Pentax Optio P70 Review
By Mike Flacy
Pentax has recently released the Optio P70, an all new ultra-compact digicam which is the lightest and easiest to carry of all the Pentax models. Sporting a 12-Megapixel imaging sensor, 2.7-inch LCD screen, 4x wide optical zoom lens, HD movie capture and a handful of other creative features that assist you in capturing better photographs. Such features included Face Detection, Pixel Track Shake Reduction, Digital Shake Reduction, Smile Capture and Blink detection. In short, this camera has everything you could hope for in a compact digicam.
Like many other Optio series cameras, the P70 is a simple point-n-shoot model with fully automatic operation when used in Green, Auto Picture or any of its 22 Scene modes. Auto scene mode even chooses the best of 8 shooting modes for you based on the current shooting situation. While those options are perfect for the beginner, the P70 offers some more advanced control when using the Program exposure mode. Here, novice users can adjust the ISO, Metering, White balance, Exposure compensation, Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, etc. Combined, these modes make this a camera that can easily be used by anyone in the family.
The incredibly thin body of the P70 can make it a little difficult to operate with just one hand, but using the 'pinch' technique makes it very easy to handle. Having the zoom control mounted around the shutter release makes zooming a snap, and by eliminating it from the back of the camera allows more room for the LCD. Having the rest of the controls in a straight line down the right side makes it simple to find the button you are looking for. After a short time, changing some of the settings can be done without even looking at the screen. At 2.7-inches, this is largest LCD screen to grace the back of an Optio model camera. The anti-glare coating does an excellent job of cutting down on glare, allowing you to view it in all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight. With 230,000 pixels you will notice more detail and definition than many of the past Optio models featuring LCD screens with only 112,000 dots.
Performance from the P70 is ok for an ultra-compact model. When turning the camera on, 2.6 seconds elapse before it is able to capture its first image. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and between 3/10 to 8/10 of a second including autofocus, depending on the amount of adjustment necessary. Single shot allowed me to capture 3 images in 13.6 seconds without the flash and 3 images in 8.7 seconds with it. If there is not enough available light, the camera will take time to process and try to brighten the image, considerably slowing down your shot to shot numbers when the flash was turned off. The camera also features two burst settings. Continuous mode allows for the capture of 6 images in 16.3 seconds. These shots come in bursts of two, then it refocuses before the next two, allowing time for the buffer to clear so you can continue to shoot. There is also a high speed continuous, which allowed me to capture 6 images in just 1.5 seconds, but the resolution is lowered to only 5-megapixel. However, 5-megapixels is plenty of resolution to create nice large prints. The flash is not available in either of the continuous modes. All of our tests were completed using a 1GB Sandisk Ultra II SD card, Program mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality from the P70 was good in our outdoor images. Exposure is very nice and the colors are bright and vivid. At the center the images are very crisp and sharp, but there is a considerable amount of edge softness present, which easy to see in the firehouse shot. The 4x wide optical zoom lens has a 35mm equivalent of 27.5-110mm. This is excellent for landscape and group portraits on the wide end, while the telephoto end gets you a little closer to distant objects but is most useful in assisting you with framing. With the extra wide end of the zoom you will have a little more barrel distortion, as shown in our museum shot.
Our indoor image quality results were also Ok. The M&M man shots show higher amounts of noise than we would like to see at all of the ISO settings, starting with the dark areas in ISO 100 and 200 and then throughout the image at 400 and above. Again in these images you will also see a little edge softness as the magazine titles on the outside are fuzzy. At ISO Auto, the flash has a maximum range of up to 15-feet at wide angle, which sounds a little better than it really is. As your subject moves farther away, the more noise you will notice in your image due to the higher ISO settings. At ISO 64 and mid telephoto, the flash was not enough to properly light our M&M man shot from 6-7 feet away. In macro mode, the flash showed the ability to control itself up-close and did not blow out our candy dish.
Like we saw on the E70, Pentax has incorporated their new Face Detection system on the P70. This improved function helps make capturing individual and group portraits incredibly easy, whether you are using the dedicated Portrait scene mode or full Auto. Our portraits show good exposure and skin tones as the AE and white balance system based the exposure on the faces (up to 32 total can be recognized) that are detected with in the frame. Blink Detection is another new feature, which warns you when someone had their eyes closed in the image that you just captured.
Movie mode not only allows you capture video with sound at resolutions of 640x480 and 320x240 at both 15 and 30fps, but also 1280x720 HD at 15fps. If you like capturing video with your digicam, you're going to love HD. The quality of the HD videos is much better than that of the smaller two formats. Playback is nice and smooth, and the camera does well with sound. In both the VGA and HD formats, the videos consume close to 1MB per second, so be sure you have a decent sized (1GB+) memory card if you plan on using Movie mode often.
Powering the P70 is a 3.7V, 740mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack. Pentax claims that there is enough power to capture approx. 200 images on a single charge. We took just over 100 images while completing our tests and the battery still had plenty of power to spare. Included with the camera is an external battery charger, making it easy for you to keep an extra battery charged and on hand at all times. This is a great idea for trips or shooting situations when you will be gone for a full day or weekend without having a place to recharge.
Bottom Line - The new Pentax Optio P70 is a very stylish and full featured ultra-compact digicam. With a 12-megapixel imaging sensor, 4x wide optical zoom lens and full collection of auto shooting modes, this camera is easy enough and capable enough for anyone in the family or office to use. That being said, with a MSRP of US$199 there are several other models in this price range to consider like the Canon Powershot A1100 IS or the Olympus FE-5010; both with a 12-Megapixel imaging sensor, 4x or larger optical zoom and are under US$200.
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