It wasn't all that long ago that a 12 megapixel sensor was the exclusive domain of the DSLR, but now there are any number of compact digitals packing 12, and in some cases even more megapixels. One of the latest to enter the compact "digital dozen" club is the Pentax Optio P70.
Announced on January 5, 2009 as a "high performance model featuring fast, advanced functions to make high-quality digital photography simple and effortless", the P70 becomes the pixel count flagship of the Pentax line with the discontinuation of the Optio A40. Our test subject was the P70 in matte silver with chrome highlights version, but fashionistas will no doubt be pleased to know this slim shooter can also be had in white and red versions. Do good things really come in pretty, small packages? Let's find out.
Pentax touts the P70 as the lightest Optio in the line, weighing in at 4.4 ounces in shooting configuration (battery and memory card onboard). The camera measures out at 3.8 x 2.1 x .8 inches - the first two figures are nothing unusual in the compact ranks, but that .8 makes the P70 a bit slimmer than a lot of competitors, and that translates into better pocketability (or at least a reduced unsightly bulge).
The camera features a 4x Pentax zoom lens covering a 35mm film equivalent focal range of 27.5 to 110mm. Here's what that lens range looks like in the real world:
Besides the 12 megapixel sensor, there's a 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dot composition, a nominal 64 to 1600 ISO sensitivity range (with 3200 and 6400 ISO available at a reduced resolution of 5 megapixels), new Pixel Track Shake Reduction technology, Advanced Face Recognition that tracks up to 32 faces in 0.03 seconds, and both Smile Capture that automatically releases the shutter when subjects smile, and Blink Detection to alert you if your subject's eyes are closed. The camera accepts SD or SDHC memory media, and there is about 33.7MB of built-in memory.
Pentax includes USB and AV cables, a Li-Ion battery and charger with AC plug cord, wrist strap and CD-ROM software with each camera.
Pentax lists 24 shooting modes for the P70, but for our purposes we'll identify four primary modes:
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
Styling and Build Quality
Our review camera featured an aluminum body in a matte silver finish with chrome accents, with subtle rounding on all camera edges.
The camera seemed solid and well put together, the equal of competitive cameras in the class.
Ergonomics and Interface
The camera layout is simple and straightforward - the power switch and the combo zoom ring/shutter button sit atop the body, with the camera back taken up by the LCD monitor, four buttons and the rotary controller. Controls are spaced to insure no accidental activations occur, and the flash location did not conflict with either a horizontal or vertical shooting grip.
Shooting mode, flash, self-timer, continuous shooting settings and focus mode can be accessed via the rotary controller, but most other camera settings require use of the internal menus. There is a "green button" that comes with a set of default camera settings that can be instantly called up no matter what shooting mode the user is in, or the button may also be programmed to bring up a specific function from the following list: recorded pixels, white balance, AE metering, sensitivity, EV compensation, focusing area, sharpness, saturation, contrast or voice recording.
The 2.7 inch LCD is of approximately 230,000 dot composition and adjustable for seven levels of brightness, none of which makes it easy to use for image composition, capture or review in bright outdoor conditions. Pentax does not list the coverage afforded by the monitor, but it appears fairly close to 100%. There is no viewfinder.
Remembering that Pentax calls the P70 a "high performance model" and then noting an MSRP of just under $200 (with an additional $20 rebate being offered as this is written), I was curious as to just how much performance could be had for less than two bills. The answer depends on what your idea of performance is.
Timing and Shutter Lag
The P70 powers up in about 1.5 seconds and I was able to acquire focus and shoot in about 3 seconds. Shutter lag with pre-focus is a very satisfying .05 seconds, but the camera doesn't acquire focus as quickly as some competitors in good light and press to capture times without pre focus ran about .87 seconds. There is no focus assist lamp for dim light and acquisition times in those conditions will lengthen.
Shutter lag with flash enabled comes in a bit slower, about .09 seconds, and all bets are off with red eye reduction as the P70 fires a pre-flash before shooting for real. The shutter has a nominal range of 1/4 to 1/4000th second, but can stay open as long as 4 seconds in night scene mode.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD960 IS
|Nikon Coolpix S560||0.04|
|Pentax Optio P70||0.05|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Canon PowerShot SD960 IS||0.47|
|Nikon Coolpix S560||0.61|
|Pentax Optio P70||0.87|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, acquire focus and shoot again) ran about 3 seconds in some instances, but a bit over 5 seconds in others. This one had me going for a while as flash shots all wrote at the quicker speed, while some non-flash wrote quickly but others lagged. The culprit here seems to be the P70's pixel track shake reduction technology - with that feature enabled the times varied; with it off they were all quicker. We'll talk more about pixel track shake reduction in the Image Stabilization section, but suffice it to say it appears that when shooting in single shot mode with pixel track enabled, if you don't get a good crisp image that the camera goes to work fixing it and won't let you shoot again until it finishes.
