Pentax Optio S12 Digital Camera Review

Gary Wolstenholme was quite glad to receive this slinky little camera to review rather than the S12 he was already familiar with. He'd never have got

16/10/2008 - 14:18

Continuing the tradition of slim metal-bodied compact cameras which started with the Optio S, the Optio S12 is a slimline, easy to use point and press camera with a whopping 12Mp resolution and 3x optical zoom.

Pentax Optio S12 Pentax Optio S12: Specification

  • Zoom: 3x optical (37-111mm)
  • Resolution: 12Mp
  • Sensor Size: 1/1.7in
  • Sensor Type: CCD
  • Image Size: 4000x3000
  • File Type: JPEG
  • Sensitivity: ISO64-800
  • Storage: SD and SDHC cards up to 32Gb
  • Focus Types: Automatic
  • Normal Focusing: 0.35m-infinity
  • Close Focusing: 0.12-0.4m in Macro and 0.06-0.15m in Supermacro
  • Metering Types: Multi-field, Centre-weighted and Spot
  • Exposure Compensation: /-2EV
  • Shutter Speed: 1/2000-4secs
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Monitor: 2.5in LCD screen
  • Interface: USB2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion Battery
  • Size: 54x87x21mm
  • Weight: 110g

For £150 you get a feature-rich, yet easy to use point and shoot camera with 12Mp, 3x zoom and a 2.5in screen. In the same price bracket, you could also, look at the GE E1050 TW, which sports 10Mp, 5x optical zoom with 28mm wide angle and a 3in screen.

Pentax Optio S12
The metal casing makes it look attractive.

Pentax Optio S12: Features
Pentax have shoe-horned enough features into the S12 to keep the casual snapper more than happy. The auto mode promises to save searching through menus for the correct scene setting by selecting the correct one automatically, and I have to say, 90% of the time it is successful, choosing landscape when outdoors and portrait when it sees a face. This brings true point and press automation to those who would normally just leave the camera on its auto mode and snap away. If you prefer to select your scene mode manually, there is a good range on offer including the usual suspects for landscape, portrait, sports and so on. For each mode highlighted in the menu, a handy explanation of the ideal shooting scenario is displayed after a second or so, saving you rooting for the manual if you're unfamiliar with each setting.

Another feature that enhances the ease-of-use is the Green Auto mode, which is activated by pressing the green button on the rear of the camera. Basically if you've changed a setting by accident, or can't remember what you have set, the Green mode allows you to quickly reset the camera to auto everything so you can get the shot you want without having to dive into the menus looking for things you may have changed. It's like a panic button for a technophobe.

A surprising addition for a camera of this ilk are the dynamic range adjustment settings, which I would normally consider a fairly advanced feature. This can help to retrieve details in the highlights and shadows that would normally be lost in high contrast scenes. I found this feature more effective in retrieving details from shadows rather than highlights, although it does do well when the limited dynamic range of a small sensor, such as the one in this camera, is taken into account.

Pentax Optio S12
Dynamic range is a feature usually reserved for higher spec cameras so it's great to see on a budget compact.
Pentax Optio S12
Switching on the feature adds detail to low light areas. Note the added light to the passage and leaves to the left.
Pentax Optio S12
The back is simple to navigate and sports a bright screen which also has an anti-reflection coating.

Pentax Optio S12: Build and handling
Being a similar size and weight to a small bar of soap, the Optio S12 is plenty compact enough to slip unnoticed into most peoples pockets or handbags. The metal exterior is reassuringly solid giving an altogether good impression of quality for the price.

The controls are laid out in a fairly typical fashion, with the shutter release, power button and face detection control all on the top. On the rear, Pentax have made the most of the tiny space left over by the screen and the controls have plenty of space around them for most people to not have difficulty using the camera. People with large thumbs may struggle with some of the smaller controls though.

The 2.5in screen is clear, bright, sharp and thankfully very easy to see in all but the brightest of conditions due to the anti-reflective coating applied to the hard acrylic cover. The viewing angle is good as well, which will help with taking shots from high and low angles.

The tripod bush is located dead centre on the bottom of the camera, which is great for steady positioning on a tripod, but not so great for creating panoramas, as it is located off the axis of the lens.

Pentax Optio S12: Performance
The Achilles heel of many compacts is the shutter lag, I can say I'm glad to report that the S12 is not one of the worst offenders in this area. Once the camera is focused, there is virtually no perceptible lag. If however you don't focus the camera first, and just take a stab at the shutter button, the delay is a fairly lacklustre 0.8 seconds, as the camera focuses before taking the image.

Pentax Optio S12 On the whole, I'm pleased with how colours are reproduced by the S12, with a slight boost being given to the warmer end of the spectrum, as can be seen in the heavily saturated red and yellow on the test chart.

