The 5.5-ounce, 3.5-by-2.1-by-0.9-inch camera operates most smoothly when gripped with two hands, and there's even an indentation for your finger on the left side of the camera top. Thankfully, this Optio has plenty of hard-button controls, which reduces trips to the menus to make adjustments. On top, there's an illuminated power switch, a shutter release, and a shake-reduction effect preview button. On the back, controls include a standard zoom rocker, a playback button, a menu key, and a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK button.
The OK button also controls the type of information displayed on the screen, including a rule-of-thirds grid and a live histogram. The left-side key sets flash options, while the right-hand key chooses autofocus, macro, super macro, infinity, manual focus (with 15 fixed settings from 2.4 inches to infinity), and pan focus. The latter basically focuses lens to infinity no matter how far you zoom in or out--helpful for situations that normally fool the autofocus system or for shooting a moving subject, such as a soccer player. Either five-point autofocus or spot focus can be set in the menu system. The up key selects 2- or 10-second self-timers, burst mode, and either 3-second delay or immediate release with the optional IR remote control.
The down key produces a menu with 15 scene modes: 10 typical ones, such as Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Sport, Surf and Snow, Candlelight, Food, Pet, Text, and Night, as well as 5 other, including movie, voice recording, frame composite, full automatic, and programmed exposure. Some of the scene modes have clever options. For example, in Text mode, you can choose to preserve the original colors in the text or convert it to black-and-white or a negative (black-and-white or color) image. Pet mode has options to specify the fur tones of your animal for a better rendition.
A green button in the lower-right corner of the back panel that trashes the current picture in playback mode doubles as a function key in capture mode, converting the four cursor keys to adjustments for shake reduction, EV setting, image compression, and resolution. You can redefine any of the four cursor buttons for other functions, such as ISO or white balance.
Although your only exposure control is the EV adjustment, you can select matrix, center-weighted, or spot metering in the menus, and the camera sets an exposure for you. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 second to 4 seconds and the lens's maximum aperture spans f/2.8 at 38mm to f/5.4 at 114mm. The flash is good for even exposures out to 16 feet (8 feet at the telephoto position) with ISO set to Auto. There's 24MB of internal memory for emergencies, so an SD card should be on your shopping list.
In-camera processing effects abound. Frame mode can be applied as you shoot, with your selected frame appearing in the viewfinder as you compose your image, or you can add a frame afterward. Only three different frames are supplied, but you can download more from the Pentax Web site. Frame mode reduces resolution to 3 megapixels. Other postprocessing options include resizing, trimming, rotation, brightness, eight color filters, five digital filters (including soft focus and Slim, which compresses the image either horizontally or vertically), and post-shot red-eye removal.