Continuous shooting rates are nothing to crow about, at least at full resolution. At the 12 megapixel high quality setting the P70 took over 16 seconds to make six captures. Times improved a bit by switching to the basic 12 megapixel setting, (12 megapixel high quality files are about 3.6MB, 12 megapixel standard are about 1.9MB) but it still took about 2 seconds per shot for a series of six. There is a high speed burst setting that shoots at 3.2 fps (5.8 fps with ISO set to 3200 or 6400) at 5 megapixel resolution for up to six shots.
Lens and Zoom
The P70's smc Pentax zoom lens comes with maximum apertures ranging from a nicely fast f/2.6 at the wide end to a fairly slow f/5.8 as you move towards telephoto. That 27.5 to 110mm focal length range is "ideal for landscape, indoor and group photos" according to Pentax, and they'll get no argument from me. The P70 works on big subjects somewhat far away and smaller subjects up close, but small subjects at a distance are not its strong suit. However, the 12 megapixel sensor gives you some leeway for cropping and, depending on the nature of the original image, may provide some fairly decent crops. Here's a macro shot of a watch and a cropped 8x12 from the original shot. The cropped version came out at about 197 dpi, which is not the 300 dpi you'd like for photo printing, but still enough to provide for an OK print.
And speaking of macro, the P70 will only focus down to about 4.0 inches at wide angle, so small objects like the 2.0 inch diameter watch and 3.0 to 4.0 inch diameter roses aren't going to fill the frame completely.
The P70 comes with a default setting of a "multiple" AF area, which selects a point of focus from nine points situated across a fairly large area at the center of the image. There is also a "spot" AF option for Program and the shooting modes (including movie) that uses the central focus point of the nine, and an automatic tracking AF mode for use with moving subjects that will make use of any of the nine points to try and hold focus on the initial subject. Spot was my method of choice for the most precise determination of point of focus in any particular image.
There are also standard (16.0 inches to infinity), macro (4.0 inches to 20.0 inches), pan (entire picture from front to back is focused), infinity and manual focus modes.
The flash on the P70 produced good and accurate color rendition. Pentax lists a maximum flash range for the camera as 15 feet (at auto ISO), but folks who shoot at 64 ISO in dimmer conditions would be advised to get closer than that. A lot closer. I couldn't get the flash to give me a good exposure of a medium brown cat about four feet away in dim conditions and had to go to 200 ISO to make the shot.
There are the standard flash options including red eye reduction, and a soft flash option that reduces flash intensity while still firing the flash. Here are macro shots at the flash and soft flash setting.
Flash recycle times are pretty good, ranging from 3 to 5 seconds. If those times sound familiar it's because they mimic the best single shot write time range with the pixel track shake reduction feature enabled. As a practical matter I found flash recycle times rarely came into play - the flash was usually ready to go again by the time the camera finished writing - but at worst you might encounter a 5 second recycle time with a 3 second write time and have to wait a couple seconds before shooting again with flash.
With image stabilization, the magic words we like to hear are optical or mechanical, which tell us the camera is stabilizing by moving lens elements or the sensor. Neither word is applicable to the P70.
Pixel track shake reduction, according to Pentax:
"When recording still images, the Optio P70's new Pixel Track SR (Shake Reduction) mode effectively compensates for camera shake by processing the amount of image blur with a dedicated ASIC (application specific integrated circuit). Pixel Track SR tracks motion blur at the pixel level and calculates blur volume in real time. After exposure, the recovery filter centers the motion effect around each pixel to compartmentalize the blur. Then, an adjustment filter sharpens the pixels to help remove the blur effect. Pixel Track SR results in sharp images without adding high ISO noise."
The P70 also ramps up ISO as high as 6400 (in digital shake reduction mode) to help keep shutter speeds up as a means to try and minimize camera shake and/or subject movement.
Finally, there's a movie shake reduction mode that Pentax is a bit more close-lipped about, but their U.K. press release does mention it is the result of using "exclusive software."
Stabilization? Not in the classic sense, and certainly not my favorites with regard to ramping up the ISO to maintain shutter speed or using software to try and fix a blurry shot.
