Test: Pentax Optio A20

With digital compact cameras now passing the 10MP threshold, we decided to put the top five models to the test in order to help you determine which one may be right for you.

Test-Pentax-Optio-A20
Test-Pentax-Optio-A20

Test: Pentax Optio A2019161PentaxOptio A20The Pentax Optio A20 (street $300) doesn't look all that special on the outside, but beauty is on the inside, and this 3x zoom (38-113mm equivalent), 10MP point-and-shoot has a few features that really stand out. Of the five cameras in this test, the A20 is the only one with a physical shake reduction technology for still imaging. That's right: a series of gyroscopes move the sensor to compensate for camera movement at low shutter speeds. The gyros only work in still mode, though. On the movie side of things, there's a digital shake reduction feature, but the big news with the A20's video is the incorporation of the DivX codec, which is meant to deliver smaller file sizes with less compression artifacting. Home moviemakers can shoot at 640x480 at 30 frames per second until you fill the card. One bummer with video is that you can't change focal length while shooting, a decision Pentax made based upon the zoom motor and speaker location. The LCD is 2.5 inches diagonally, which helps make the Optio the least wide of the five cameras in this test. Playback mode offers the usual slideshow and some other neat functions, such as voice memo, cropping, resizing, and color and photo effect filters. One of these photo effects takes HP's slimming concept and betters it. Via the left-right buttons, the "slimming effect" can be applied along either axis, horizontal or vertical. The A20 is a small camera but it fits well in the hand. It is primarily menu driven, and though possible to navigate with one hand, two-handed navigation is preferable since many useful and frequently used functions are buried in submenus. The useful Exposure Compensation command is hard to find, and this is an obvious navigation mistake. ISO settings are likewise not handy one-touch fixes. Pentax should put these at easier reach.

The Pentax Optio A20 (street $300) doesn't look all that special on the outside, but beauty is on the inside, and this 3x zoom (38-113mm equivalent), 10MP point-and-shoot has a few features that really stand out.

Of the five cameras in this test, the A20 is the only one with a physical shake reduction technology for still imaging. That's right: a series of gyroscopes move the sensor to compensate for camera movement at low shutter speeds.

The gyros only work in still mode, though. On the movie side of things, there's a digital shake reduction feature, but the big news with the A20's video is the incorporation of the DivX codec, which is meant to deliver smaller file sizes with less compression artifacting. Home moviemakers can shoot at 640x480 at 30 frames per second until you fill the card. One bummer with video is that you can't change focal length while shooting, a decision Pentax made based upon the zoom motor and speaker location.

The LCD is 2.5 inches diagonally, which helps make the Optio the least wide of the five cameras in this test.

Playback mode offers the usual slideshow and some other neat functions, such as voice memo, cropping, resizing, and color and photo effect filters. One of these photo effects takes HP's slimming concept and betters it. Via the left-right buttons, the "slimming effect" can be applied along either axis, horizontal or vertical.

The A20 is a small camera but it fits well in the hand. It is primarily menu driven, and though possible to navigate with one hand, two-handed navigation is preferable since many useful and frequently used functions are buried in submenus. The useful Exposure Compensation command is hard to find, and this is an obvious navigation mistake. ISO settings are likewise not handy one-touch fixes. Pentax should put these at easier reach.

In the lab, the A20 boasted the best low-ISO resolution, with a score of 2270/Excellent at ISO 64. At ISO 400, it dropped slightly to 2160/Excellent, and dropped again to 2080/Excellent at ISO 800, all good numbers. But noise ventures into the Unacceptable range at ISO 400 and 800. At lower ISOs, noise stays Low at ISO 64 (1.8), Moderately Low at ISO 100 (2.0), and Moderate at ISO 200 (2.4). Our concerns about the noise getting high as soon as ISO 400 are lessened by the shake reduction system, which should let the A20 shoot at lower ISOs in dimmer light than its non-shake reducing competitors. Color is Extremely High, with an average Delta E of 8.88 at ISO 64 Auto-balanced.

The Bottom Line:

For the performance you get, the Pentax Optio A20 ($300 street) is a bargain. Resolution tested Excellent at all user-selectable ISOs despite noise issues at ISO 400 and 800. The gyro-based shake reduction system should help keep this camera in its best performance zone; when other cameras compensate for low light by cranking up the ISO, this one can move the sensor to make a sharp photo. In movie mode, the DivX compression codec will help get more minutes of video on your SD card. The few negatives: no zooming during video recording, and useful commands such as exposure compensation are hard to find among the various sub-menu buttons.

Certified Test Results:

Noise: Extremely Low at ISO 64 (1.8), Moderately Low at ISO 100 (2.0) Moderate at ISO 200 (2.4) and Unacceptable at ISO 400 (3.2) and 800 (3.8)

Color: Extremely High. Average Delta E: 8.88 ISO 64 AutoBalanced

Resolution: at ISO 64 (2270) Excellent at ISO 400 (2160), Excellent at ISO 800 (2080)

In the Box:

Pentax Optio A20 $300
D-LI8 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery
D-BC8 Battery Charger with D-CO2 AC Power Cord (Type A)
I-USB17 USB Cable
I-AVC7 A/V Cable
O-ST20 Wrist Strap
Software CD-ROM (Drivers, ACDSee 5, FotoSlate, Photostitcher, FotoCanvas)
Operating Manual
PC Connection Manual
1-Year Pentax U.S.A. Limited Warranty

Full specs from BH Photo:

