The impression I get is that the designers of the S55 just wanted to see how much stuff they could cram into one camera. I have to admit it's an impressive list, but I just wish they'd spend as much time thinking about how all those modes could actually be used. Either a much bigger mode dial or a nice integrated menu system would have made far more sense.
It's a shame that the interface is so awful, because apart from that the S55 is quite a nice camera, although like all of Pentax's current Optio range it is a little slow. It starts up in just under 3s, which is a little bit on the sleepy side, and in continuous drive mode it shoots five frames in just over 8s, which while not embarrassingly slow, is put to shame by the rapid drive modes available on some recent rival models, such as the excellent Kodak V550.
The plethora of modes and options listed above at least offer some versatility, and it has some features that are a lot of fun to play with, such as colour mask filters that shoot a black and white picture but with one primary (red, green or blue) in colour. Unfortunately, the S55 lacks a real manual mode, but the 'Fn' button does allow rapid access to exposure compensation, so some quick creative control is available.
The built-in flash charges quickly and has a useful range of 4.9m, which isn't bad for a unit this size, although it does seem to have a tendency to over-expose indoor flash shots. The movie mode is adequate, although with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels at 30fps with mono sound, it's nothing to write home about.
In normal light, the multi-point AF system is reasonably quick, taking well under a second to lock on, but the lower the light levels the slower it gets, and you quickly arrive at a point where it won't lock at all. The camera has no AF illuminator, so you can expect some very blurry nighttime shots.
In general use, the S55 performs well. Colour balance is excellent, focusing is sharp and under most conditions exposure is also very accurate. However, it does seem to have a problem with bright reflected light, and burned out highlights were found on a number of shots taken in bright Mediterranean sunshine.
Image noise was also a bit of a problem. In Auto ISO mode the camera will automatically set the sensitivity to 400 ISO in low light conditions, but at both 200 and 400 ISO there is a great deal of noise and colour distortion. Results at 50 and 100 ISO are better.
The Optio S55 isn't a bad camera, especially considering the price. The use of AA batteries gives it an appeal for those holidaying in out-of-the-way places, and the build quality will make sure it survives the trip. It's just a pity that the control interface is so complicated, and that the image quality isn't a little better.
|Pentax Optio S55|
|More info||The Pentax Optio S55 site|