Cameras

Pentax Optio V20 Digital Camera Review

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Physical Tour

This compact 8-megapixel point-and-shoot offers a handsome 3-inch LCD and a 5x zoom lens that's unusual in this class of camera. The all-plastic body feels solid enough to stand up to average use, though a fall to the pavement will leave you holding your breath in trepidation.

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Front(6.50)

We'd call the front of the Pentax Optio V20 generic – the more judgmental among you may prefer 'boring,' but it gets the job done. There's a raised silver grip on the left to serve as a resting place for your middle finger. To its right is the self-timer lamp and slim rectangular flash, while the telescoping lens takes up the right side of the body. Below and to the right of the lens is a small mono microphone used for recording during video shooting and also for adding voice annotations to photos. 

 

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There's not much excitement in the look of the V20. 

Back (6.50)

The glossy 3-inch LCD screen, flush with the camera body and surrounded by a thin black bezel, dominates the back of the camera. If visible fingerprints drive you crazy, this camera may not be good for your mental well-being, since the glossy screen, positioned with little margin for finding a handhold, is a smudge magnet. To the right of the LCD are the camera’s buttons and controls, which thanks to their simplicity don't feel cramped even though the real estate devoted to them is slender. At the top is the face detection control, which toggles between Face Detection, Smile Capture, and Off when pressed repeatedly. Below this is the Playback button, marked with the familiar VCR-style Play icon.  Below this is a four-way control with central OK button. In addition to controlling cursor movement in the menu system, the four buttons each have dedicated shooting functions mapped to them: from the top proceeding clockwise, these are Self timer, Flash mode, Shooting Mode and Macro mode. Below the four-way controller are two additional buttons. The left button brings up the Menu, the distinctively colored Green Mode button triggers an ultra-simple shooting mode by default, but can be assigned to other record-mode functions through the menu system. During playback, the Green Mode button is used to control image erasure.

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With the large screen taking up most of the back,

Pentax kept buttons to a minimum.

Left Side* (5.0) *The left side of the V20 is divided between the matte black plastic of the black and the polished silver of the front. The inset black panel in the center is home to a sturdy hard rubber door protecting a proprietary connector for USB and AV output cables. The door pops open easily enough with a fingernail, but takes some maneuvering to put back into place. Below this connector panel is a silver hook for connecting the included wrist strap.

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The port doors opens more easily than it closes.

 

Right Side*(3.25)*

The right side of the V20 has no functional parts. Again, the silver camera front and black back meet in the middle here. Two small, black screws hold a reinforcing black plastic panel in place along the seam, with "5x Optical Zoom" printed vertically along the side.

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*If simplicity is a virtue, the right side

of this camera is saintly.

*

Top*(5.75)*

The V20 is topped by a band of polished silver. On the left side, "Optio V20" is embossed into the surface. To the right is the small round On/Off button, and beyond that, on the right side of the camera’s top, is the large silver shutter button surrounded by a silver zoom ring. There’s no mode dial, as found on many point-and-shoots, because the shooting modes are accessed using the camera’s internal menu system.

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The top controls are simple and well positioned.

Related content

Bottom* (4.75)*

The plastic tripod mount is on the far left side, an arrangement that makes attaching the V20 to a tripod less secure since it minimizes contact with the camera bottom, but does allow access to the battery and memory card. To the right are six small speaker holes. At the far right of the camera’s bottom are the battery and memory card slots, protected by a plastic door that slides to the right and springs open. The battery within is held in place with a small plastic clip to prevent it falling out accidentally.

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The battery/memory card door closes securely.

 

Color and Resolution

Overall the V20 produced mediocre but not unacceptable test results, with low light and video performance scoring particularly well, and noteworthy shortcomings in white balance and resolution.

**Color **(8.05)

Often what you see is not what you get, when it comes to your digital camera. You see a pale blue sky on the LCD when you pres the shutter, yet somehow when you review the photo the sky is a darker, richer hue. The delicate yellow flower you found growing by the roadside looks strangely orange in your photo. Sometimes the effect is intentional on the part of a camera manufacturer who thinks warmer, richer colors will look more appealing. Sometimes it's simply a camera that's not doing its job properly. Either way, we prefer accuracy in our color reproduction, so we take our test cameras into the lab, shoot an industry-standard GretagMacbeth color chart under carefully controlled lighting conditions, analyze the resulting images using Imatest software and figure out precisely how precisely the camera is delivering the colors we experienced with our naked eyes.

In the Imatest output chart below, which recreates the 24 color squares from the GretagMacbeth chart, the color as captured by the camera is shown in each outer rectangle, the chart color corrected to match the luminance of the camera image is shown in the inside square, and the original chart  color is shown in the inset rectangle.

 

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The same underlying data is represented more diagrammatically in the chart below. Here, the original chart color is shown in the square, the color as captured by the camera is shown in the circle, and the difference between them is represented by the length and direction of the connecting line. As you can see, the reproduction of skin tones (approximated by the first and second squares on the chart) is reasonably accurate, but blue shades are significantly shifted off-hue, as is the yellow. Overall saturation is quite accurate at 101.8% of the ideal.