Camera Type
Ultra Compact Point-and-shot Digital Camera

Image Quality

Image Sensor
1/1.8" 10.37 Megapixel interline transfer CCD with a primary color filter

Effective Resolution
10.0 million pixels

Color Depth
36-Bit RGB

Color Modes
Color, Black & White, Sepia, 8 Color, Black & White+Red, Black & White+Green, Black & White+Blue, Soft, Illustration

Image File Formats
JPEG (Best, Better, Good)
Exif 2.2, DCF, DPOF & PRINT Image Matching III compliant

Recorded Resolution
10M (3648x2736)
7M (3072x2304)
5M (2592x1944)
3M (2048x1536)
2M (1600x1200)
0.7M (1024x768)
0.3M (640x480)
During Blur reduction mode, the recorded size is fixed to 5M (2592x1944)?During Frame composition mode, the recoded size is fixed to 3M (2048x1536)

Video Recording
AVI MPEG-4 DivX with Audio (Best, Better, Good)
640 (640x480 @ 30fps)
320 (320x240 @ 30 fps)
Clip length limited only by available memory

Audio Recording
WAV (PCM format)
Audio record time limited only by available memory.

Optics

Lens Type
smc PENTAX Power Zoom Lens (7 elements in 5 groups with 2 dual-sided aspherical elements, and 1 single-sided aspherical element)

Optical Zoom
3x

Lens Focal Length
7.9mm - 23.7mm (37.5mm - 112.5mm equivalent)

Digital Zoom
4x

Minimum Focus Distance
2.4" (6cm)

Maximum Aperture
f/2.8-5.4

Optical Image Stabilization
Yes (CCD-Shift)

Accessory Lens/Filter Mount
No

Focus Control

Focus Type
TTL contrast detection autofocus system (5 point AF, Spot AF, Tracking AF)

Focus Modes
Autofocus, Infinity Landscape, Pan Focus

Focus Range
Normal: 13.8" (35cm) - Infinity
Macro: 4.7" (12cm) - 19.7" (40cm)
Super Macro: 2.4" (6cm) - 5.9" (15cm)
Manual: 4.7" (12cm) - Infinity

Exposure Control

Sensitivity
Auto ISO
User Selectable ISO (64, 100, 200, 400, 800)
ISO 1600 in Blur Reduction Mode

Shutter Type
Programmed AE electronic lens shutter with CCD electronic shutter

Shutter Speed
4 - 1/2000 seconds

Aperture Range
f/2.8-5.4 (max)

Exposure Metering
TTL metering (Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot)

Exposure Modes
Picture, Program, Shutter-priority, Manual, Exposure Compensation (+/-2 EV in 1/3EV steps)

White Balance Modes
Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light, Manual

Scene Modes
Normal, Green, Night Scene, Landscape, Portrait, Program, Night scene, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Kids, Blur reduction, Surf & Snow, Candle Light, Text, Food, Sport, Frame composition, Pet, Shutter-priority, Manual

Flash

Built-in Flash
Yes (Auto, Flash-off, Flash-on, Red-eye reduction, Auto backlight compensation)

Effective Flash Range
0.2' (0.06m) - 23' (7.1m)

External Flash Connection
No

External Flash Control
Not Applicable

Performance

Start-Up Time
Not Specified

Shutter Lag
Not Specified

Time Between Shots
Not Specified

Burst Capability
Continuous (Standard & High-speed)

Self Timer
2 seconds or 10 seconds

Interval Recording
No

Date & Time Stamp
Yes

Memory & Power

Built-in Memory
22MB

Compatible Memory Cards
Secure Digital (SD) Card
SDHC Card

Recording Capacity
Includes 22MB of Built-in Memory
Still Image Capacity
Best Better Good
10M 6 9 12
7M 8 12 18
5M 12 18 25
3M 19 27 38
2M 26 38 54
0.7M 49 71 95
0.3M 90 130 180
Video Capacity
Video Mode Record Time
640 (Best) 59 seconds
320 (Best) 231 seconds

Battery Type
D-LI8 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery

Power Adapter
D-AC8 AC Adaptor Kit (optional)

Input/Output

Computer Interface
USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed)

Direct Print Capable
Yes (PictBridge)

Remote Control
Remote Control E or F (optional)

Video Output
Yes (NTSC & PAL)

Web-Cam Capable
No

System & Software Requirements
Windows System
• Pentium Processor or later
• Windows 98SE, Me, NT, 2000, XP
• 64MB RAM
• 40MB Hard disk space
• USB port
• CD-ROM Drive (or software installation)
• QuickTime 6.0 or later
Macintosh System
• POWER Macintosh with 266MHz processor or later
• Mac OS 9.2 or later (including OS X) - with the latest CarbonLib
• 8MB of available RAM
• 6MB Hard disk space
• USB port
• CD-ROM Drive (or software installation)
• QuickTime 6.0 or later

Display

Viewfinder
No

LCD Display
2.5" TFT color LCD (232,000 pixels) with Histogram Display

Language Options
English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Thai

Playback Options
Single, Index (9 image), Magnification (up to 8X), Slide show, Resize, Image Trimming (crop), Rotate, Color Filters, Digital Filters, Brightness Filter, Movie Edit, Red Eye Correction, Voice Memo, Protect, DPOF, Startup Screen, Frame Composition Movie Edit (Save a s still image, Divide, Extract), Erase and Image Protect Modes (Single, All)

Physical

Dimensions (HxWxD)
2.1 x 3.5 x 0.9" (55 x 89 x 23mm)

Weight
4.4 oz. (125g) without battery

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