Pentax Optio M30 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The Optio M30 is the second "M" series model we have seen from Pentax (as of 4/2007), with the first model being the Optio M20. While many features are the same (7-megapixel imager, 2.5-inch LCD, Pentax smc 3x optical zoom lens, Digital Shake reduction, exposure modes, 22 MB of internal, etc.) the M30 features a more compact body and a slightly broader ISO range,up to 3200! Great for hand held, low light shooting. This is a point-n-shoot model with various fully automatic exposure modes, which will allow it to be used by just about anyone, regardless of their experience level.

Ergonomics are good. As mentioned above the M30 is smaller than its sibling, measuring a mere 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches, and weighing in a just 4.2 ounces (without battery or SD card.) This will allow you to carry the camera in the smallest of pockets or purses and the durable metal body helps to ensure it will be able to stand up to plenty of wear and tear. Overall, I found it fit quite comfortable in my hands, with controls being well placed and easy to access by my fingertips. The menu system was also very simple, and I liked the help info that is displayed when hovering over certain exposure modes/settings. The large 2.5-inch LCD is the only viewfinder on the camera, and is used for image composition and review as well as menu navigation. While shooting outdoors, I found the surface of this display doesn't feature a "non-glare" coating, therefore there are still many angles which reflect the sun, making it more difficult to see your subject. When shooting in marginal lighting, the display "gains up" well to help brighten your subject, which is very helpful when shooting in these conditions.

The M30's shooting performance was average for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.3 seconds. Shutter lag when pre-focused was approx. 1/10 of a second, slowing to 4/10 of a second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay in normal, single exposure mode averaged about 2.3 seconds without flash, and approx. 2.8 - 3.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. When shooting in Continuous mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 3.0 seconds, a frame rate of approx 1.6fps. Our performance times were measured using a Lexar High-Speed 1GB SD memory card with the image size/quality set a 7M ***, program mode, flash off and all other settings at default. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

Our image quality results were good for a 7-megapixel consumer digicam. The majority of our samples show good exposure and pleasing color balance. While most images are sharp, I did see some edge softness in many of our photos. The M30's Pentax smc 3x optical zoom lens offers a typical range of 38mm - 114mm (35mm equivalent). I found its moderate wide angle end can afford decent landscape shots as well as small group portraits. While the 114mm telephoto end of the zoom range won't bring distant subjects up close and personal, it does do well with close-up portraits as well as macro shots. I saw noticeable barrel distortion present at full wide angle, but relatively no pincushioning at the telephoto end. There were also very few traces of chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) present in brightly lit or high contrast areas.

When shooting people photos, I found that the camera's dedicated Portrait mode works very well. This is the only mode that utilizes the Face Recognition AF & AE capabilities of this model. Overall, I found it captured very nice close-up portraits. Outdoors, our subjects face is nice and sharp, and the flash did well in fill-in mode. Even though the flash unit is tiny, Pentax claims it can cover up to 50.9 feet at wide angle using Digital SR mode. This is pretty amazing, however in order for the camera to accomplish this, it would have to use its higher ISO settings (1600 or 3200), and image noise is horrible at those sensitivity levels. That said, when using Portrait mode with the ISO set to Auto, Pentax claims a range of up to 18 feet. I found the flash did well indoors when shooting from about 5 - 7 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. You can see for yourself on our samples page, that flash exposure and skin tones look nice.

Noise is an issue we cover with almost every camera we test with the option to manually select the ISO settings. With the M30, you can choose from ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, or even 3200. As you can see from our photos on the samples page, ISO 200 and below show average amounts of noise. However, 400 and above start to show a lot of noise. In fact, 1600 and 3200 are pretty much useless, as these images could not even produce a nice 3x5-inch photo. Your best bet is to leave the ISO set to Auto, as it does well at keeping the sensitivity as low as possible.

A feature becoming more and more popular among compact models is some form of blur reduction, like the M30's Digital SR (Shake Reduction) mode. This mode helps you capture better handheld images in lower lighting (without the flash), where slow shutter speeds will constantly produce "camera shake" or "motion blur" in your photos. I was able to capture a portrait using only the ambient light coming in from a window, at 1/50 of a second. While the image is not tack sharp, it is still quite usable for a 4x6-inch print. However, because the camera selected an ISO speed of 1250, there's plenty of noise present.

You can record Quick-Time video at either 640x480 or 320x240 resolutions at frame rates of 30fps, with audio 15fps. Because sound is recorded, the optical zoom may not be used during recording, however, you can preset the focal length before starting. Our movie sample turned out good, with minimal compression noise. The AF system did well with moving subjects, and the SR mode helps you capture steady handheld videos. The only issue I saw was with the exposure system, it seems to fluctuate often.

The M30 is powered by a 3.7v 740mAh Li-Ion battery pack. Pentax claims you can capture power up to 230 shots or 330 minutes of continuous playback. We found battery life was good, capturing over 85 samples (both images and short movie clips) as well as concluding several of our other tests on a single pack. Because you can charge one pack while using another, we suggest you add one with your purchase and keep it charged and ready at all times, you wouldn't want to miss a photo op due to a dead battery, would you?

Bottom line - Pentax has created a nice compact digital package for 2007. With good image quality, class average performance, a durable all-metal body and various exposure modes, the Optio M30 is sure to make a great digicam for the family, tourist, or office user. With an MSRP of US$199 (April 2007) or less, I feel the M30 offers a great value for a camera in this class. +

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