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*The long lines for the blue shades indicate significant color shift.

*

For comparison purposes, we'll see how the Pentax stacks up in each of our testing categories against four other reviewed cameras in roughly the same price and features category. As far as color reproduction, the V20 is in the same camp as the Casio Exilim EX-Z300 and Samsung TL34HD, lagging those just slightly, but significantly outclassed by Canon's PowerShot  SD1100 IS and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8.




Pentax V20 Color Scores


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Resolution (5.87)

The key lesson to learn about camera resolution is that it is not measured in megapixels. The megapixel figure describes how many photo-receptive dots are available on the image sensor. But the actual sharpness of your photos is governed by many additional factors, including the quality of the camera lens and the processing routines applied to the digital information captured by the sensor. To tease out the true picture of a camera's resolution, we shoot an array of photos of an industry-standard resolution chart under tightly controlled lighting conditions, at a range of distances and exposures, and analyze those images using Imatest to determine image sharpness measured in line widths per pixel height (lw/ph).

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C*lose-up of a V20 shot of our resolution chart*

In the best-case combination of lighting conditions and zoom lens setting, the V20 managed only 1553 lw/ph horizontally, with inconsequential software oversharpening. This compares poorly with the competition overall. The Canon SD1100 IS, for example, managed 1783 lw/ph, while the Casio stands out with a test result at 2774 lw/ph.




Pentax V20 Resolution Scores


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 **Dynamic Range** (6.80)

It's relatively easy for a digital camera to produce a reasonable exposure when the subject and background are fairly close in brightness, but when one area is very well light and another in the same scene is quite dark, the problem gets significantly more challenging. You want the photo to maintain as much detail as possible at both extremes, but the camera will tend to either blow out the brightly lit section into an indistinguishable blob of white, or turn the dark areas into flat black. Dynamic range measures how well the camera copes with this challenge, tested by shooting a backlit chart with patches ranging from solid white to solid black, and analyzing the resulting images to determine how many distinct areas are represented in the final photos. The results for the V20 are shown in the graph below.

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This constitutes a respectable performance. After a brief hiccup at the lowest ISO settings (no doubt caused by image processing algorithm peculiarities), dynamic range settles in at a reasonable level and maintains nearly the same performance right through the top ISO setting. Often we see this curve slope dangerously downward as ISO increased, but the Pentax holds its own here, both analyzing the performance chart on its own and comparing the resulting dynamic range score with the competition.




Pentax V20 Dynamic Range Scores




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White Balance (6.49)

A digital camera needs to adjust not only to the intensity of illumination in a photo, by coming up with an appropriate exposure setting, but also to the color of the light, which requires white balance adjustment. Our brains do a pretty good job of adjusting for the color of the light around us: a white page pretty much strikes us as being white, whether it's illuminated by a yellowish household bulb or a greenish fluorescent. Making that adjustment using processors and software is much more difficult, though, than making it using brain tissue, though, and like many an inexpensive point-and-shoot before it, the V20 proved quite good t handling some light sources and miserable dealing with others.

We test two different types of white balance performance. The first relies on the camera's circuitry to automatically identify the appropriate adjustment. The second uses the camera's built-in white balance presets. provided to allow the photographer to manually set the camera for the current lighting situation.

Auto White Balance (6.39)

The automatic white balance system did an excellent job delivering accurate color when shooting with the built-in flash, and also handled fluorescent lighting very well. The same cannot be said for shooting under tungsten lighting, as found in standard (i.e., non-fluorescent) household bulbs, or in shaded sunlight, where recorded colors are off drastically. Note that the color shifts shown in the Imatest charts below are exaggerated to make the trends easier to see; you won't find color differences this drastic in your actual photos.

  • **Preset (6.59)
  • It requires a bit more effort to manually select a white balance preset versus letting the camera do all the thinking, but when it comes to shooting under tungsten with the V20, that extra moment's preparation is well worth taking: color reproduction jumped from fairly awful to quite good when we shot using the tungsten preset. Using the preset for fluorescent illumination didn't make much difference, and for shade, the most flagrantly problematic area of our white balance test, it actually made an already bad situation slightly worse. No flash preset is provided, but considering how well the camera performed using flash in auto mode, none is really needed.

 

As the comparative chart below makes clear, white balance is a problematic area for inexpensive point-and-shoots, and the V20 is no exception.  And it's worth noting that, while the Samsung apparently towers over the competition here, a bit  or grade inflation took place in our scoring procedure, since near-perfect scores under flash and fluorescent illumination compensated for average performance in other areas.




Pentax V20 White Balance Scores


 

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Noise and Video

**

Noise

**Image noise is the grainy visual speckling you see in digital camera images. It's rarely noticeable in images taken under bright lighting and reproduced at modest size, but as you turn down the lights and pump up the image size, these tiny imperfections become more prominent, to the point of making images virtually unusable if the camera handles image noise poorly. To test this performance category, we shoot the GretagMacbeth chart under fairly bright 1700 lux illumination, at every ISO setting provided by the camera, and analyze image noise using Imatest. Image noise is also a factor in our low light testing below, but that amounts to a kind of torture test under difficult shooting conditions. In this case, the lights are turned up and the camera fundamentally has no excuse for failure.

