Face detection, shake reduction and 12 mega pixels canít quite make up for the limitations of Pentaxís Optio A40. Keep reading for the full report.
The very concept of a 12 megapixel compact camera is a contentious one. Arguably, trying to cram that amount of data onto the small sensor that lies at the heart of a pocket-sized camera is in itself a triumph of headline marketing over quality. That hasn't prevented a number of top line manufacturers such as Fuji, Sony and Nikon from making the attempt, and with the release of the feature-packed Optio A40, Pentax has decided to join them.
The wisdom of this decision remains to be seen. As the company's sales executives no doubt understand, megapixels drive the compact and - to a lesser extent - DSLR camera markets, but in the end it's image quality that makes photographers happy. To its credit, Pentax has made a brave attempt at a sometimes uneasy compromise between these conflicting requirements, and to a large extent it has succeeded. However, feature overkill, the inevitable noise issues and the erratic auto focus system are likely to leave customers feeling slightly dissatisfied.
Build and interface
Light, neat and compact, the A40 is designed to slip easily into a bag or larger pocket, making it ideal for parties and everyday out-and-about use. Thanks to the cleverly designed front and rear grips, it feels comfortable held in one hand or two despite its small size, and the controls are sensibly arranged for easy access. As with the majority of compacts, most of the controls are on the back panel. These, though, are appealingly minimal, consisting of just a zoom switch, play button, navigation dial and dedicated menu and delete buttons. Otherwise, the back is dominated by the bright, sharp screen.
The camera's top panel contains just the power switch (sensibly recessed to protect the camera from switching itself on accidentally), the shutter release and a dedicated shake reduction (confusingly labeled Preview) button. And that's about that: this is a camera for taking photos with rather than showing off loads of unnecessary controls.
Build quality on the whole is good, as you would expect from a high-end compact. With the attractive black and silver exterior, Pentax has ensured that this serious-looking camera is one with which people will want to be seen. The buttons and controls feel positive to the touch, and the casing appears to be reassuringly durable. Our only minor quibbles about the build are the battery door design, which pops open a little too easily for our liking, and the lack of a slipcase.
The interface is also more than adequate, Pentax having taken the very welcome step of providing on-screen pop-up help for various settings. This is a great way of helping owners to familiarize themselves with the camera, and we wish more manufacturers would follow Pentax's lead in this respect. Not that the interface is perfect: in fact, it appears that a few corners have been cut. We would like to see the flash button, for example, scroll through the flash modes rather than launching the flash menu. And the menu itself is a labyrinth of sub-menus waiting to ensnare the unwary. This isn't a critical issue, more of a minor annoyance - until you miss a great shot because you're trying to find a deeply buried setting.
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