Pentax Optio RS1500 £80
8th Aug 2011 | 09:53
Budget point-and-shoot model with changeable covers
Pentax Optio RS1500: Overview
Changeable covers may have been all the rage with mobile phones ten years ago, but, for whatever reason, the concept never really took off with compact cameras. With its latest RS1500 model, though, Pentax clearly reckons the audience for them is still there, with the camera equipped with ten changeable covers and two lens rings as standard.
The model follows Pentax's RS1000 which worked on the same principle, only the company claims that the covers may now be changed with greater ease and with no additional tools. And, should none of the ten provided quite suit the user's personality, they're invited to download further options from Pentax's website, or even design and print their own creations using software.
The new model is otherwise a carbon-copy of the previous RS1000. It sports a 14MP CCD and a 27.5-112mm zoom lens, the latter of which incorporates three aspheric elements to help control distortion and spherical aberration. This is particularly impressive for a model priced at £70, as is the 3in LCD screen on the camera's rear, although, unsurprisingly, it's resolution is at 230,000 dots.
On the inside, Pentax has equipped the RS1500 with a trio of focusing options: 3-point multi area, spot and AF tracking. It's capable of focusing down to a minimum distance of 40cm on its standard mode and 15cm when set to its Macro option, although the Super Macro setting only brings this figure down down to a minimum 8cm. Face Recognition, Smile Capture technology and a Shadow Correction option are all provided, as are a range of scene modes and digital filters such as Fisheye and Toy Camera.
The camera's sensitivity settings span a native range of ISO 100-1600, while further options equivalent to ISO's 3200 and 6400 are provided for when the standard options won't suffice. Sadly the camera's metering pattern cannot be adjusted from its default multi-segment option, although the capability of a 3.2fps burst mode at full resolution is a nice surprise.
Not all budget compacts have caught up to offer with HD video yet, but the RS1500 provides 720p recording at a maximum 30fps. While this isn't complemented with an HDMI port, this is unlikely to be a deal breaker for most. Instead, the model relies on a sole micro USB port for transferring images and videos. The model also runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, rather than on AA cells common to budget compacts, which helps to keep its profile slim next to similarly priced models.
Pentax Optio RS1500: Build quality and handling
Weighing just 127g with a battery and card in place, the RS1500 is a reasonably lightweight compact. As we may expect its body is largely plastic, while the rear sports a matte backplate which is pleasing to the touch. The camera's angular, boxy design wont be to everyone's taste, but button responsiveness, thumb space and overall weight all combine to make it comfortable to operate with just one hand.
Changing the covers is fairly straightforward, although you do need a nail or plectrum to prise the lens ring away from the body. Once this is done the plastic covering slips off and the faceplate of your choice may be positioned against the camera's body, before the cover and ring are fixed back on.
Pentax has long been a champion of clarity when it comes to labeling its functions and controls, and the RS1500 continues the tradition. Everything on the back is marked with large and clear text, while all options within the menu system are equally well-labelled and segregated into either recording or settings sub-menus.
The camera takes a second or so to power up and down although it responds well to the touch, with small arrows dotted throughout the menu system to guide the user. Focusing speed is average, not particularly slow but noticeably behind other cameras of this type. For most static subjects this shouldn't prove to be too great an issue, although against low-contrast details and in poorer light this tardiness can be a touch frustrating.
The biggest disappointment with regards to the camera's performance is its LCD screen, whose narrow viewing angle impedes visibility whenever the camera is tilted. Its default brightness level is perfectly good in subdued light, although it fares less well in brighter conditions and whenever the scene contains larger bright areas such as skies. Thankfully, the screen's brightness may be adjusted over seven levels.
Pentax Optio RS1500: Performance
The RS1500's metering system does pretty much what's expected: good exposures when the conditions present no obvious challenges, and a sensitivity towards brighter and darker scenes respectively leading to slight under and overexposure. While the predictability of this behavior can be quite useful, for a camera pitched at this level it would probably be better if, like many similar compacts, it simply exposed more intuitively for the main subject at the slight expense of highlight and/or shadow details.