Noise – Manual ISO*(9.85)*

In our core image noise test, we raise the camera ISO manually while keeping illumination unchanged. As you can see in the graph below, the V20 started with a noise level above 1%, quite high at the lowest available ISO settings, and after a brief image-processing-related dip, jumped to about 1.5%, stayed flat briefly, then jumped again at ISO 1600.

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The reasonable performance at higher ISOs, where many cameras in this class become aggressively noisy, balances out the somewhat disappointing results in the meat-and-potatoes 400-and-below ISO range to produce an average overall noise score.




Pentax V20 Manual Noise Scores


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Auto Noise (2.38)

Our auto noise test really combines two separate but related camera capabilities. Image noise rises as light sensitivity (measured as ISO setting) rises. In this case, we allow the camera to choose an ISO setting using its automated system to match our well-lit laboratory conditions. A higher-than-necessary ISO will result in a noisier photo, particularly in a camera that suffers from less-than-impressive noise performance in the first place. For the Optio V20, the camera chose to shoot at ISO 250, significantly but not radically higher than necessary, resulting in a mediocre score.




Pentax V20 Auto Noise Scores


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**Low Light **(5.32)

We're grateful to have a flash available when it's the only way to get a shot, but we'd prefer to keep it from firing and shoot using available light whenever possible. To make flash-free shooting feasible, though, requires  the camera to keep image noise and color accuracy under control with the lights down low, a difficult assignment. To test a camera's success here, we shoot our color chart with the camera's ISO setting cranked up to a very sensitive 1600, using four light levels, ranging from the 60-lux setting that roughly matches restrained household lighting to the 5-lux illumination that's about what a single candle throws off.

As shown in the Imatest results above, the V20 hangs in pretty well on both color and noise as the lighting drifts down to 15 lux, then just throws in the towel as we get down to 5 lux. Since the four light level results are averaged to produce a final score, the fact that performance doesn't taper off but instead falls off a cliff definitely hurt the V20's numbers here. Under more common lighting conditions, the camera performed reasonably well.

Our low-light inquisition includes a second test designed to assess long exposure performance. Unlike a sophisticated SLR, where you can manually set the shutter speed and produce low-light, long-exposure images ranging to 30 seconds and beyond, our point-and-shoot friends need to be coaxed into allowing more than 60 seconds' worth of light to enter their innards. In this case, using the night scene mode, we shot at 2.5 and 3 seconds, at ISO 400, and found the resulting images maintained decent color accuracy with passable image noise levels.

Combining the two low-light testing results into an overall score puts the V20 squarely in the pack of contenders, where the lack of variation is more noteworthy than the slight statistical differences.




Pentax V20 Low Light Scores


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Still Life

Providing a basis for comparing a single camera's image quality as ISO settings escalate, or to compare and contrast performance at a range of ISO settings between cameras, we shoot the same two still life setups for each review, under standard fluorescent lighting and with the camera set for automatic exposure. The full-size originals are available by clicking the thumbnails below, with the caveat that these are large files and may take some time to download if your Internet connection is less than robust. 

 

**Video Performance ***(6.96)*

Where once we were grateful to have a camera that could turn out decent stills, today we expect these digital devices to expand their repertoire and serve our cinematic needs as well. To test their success in this regard, we begin by shooting video of our color chart under both bright and dim lighting conditions, grabbing still frames from these videos, then analyzing the color and noise results for each and generating comparative scores against other models.

*Bright Indoor Light - *3000 Lux

With the lights cranked up to the kind of levels you'd find outdoors on a sunny day, the V20 loses color saturation compared to its still-image performance, but the color hues maintain good accuracy, resulting in an overall pleasing video.**

****

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****

***Low Light - *30 Lux

Turn down the lights to the level where your friends are more likely to act foolish enough to provide decent YouTube fodder and color accuracy drifts pretty much across the board, but not anywhere near as badly as we often see in this class of camera, and flesh tone reproduction is still exceptionally good.

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*** *****Resolution **(*1.66*) We test video resolution by shooting our image chart under bright lights and, again, evaluating still frame captures using Imatest. This is a tough test when shooting at 640 x 480 resolution, and the V20 performance is borderline acceptable at a maximum 400 lw/ph horizontally and 355 lw/ph vertically. **Motion **(*1.5*) To move beyond the on-a-tripod testing of resolution and color accuracy we take to the streets, recording speeding autos and evaluating the blur, smoothness and level of detail in the resulting video. The Optio V20 handled this test well, with no evident motion faults, though without a lot of detail. Taking the battery of video tests together provides an overall score of 6.96, which compares favorably with the other cameras in our comparison suite. Still not exactly the gear we'd recommend for your shot at Sundance fame and fortune, but a notably better-than-average choice for quick clips and video captures. Pentax V20 Video Scores
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Speed and Timing

Speed/Timing

**When the difference between a great photo and lasting regret can be measured in fractions of a second, the responsiveness of your camera is clearly a critical consideration. We test four different areas of speed and timing performance, using a high-speed SD card to eliminate potential memory bottlenecks that might otherwise skew the results.

