Pentax Optio X70 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
With such an extensive zoom range in a compact body, there are compromises to be expected. The lens' short length for a 24X zoom implies that the sensor behind it must be very small. This is how they get the FLM large enough to reach 624mm. Despite this, it shows good sharpness albeit with some softness towards the left-side of the frame. Pronounced and complex distortion near wide-angle, getting moderate towards telephoto, is also noticeable.
The smaller the image sensor, the higher the image noise. Higher image noise is normally dealt with by using stronger noise reduction. While the Pentax Optio X70 shows some amount of noise even at the lowest sensitivity, it is reasonably sharp there and at the next higher sensitivity stop.
With 12 megapixels and internally sharpened output, ISO 50 and 100 are very usable. ISO 200 is OK too but a little softer due to noise reduction. Starting at ISO 200, color-balance shifts towards yellow. ISO 400 clearly looks softer and more yellow but remains usable. From ISO 800 up, details get severely destroyed and the yellow tint starts dominating colors.
Ignoring the color distortion which appears at high ISO, the Pentax X70 produces reasonably accurate image colors when its white-balance is properly set, either with presets or custom settings. Auto white-balance is better than average, as it even does a good job under artificial lighting for the most part. Scenes dominated by one or two colors are problematic though. The camera takes a few second to get the white-balance right. That is quite slow but since it works well, it's easy to forgive.
The Pentax Optio X70 features three metering modes: multi-segment, center-weighed and spot. The default metering mode is multi-segment which is expected to produce pleasing results under most circumstances, and it does. The X70 exposes generally well, avoiding over-exposure and clipped-highlights more than its peers. Enabling highlight-correction helps too.
Operating performance of the Pentax Optio X70 is slow. This is certainly its most significant short-coming but it is not slow at everything. Start and zoom-speed are great. Focus ranges from quite fast, particularly near wide-angle, to very slow. It does lock accurately though, rather than giving up. Shot-to-shot speed are generally slow, taking up to 3 seconds between shots. The most frustrating part is that the camera stays unresponsive without indication until it is actually ready. Pressing the playback button too early, for example, shows an error message saying "Data is being processed".
The zoom controller appears fine-grained but is hard to set precisely because it is quite sensitive and tends to jump over steps too easily.
There is no full-resolution continuous drive mode, only 5 megapixels ones. Those do go quite fast, 4 FPS and up, but since the displays remain entirely blank while shooting, the continuous drive is of little use. After time-out, the X70 turns itself off. Waking it requires pressing the power-button but - unlike true power-off - settings are remembered.
The final measure of performance is battery-life. This is one aspect where the X70 is seriously limited with only 170-shots per-charge, one of the lowest numbers seen in a long time.
The stabilized wide-angle 24X optical zoom is definitely fun, giving freedom to frame anything from far away. It is a good opportunity for candids or abstract framing. This is where the Pentax Optio X70 lives to its potential. The lens is sharp, quick and does not suffer from much distortion except near wide-angle.
In good light, keeping ISO 100 with highlight correction turned on, this Pentax can produce quality images with good exposure, color, white-balance and focus. The X70 certainly should live outdoors. Indoors, for moving subjects, it is let down by noise and slow performance. Those circumstances are best for a DSLR, yet certain ultra-zooms still do better.
Overall, the Pentax X70 does well. Being happy with it means understanding its limitations but as an outdoor camera with an incredible reach, it is a good one. Add the occasional use of its HD video-recording feature to the mix and its versatility shines.
Competition includes the Nikon Coolpix P90
Nikon Coolpix P90, Kodak Z980 and Olympus SP-590. Having seen only the P90 among those, it is clear that the X70 has the advantage in terms of image quality, exposure and focus. The P90 is a faster camera though, making it more suitable for moving subjects, at least in good light because that camera also suffers from high noise.
Pentax X70 Facts
|12 Megapixels Ultra Zoom||ISO 50-1600|
|24X Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/4000-4s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.20" Built-in EVF 200K Pixels||Custom white-balance|
|1.2 FPS Drive, 6 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1280x720 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|2.7" LCD 230K Pixels||Secure Digital High Capacity|
Movie mode is limited by lack of zoom-ability and true image-stabilization. Instead, it relies on moving which pixels are read to record the video. In order to do that it must not use edge pixels from the start, this makes the field-of-view visibly tighter than without digital shake reduction enabled.
Digital wide increases the focal-length range compared to the widest by stitching two portrait mode images at 26mm into a single 20mm-equivalent image. It does so by locking the orientation and zoom to its widest point. It means that there is a clear gap between 20 and 26mm. The result can be nice but it stitching images is not trivial and the X70 certainly misses often, producing images with gaps or duplicate details around the seems. Doing this on a computer takes more time but will most likely give better results.
A similar situation applies to the automatic panorama mode which - at least hand-held - makes it extremely difficult to produce a crisp panorama. The best advice is to ignore these features and do stitching automatically but outside of the camera.
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