The Pentax Optio A40 is the latest result of Pentax's tradition of producing simple, usable, ultracompact cameras that have high-quality optics. This 12Mp black-and-silver model has a serious look.
At 2.5in diagonally, the Pentax Optio A40's screen is smaller than the screens on some competing models, although it works just fine indoors and out. When we saw how petite the Optio A40 is - it's only about 90mm wide - we were a little concerned about how it would handle, but the camera feels substantial in hand, and two well-placed grips keep your fingers away from the lens and the flash.
The Pentax Optio A40's image-stabilisation feature has you covered if things get shaky. This feature works so well that we kept it turned on nearly all the time. In photos of moving subjects, it definitely improves the sharpness of shots.
Getting into and around the menus is fairly simple, even without poring over Pentax's detailed manual. If you do have a question, you'll probably find it answered in the documentation. And the Pentax Optio A40 has enough dedicated function buttons that you probably won't have to slow down, even in full-automatic mode. Macro, zoom, and flash settings are readily accessible via dedicated buttons, and pressing the menu button lets you change everything else, depending on the mode you're in.
Unlike many other digital cameras priced under £200, the Optio A40 delivers outstanding image quality. Photos are sharp without undue halos or artifacts.
Don't expect miracles, though: like most digital cameras, the Pentax Optio A40 is not immune to noise, although it does all right. Shots are occasionally hit-or-miss in low-lit indoor situations and in quick street snaps, but this Pentax's output consistently beats the results from several competing point-and-shoot cameras we've been testing - and the Pentax Optio A40 does especially well in bright sunlight.
The Pentax Optio A40 includes a setting for expanding its dynamic range; using this setting added quite a bit of detail to shadowed areas in our tests, although it doesn't appreciably affect highlights. Overall, pictures show good colour, sharpness, and exposure. If anything, the Pentax Optio A40 tends toward underexposure, yielding good-looking, balanced, and saturated landscapes. Highlights were generally under control regardless of whether we expanded the dynamic range.
The Pentax Optio A40 throws in a handful of other features that have been cropping up on similar cameras: slide shows in playback mode, face recognition, soft-skin portraits, kids, and even different settings for pets of different colours. You also get a silly feature that adds a cartoon frame around your subject, so you can capture manga-style photo-booth shots wherever you want. Manual settings include manual exposure (in preset, nonstandard increments only), shutter priority (but not aperture priority), saturation, contrast, colour filtration effects, and white balance. The Pentax Optio A40 shoots 640 by 480 video and lets you zoom in and out fairly smoothly while recording.
A few minor complaints: we wish that Pentax had included a RAW image option (at 12Mp, why not?). We'd also love to have seen a 5x (rather than 3x) optical zoom and a wider-angle lens. But these are minor shortcomings.