**

**
Startup to First Shot ***(6.10)*

Pull the V20 out of your pocket, press the On button and you're ready for action in under four seconds. This is a bit slow, largely because the telescoping lens has to extend fully before the camera can start shooting.**

Shot-to-Shot ***(8.40)*

We found problems in the continuous shooting mode. When shooting at full resolution, the camera can handle two consecutive shots quickly, but then slows to write the data to memory before continuing on. The result is a herky-jerky shooting rhythm and an average of about  1.6 seconds per shot. The slow timing is one issue, but the unpredictability of when the next shot will fire in 'burst: mode is far worse.**

Shutter-Shot** (5.56)

The delay between the moment you press the shutter and the moment the photo is actually taken averages out to 0.36 seconds, an acceptable result for this class of camera.**

Processing** (4.95) After you press the shutter, the camera has to process the data and store it to memory before you're free to fire off the next shot. To measure this processing time, we take as series of photos and time how long it takes before the review image appears on the LCD panel. For the V20, this delay came out to about 1.7 seconds, which shouldn't slow you down in real-world shooting situations. 

Components

Viewfinder*(0.00)*

As with most modern point-and-shoots, the V20 does not include an optical viewfinder. It's a feature we miss on those bright summer days when peeking through a viewfinder to frame a picture is easier than trying to deal with the glare from an LCD screen. On a camera as compact as this one, though, there's no room to squeeze in a viewfinder.**

**

LCD Screen*(6.75)*

The V20 provides a 3-inch LCD screen with a run-of-the-mill 230,000-pixel resolution. We found the LCD both attractive and practical indoors and out, with a nice bright display and rich color reproduction. Screen brightness can be adjusted in seven steps through the Setting menu, though the changes aren't terribly noticeable. And while the glossy screen is a fingerprint magnet, the glossy surface contributes to the high-contrast pop of the pictures on screen, so the occasional shirtsleeve wipe seems a small price to pay.

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**

Flash *(4.50)

*The flash is located above and to the right of the camera’s lens. This off-axis placement helps limit redeye when shooting faces in dark environments, but it causes a problem when holding the camera: it's too easy to block the flash with your right middle finger when holding your index finger over the shutter button. As for flash output, it's reasonably bright but noticeably uneven, with a bright hot spot in the middle and rapid falloff around the edges.

Flash modes are accessed using the left button of the four-way selector: Auto, Off, Forced On (useful for fill-flash outdoors), Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On with Red-Eye Reduction, and Soft Flash, a useful setting that lowers flash output for shooting at close range.

According to Pentax, the flash reaches 14 feet at the widest lens setting when set to auto ISO, and 9.2 feet at maximum telephoto.

**

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The off-center flash position helps minimize red-eye.

**

Lens **(4.75)

The Optio V20 has a 5x optical zoom Pentax lens with a 6.3mm-31.5mm range (equivalent to 36mm-180mm in 35mm photography).This zoom range compares favorably with most cameras in this size and price range, which ordinarily provide only 3x optical zoom. The lens extends approximately 3/4 inch (19mm) from the camera body in three sections.

Pentax offers an Intelligent Zoom function that boosts zoom range at the price of image resolution. Shooting at 5 megapixels instead of the full 8-megapixel resolution allows 6.3x zoom, with 7.1x available at 4 megapixels, 8.0x at 3 megapixels, and 10.2x at 2 megapixels. This feature works by using only a subsection of the image sensor, providing a higher effective magnification without employing the mathematical chicanery, and inevitable image degradation, of standard digital zoom.

The Optio V20 offers digital image stabilization, which automatically increases the ISO to minimize image blur due to shaking hands. It's better than nothing, but distinctly inferior to true hardware-based image stabilization, which moves either the sensor or a lens element to compensate for camera shake. Some similarly-priced point-and-shoots, including the Canon SD1100 IS, do offer optical image stabilization.

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With its snout out the V20 zoom lens protrudes about 3/4 inch.

Design / Layout

Model Design / Appearance*(6.00)*

The Pentax Optio V20 isn’t going to win any beauty contests. The design is entirely generic, with no particular flaws but nothing to cause any excitement either.

Size / Portability (8.25)

The V20 measures 2.2' x 3.8' x 0.9' (55.8mm x 96.5mm x  22.9mm) and weighs 5.1 ounces (145g) – not the thinnest or lightest point-and-shoot available, but still very pocket-friendly.

Handling Ability(6.50)

A two-handed grip horizontal grip on the V20 is secure enough, once you learn not to let an extended middle finger cover the camera flash. Unfortunately the flash is entirely flush with the camera body, so there's no way to feel that your finger has wandered into the line of fire. The raised shiny silver strip on the left side of the camera front can be used as a rest for your middle finger, but we found this position uncomfortable when shooting horizontally. The strip does make a useful gripping point when shooting vertically, though.

