Pentax take a tentative step into the world of bridge cameras with the X70. Offering 12Mp, low sensitivity of ISO50 and a massive 24x optical zoom.
Pentax X70: Specifications
- Zoom: 24x optical
- Resolution: 12Mp
- Sensor size: 1/2.33in
- Sensor type: CCD
- Max. image size: 4000x3000
- File type: JPEG
- Sensitivity: ISO50-6400
- Storage: SD, SDHC
- Focus types: 9-point AF, Spot AF, Auto tracking AF
- Normal focusing: 40cm-infinity
- Close focusing: 1cm-50cm
- Metering types: Multi-segment metering, centre-weighted metering, spot metering
- Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
- Shutter speed: 4sec-1/4000sec
- Flash: Built-in, wide: 0.2-9.1m (ISO Auto), tele: 1.7-5.1m
- Monitor: 2.7in LCD, 230,000dot, AR (anti-reflective) coating
- Interface: USB 2.0
- Power: Li-Ion battery
- Size: 82.5x110.5x89.5mm
- Weight: 390g (excl. battery and card)
At £370, the Pentax X70 offers a 12Mp CCD sensor with a huge 24x optical zoom, low ISO50 sensitivity and 1cm macro facility. The Nikon Coolpix P90
at £360 also has a 24x optical zoom, a 12Mp CCD, slightly higher ISO64 sensitivity and 1cm close focusing.
Alternatively, for a larger zoom, you could try the Olympus SP-590 UZ at £277 with a 26x optical zoom, 12Mp CCD, low ISO64 and 1cm macro.
When the camera is switched on it looks like any other bridge camera.
Zoomed out, the lens comes out an uncomfortable amount.
Pentax X70: Features
As the first bridge digital camera to come from Pentax, the X70 doesn't have any other model to compare with in it's own range but has plenty from other manufacturers to go against. Pentax have been well-known in the past for placing huge zooms in normal sized cameras or normal zooms in tiny cameras from as long as 10 years ago when film cameras were the norm.
In those days, Pentax led the way putting a zoom as long as 200mm in a compact camera. Granted, the camera was the size of a brick but they really showed their panache with the Pentax Optio S
and it's collapsible lens system.
Today they've given us a camera with a huge 24x optical zoom which is an equivalent of 26-624mm in 35mm terms. This zoom can be extended using a digital zoom to as much as 3900mm although using that zoom can cause problems with image quality and stability.
To combat the problem of camera shake, the X70 is fitted with Pentax' Shake Reduction technology to steady the images and at the wider field of views, this works really well. The idea of a large zoom is to crop in conveniently to far away subjects and a 24x optical zoom simply exacerbates camera shake too much for hand held shooting. This means you need to have a tripod or some kind of support to help steady the camera. A small table top type should suffice if you don't want to carry a larger model with you.
The top plate plays host to the command dial, exposure compensation and necessary power button. The shutter release is found slightly forward with the zoom switch.
A smaller-than-expected 2.7in LCD screen sits below the electronic viewfinder.
Other useful features include aspect ratios of 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 along with overexposure compensation which stops burn out on whites when it gets too bright. A Digital Wide function can stitch two images together to give an image equivalent to 20mm. This is good as long as it works well enough and the stitch is seamless. I've used these before in the past and they are very effective but can give problems if there's a sudden change in weather such as the sun going in.
The built in flash hunches over the lens and electronic viewfinder with a large command dial to the right. This gives speedy access to the ever popular auto scene mode which will analyse the scene and select the appropriate mode. Program, aperture and shutter-priority are present as is manual.
There's also a normal scene mode for selecting the mode yourself and a user option for custom setting. Next to the command dial is an exposure compensation button, the power button which has a cool little green light when you switch the camera on and the shutter release sits slightly forward. The rocker switch to zoom in and out is wrapped around the shutter release button. So that it's easily available to use without even looking.
On the back, the 2.7in LCD screen takes up most of the space and is 230,000dots with an anti-reflective coating to help you see the image on the screen in bright light. In a world where articulating screens are becoming more apparent, I think Pentax have missed a trick here as it's not the most easily used at low angles.
You can switch between the LCD screen and viewfinder by pressing the EVF/LCD button in the top right corner. The viewfinder isn't the best as I think it's a bit too dark and not very pleasing to use but it does save battery power which is good if you're out for the long haul.
Pentax X70: Build and handling
It's a similar design to the other bridge cameras on the market which is a normal compact, with a grip and a stupidly big zoom lens barrel stuck on the front. However it seems to have a mild air of concept cool about it. Maybe it's the sharp lines that run down the flash or the moulded corners of the shoulders. Either way, it hits me as slightly different in styling to other bridge cameras and I like it.
It's lightweight which can be deceivingly negative as it feels badly made but I don't think it is. It's well balanced with no particular weight being distributed to any side. If anything, the lens is the heaviest part of the camera but doesn't put any pressure on the front. It does cause a problem when the lens is extended to its full magnification but that's hardly surprising.
