Pentax Optio 555
At a Glance
Though it isn't the most attractive point-and-shoot digital camera, the Optio 555 has nearly every feature you might ask for in one. This midsize, 5-megapixel model has aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual modes, plus several scene modes. More importantly, it has a 5X zoom lens--longer than with most cameras of the Optio 555's size and price. It uses an optical viewfinder, which some people prefer over the electronic viewfinders that most cameras with long zooms use. Even at full extension, the lens doesn't block the viewfinder, as some other long lenses do.
Pentax also provides a useful panorama shooting mode that shows you a ghosted image of your previous shot to help you line up the next one. Less useful, but good as a party trick: a 3D shooting mode, in which you shoot a couple pictures and then use provided software to merge them. You can only see the effect with an included viewer, though. You can also make voice recordings to accompany your shots. A full version of ACD Systems' ACDSee 5.0 image management and editing software comes with the camera.
With as many features as this camera has, naturally many are buried in the menus. But Pentax did a nice job with them. The menus aren't especially attractive, but the four-way navigation button on the back of the camera has a very positive feel to it, so you can zip through the menus easily. The camera has several bracketing options (exposure, white balance, focus, contrast, and sharpness), which could be a pain to select except that those choices are grouped under a single "Auto Bracket" heading. You can store your own settings by checking off items in a list--an elegant solution. You can easily resize or crop pictures within the camera, or apply a few effects, like converting to black-and-white.
In our output tests, the Optio 555 scored well above the average of this month's current test group. Most shots showed realistic colors (if a little dark) and a high degree of sharpness. The rechargeable battery held out for 395 shots, or nearly 2.5 hours, in our tests--one of the best performances in this month's test group.
However, the Optio 555 is a little slow in a couple areas. The lens's length may contribute to a zoom that feels lethargic. The camera must extend the lens fully on start-up, and it does so slowly. We also noticed that the camera had a little trouble locking focus at times, especially at full telephoto, even with seemingly easy settings (like a cityscape). The one feature the camera lacks: an illuminator to aid focusing in low light.
With the Optio 555, Pentax packed many features into a rather boring-looking design. The bland appearance is easy to overlook, though, given the unusually long lens.