If you're the type who likes to grab a shot one-handed, best of luck to you with the V20. We found the camera shifted every time we pressed the shutter with a one-handed grip.  As for the five raised dots on the far right of  the camera back, we're sure these are meant to aid in keeping the camera steady in some shooting position, but we were unable to figure out what that position might be.

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Limited space around the screen makes it easy to

smudge the LCD while holding the camera.

**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size **(8.75)

All too often, compact cameras with large screens try to cram far too many controls into the limited space available, making pressing a particular button an operation requiring long fingernails and pinpoint precision. The V20 avoids this problem entirely with simple, well-marked buttons nicely separated from one another. There are only three controls on top of the camera, the power button, the shutter and the zoom control surrounding the shutter, with the on-off control inset to avoid accidental presses. The strip along the right side of the camera back provides a Face Recognition button that toggles between smile capture mode, face detection on and face detection off. Below that is the button that switches to play mode. The four-way controller offers four functions (self-timer/burst control, macro mode, flash setting and mode control), and below that are two buttons for MENU and Green Mode/Erase. Only the Green Mode button serves more than one function based on the mode you're in, making camera control that much simpler. The only control that's a bit hard to manage is the flash mode button in the four-way controller. It butts up against the raised LCD screen frame, making it hard to press unless you’re using a fingernail. This is a minor issue, though, in a generally well thought-out layout.

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Controls are simple and clearly labeled.

The Green button is useful for newbies as instant access to the super-simple Green Mode, but those with more photographic ambition will also find it useful, since you can program one of several important settings to this control, via the Record menu. Your options include image size and quality settings, white balance, focus mode, metering mode, ISO setting, exposure compensation, sharpness, saturation and contrast. With several key controls, including ISO and exposure comp, accessible by navigating your way through the menu system be default, this programmable control makes shooting with the V20 significantly faster and easier.

Menu (5.75)

The division of camera controls between those you reach by pressing the MENU button and those you access by pressing the MODE button (the bottom section of the four-way controller) takes presents a speed bump in the initial learning curve, but the system works smoothly once you understand its minor quirks.

The MENU button calls two menus, one for Record Mode, the other for Settings. This is true whether you press MENU while in Record mode or during image Playback, an unusual system.

It's the MODE button that changes its function depending on what you're doing with the camera when you press it. When you're taking pictures, MODE brings up a screen of shooting mode selections.  If you're reviewing photos stored on the camera, MODE offers a selection of editing options (see the Playback Mode section for details).

The Record and Settings menus aren't especially attractive, but the typeface is clear enough for easy legibility. Each menu is three screens long, which means lots of presses on the four-way controller if you want to reach the settings on that third page. As for moving between the two menus, your cursor has to be positioned at the top a menu to switch to the other, which is inconvenient.

rec_menu.gif

The Record menu includes the basic shooting settings along with customization options for the Green Mode button and a useful Memory menu that lets the user select which settings are retained when the camera is turned off and on again.

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The Settings menu provides memory card formatting, date, time and language settings, USB and video input/output modes, power-saving and screen brightness controls, and the Quick Zoom setting for playback mode, which provides the option to jump to full magnification mode with a single press of the zoom control.

mode_menu.gif

 

Pressing the MODE key while shooting pictures brings up the menu shown above, which includes the choice of Auto or Program shooting modes, twelve custom image presets, movie mode, digital shake reduction mode, panorama stitching and audio recording.

Ease of Use (6.00)

Newcomers will want to keep the user manual handy during their first days with the V20. Some controls, like the Face Recognition button, are easy enough to use once you understand them, but confusing without written explanation. Several menu choices, such as Focusing Area and AE Metering, rely on cryptic icons without text labels. Of course, for pure point-and-shoot photography, there's always the Green Mode button, which by default takes away all user control beyond the ability to aim and push the shutter button. Even here, though, you wouldn't know what Green Mode does without reading the manual.

Modes

Auto Mode (8.00)

The Optio V20 starts up in Auto Picture mode unless you tell the camera otherwise. Auto Picture uses a scene recognition system to categorize your image into one of six shooting modes – standard, night scene, landscape, portrait, sport and flower – and apply appropriate settings. User control is limited to setting image size, image quality level and ISO setting (Auto by default). A second automated exposure mode, called Program Mode, expands the user-controllable options to include white balance, focus and metering modes, exposure compensation and sharpness, saturation and contrast controls.

Moving in the other direction there's Green Mode, designed to keep the user from mucking around with the menu controls at all.  Only a subset of the adjustments available through the four-way controller are available from Green Mode: self-timer, macro or pan focus, and flash auto or off.

