Pentax Optio E70 Review
By Mike Flacy
Pentax's latest entry-level model, the Optio E70, is every bit as easy to use as its predecessors. Green mode, like on the previous models, is the absolute easiest way to take pictures, and the improved auto mode automatically selects the best of 7 shooting modes for the current situation. They have not let the ease-of-use cut down on the features of the camera. Sporting a 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3x optical zoom, Pixel Track shake reduction, 640x480 movie mode and an upgraded face detection system; Pentax hasn't left anything out. The new face detection system can detect up to 32 faces in less than 1/10 of a second. This system also gives you Smile Shutter and Blink Detection features, both of which will assist you in capturing better portrait shots, even when you are not quite ready. One feature listed on Pentax's Specifications page under capture modes is a 16 frame composite option, however we were unable able to find this feature in the camera.
Compact and easy to handle, the E70 has a very durable feel. It widens on the right side, allowing for easy operation with one or two hands; not only when shooting, but viewing your images and changing the camera settings as well. All of the large buttons on the back lay conveniently under your thumb. The 2.4-inch LCD screen looks a little small on the back, but is well protected and easy to see in most lighting conditions. When bright lights hit the screen, they reflect an annoying glare. The resolution of only 112,000 pixels is a bit low, leaving you with less detail than we would like to see since this is your only option for framing and viewing your images.
Performance from the E70 is slow for any level of camera. When turning the camera on, it will be 2.7 seconds before it is able to capture its first image. The shutter lag is good, taking less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and just 4/10 of a second when allowing the camera to auto-focus. Single shot mode was only able to capture 3 images in 20 seconds with the flash or 3 images in 17.5 seconds without. The camera also features a continuous shooting mode which allows it to capture 5 images in 27.7 seconds (.2 fps), well under the .78 fps claimed by Pentax. All of our tests were completed using a 2GB RiDATA Pro 120x SD memory card, Program mode, flash off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless stated otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality from the E70 is not very good. Our outdoor images show good exposure and vivid colors, however there is an unacceptable amount of edge softness that can be seen in all of the images. The center of the image is crisp and clear, but as you get to either side, it gets pixelated and even becomes completely blurred in some spots. The 3x optical zoom lens is good for landscape and portrait photography, but is not enough to get you close to a distant object. At the wide end you will see only slight barrel distortion but as stated above you will see the edge softness and some aberrations in high contrast areas.
Our indoor image quality was a little better. The exposures are good as long as there is enough light, and the colors look realistic and lifelike. At ISO Auto, the flash has a maximum range of up to 16-feet at wide angle, which sounds a little better than it really is. As your subject moves farther away, the camera boosts the sensitivity, therefore increasing the amount of noise you will see in the photo, due to the higher ISO settings. At ISO 64 and mid telephoto, the flash did not have enough power to properly light our M&M man shot from 5-6 feet away. You can also see the increasing edge softness on the magazines along the left side of the image. Our macro shot shows that the flash is a little too powerful for macro photography, as it blew out the wrappers a bit.
The improved face detection system helps make taking individual and group portraits incredibly easy. Either in Auto or Portrait shooting modes, the images have great skin tones, giving your subjects a very realistic look. This is mostly due to the camera's ability to find and track up to 32 faces at one time, allowing it to provide you with the best possible exposure for the faces within the frame. Another new feature, Blink Detection, warns you when someone has their eyes closed within the image that you just captured.
With the capability of shooting 640x480 or 320x240 video at 15 or 30fps, you have a great alternative to shooting a photograph. Like we found above, the face detection feature quickly picks up faces when enabled, and adjusts the exposure appropriately as long as it can continue to recognize the face during recording. While our video sample is slightly overexposed, it does run smoothly, and the camera did an excellent job of capturing nearby sounds.
Supplying power to the E70 are two standard AA type batteries. Instead of using standard alkaline batteries, we recommend high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries. These batteries enabled us to take nearly 100 images while completing all of our tests with about half of the power still left. Even though these batteries do not last as long as a proprietary lithium-ion battery pack, rechargeable AA batteries are much cheaper and in a bind you can always use any type AA battery.
Bottom Line - Pentax's new Optio E70 comes packed full of useful features. However, the features and ease-of-use of this model do not make up for the lack in the performance and poor image quality we found during our testing. Therefore, we feel that with a MSRP of US$139.95, there are many other entry-level models in this price range with similar features that offer much better quality and performance.
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