow the M20’s slim selection of digital filters out of the water.  The Canon A540 captures video at 640 x 480 at 30 fps maximum and has thirteen preset shooting modes for novice users looking to move beyond full auto but still overwhelmed by manual options.  Included in the box are both a post-production software program and a 16 MB MMC memory card.* ***Who It’s For***Point-and-Shooters* – The Pentax Optio M20 is definitely meant for the point-and-shoot photographer that is looking for either outright auto (with Green mode) or a partially manual auto mode (program) that is still friendly to the novice user.  The shooting mode interface is simple to move through and easy to comprehend even if the manual hasn’t been consulted prior to shooting. *Budget Consumers* – With its easy to use interface, simple design, 7 megapixels, 2.5-inch LCD screen and a handful of manual controls, the Pentax Optio M20 could be a tempting option with its sub-$200 price tag. Although, before jumping to buy this camera the consumer should be sure to consider the shortcomings, like the pointless and potentially detrimental right-side port cover. *Gadget Freaks* – This is a standard digital camera with standard controls, modes and design. While perfectly functional and appropriate for the point-and-shooter, the gadget freak is inevitably going to look elsewhere for their latest addition to their stable of innovative products.* **Manual Control Freaks* – The manual control freak will be somewhat disappointed by the smattering of options that include focus, exposure and white balance but lack metering, shutter speed or aperture control. The interface is simple to understand and the live view for manual controls is admittedly handy, but without the additional manual options, the manual freak is going to feel a bit underwhelmed by the Pentax Optio M20.* **Pros/Serious Hobbyists* – There would be no reason for the pro or serious hobbyist to consider this camera as a photographic option - even as a vacation camera, this type of shooter demands more control over exposure and visual effects. 


  **Conclusion**The Pentax Optio M20 is a compact digital camera currently priced for under $200 online. It is designed to appeal to budget-minded point-and-shoots. The camera does have an impressive 7 MP CCD. The M20 has a 3x optical zoom lens, a 2.5-inch LCD and a stripped down external interface.  Internally, the camera boasts menus that are easy to navigate, help screens in mode menus and playback mode, and a Pentax-specific Green mode for completely automatic control.   In addition to the simple Green mode, the M20 offers some manual control options, although they are a bit slim. The Optio M20 provides options for exposure compensation, white balance, focus, and image sensitivity, while parameters like aperture, shutter speed and metering are fully automatic. Interestingly, Pentax included a number of preset AF modes for users as well as manual focus so that photographers will have the opportunity to control focus without having to engage the manual control option. The movie mode offers a maximum resolution of 640 x 480, 30 fps and records audio. The other preset shooting modes provide a number of options to bridge the gap between fully automatic and manual. Things like a customizable shortcut button and a live histogram provide photographers with options and features that they might otherwise ignore. While there are a few problems to consider with this camera - questionable flash positioning and a rubber flap that exposes the batteries and memory card - the camera is competitively priced for the market. With significant resolution, average image quality, in-camera editing options, and a general design that promotes ease of use, the M20 is a reasonable candidate for point-and-shooters looking to stay below the $200 mark.  

Specs / Ratings



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