Users can access the Smile Capture and Face Detection features on the V20 by pressing the dedicated button marked with a smiling face at the top of the camera back. Pressing it toggles between Smile Capture, Face Priority, and Face Priority Off. The Face Priority feature automatically detects up to 15 faces, then optimizes the exposure and focus to suit these subjects. Smile Capture lets you press the shutter, then have the camera wait until it detects a smile before automatically snapping the photo.

**Movie Mode ***(7.25)*

The Optio V20 movie mode is more flexible than many compact cameras, providing not only the expected choices for resolution (640 x 480 or 320 x 240) and frame rate (30 or 15 frames per second) but also color options (full color, black and white or sepia), white balance, focus mode and exposure compensation. As with most cameras, optical zoom is locked out white shooting movies (the lens noise would be audible in the recording), though digital zoom is available if your subjects are ready for their close-ups and you're  willing to sacrifice image quality to accommodate them.

Drive / Burst Mode*(4.00)*

Fast shooting is not one of the V20's strengths. We found that, at full resolution, the camera took nearly a second and a half between shots and, more distressing, paused after each pair of shots to write files to the SD card. Clearly, this is not the camera to shoot your favorite football player hustling toward the goal line or diver arcing toward the water.

The self-timer can be set to fire after a delay of 2 or 10 seconds. An on-screen countdown is displayed when using the self-timer, a nice touch, and using the Memory section of the Record menu you can have your self-timer setting applied to each shot rather than manually resetting it each time, a valuable option.**

**

**Playback Mode ***(8.75)*

Playback mode is accessed via a dedicated button marked with the instantly recognizable VCR-style Play arrow. There are three on-screen display choices while reviewing your stored photos. The first shows image name, date and time taken and battery level (all but the image name disappear after a few seconds). Pressing the OK button brings up a more detailed display adding, information about image size, compression setting, white balance mode, ISO, shutter speed and aperture plus a luminance histogram (all text stays on-screen until dismissed by the user in this display). In this enhanced display, blown-out areas are highlighted with a red overlay and underexposed areas are highlighted in blinking yellow. An image with both problems looks positively psychedelic. Finally, one more press of the OK button removes all the overlays to present a clean full-screen version of the photo.

playback_display.gif

Zooming in during playback magnifies the image up to eight times. The Instant Zoom option (available in the Settings menu) lets you jump instantly to maximum magnification with a single push of the zoom control, a handy way to check focus accuracy. To instantly return to normal view from any magnification level, press the OK button, a very handy shortcut.

Zooming out during playback brings up a nine-image thumbnail view, then a calendar view organizing photos by the dates they were taken.

Image editing options are available by pressing the MODE button during playback. Options include image resizing, cropping, rotation, color adjustment, movie editing (dividing clips or capturing stills), adding voice memos and superimposing cheesy photo frames over shot – a generous selection. There's also a simple slideshow utility, with control over interval, between-image effects and sound effect.

Custom Image Presets*(6.50)*

The Optio V20 provides twelve custom image presets, or scene modes, including settings to match specific subjects and shooting conditions plus two image-combining tools: digital panorama and digital wide.

 

 

Control Options

Manual Control Options

The V20 offer minimal manual controls. With no aperture-priority, shutter-priority or full manual exposure mode, your only hands-on option is exposure compensation. There is a manual focus option that's better than nothing, but the controls are clumsy and imprecise.

Focus

Auto Focus (7.25)

There are four auto focus options. Standard auto focus mode relies on an area in the center of the frame. Macro mode offers close-up focus, ranging from 4 inches to 24 inches (10 cm to 50 cm) from the lens. Pan focus attempts to keep the entire subject area, from front to back, in focus, while Infinity sets the lens to keep objects in the distance sharp.

For any of these auto focus settings, you can select one of three focus modes via the Record menu. Multiple covers a large area in the center of the frame, Spot covers a smaller area, and Automatic Tracking AF is designed to keep moving subjects in focus.

The V20 focused reliably even in low light, with minimal delay, using a quick pre-flash in place of an auto focus assist lamp. This strategy usually produces an annoying last of light that bothers your subject, but in this case just enough illumination is dished out to get the job done. The face detection feature was less successful when the room was poorly lit, and didn't handle profiles as well as other cameras we've tested.

Manual Focus (2.00)

When you choose Manual Focus, a sliding bar appears along the left side of the screen, with distances ranging from infinity down to 0.1 meters. You adjust the focus by pressing up and down on the four-way controller. The movement is slow, though, and jumps in large increments through most of the focus range. If you want to adjust the focus after initially setting it, you have to reselect manual focus mode before making any changes. All in all, this manual focus capability could prove useful when shooting a still life, and is certainly better than the lack of any manual focus offered by most point-and-shoots, but we can't see using it very often.