Pentax rates battery life in the P70 for about 200 shots and my usage approached this figure with minimal flash and chimping activity. Carry a spare battery or two for all-day shooting sessions.
P70 images at default settings were generally color accurate, but a bit soft for my taste. There are settings available to increase or decrease sharpness, saturation and contrast from the default level, and my personal preference was to maximize all three. Here are the default, minimum, and maximum settings.
The P70 did a pretty good job with a variety of shooting conditions and subjects, particularly if conditions allow you to select one of the lower ISO sensitivities to minimize noise impacts. One nice feature of the P70 is that manual setting of ISO sensitivity is available for all shooting modes except green (the green button default setting), movie, fireworks and digital shake reduction.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
There are multi-segment, center-weighted and spot metering options available for exposure calculation, with multi-segment being the default setting. Exposure calculation by the P70 was generally quite good, and while it would at times lose highlights on high contrast images, my impression is that it does a bit better than many of the other cameras in its class that I've reviewed with regard to not blowing out highlights.
The P70 has an in-camera image editing suite that includes resizing, cropping, digital filters, red eye compensation, frame composite, movie edit, and copying images/sounds options that may be applied to individual images.
The default auto white balance setting on the P70 provided generally accurate tones and color quality, but shot warm under incandescent light. There are daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent and manual WB options available.
This is one of the better lenses I've come across in a compact with regard to lack of barrel and pincushion distortions! Here's wide angle and telephoto shots of the block wall I use to evaluate those two faults, and there's not much of either.
There is a bit of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) present in high contrast boundary areas of some shots, but you'll need to look long and hard for it to be a problem in any but the largest of images.
Sensitivity and Noise
The P70 breaks no new ground in this arena, providing noise performance on a par with most competitors in the class. 64 and 100 ISO crops are both quite good and difficult to tell apart, with 200 showing the first vestiges of some noise and 400 an increased impact. Image quality deterioration increases more dramatically with the jump to 800, with 1600 being the most noticeable deterioration of any of the increases over the previous sensitivity. The full frame shots all look relatively good, with richer colors at 400 and below being the primary difference to my eye.
ISO 64, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
We didn't shoot the 3200 and 6400 ISO sensitivities in the studio, but here's my dartboard at ISOs 800 through 6400 to show why you'll want to avoid the really high sensitivities unless there's no other way to get the image.
Additional Sample Images
Pentax describes the P70 as a "high performance model," and if lens quality and/or shutter lag are the criteria then it fits the bill on those counts. For me personally, the most frustrating aspect of digitals are pokey shutters, and if a camera takes the shot promptly after I push the button then it's off to a good start in my book.
The P70 provides nice image quality with generally accurate color and shooting options that remind me of Henry Ford's Model T: "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." With P70, the camera will shoot in any mode so long as it is automatic.
ISO performance is comparable to the competition but the camera lacks stabilization. Of course, it also lacks the higher price tag that is the entry fee for stabilization. Continuous shooting rates at full resolution are disappointing but exposure calculation is good. All in all, the P70 offers fairly middle of the road performance in most categories wrapped around a lens with very good optical qualities.
|Sensor||12.0 megapixel (effective), 1/2.3" CCD|
|Zoom||4x (27.5-110mm) zoom, f/2.6-5.8|
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.7", 230K-dot TFT LCD|
|Shutter Speed||4-1/1000 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto Picture, Program, Movie, Voice Recording, Green Mode
|Scene Presets||Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Half Length Portrait, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Sport, Kids, Pet, Food, Fireworks, Party, Natural Skin Tone, Candlelight, Text, Blog, Digital Wide, Digital SR, Digital Panorama, Vertical Snap, Frame Composite
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual
|Metering Modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Focus Modes||9 point AF, Spot AF, Auto Tracking AF, Macro, Infinity Landscape, Pan, Manual
|Drive Modes||One Shot, Self Timer, Continuous, High Speed Continuous (5 MP)
|Flash Modes||Auto, flash on, flash off, redeye, soft
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC
|File Formats||JPEG, AVI, WAV
|Max. Image Size||4000x3000|
|Max. Video Size
||1280x720, 15 fps
|Zoom During Video||No|
|Battery||Rechargeable lithium-ion, 200 shots|
|Connections||AV output, USB 2.0, DC in
|Additional Features||Fast Face Recognition, Digital Shake Reduction, Pentax Auto Picture Mode, Blink Detection, Smile Capture, Pixel Tracking Shake Reduction|
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