Elsewhere, the camera's white balance system generally gets it right too, although images of the same subject in quick succession occasionally display differing colour casts.
Colours themselves are fine, though, even if they do tend to be more saturated and vibrant than faithful. In terms of detail reproduction and sharpness the camera does well next to some of its peers, although the heavy processing artefacts visible throughout images taken on all sensitivities serves as a reminder that the camera isn't going to perform past its modest price tag.
At higher sensitivities the camera process out much of the noise which forms, but sadly it takes with it a lot of the colour and detail, too, leaving images lifeless.
There's significant barrel distortion at the wide end of the camera's lens, although the camera's processing engine does a good job to automatically correct for most of this.
Edge and corner sharpness is particularly impressive, too, even at the camera's widest aperture, although chromatic aberrations aren't quite as well controlled, being particularly prevalent towards the edges of the frame. Oddly, though, they tend to appear in areas of medium contrast rather than across the higher contrast – such as across the edges of buildings – where we would expect to see them the most.
Overall it has its flaws, but for the money the pentax RS1500 actually performs admirably.
Pentax Optio RS1500: Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax Optio RS1500, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Pentax Optio RS1500 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 8 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 8 (see full image)
Pentax Optio RS1500: Noise and dynamic range
These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer.
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software.
Signal to noise ratio
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
JPEG images from the Pentax Optio RS1500 are on a par with the Fujifilm FinePix Z90 up to a sensitivity of ISO 400. The signal to noise ratio increases from ISO 1600 showing less noise than the comparison cameras, unfortunately the images lack detail.
This chart indicates that the Pentax Optio RS1500's JPEGs dynamic range compares well with the Nikon Coolpix S3100 and the Samsung PL210.
Pentax Optio RS1500: Sample photos
The camera's metering system largely manages to produce pleasing exposures.
Most of the time auto white balance performance is also good.
The camera's autofocus system did well to identify the main subject here.
At a mid-range aperture, such as f/4.8, corner sharpness is very good.
The camera has exposed for the darker buildings well, although the blown-out sky shows the typical limitations of dynamic range with such cameras.
As with practically all other compacts under £100, the camera struggles to retain detail at higher sensitivities.
At low sensitivities, details are perfectly respectable for a £70 camera.
Colours are slightly more vibrant than faithful, but results are pleasing nonetheless.
While mainly sound, there are occasions where the auto white balance errs, such as with this slightly cold beach shot.
Slight over-sharpening is visible in this image, which has resulted in some haloing.
There's a little distortion from the camera's optic, particularly visible in shots such as these two.
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO performance
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO100
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO200
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO400
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO800
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO1600
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO3200
Pentax Optio RS1500: ISO6400
Pentax Optio RS1500: Specification
1/2.33in CCD type, 14MP effective
SD, SDHC, approx. 21.6MB internal memory
3in 230,000 dots
1280x720 at 30/15fps, 640x480 at 30/15fps, 320x240 at 30/15fps
ISO 100-1600, expandable to ISO 6400
3-point multi auto, spot AF, auto-tracking AF
Max burst rate
3.2fps (max. 10 frames)
1/2000 to 1/4 sec. (Night Scene mode up to 4 sec)
127g (including battery and memory card)
Rechargeable Li-ion D-LI108 battery (supplied)
Pentax Optio RS1500: Verdict
As far as budget compacts go, the RS1500 is a fun and capable performer, and at £70 something of a bargain too. True, it can't be said to produce stunningly detailed images, and the effects of its processing make themselves known, but its by no means the worst performer of its kind and any issues it does have are entirely expected for a camera of its class.
Simple to use and decent image quality, with the further addition of its changeable covers the RS1500 proves it's as capable a performer as it is fun to use.
The camera's focusing system isn't always the fastest, while the poor viewing angle of the LCD screen means it isn't always that easy to see.
Even for those not convinced by the Optio RS1500's headline novelty feature, the 3in LCD screen and use of lithium-ion batteries make it a welcome addition to a competitive market. It's an ideal point-and-shoot model for beginners.