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Pentax Optio S30 - Digital Camera Review
Introduction: The Pentax Optios S30 is a compact 3 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 35mm -105mm on a 35mm camera) and an aluminium body. It has a 1.6" Colour TFT screen. The camera comes with 11mb memory built into the camera, and can be upgraded with an additional SD card. The camera takes 2 AA batteries, or a CR-V3. The camera also records unlimited 320x240 videos at 30fps with sound. The camera can be bought for £99 (UK) / $179 (US Optio S40/4mp) from Amazon. The camera is compact with a size and weight as follows: Dimensions: 89 x 58.5 x 25.5mm, 125g without battery and card.

The camera offers very good value for money for a compact 3 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens.

Pentax don't have anything to say about the Optio S30 on the Pentax.co.uk website, apart from the specifications. (This is where I would normally quote their introduction to the camera)

"3 Million pixel, Stylish aluminium body, 3x Optical zoom with Sliding Lens System, 18 Picture taking modes, PictBridge compatible"

You can find out full specifications of the Pentax Optio S30 on Pentax's website.

The Camera: It's compact and made out of aluminium..
(nearly all of these pictures with taken with the HP Photosmart M307)

Front - Camera off. Flash, optical viewfinder, remote-sensor / led, microphone. There is a black plastic grip on the left of the camera.

Front - Camera on, lens extended.

Back - the 1.6" TFT screen, delete, play, zoom control, Function button,, 4-way controller, OK in the middle, Menu, Display.

Top - shutter release, mode dial / on/off in the middle - green led light showing the camera is on, plus the speaker on the left.

Bottom, under the camera is the battery compartment, and tripod mount.

Left Side (from back) - DC in, TV-out / USB connection.

On this side is the wrist strap hole, and SD memory compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is a bit smaller than the 35mm Pentax.

There is a hand grip on the left of the Pentax.

Size comparison next to the similar specification HP Photosmart M307.

Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 3 Million pixel
  • Stylish aluminium body
  • 3x Optical zoom with Sliding Lens System (f/2.6-4.8)
  • 2.6x digital zoom
  • 18 Picture taking modes
  • PictBridge compatible
  • Focus range: Normal 40cm to infinity, Macro 18cm to 50cm, Super-Macro 6cm to 20cm, Manual 6cm to infinity

Full Specifications can be found on Pentax's site.

Box Contents:

  • Optio S30 camera
  • Software (CD-ROM) S-SW16
  • Battery 2x AA Nickel Manganese ZR6
  • Strap O-ST20
  • AV cable I-AVC7(B)
  • USB Cable I-USB7
  • 130 page manual

Average box contents - It's nice to see a decent printed manual, but rechargable batteries and a charger, case, and a much larger memory card would have been nice.

Menu Options / Modes and features: The main control is the 9 Position Mode Dial which is on top of the camera, the options are:- Auto (the green smiley face - in this mode, you can access the built in help system which gives you a guide to the camera), Portrait, Landscape, Night-Scene, Movie, Voice Recording (this lets you use the camera as a dictaphone), Digital Effect, Program, Picture

The camera has 10 Picture modes, available in the Picture mode:- Flower, Self-Portrait, Surf, Snow, Sunset, Museum, Text, Food, Landscape Portrait, Marine. Available in the Digital Effect mode: 2 in 1 and Panorama Assist functions, plus 8 Digital filters - Red, Green, Blue, B&W, Sepia, B&W+ Red or Green or Blue. You can also adjust sharpness, saturation and contrast in the photo menu.

Other features: White Balance - Automatic, Manual or 4 selectable settings, Self timer, Continuous shooting, Histogram display (available in playback and photo mode), Remote Control (Optional), World time function.

Photo menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:

The options are: Image size, Quality, White Balance (includes custom white balance), Focusing area, AE Metering, Sensitivity (ISO), Digital Zoom, Instant Review, Memory, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, EV Compensation.

The Setup menu options are: Format, Sound, Date, World Time, Language, Screen setting, Brightness level, Video out, USB Connection, Auto power off, Fn setting, Reset.

Playback menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:

In playback mode the options are: Protect, DPOF, Slideshow, Resize, Copy image/sound (from internal memory to card or vice versa), Digital Filter (this lets you apply some of the digital filters that are available in Photo mode, as well as other filters), Quick zoom, quick delete.

