Pentax Optio 230 review
After setting my heart on the Fuji 2800 and its 6x optical zoom (and having to return it because the digital viewfinder is useless) I felt I was settling for second best with the Optio. Obvously, the 230's ability to get up close wasn't going to be a patch on the Fuji.
Image quality is probably slightly less well defined than the Fuji, but is certainly superior to the Kodak DC215 that it's replacing. The 230 does however suffer from worse than average stepping when it comes to thin, highly contrasting lines (the canoe picture on www.steves-digicams.com illustrates this quite well) although it may be possible to compensate for this by experimenting with the sharpness setting.
The 230 feels just the right size and weight, and the 3x zoom seems to cope well in most situations. You can always resort to the digital zoom if you really need to get up close to something: On the first couple of steps, the picture quality is still pretty good, but on maximum digital zoom, you really do start to lose quality.
A good feature of the Optio's digital zoom is that you can still use it with the camera set to maximum resolution. On some other cameras (the Fuji, at least) the digital zoom is disabled unless a lower resolution of final image is selected. The quality will, of course, be that of a lower resolution picture re-sampled to the higher resolution, but at least it means that all of your pictures have the same dimensions.
Another small but good feature (when compared to the Fuji) is that the Optio remembers the number of the last picture it took, even if you swap or format the memory card. You can manually reset the picture count to zero if you wish, but as long as you don't, it will never use the same filename twice.
Features-wise, the Optio wipes the floor with the Fuji. I particlularly like the flip-around screen for self-portraits (I have very few pictures with both me and my wife in them, as I don't fancy giving £200 worth of camera to a stranger who would probably be able to run quicker than me!) Held at arms-length, this camera does a pretty good 'couple' portrait, although the flash tends to bleach the picture pretty badly at this distance. Fortunately, you can correct this by using the exposure compensation feature: Set this to its minimum level (-2.0 I think) and you'll get a good self-portrait.
One feature that I found surprisingly useful was the ability to manually set the white balance. Indoor pictures without flash have a distinctly orange tint to them, that not even the built-in white balance settings seem to adequately compensate for. But switch to manual white balance and snap a picture of a plain white object (e.g. a blank piece of paper) and everything comes out perfectly.
The sepia and B&W features are a bit gimmicky - after all, you might as well take a colour picture and then fiter it on your PC. For purists though, taking the picture as B&W or sepia on the camera means that it only gets JPEG compressed once, and so retains more of the original detail. The 3D mode (with the viewing glasses) is an interesting gimmick that I haven't fully explored yet, but I've experimented with it a little and it seems to work well enough. For anyone wondering: This is a full colour 3D effect through viewing a separate colour image with each eye. it is far superior to the systems that use red/blue filtered glasses.
While the camera is able to store in TIFF (uncompressed) and three different levels/qualities of JPEG, I found that the quality of the TIFF option was not visibly better than the highest quality JPEG. Both look fine when filling a computer screen, but zoom in and you start to see the limitations of the CCD well before you spot any JPEG artefacts. The TIFF feature is nice to have for reference, but I reckon it's pretty much redundant in everyday use. The differences between high and medium JPEG quality are immediately obvious (on a 17" monitor, at least) so I won't be using anything other than highest quality JPEG. I haven't even tried the lowest quality setting and doubt that I ever will.
The separate 'auto' and 'full control' picture taking modes are a great idea. They mean that it's possible to set up the camera for special conditions, but still 'snap' a normal picture if the urge takes you without losing your settings. While I've seen criticism of this camera's abilities at night, the 'night' mode certainly wipes the floor with with my Kodak. A steady hand (or better still, a tripod) is required, and the pictures can be a bit grainy in very low light. In common with other digital cameras, I think the 'movie' mode is utterly pointless. In this case though, it's doubly so as the camera doesn't record sound. I suspect that this is one of those features that customers demand on a digital camera, but few ever actually use, an I'm glad that I haven't paid extra for the microphone and speaker!
My one cricism (and this is common to many digital cameras) is that the LCD screen is worryingly exposed: It's right on the corner of the unit, and the plastic viewing window sits slightly proud of the rest of the camera, just begging to be scratched the first time you're remotely careless with it. I wound up buying some self-adhesive protective film to go over the window, and would recommend that any other owner does the same.
For 200 quid, I can't fault this camera at all. The only thing I'd really like is the better quality digital zoom that a higher resolution CCD would have allowed. 2 megapixel resolution is pretty much entryl-level these days, but I wasn't prepared to pay 50% more for the 25% improvement that a a 3 megapixel camera would give.
I can't comment on the ACDSee software that came with the camera as I haven't installed it. I rarely edit my photos (and prefer to use a full-blown paint package if I do) and I've always used ThumbsPlus for cataloguing and viewing.
Whatever you do, don't drop it!
Thanks to the strap giving out on my cheap camera bag, my Optio 230 wound up being dropped from about waist height onto concrete. The bag didn't offer adequate protection, and one of the battery cover clips broke. Fortunately, the second battery compartment clip held the cover in place well enough to retain the batteries and allow the camera to remain useable.
Examining the camera, the tiny, fragile plastic clip (althougn not as tiny and fragile as the ones on my Kodak which also broke) is an integral part of the main camera body, and looks like it probably requires a total strip-down and rebuild of the camera with a new front case. The way that the camera was packed in the bag, it couldn't possibly have landed on the battery door. I suspect that this clip is already pushed close to its design limit just holding the door shut against the force of the battery springs, and a sufficient shock anywhere to the camera body is enough to break it!
I've attempted to repair the broken clip with epoxy, so far with limited success. The repair appears good for a while, but the force of the battery springs is enough to gradually pull the clip out of the glue. I have tried fabricating a new clip out of another piece of plastic, but the result was the same.
I'm debating whether or not it's worth sending the camera back to Pentax, but they're being less than helpful: Even describing the fault (clip broken off main housing) they won't give an estimate without seeing the camera. If it was likely to cost under £40 to repair then I'd go for it, but if it's going to cost more like £70-100 then it's approaching half the value of the camera and definitely not economic for cosmetic damage. To their credit, Pentax are prepared to do a free repair evaluation, but I don't see the point in sending off the camera, only to have it returned unrepaired because the price is too high.