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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good image quality, average five megapixel resolution, lens has good resolving power
  • Good color reproduction
  • Low image noise at ISO 64, increases noticeably from ISO 100 upwards
  • Five times optical zoom lens gives good 'reach' in a compact body
  • Good range of manual controls and features
  • Live histogram in shooting mode, histogram in play
  • Interesting additional scene modes including panorama, digital filter and 3D modes
  • Image parameters (Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation), although limited adjustment
  • Spot metering
  • Good macro capability
  • Customizable short-cut controls (MENU + 4-way controller direction)
  • Long movie clips (up to 10 minutes each)
  • Shooting priority play mode (returns to shooting mode with a half-press of shutter release)
  • Good night exposures with automatic noise reduction, limited by 4 sec maximum
  • Average flash performance, no color cast
  • Good build quality, camera feels weighty and solid
  • Bright, high resolution LCD monitor with anti-reflective coating
  • Excellent battery life from supplied Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery
  • Value for money


Conclusion - Cons

  • Image noise from ISO 100 upwards
  • Pincushion lens distortion from half-zoom to telephoto
  • Some purple fringing / chromatic aberrations
  • Vignetting of image corners from wide to half-zoom
  • Image parameters don't have enough latitude of adjustment
  • Slow startup (approximately six seconds)
  • Needs a rear thumb grip
  • Limited continuous shooting capability (just over one frame per second)


Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the Pentax Optio 550: (5 megapixel)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 8
Features 9
Image quality 8
Lens / CCD combination 7
Ease of use 8
Value for money 8

The Optio 550 offers very good value for money. It has a very impressive feature set, big zoom lens (by compact camera standards) and five megapixels of resolution. Image quality is good and images generally look good, especially at moderate print sizes or viewed at monitor sizes. Once the camera is switched on (which takes too long) it is fairly responsive and operating speeds are as fast as we would expect.

Considering the camera's feature, five times optical zoom and price the camera would have easily attained one of our 'Highly Recommended' ratings. Unfortunately I can not ignore the slow startup, ISO noise, pincushion distortion at half-zoom upwards and vignetting from half-zoom to wide. There's no doubting the Optio 550's ability to produce detailed, attractive images with good color balance it's just a pity that users may find themselves compensating for the problems.

Recommended

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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