Best Compact Superzoom Cameras

Evan Powell, Updated June 21, 2012


Pentax Optio VS20

My first camera was a Pentax K-1000 which I acquired in 1978 for $150. I loved it and still do because it's the camera that got me excited about photography. When I graduated to medium format I bought the Pentax 6x7 and with its spectacular 75mm prime lens I made some of the best images of my life. Pentax and I go back a long way. Thus it pains me to report that the Pentax Optio VS20 is among the worst of the compact superzoom cameras in this shootout. A camera to be avoided. In its storied history Pentax has produced some magnificent cameras but the VS20 is a fleeting shadow of what the company is capable of. Thankfully this is not a trend since the new Pentax K-01 mirrorless digital camera is following the best of the Pentax tradition.

The Pentax VS20 has two unique features worth noting. The first is the extra long zoom which reaches to 560mm on the telephoto end. This is the longest telephoto among the seven cameras in this shootout, besting the next longest Canon SX260 or Fuji F770, both at 500mm. The second feature is the two-shutter-button configuration, one on the top deck and one on the side which (in theory) makes it more convenient to shoot when held vertically in portrait mode.

What is the problem with the Pentax Optio VS20 you ask? It is slow and unpredictable. Shot-to-shot delay is a never-ending 3 seconds, while every other camera in this shootout clocks in at 1.5 sec or less (the Panny ZS20 is the fastest at 0.9 sec.) If you want to reset the zoom range between shots it slows down even further to a lazy 4.6 sec per shot, but the Nikon S9300 is even worst in this test, coming in at a painfully slow 5.7 sec.

Yet our biggest complaint with the Pentax VS20 is not its slow action, but its remarkable inconsistency. You can take a great picture with the VS20 but odds are you won't. The VS20 came in close to last as the camera that produced the most mediocre photos in the group test, mostly due to the autofocus being able to lock on the intended target. The VS20 roughly tied in picture quality performance with the equally lackluster Fujifilm F770. Only the Nikon S9300 was able to produce worse results but its surprising lameness exceeded the VS20 and the F770 only by a hair.

Though the Nikon S9300 produced slightly weaker results in picture quality, the VS20 edged out the S9300 for last place in this compact superzoom shootout due to other factors--a low contrast LCD screen that is impossible to see in sunlight, an interminable delay between flash shots that dragged out to 10 seconds, and the inability to shoot 1080p video--this is the only camera in the group that is limited to 720p/30 video.

Adding insult to injury the VS20 is somewhat larger and bulkier than the other five models in the shootout. It's not a huge camera by any means but by the standards of the compact superzoom camera category it is oversized. Having two shutter buttons, one each for landscape and portrait orientation, is a clever feature but it contributes to the porky form factor. If you need or want two shutter buttons your only option is the Pentax VS20 but you pay for it in extra bulk in your pocket.

If there is a saving grace it is that the Pentax VS20 is priced lower than the other five models in this shootout so it should be granted some slack for this alone. They say you get what you pay for and this compact superzoom camera shootout confirms that adage in spades. Despite its lower price we wouldn't encourage our readers to buy the VS20 so we won't sell our test unit on 2CameraGuys like we do most of our test samples. We bought our Pentax Optio VS20 on Amazon, and we will sell it on eBay.