ISO (9.00)

The V20 has an extensive range of ISO settings, from 80 up to 6400, but there's a significant caveat: the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings limit resolution to 5 megapixels. Beyond that, the high levels of image noise typical of this camera become excessive at these top ISO settings. Better than missing a shot entirely when the lights are very low, certainly, but image quality is seriously compromised.**

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White Balance (5.50)

White balance options include Auto and manual presets for Daylight, Shade, Tungsten Light and Fluorescent Light. Fortunately there is also a manual white balance option, which allows you to set the system to current lighting conditions by shooting a white card. Considering the generally poor results we experienced using the camera's automatic and preset options, the manual choice is a lifesaver for critical shots, and works quite well.**

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Exposure (2.00)

Exposure compensation can be set ± 2 in 1/3 EV steps, in every recording mode except the fully automated Green mode. Even movie mode allows exposure compensation control, an unusual feature that's truly useful. The changes made to exposure comp are reflected live on the LCD as they're made, eliminating guesswork. **

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Metering (6.50)

Metering mode can be adjusted when shooting in Auto Picture and Program modes. Multi-segment metering divides the image into 256 areas and sets a balanced exposure for the whole. Center-weighted metering evaluates the entire image also, but weights the center of the image more heavily when setting the exposure, while spot metering uses only the center of the screen to set aperture and shutter speed.**

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Shutter Speed (7.00)

Shutter speeds start at 1/2000 and can linger as long as 4 seconds, a reasonable range on both ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately, though, there is no manual shutter speed control, which is a serious shortcoming if you want to make use of those fast speeds for catching speedy action, or the slow speeds to maximize depth of field.**

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Aperture (4.50)

Like shutter speed, aperture cannot be controlled by the user – it is automatically determined by the camera in all modes. The maximum lens opening ranges from f/3.5 at the widest setting to f/5.6 at maximum telephoto. That f/.3.5 setting isn't uncommon, but it isn't impressive either: a faster lens, like the f/2.6 lens found on the 4x zoom Casio Exilim EX-Z300, allows more light through, which in turns allows faster shutter speeds, making both low-light and action photography more practical.

Image Parameters

Picture Quality / Size Options (5.25)

The V20 has the following size options:

  • 3264 x 2448 (8M)

  • 2592 x 1944 (5M)

  • 2304 x 1728 (4M)

  • 2048 x 1536 (3M)

  • 1600 x 1200 (2M)

  • 1024 x 768 (1024)

  • 640 x 480 (VGA)

There are also three JPEG compression options available; Best (******), Better (****), and Good (**). One annoyance in this regard is the decision to make Better the unalterable quality setting when using the easy-peasy Green mode. Huge-capacity SD cards are dirt cheap at this point – there's no reason to squish files down, cutting image quality in the process, just to save a few megabytes. As expected in a simple point-and-shoot camera, there's no RAW file support.

Picture Effects Mode (5.00)

The V20 offers three image settings while shooting in Program mode, though not in the more highly automated Auto Picture, Green mode or scene modes. Sharpness, saturation and contrast can be weaked up or down one level from the default. These are not the kind of finely gradated effects you'd find on a high-end SLR, of course, but they do make a noticeable difference, particularly the saturation setting when shooting brightly colored subjects.

These are the only effects available while shooting, but there are many in-camera tweaks and changes available to fine-tune photos you've already taken. This makes sense to us, since you can always save a separate copy of the edited image without affecting the original.

Digital filter options are located in the Playback menu. Options are listed on the right side of the LCD screen, and a live preview updates on-screen as you experiment with each filter before applying it to the image file. Options include Black and White, Sepia, Soft focus, and a Brightness filter that allows you to adjust the brightness in ± 5 steps. There’s also a Color filter option that allows you to add tints to images in red, pink, purple, blue, green, or yellow, and a Color Extraction option that will make the entire image black and white with the exception of any red, green, or blue, depending on which option you select, a favorite effect of advertising photographers the world over.

This is broad, deep and enjoyable selection of picture effects options, which we expect most users will enjoy.

Connectivity / Extras

Connectivity

Software (4.75)

The Pentax Optio V20 comes with ACDSee Photo Manager software, which sells for $39.99 as a shareware program. allows users to view, organize, and edit their images. The interface isn't the most elegant or self-explanatory we've seen, but the program has more power and useful features than most free software that comes with compact cameras. Images can be sorted based on a wide range of parameters, including the option to create your own categories and ratings. Image adjustment options affect the entire photo, without the option to select individual sections as with Photoshop Elements or similar software, but the controls are precise and flexible, and the results look good. What's more, the software comes in both PC and Mac versions. Overall, we think ACDSee Photo Manager is a program worth owning, which is unusual for in-the-box software.

Jacks, ports, plugs (2.00)

There’s only one port on the V20, which accepts included cable for the provided USB and video output cables. Unfortunately these cables use a proprietary connection, making it expensive to buy a spare or replace a lost cable. 

Direct Print Options (4.00)

The V20 supports both of the popular computer-free printing options. When connected via USB to a PictBridge-compatible printer, you can choose to print selected images or everything on your memory card, including the number of copies per image, but don't get the advanced options (including printing a digital 'contact sheet' of thumbnail images) found in more sophisticated PictBridge implementations. DPOF (which stands for Digital Picture Order Form) is also available. Your options are similar to those available in PictBridge mode, but in this case the camera saves a print order file on the memory card, which lets you hand the card to a printing service or insert it in a photo kiosk and have your orders filled without completing a paper order form.

