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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution, natural accurate color, subtle processing
  • Subtle noise reduction holds onto detail higher up the ISO scale
  • Excellent all-metal construction
  • Good white balance
  • Good flash performance
  • Very compact
  • Shake Reduction
  • Useful 'green button' offers good degree of interface customization
  • Decent macro mode
  • DivX movie mode very space-efficient (see below, however)
  • Lots of 'fun' features
  • Image corrections and effects in playback mode
  • Shutter priority and Manual exposure modes (see below, however)
  • Cool 'focus tracking' mode

Conclusion - Cons

  • Slow focus
  • Fairly high shutter lag
  • Slow flash recycling
  • Shake Reduction not as reliable as some competitors
  • Noise visible even at ISO 64, especially in low light, very noisy at higher ISOs (see above, however)
  • Images a little soft - and not that clean - if you look too close
  • Screen impossible to see in bright light, no optical viewfinder
  • Using manual exposure controls fiddly and over-complicated
  • Slightly higher than average number of exposure and focus errors
  • Highlight clipping in bright conditions (not as bad as some, but worse than the A10)
  • Mediocre battery life
  • No preview or review in burst mode
  • Movies over-compressed with visible artefacts and slight jerkiness
  • Face detection not as fast or effective as Canon / Fuji's hardware systems

Overall conclusion

To quote from my own review of the A10, 'As someone who first got hooked on photography with a 30 year old Pentax and who has had a soft spot for the brand ever since, I just hope the next generation of Optio can build on the A10's undoubted strengths, and iron out the wrinkles and give us a camera that offers overall performance to match its excellent output'.

So does the A20 deliver the necessary improvements? The sad answer is not nearly enough. Instead of taking the good stuff (the image quality) and concentrating on what was really wrong with the A10 (the performance) Pentax decided what it really needed was more pixels. This is like putting wide rims and low profile tires on a car that stalls every five miles. It doesn't fix the real problem but 'hey, look! big wheels!'.

Of course to be fair Pentax has made some improvements; the focus and shutter lag are better than the A10, high ISO performance is a little better and that awful zoom mechanism sorted. But the improvements in speed of operation don't bring the A20 anywhere near far enough to compete with the best models in this class. The results - setting aside the speed of operation for a moment - are generally very good indeed; the A20's image quality is certainly better than many cameras in this class.

And yet even the image quality left me scratching my head sometimes; the move from 8 to 10 million pixels certainly brings a small increase in measurable resolution, but to be honest I didn't really see this in 'real world' images, where the new sensor isn't all good news. The A20's output looks less crisp and less clean than the A10, viewed at a pixel level, and it seems marginally more prone to blown highlights on bright days than its predecessor. What Pentax gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.

Of course in normal prints you won't see any real difference between the A10, the A20 or any of a handful of competing 8-10MP models. And therein lies the A20's problem. If you want a compact point and shoot camera for normal sized prints or viewing on-screen there are many alternatives that offer a more reliable, faster shooting experience, and are more suited to the challenges of social photography where the A20's woeful low-light focus speed makes getting a picture of anything that's not nailed down challenging, to say the least.

Yes, the A20 has a relatively effective image stabilization system, but this is becoming increasingly common on small compacts like this. And yes, manual exposure and shutter priority modes are unusual, but they're not that unusual, and the A20's implementation is fiddly and changing settings takes forever.

Put simply, this is a competitive sector of the market, and the A20 - despite ticking all the right boxes on paper - simply doesn't have what it takes to compete. For the typical user of a compact like this image quality (where the A20 does pretty well) is not the only measure of a camera, and it's in these other areas the A20 fails to impress. There is enough here to lift the A20's rating above the A10, but not enough to allow an unconditional recommendation.

It's by no means a poor camera, and compared to the A10 it's a step in the right direction, but for me its still not a big enough step. The A20 is about to be replaced by the A30, which is claimed to offer real performance enhancements. Let's hope it's third time lucky for Pentax.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.5
Ergonomics & handling 7.0
Features 7.5
Image quality 8.0
Optics 7.5
Performance (speed) 6.0
Value 8.0

Recommended (just)

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Pentax Optio A20 Review Samples

35 images • Posted 4th March 2007 • View album
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