I'm surprised to see a plastic tripod mount with a camera of this calibre. I think with a lens this big, decent support is a necessity and to give a plastic mount is a little thoughtless when the tripod bush is going to be a high traffic area.
One other area is the lens cap. It's a simple slot on type that uses suction to attach itself to the camera although a small loop is available for attaching a strap. However if you switch the camera on without removing the cap first, the camera forces it off. A sensor to flag up a warning would be nice in case it ruins the lens motor.
Playback is a little slow with few actions being able to be performed until the picture on the screen has finished rendering. Zooming into the image is one such action and even when it does finally start it's very slow.
Pentax X70: Performance
Continuous shooting mode has three options of low, medium and high. In low mode, the camera takes seven images in 1.5sec which is pretty fast but compare that with medium which takes seven images in 0.3sec and there's a significant difference in speed. Not only that but it can then be pushed to 21 images in 1.75sec which is pretty phenomenal. The camera has to drop to 5Mp to be able to perform at this speed but if it could maintain this performance over a longer period, it would be going into Casio EX-F1 territory as 60 frames would take just three seconds.
Shutter lag results ranged from 0.16sec to 0.20sec which is on the lower end of acceptable. Most cameras have a standard of 0.08sec but recently a couple of Nikon models have been halving that. Pentax would need to keep up with this advance in technology if they want to stay competitive.
Colour rendition is typical for a compact recording in JPEG with primary blue being saturated the most. Other colours could be richer, such as yellow or red, but they don't pose a problem. Earth brown and forest green are rich enough and I like the skin tone tile for pinkness.
There's a little colour in the pastels down the left side of blue, orange and brown but these can easily be bleached out so it's a good performance from the X70 to record them. Mono tones are nicely balanced.
On a bright day it's nice to get out and take pictures and knowing your camera can handle adiverse dynamic range will give peace of mind and also make your work easier. The Pentax X70 has coped with the bright background and dark foreground nicely. It's not the most extreme of opposites but there's detail in the lock where it's darker towards the bottom.
Colour fringing is minimal with only a tiny coloured strip running along the white bar. One problem I encountered time and time again was purple banding from the screen. When the camera was pointing towards an area of brightness such as a window when I was inside, a got purple colour bleeding over from the light source.
I like the portrait image, the skin tone is balanced and not too warm while the detail in the hair is good. Using flash has removed any shadows and added catchlights without bleaching any skin or getting nasty reflections on the glasses.
In the portrait test, skin tone is balanced and not overly warmed.
Using flash removes shadows, evens the skin and adds catchlights.
There are three colour settings in the menu with the default setting of standard being accompanied by bright which boosts the colour slightly and mono which changes everything to black & white. These can work nicely in the correct setting but if you're going to use black & white you may as well convert in an editing suite.
Helicopter in the distance.
As an interesting point, I took an absent minded shot of a helicopter that I could only just make out. It was a dot in the sky because it was so far away. The Pentax X70 managed to zoom in on it, focus on it and record enough detail while freezing the rotors. I'm really impressed with this image simply over the sheer mechanics of finding such a small item in a massive expanse of blue and focusing on it.
Pentax X70: Noise test
Sensitivity expands from ISO50 to ISO6400 which is slightly wider than other cameras in this class. This will in turn lead to a slightly smoother image at the low setting but ISO50 will only be available when Bright Area Adjust has been unticked in the menu system.
It looks like noise is apparent even at the lowest setting but there's detail in the petals and I don't think it's imposing until ISO400 where it becomes significantly more aggressive. Detail begins to dissipate in the petals and coloured blobs start to appear in the grey tile.
By ISO1600 noise is a reall problem so with two more settings to go the only thing to do is cut the resolution. This is because a certain amount of noise is created by the heat generated from neighbouring pixels as they work. By dropping the resolution, this spaces them out so the surrounding area is cooler. The Pentax X70 drops down to 5Mp as a measure of damage control but it's still significant.
Pentax X70: Verdict
The ISO50 test.
The ISO6400 test.
For the first camera in the superzoom range, Pentax have done quite well. I think they've started as they mean to go on by putting one of the largest zooms available in the camera. A lot of the other features are found on basic compacts and I think are simply there to bulk the camera out and keep it uniform with the rest of the range.
Noise needs to be addressed and I wouldn't mind seeing a little extra oomph in the colours although they're not unappealing.
Pentax X70: Plus points
Good weight distribution
Excellent focusing at extreme distance
Nice portrait results
Fringing is controlled well
Pentax X70: Minus points
Bad noise control
Plastic tripod bush on a camera that will use it a lot
Colours could be punchier
See the video review of the Pentax X70 here:
Pentax X70 video review
The Pentax X70 costs around £370 and is available from Warehouse Express here: