Pentax Optio A10 Review
Pentax's new Optio A10 is the highest resolution compact model they have to offer as of 5/2006,
and includes many high-end features like an 8-megapixel imager, 3x optical zoom lens, digital
Shake Reduction technology, large 2.5-inch LCD as well as various user friendly exposure modes.
This is a fully automatic camera that is great for the beginner or novice user who likes to just
point-n-shoot, without much fuss. However, its Program AE mode does still offer some
adjustment to exposure settings (like ISO, White balance, metering etc.)
At about the size of a deck of playing cards, the A10 can be tucked away in almost any size pocket, and the durable metal body ensures it will stand the test of time. Although it is very small, I found that it sat quite comfortably in my hands, with controls being well placed and easy to access. The Menu system was also easy to use, being logically organized, which made for quick changes to camera settings. The large 2.5-inch LCD is the only viewfinder on this model, and is used for image composition and review as well as menu navigation. It seemed to worked very well outdoors, although it could benefit from an anti-glare coating. When shooting in marginal lighting, the display "gains up" well to help brighten your subject, which is crucial for framing in these conditions.
Shooting performance was sluggish for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.6 seconds. Shutter lag when pre-focused was approx. 1/10 of a second, slowing to a staggering 1.1 seconds including autofocus time. The shot to shot time in normal, single exposure mode averaged about 3.5 seconds without flash, and approx. 3.8 - 5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. When shooting in Continuous mode, I was able to capture 4 images in about 6.2 seconds. This performance was measured using a Kingston 2GB SD memory card with the image size/quality set a 8M ***, program mode, flash off and all other settings at default. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
The A10 features a Pentax smc 3x optical zoom lens, which covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 37.5mm - 112.5mm. I found the moderate wide angle end affords decent landscape shots as well as group portraits. While the telephoto end of the zoom range won't bring distance subjects very close, it does however, offer good versatility for shot composition and worked very well when shooting close up individual portraits. I noticed an average amount of barrel distortion present at full wide angle, but relatively no pin cushioning at the telephoto end. There was also noticeable amounts of chromatic aberration (also known as purple fringing) present around subjects of extreme contrast (brightly lit subjects, etc.)
When using the A10's 8M *** image quality mode, it produced average results for a consumer model. Our sample images showed good overall exposure, thanks to its accurate exposure and metering systems. Colors were nicely saturated, and for the most part, images were sharp. Although, I did however, notice some edge softness around several of our photos. The A10 did very well in the portrait department, both indoors and out. Using the dedicated Portrait scene mode enabled me to capture individual shots that were very sharp and showed pleasing skin tones. Even though the flash unit is very small (with a maximum flash range of about 8.2 feet), I found it worked well as a Fill-in flash outdoors, and as long as you are no more than say 6 feet away, it also produced good flash exposures indoors. Just remember, it does not have the power to illuminate open rooms; be sure there is plenty of ambient lighting if you plan on taking pictures from across the room using the telephoto end of the zoom range.
One feature that is becoming more and more popular among compact models is some sort of digital image stabilization. These modes help users capture better handheld images in lower lighting (without the flash), where slow shutter speed will constantly produce "camera shake" or "motion blur". Pentax's Shake Reduction technology worked well on this model, I was able to capture a shot of our dog being lazy, at a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second. While the image is not tach sharp, it is by all means usable for 4x6-inch or larger prints. Normally you would have to be using a shutter speed of at least 1/50 of a second (with very steady hands) to capture a decent available light shot. Therefore, this is a welcomed addition to the already appealing features of the A10.
I was a bit disappointed in our movie mode results. You can record MPEG-4 video at either 640x480 or 320x240 resolutions with sound. We used the 640x480 best mode, and our movie samples showed above average amounts of compression noise. The AF system did Ok at keeping up with moving subjects, but because of the higher noise levels, movies just don't look good.
The A10 is powered by a small 3.7v 710mAh proprietary Lithum-Ion battery pack, which can be charged in camera when placed in the included docking cradle or by itself. This is very handy when you have a spare pack, you can charge on while using another. Pentax claims you can capture 150 shots on a full charge (based on CIPA standards.) We found battery life was good, capturing about 104 samples (both images and short movie clips) as well as concluding several of our other tests on a single pack.
Bottom line - While the Pentax Optio A10 offers some appealing features (8-megapixels, Shake Reduction, etc.), the overall performance of this camera in all areas was disappointing. It does have the ability to capture pleasing photos that have enough resolution to create poster size prints. However, its poor movie mode results and extremely slow shooting performance really bring the model down. With a street price of $350 or less, we feel it doesn't offer that good of a value. You'd be better off getting a similarly priced model with less resolution, like Canon's A540, Sony's DSC-W50, or Casio's EX-Z120 just to name a few.
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