Battery (5.00)

The V20 uses a D-LI78 rechargeable lithium-ion battery that, according to Pentax, can capture 200 images on a charge, which sounds about right based on our testing results. Unfortunately, the curse of the Pentax battery design continues with the V20: the symmetrical battery can be inserted backwards, or even upside down if you're not paying careful attention. No, it won't make the camera explode or cause attractive sparks and sizzles, but it's a pain to carefully inspect the printing on the battery (the Pentax name faces front) before powering up.

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Inserting the battery properly requires careful attention.. *Memory* (4.00)

The V20 includes 51.1MB of built-in internal memory, but don’t expect that to get you more than a handful of images. For more memory, you’ll need an SD or SDHC memory card, which are readily available and inexpensive.

Other features*(3.00)*

Voice Memo*and Annotations *– You can add voice annotations to an individual photo, or simply record a standalone sound memo (as a WAV file) to capture your incredible important thoughts on the go when pen and paper are out of reach.

*Image Recovery *– If you accidentally deleted that priceless photo, don’t worry – the V20 has an image recovery option in the Playback menu, as long as you catch yourself before taking another picture.

Overall Impressions

Value (5.00)

The $250 Optio V20 is  noteworthy for its extended zoom range and large, attractive LCD, certainly not the least expensive point-and-shoot on the market, but it isn’t the priciest, either. It’s up there, though, so you’ll want to make sure the money you’re spending is worth it. Sure, the V20 offers some perks – the 3-inch glossy LCD being the biggest of them – but is it worth the extra cash?

Comparisons

**Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS – **This PowerShot comes in at the same $250 list price and 8-megapixel resolution as the Pentax Optio VR20, and provides the optical image stabilization the Pentax notably lacks. The SD1100 has a smaller LCD (2.5 inches versus 3 inches for the Pentax), but offers an optical viewfinder not found on the Pentax. The major head-to-head advantage for the VR20 is its 5x zoom, which stacks up favorably over the Canon's 3x. As for lab test results, it's a mixed bag, with the Canon well ahead in color accuracy and white balance, but outclasses when it comes to image noise and video performance.

 

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 ***Casio Exilim EX-Z300* – **This $300 Casio delivers higher resolution (10 megapixels) a much faster lens with 4x optical zoom, and a handsome metal body, along with a similar 3-inch LCD. Like the Pentax, it's light on manual controls and offers middling image quality based on our lab testing. Our review found the controls hard to use and the price hard to justify.

 

 

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Panasonic DMC-LZ8**–** The LZ8 delivers a 5x optical zoom lens at an even lower $180 price, plus shutter-priority, aperture-priority and full manual exposure controls and optical image stabilization. The 8-megapixel camera suffers from a mediocre 2.5-inch LCD, a poor flash, sub-par results in our resolution and white balance testing  and plastic construction that feels cheap. Still, bargain-hunters get a lot of features for their money.

 

 

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Samsung TL34HD** –**Priced $50 higher than the Optio VR20, this Samsung won our annual Select award for best point-and-shoot camera of 2008. The specs tell some of the story: 14.7-megapixel resolution, practical touch-screen interface via a high-resolution 3-inch LCD, and a fast 3.6x zoom lens. It was the lab results that really sold us on the TL34HD, though, with consistently good to excellent results in every one of our tests.

 

 

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Who It’s For

***Point-and-Shooters* – This camera is tailored with the novice in mind, especially the Green mode, which basically idiot-proofs the process of taking a picture.*

Budget Consumers* – While the V20 isn’t the most expensive point-and-shoot on the market, it certainly isn’t the cheapest. Bargain hunters will find cameras with similar specs at a lower price elsewhere.

Gadget Freaks – Nothing here to lure the gadget-happy buyer.

Manual Control Freaks – Like many point-and-shoots, the V20 doesn’t give users a ton of manual control. There’s no full Manual mode, nor any options to alter aperture or shutter speed.

Pros / Serious Amateurs  - This group won’t give the V20 a second look, even as a backup camera.

Conclusion

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Conclusion**

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For the point-and-shooter who will never bother with manual controls, the Pentax Optio V20 deserves a look for its 5x zoom lens and handsome 3-inch screen in a pocket-friendly size and weight, especially if you can find it selling at a significant discount. While our lab tests turned up significant problems in the white balance system, the other results were acceptable if unexciting, and video performance was actually quite good.  The lack of hardware image stabilization is a problem, especially when shooting with the  zoom extended in low to medium lighting situations, and the slow lens doesn't help matters on this score. Overall, though, the V20 is easy to use, provides a variety of fun features such as in-camera editing and a variety of useful scene modes, and lets you get close to the action from a respectable distance.

Sample Photos

**Sample Photos

Click on any of the images below to view the full-sized original image. However, please note that some of the images are extremely large (up to several megabytes) and could take a long time to download. **

You can see samples of images taken with the Pentax Optio V20 at the websites below

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Specs / Ratings

**Specs Table

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