Review It seems like every other week I'm reviewing yet another tiny Pentax five megapixel compact camera. In fact a quick browse through my camera samples folder shows that this is the eighth one that I've written about this year. Come on Pentax, give my aching fingers a break, writes Cliff Smith.
Officially priced at £200 but available for around £150, the Optio S55 is a budget-priced zoom compact that saves on development costs by sharing many of its features with other cameras in the Optio series. It has the familiar 3x zoom Sliding Lens System optics found on most of the other models in the range, the same big 2.5in LCD monitor found on the S5z, and the same slightly-larger-than-tiny aluminium alloy body found on the S45 and S50.
The body's the size it is mainly to accommodate the power source. Like the S45 and S50, the S55 runs on two AA batteries, making a good choice for holiday photography. If you're stuck in the middle of nowhere and can't find a power point to plug in your battery charger, you can always chuck in a couple of Duracells to keep shooting for another few hours.
As with all Pentax models - in fact, most of the models from all the major manufacturers - build quality is exemplary. The sandblasted-looking exterior has excellent resistance to dents and scratches, and shows up greasy fingerprints a lot less easily than a chrome finish would. The huge LCD monitor screen also seems to have a scratch-resistant coating.
The control layout is simple enough, but this is not a simple camera, and I would certainly not recommend it for a first-time user. My parents, both in their 70s, took the S55 on holiday to Italy to get me some good test shots. My father is a keen amateur photographer and owns a couple of nice film SLRs, but he had never used a digital camera before. I attempted to explain the S55's multiple modes and options to him, but after going over it twice I still don't think he'd really grasped it. I can't say I blame him though because even I found it confusing and difficult to understand.
The problem is that there are far too many options, and they are all accessed in different ways. For instance, the main mode dial has settings for portrait, landscape and night scene photography, as one might expect. However, set the main dial to 'Pict' mode, press the OK button and you're presented with nine options, including landscape portrait, self portrait, sunset, beach and snow. Set the main dial to the icon of an artist's palette and you get a variety of colour filter options, as well as panorama stitching and two-in-one group portrait function. On top of that there's a standard program auto mode, but also the 'green smiley' mode, a simplified auto-everything option that bypasses all the manual controls and automatically selects the best mode for the conditions.