It was a bright morning when I took the landscape image, but for some reason quite beyond me, the camera elected for a nice bright aperture of f/2.8, which has thrown all but the front half of the boat out of focus. It would've been good to see the camera at least attempt to stop down to around f/4 here for a bit more depth of field. This was the same whether using any of the automatic modes, or the landscape preset. Selecting the landscape preset, just seems to boost the warm end of the spectrum even further, which can be seen in the reds and yellows on the boat.

Pentax Optio S12
The Macro mode can close in to a poor 12cm.
Pentax Optio S12
While supermacro gets into a healthier 6cm but is still lacking.


Chromatic aberrations are also present in the landscape image, but their effect is not as disturbing as can be seen on some other compacts in the same price range. At its worst, it the fringing spreads about 3 pixels across, which shouldn't be too disturbing in small prints.

Pentax Optio S12
Landscape image in landscape mode has chosen f/2.8 and warmed it up.
Pentax Optio S12
Landscape image in auto mode has also chosen the narrow apeture.

For the portrait image without flash, the S12 has produced a well exposed image with pleasing colour. Turning the flash on fills out the shadows nicely, but seemed to struggle with the pale skin of my subject, blowing out highlights. Also, in an attempt to make everyone look younger, the sharpening seems somewhat reduced in the portrait scene mode, leading to an overriding soft look to the images.

Pentax Optio S12
The portrait image is well exposed with decent colour
Pentax Optio S12
Using flash has filled in shadows but can't keep pale skin warmed.

The movie mode uses DIVx to help scrunch the files down to a reasonable size without too much loss of quality. As with most compacts, there is no optical zoom available in the movie mode, and once the camera is focused, that's where it stays, but the quality isn't bad and will do for the occasional clip when a still image just won't do the scene justice. The sound quality is pretty typical of a camera of this size, sounding like it's been recorded inside of an empty oil drum.

Pentax Optio S12
This face detection portrait didn't quite hit the mark.

Pentax Optio S12: Focus and metering
Face detection seems to be a pretty standard feature on compact cameras these days, and the Pentax version of this technology is not much different to any of the others. The system can be enabled and disabled with the dedicated button on the top of the camera. When it's enabled the camera will lock onto faces pretty much anywhere in the frame, so long as they are looking straight at the camera, but not in side profile like the latest Fuji implementation of face detection. I found that occasionally, the camera would confirm focus on a face, even though it is miles off the mark, and this seemed to become more apparent as the face moves closer to the edge of the frame.

Another interesting focusing mode for a compact is the one included in the Sport scene program. The camera attempts to lock onto and track moving subjects wherever they may be in the frame. Once locked on, the focusing cross-hair will follow your subject around. The only issue I found with this system is that it could sometimes lock onto a static subject in the frame and stay locked onto that.

There are three metering options included in the S12, pattern, centre-weighted and spot metering, giving even advanced photographers plenty of creative options for tricky lighting conditions. Exposure compensation is the main way to adjust exposure around what the meter thinks is correct, with a fairly standard /- 2EV in 1/3EV steps to choose from. There are no manual exposure modes included on this camera.

Pentax Optio S12: Noise Test
With 12 whole mega pixels compressed onto the small sensor within the S12, I didn't have much hope of great results in this department. In this case Pentax have chosen to keep the maximum sensitivity to a fairly conservative ISO800, and also to trade image detail for aggressive noise reduction at these higher settings.

The ISO64 image is sharp enough for the camera to be resolving the surface of my grey test card, and to my eyes ISO100 looks every bit as good. Noise reduction starts to take its toll on the detail a little by ISO200, and is very apparent in the ISO400 image. By ISO800, the image just looks unsharp, but would probably make a reasonable 7x5inch print. One thing that did impress me was the complete absence of chromatic noise in the test images. The noise reduction is obviously working overtime in this department, which is good, as the signature coloured splodges normally associated with high sensitivities can be very disturbing indeed.

Pentax Optio S12
The ISO64 test.
Pentax Optio S12
The ISO100 test.
Pentax Optio S12
The ISO200 test.
Pentax Optio S12
The ISO400 test.
Pentax Optio S12
The ISO800 test.

Pentax Optio S12: Verdict
For the money, the S12 is a very well featured, high quality compact that can yield great results. Images have great colour, and sharpness, with the bizarre choice of aperture in the landscape setting being the only caveat.

I'd go as far as saying this camera excels in good light, and the results could be far worse in less than ideal conditions, although the conservative maximum sensitivity may leave the camera hampered when it gets really dark.

If you're not a night owl like myself, this camera could be well worth a look, for its great low ISO performance, ease of use and high quality build.

Pentax Optio S12: Plus points
Great images in good light
Good colour reproduction
High quality build
Plenty of automatic settings to keep casual snappers happy
Green panic button for a quick reset to full auto

Pentax Optio S12: Minus points
Conservative maximum sensitivity
Noise reduction destroys detail at high ISO
Occasional Mis-focus when using face detection






At a price of £149.99, take a look at Warehouse Express for the Pentax Optio S12.


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