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The latest Pentax compact features a touch-sensitive screen. We get Duncan Evans, who is also a bit sensitive, to check it out.
- Resolution: 7.1Mp
- CCD type: 1/2.5in interline transfer CCD
- ISO range: 64-3200
- Movie mode: 640 (640x480 pixels), 320 (320x240 pixels), 30fps or 15fps
- Internal memory: 20Mb
- Focal Length: 6.2-18.6mm f/2.7-f/5.2 (37.5-112.5mm in 35mm format)
- Focus Range: Normal - 0.4m to infinity, Macro - 0.15m to 0.5m at full wide-angle setting. Pan-focus - 1.2m to infinity at full wide-angle setting, 4.8m to infinity at telephoto setting.
- Metering: Multi-segment, Centre-weighted, Spot
- Exposure Modes: AUTO Picture, Program, Night Scene, Movie, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Digital SR, Surf&Snow, Sport, Pet, Kids, Frame Composition, Food, Text, Voice Recording
- Exposure compensation: ±2EV(1/3EV steps)
- Shutter speed: 4sec to 1/2000sec
- Flash range: Wide angle – 0.15-6.0m, Telephoto – 0.4-3.0m.
The Samsung NV7 and NV10 threw down the gauntlet with easy-to-use, menu free operations and radical design, so this is the Pentax reply which does feature menus, but uses a graphical, touch screen interface to do it. It means the camera is aimed at both gadget-lovers wanting something a bit different, and first time users who will appreciate the ease of use.
There's a real stripped down look to the Optio T30, with just two dials/buttons on the top of the camera, and two buttons on the back. The top two turn the camera on and then combine the 3x optical zoom with the fire button. All the modes and features are controlled on the touch screen LCD and these are activated by either pressing the Menu button or pressing the mode icon on the top left of the 3in LCD screen. This, in fact is an initially confusing division of the shooting functions. Pressing the mode icon brings up options to change the auto-focus, drive mode, flash mode and program mode. The latter option then allows selection between Auto Picture, Program, night scene, video, landscape, flowers, portraits, high sensitivity, surf and snow, sports, moving animals, moving kids, a tacky frame option, food, documents and audio recording. Most of these are standard, but the moving pets and kids options are a little novel.
The auto-focus options cover macro, pan focus – which is unusual, infinity for landscapes and manual focus. The macro is rated at 15cm, which is frankly poor. However, in tests, it appears capable of much closer focussing, locking onto subject at around 7-8cm distance. That still compares badly with many compacts that offer 1cm super macro, or 4-6cm macro range.
The flash options are rather varied for an easy-to-use compact. There's the standard auto mode, a red eye auto mode, forced flash with red eye and a soft flash option. Differentiation between, red-eye reduction in auto and forced flash modes seems pointless, as if the flash isn't needed in auto mode, then it won't create red eye anyway. The soft flash is of course, fill-flash, which is a lower power flash and very useful on bright days where otherwise there would be harsh shadows on faces in particular.
On the bottom of the camera is the Li-ion battery and SD card compartment. It's tight, but the SD card can generally be removed and inserted without too much effort.
Build and handling
The build quality is very good with a matt metal body and chrome trim. The zoom rocker is solid, and the two buttons on the back, next to the large and very pleasing 3in LCD, are easy to press and activate. The zoom, when activated, emerges from the body and while slightly wobbly, is made of three concentric metal rings so feels reasonably solid as well. The Optio T30 is also quite thin and, since it lacks any really awkward protuding elements, can easily be slipped into pockets.
The inclusion of a lower power, soft flash, which is fill-flash by any other name is a handy thing to have on board a compact. The red-eye reduction modes are fairly standard and with the flash right next to the lens on the body, it's obviously going to be an issue. The actual power rating of the flash is something of a surprise, being up to 6m in wide angle mode. While this isn't a great range in itself, it does stand up very well compared to other compacts which generally range from 3m-5m.
Startup time is fairly standard for a compact that has to send the zoom out, at around three seconds. The autofocus is generally quite lively for a compact, aiming to lock onto something within the focus area in about a second. The zoom is a modest 3x optical, and it covers the range in a standard fashion. It isn't anything to get excited about, while the Macro mode, as explained earlier, appears to perform better than the spec sheet would suggest, but even then, that places it into the entirely average category.
When using the camera in Portrait mode is does tend to soften the skin textures, leaving hairs slightly sharper, but there are also JPEG artefects in areas that head towards the shadows and the skin tones are slightly ruddy in places. There's reasonable sharpness in the mid-ground and foreground of landscape shots shot using that mode, but the background tends to lose sharpness.
As far as colours go, the primary colours are all pretty accurate, but it's where they mix that a few of the shades are slightly off – more so than a number of other cameras that have been in for review.
Black objects are overexposed, but give the metering credit here for getting it right.
At ISO64 there isn't any noise and this is a really clean and crisp image. At ISO100 there's just the first signs of some artefacts appearing on the grey card. Up to 200 and the solid grey is now mottled, with large, but very soft noise. This isn't that good. At 400, which tends to be the crunch point for hi-res compacts, it's noticeable across the grey card and in the petals as well. Shifting up to 800 the noise is now distinct and coloured, it's affecting the detail in the petals. It's still usable, but portraits won't look great. At ISO1600 the noise is much sharper, more coloured, the petals have faded in colour and detail has disappeared in the central yellow area of the flower. Quite why there is a ISO3200 mode, other than as a USP marketing tool, is beyond me as this is certainly unusable in colour. The petal colour has changed, the grey card is now a riot of coloured noise and there's no detail in the middle.
The ISO64 test
The ISO100 test
The ISO200 test
The ISO400 test
The ISO800 test
The ISO1600 test
The ISO3200 test
As the Optio T30 is fairly automated – there are no aperture and shutter priority modes, but there is exposure compensation – it is selling itself as as a pain-free, gadget or beginners camera. To that end, as long as the results are within acceptable limits, then it's the design, build quality, value for money and ease of use that will sell the camera, not the overall performance. In aiming at this market, Pentax have done a very good job, as with the 3in LCD, it's very easy to see what is being changed. Admittedly, the use of three different menu areas is slightly confusing initially, but the camera is so easy to use that even this will be mastered by a beginner without too much trouble. Aside from the interface, the other standout feature of the T30 is the ISO range which runs from 64 to an astonishing 3200. While the top mode is all but unusable except for black and white photos, it's impressive to see such a wide range on a compact. However, the selling point of the camera is the touch screen interface and the 3in LCD and these work well, making the camera a very solid purchase for the first time buyer.
Touch screen operation
Excellent build quality
Great ISO range
Very simple to use
ISO3200 is extremely noisy
Macro mode unimpressive
No AP or SP modes
Colour mixes slightly off
Only 3x zoom