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Design and Handling

No major changes here; at first glance there's not a lot to tell the A20 from its predecessor (or, for that matter, from the hordes of other slim, silver, 'style' compacts). There have been minor styling tweaks - most welcome of which is a small finger 'grip' on the front fascia (though to be honest making a 'grip' out of shiny chrome is a bit like making a kettle out of chocolate). External controls are pretty standard for a camera in this class; though there is a green 'function' button that offers fast access to less commonly used functions, and which is comprehensively customizable.

Handling

Like the A10 before it, the sacrifices handling slightly in order to look slick and sleek. It's possible to shoot single-handed (though it doesn't feel very secure), but unless you have double-jointed fingers (or an extra thumb) it's impossible to use the zoom without supporting the 'lens side' of the camera with your other hand. That all said, most cameras of this type are the same in this respect, though the pointless slippery grip on the front really doesn't help matters.

Key body elements

The shutter release and on/off button are positioned on the far right side of the top plate.....on the opposite end of the top plate is the Shake Reduction preview button. The A20 uses a CCD-shift anti-shake system, and to preserve power it isn't activated for previewing (it comes on when the camera detects it is needed). By pressing this button you can preview the effect on-screen, which is nice, but ultimately pointless.
The 232,000 pixel, 2.5-inch LCD screen is lovely and clear and has a high refresh rate. It's not very bright though, and I found it impossible to see once the sun came out, making shooting in good weather something of a lottery (there is no optical viewfinder). For reasons best known to Pentax you can actually turn the screen off completely for true 'point and shoot' functionality.
The 38-114mm equiv. lens retracts completely flush into the body and extends by around an inch when powered up. Previous Optio models had 35-105mm lenses (a much more useful range in my opinion), so you're losing around 4 degrees of wideangle, and gaining a little at the long end. The maximum aperture of F2.8-4.8 is fairly standard for an ultra compact.
The combined battery and SD storage compartment is found in the base of the camera on the left side under a fairly sturdy hinged cover (one of the only bits of plastic on the body). The battery held in place by a spring clip. It's also nice to see the tripod mount is near the middle of the body. The A20 has 22MB of internal memory, and doesn't ship with a removable card.
Below the zoom control and playback button sits the ubiquitous four-way control set, plus a menu button and a green 'quick' button. This can be configured to activate the shake reduction or movie mode, or as a 'function button', which brings up a 'mini menu' system. These menus are highly customizable, allowing you to set up the camera for fast access to the four settings you most commonly access, including ISO, white balance and image parameters.
The small flash is powerful enough to reach around 7.1m (23.3 feet) at the wide end of the zoom, but this does mean going to a pretty high ISO800. It's a little too close to the lens for our liking, but the red-eye reduction system seems to work well. There is a soft-flash mode for close ups and less harsh portraits. Our only complaint is that the recycle time is too long.

Controls & Menus

As with most of its competitors to call the Optio A10 a mere point and shoot device is to do it an injustice; there is a pretty sophisticated camera inside that ultra-compact body - and in a welcome change to the A10 you now get more control thanks to the inclusion of shutter priority and manual exposure modes.

Not only do the most commonly accessed controls (flash mode, drive mode, focus mode, flash mode) get their own dedicated buttons, but the highly customizable 'green button' means you can set the camera up to suit your own shooting priorities, meaning more advanced controls, such as ISO, white balance, metering, AE-compensation and so on are easily and quickly accessible if you want them to be.

There are three display options for record view; the first two are basic (only shows the focus area), and normal, which indicates shooting mode, remaining shots, date/time and battery level. The third option shows much more detailed information, including image size/quality, white balance setting, metering mode and ISO setting. There is also a live histogram. There is also a grid overlay option. Interestingly you can also turn the display off completely and 'shoot blind'.
Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. The 'auto pict' mode removes a few options for the novice user (and puts a nice smiley face on the screen).
New for the A20 is the addition of Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes. Unfortunately they are poorly implemented, requiring far too many button presses to make simple changes. Also you are stuck with auto ISO in shutter priority mode (presumably because there are only two apertures to choose from). The green button can be set to one of several functions, the most useful of which for more advanced users being 'Fn setting'.
You can assign virtually any shooting function to each of the four positions in the mini 'Fn' menu (corresponding to the four directional buttons on the back of the camera). Pressing the down arrow ('Mode') key brings up a palette of 15 icons giving fast access to the subject modes (including the movie mode).
The modes on offer include the normal stuff (landscapes, sports, low light etc) and a couple of oddities, including this charming 'composite frame' option. The main record menu features three pages of shooting options covering image size/quality, white balance, focus area, metering pattern, sensitivity, sharpness, saturation, contrast and much more. You can select which settings the camera remembers when you turn it off.
The setup menu (accessible from either record or playback mode) has three pages of basic camera settings (and card formatting). Switching to playback mode offers three different display options accessed by repeated presses of the OK button; basic (no information, just the picture), normal (file number, date and time) and detailed (shown here), which gives full exposure information and a neat histogram. You can add a voice annotation to any saved image.
The left zoom key (zoom out) brings up a page of nine (3x3) thumbnails... ... the right zoom button enlarges the playback image in six steps. The four arrow keys are used to scroll around enlarged images.
..Push the zoom lever to the left again and you can browse your saved images by date using this 'calendar' view. There isn't a playback mode 'menu' as such, but pressing the MODE button brings up this page of 15 icons. Here you'll find all manner of goodies including slideshows, image cropping / resizing / rotating, movie editing, copying (to and from the internal memory) and print ordering.
Unusually the A20 has a fairly impressive range of built-in image corrections and effects for use on saved photos, including color filters and corrections, special effects and red-eye removal. And just in case you forgot to use the frame composite option when taking the picture you can add it in playback mode! The effects and filters are fun and easy to use (and even offer a fair level of control) for users who don't want to mess around in Photoshop.

 

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