Help menu / mode: Pressing the ?/Fn button will bring up the built in help menu when on the Auto setting (green face). You can choose which mode you want help on - for example, you can see the help screen for the Auto mode, by clicking here.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit on the built in 11mb memory card: (an extra memory card is recommended)

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored (Average file size)
  *** (Best) ** (Better) * (Good)

3mp (2048 x 1536)

4 (2mb) 10 (1mb) 15 (700kb)
2mp (1600 x 1200) 9 (1.24mb) 16 22
1mp (1024 x 768) 20 (530kb) 37 49
VGA (640 x 480) 45 (220kb) 71 95
Video (320x240 30fps) 25 seconds

You can't fit very many images on the provided 11mb built into the camera - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower quality settings. There is an good choice of image sizes, and compression options.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at least a 128mb or 256mb memory, or larger especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Pentax Optio S30:

128mb SD memory card - £11.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
256mb SD memory card - £19.00 from Amazon.co.uk.
512mb SD memory card - £33.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
1gb (1000mb) SD memory card - £59.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

Speed, ease of use: The camera is easy to use, quick to switch on and quick to take photos, the controls on the back of the camera are easy to use. The screen updates are quick and smooth. The camera speed in use, seems quick when taking a photo, and shot to shot time is good. The camera is very compact, and very easily fits into pockets and despite it's small size, handling is good. The menus are easy to pick up and use - although could take a while to get used to due to the number of features this camera has. The different modes are easy to access (due to the top dial), and the menus seem quick.

Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, they are also labelled fairly well, although some could be a bit small for some people - and labelling could be a bit clearer. The Play button switches between Playback mode and Photo mode - I think this could be made a bit simpler or clearer - but once you are used to the button it is fine.

Battery usage: Battery life seems good - although high power rechargable batteries are highly recommended, as these will last much longer than Alkaline batteries, and are much better for you financially, as well as much better for the environment. They are also relatively cheap - for example, you can buy a set of 4 NiMh AA 2000mAh rechargable batteries and charger for only £12.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

LCD Display (Photo mode / Playback mode):

LCD display in photo mode: Flash, mode, remaining pictures, image size, quality, white balance setting, iso setting, exposure, live histogram, and battery life. By pressing the display button you can choose how much information is displayed on screen.

LCD display in photo mode: The screen is a decent resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, as well as current mode etc, the camera shows aperture / shutter speed when you half press the shutter and there is a live histogram.

Playback mode: The camera displays the information as shown above - you can choose how much information is displayed by pressing the display button. The camera will let you record an audio memo to go with the photo as well. Scrolling through the photos is quick. The zoom is fairly quick, and easy to use. Playback menu options are discussed above.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!


Heather 2 people

Inside: The camera has quite a powerful flash, and copes fairly well with group photos. Red eye was noticable on some photos of people as is expected on nearly all compact point and shoot digital cameras. The camera produces rich well saturated colours and good skin colour, with good detail. Some of the images are slightly soft, and could do with sharpening. The camera did quite well focusing in low light.

Noise: Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. The camera has an Automatic mode and four ISO settings - ISO50, 100, 200 and 400 - I've taken the following pictures to demonstrate the amount of noise visible at the different settings.

Test photo (Flash on)

ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

ISO50 produces fairly smooth photos, ISO100 is slightly noisier. ISO200 shows a fairly acceptable amount of noise. ISO400 produces the most noise - and is probably best avoided.


Sunset Mini Cooper S Unisys Building

Outside the camera had very good colour, they are accurate, well saturated colours with fairly low noise, I didn't notice jpeg artifacts in the images. Images are a tiny bit soft, could definitely do with a sharpen - or the sharpness setting increasing in camera. The Unisys building photo was taken as the same time with the HP Photosmart M307.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x Optical zoom and a built in 2.6x Digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Full 3x Optical + 2.6x Digital

The digital zoom shows you on screen how much magnification you are using in the form of a bar. It is quite quick. When using the optical zoom, it's fairly quick, it has about 6 steps between wide and telephoto. The amount of optical zoom isn't displayed on screen numerically, the amount is only displayed using a bar. The digital zoom can be switched on and off. These clock tower photos were taken at the same time with the HP Photosmart M307.

Lens noise: The lens is not overly loud, but is not as quiet as some - I would say that the noise of the lens is average.

Other Image Quality issues: Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing was only noticable in a small handful of photos.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is set to wide angle, and you can zoom in, you can also use the digital zoom - and you can use the flash. This camera can focus down to roughly 18cm in macro mode. You can also focus as close as roughly 6cm in the Super Macro mode - this sets the zoom at the telephoto setting.

