Pentax Optio X70 Review
By Mike Flacy
Pentax has finally entered the mega-zoom category with the Optio X70. This versatile model boast features like a 12-megapixel CCD image sensor, 24x wide view (26mm) optical zoom lens, F2.8 maximum aperture (wide), 2.7-inch LCD, high-resolution EVF (200K dots), 9-point AF system, Li-ion battery pack, and 720p HD movie recording. The X70 also offers an exposure mode for most all of you shooting needs or experience. Those who are just getting into photography will enjoy the point-n-shoot operation of Auto Picture and the 22 pre-programmed scene modes. While the novice to advanced user will appreciate the options available when using Program AE, Shutter/Aperture priority, and full Manual.
The X70 is a well designed model with great ergonomics. The hand-grip is large and comfortable with nice rubber accents that offer a nice firm hold on the camera. These combined also allow for effortless one-handed shooting. The control layout was well planned out, with all of the control just within reach of your finger tips. The build-quality seems great, with one exception; the lens. I found that the entire lens assembly on our eval unit was 'wobbly'. Whether the lens was retracted into the body, or extended, it wobbled with a slight jerk or shake of the camera. The EVF and LCD on this X70 worked will in most lighting conditions. The LCD could benefit from a non-glare coating, and the EVF eye piece desperately needs a rubber eye cup. I found using the EVF was very uncomfortable for anything longer than a couple minutes. Menu operation is similar to Pentax' compact cameras, and overall it was very easy to navigate the menu screens.
Performance from the X70 was average for a super-zoom model. When turning the camera on, 3 seconds elapse before it is able to capture the first image. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and between 3/10 of a second to 1.3 seconds including autofocus, depending on the amount of adjustment necessary. The shot to shot delay averaged about 3 seconds between frames without the flash and 3.5 seconds with the flash. The camera also features three burst settings (L, M, H), each of which drop the resolution down to 5-megapixels. However, 5-megapixels is plenty of resolution to create nice 8x10-inch or larger prints. Continuous L mode allowed me to capture 7 frames in 1.3 seconds before the buffer filled. Cont. M mode was a bit faster, capturing 7 frames in just 7/10 of a second. Cont. H mode captured 21 frames in only 1.5 seconds! It then took about 7-8 seconds for the camera to flush the buffer. The flash is not available in either of the continuous modes. All of our tests were completed using a 2GB Lexar Professional 133x SD card, Auto Picture mode, ISO auto, flash off, preview on, and all other settings at the factory defaults. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Pentax has equiped the X70 with a versatile 24x optical zoom lens that boasts a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 26-624mm! This lens not only affords wide landscapes and large group portraits, but up close telephoto magnification that will allow you to bring distant subjects front and center. The lens is quite fast as well, with a wide open aperture range of f2.8 wide or f5.0 telephoto. This combined with the mechanical SR system will help you capture better photos in lower lighting conditions or when using the telephoto capabilities of this camera without some sort of support (e.g. monopod or tripod). I found this lens compliments the X70's image sensor well, helping the camera produce nice sharp images throughout the zoom and aperture ranges, with very little edge softness. I also saw average barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning at the telephoto extremes, respectively. CA was very well controlled, with relatively no traces visible in our test shots.
The X70 produced some very pleasing images, both indoors and out. Many of our samples were even shot at ** quality, instead of the 'best' (***) setting. The majority of our outdoor photos are tac sharp with excellent exposure and vivid colors. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our Sample Photos page. When shooting indoors, the X70 also performed very well. Pentax claims the built-in pop-up flash has a range of about 29 feet at wide angle using ISO Auto. This is above average for a camera in this category, and I found the flash was quite powerful. Our portrait examples were taken from several feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom to tight frame my subject's face. The results were nice crisp flash exposures along with sharp facial details and natural skin tones. In fact, I'm not sure where the camera performed better, indoors or out; which isn't a bad thing to be confused about. Overall, the Pentax X70 is a capable model that will allow you to capture good quality photos in a large variety of shooting environments.
Movie mode not only allows you capture video with sound at resolutions of 640x480 and 320x240 at both 15 and 30fps, but also 1280x720 at 15fps or 848x480 at 30fps. The optical zoom is not available while you are recording, however you can pre-set the desired focal length before recording starts. There is a digital zoom feature, however we advise you to use it sparingly, as it can degrade image quality. Our video results were good, playback is nice and smooth, even with the slower 15fps frame rate of the 720p HD mode.
One of the X70's weaknesses is battery life. Pentax decided to use their tiny 3.7v 925mAh D-LI92 Li-ion battery pack to power the camera. While I personally like Li-ion packs over AA type cells (which most super-zooms use), I was expecting a bit larger pack for the X70. In order to capture about 130 sample images, 5 or more short video clips, and conclude out other routine tests, I had to charge the D-LI92 Twice. That said, I HIGHLY recommend you add a second or even third battery pack to your purchase (about US$49.95 each). Luckily the pack is charged out of camera, so you can charge one while using the other.
Bottom Line - Pentax has done a fine job with their first ever mega-zoom model. The Option X70 has a lot to offer with superb image quality, great optics, decent performance, and loads of user-friendly options. This is not only a easy to use digicam, but also a very capable photographic tool. The only issues I had with this model were the 'wobbly' lens unit, uncomfortable EVF eye piece and the poor battery life. Those issues, aside, I feel the Pentax Optio X70 is a worthy competitor in the mega-zoom category, offering a good balance of features and performance in the sub US$400 price range.
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