Macro - Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)
Super Macro Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is okay - you can't get very close, and detail is a bit soft, however the super macro mode is excellent - the camera does a very good job of toning down the flash. Colour is very good when using the camera's flash.

Movie: 320x240 / 30fps with sound - you can use the digital zoom whilst recording a video, and you can zoom in using the optical zoom before you start recording. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file. Length is limited only by the size of the memory card.

Space out-take - Download 320x240/30fps movie
Click here. (right click, save target as, 2.37mb AVI) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is good, colour and focus are good - 320 x 240/30fps with sound is better than average.


Image Quality: Apart from slightly soft images - which can be corrected by changing the in camera sharpness setting - the Pentax Optio S30 produces excellent photos. The images have rich saturated colour, and good detail. Images have fairly low noise. There is little purple fringing. Image compression doesn't seem to cause jpeg artifacts, and there is a very good range of image sizes and compression options. The macro mode is average, but the super macro mode is excellent. The flash didn't cause problems when the subject was close - and performed brilliantly in super macro mode. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. The movie mode is better than average, recording unlimited videos at 30fps with sound. When inside, the camera does a fairly good job of focusing, the flash is fairly decent, colours are very good, although images are slightly soft.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The design is very good - with a stylish compact aluminium body the camera looks good and is small meaning the camera easily fits into pockets. The 1.6" screen updates smoothly and has accurate colour. The camera is easy to use, the menu systems being easy to use. The camera really excels in the amount of options and features available, there are more features than I would expect at this price point. The 3x optical zoom lens seems to be very good. Camera handling, and button layout are also good. The camera speed is good in use and it has a quick zoom. Shot to shot time is good, and the camera switches on and off quickly.

Alternative 3mp/4mp digital cameras: Kodak Easyshare CX7330 (£99 - read my review), Canon Powershot A400 (110 - read my review), Canon Powershot A75 (144), Pentax Optio S40 (4mp, 149), Fuji Finepix A330 (123), Fuji FinePix A340 (4mp, 155), Sony Cybershot P73 (4mp, 153), Olympus C-310 (100), C-360 (130), Olympus C-470 (4mp, 149), Nikon Coolpix 3200 (125), Konica Minolta Dimage X31 (117 - read my review), HP Photosmart M307 (£110 - read my review). Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: You tend to expect a budget (<£100) digital camera to be basic and lacking in features - not so with the Pentax Optio S30 - a very compact 3 megapixel, 3x optical zoom digital camera with a good 1.6" colour screen, and an aluminium body. The camera generates good pictures, with rich saturated colour, and good skin tones. The camera can also record unlimited videos with sound at 30fps. For £99 (UK) / $179 (US Optio S40/4mp) this camera is excellent value for money, as a compact and stylish digital camera, with way more features than you would expect. If you want a compact, stylish, but fully featured digital camera that produces excellent 3 megapixel images on a budget, then the Pentax Optio S30 is highly recommended!

Pentax Optio S30 rating: Highly Recommended!
Buy now from Amazon for £99 (UK) / $179 (US Optio S40/4mp)

If you like the look of this camera, then take a look at the 4 megapixel version, the Pentax Optio S40 (£149 / $179), or the 5 megapixel version, the Pentax Optio S50 (£169 / $239). Or if you would prefer an even smaller version, take a look at the 4 megapixel Pentax Optio S4i, or the 5 megapixel Pentax Optio S5i (£233). Don't forget to buy an SD memory card to go with the camera: 128mb SD memory card - £11.99, 256mb SD memory card - £19.00, 512mb SD memory card - £33.99, 1gb (1000mb) SD memory card - £59.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

What I like:

  • Excellent pictures, with good detail and rich saturated colour
  • Very good value for money
  • Aluminium body
  • Compact size
  • Heaps of features / modes (Scenes, Digital Filters, Live Histogram, Custom White Balance, Manual Focus, Built in help, Panoramic assist, in camera sharpness/saturation/contrast settings etc)
  • Excellent Super Macro mode
  • 30fps video mode
  • Audio recording mode (use the camera as a dictaphone)
  • Takes AA / CR-V3 batteries

What I don't like:

  • Very small optical viewfinder
  • Only 11mb memory included

Remember to have a look at the full size (and medium size) versions of these photos in the new gallery.