The ultrazoom category is a force to be reckoned with in today's market. Not only do these cameras offer a wide- to telephoto focal range; they cost less than a dedicated SLR. The Pentax X70 is a 12 megapixel powerhouse with a 24X optical zoom, the first entry from the same company that manufactures the formidable K-series of DSLRs.
The X70 has some interesting features jam-packed into a DSLR-like body, including a 12-megapixel CCD sensor, 24X zoom with a focal range from 26-624mm, high-speed continuous shooting of up to 11 fps, Super Macro Mode for getting as close as 1 cm from your subject, and HD movie capture at 1280x720 at 15 frames per second.
The strongest feature of the X70 is the optical zoom range, giving you a pure, unadulterated 26mm wide to a super telephoto 624mm. What's also different about the X70 is the amount of user control it offers, including Manual (M), Shutter Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av) and Program (P) modes to control nearly every aspect of the shooting process.
But to get into the nitty gritty of the camera, and some of the features that make the X70 unique, here's a run down of what it's got...
24X Optical Zoom: The most powerful feature of the camera is its optical power. The ability to zoom from 26mm, which will give you a nice wide landscape, to a 624mm telephoto, letting you hone in on subjects far from the camera, is a boon when you want to get both kind of shots with only one camera. The X70 allows you to do so.
Triple Shake Reduction: With such a powerful zoom range there usually comes a tradeoff -- blur at telephoto lengths. Pentax's proprietary Shake Reduction technology utilizes an image stabilization system that uses a gyro sensor to recognize camera shake and compensates by shifting the CCD to prevent blur. The second system in place is digital stabilization that works by bumping up the ISO. Both methods work well to keep camera shake from ruining a shot. The third SR is Movie SR, which is used for video capture.
LCD: The X70 has a large, high-res 2.7 inch TFT color LCD with anti-reflective coating and a 230,000-dot resolution, as well as an Electronic Viewfinder with an impressive 200,000-dot resolution.
Fast Continuous Shooting: Also impressive is a burst rate of 11 fps JPEG shooting up to 21 frames before the buffer memory needs to be cleared, allowing you to capture the action without missing a shot.
HD Movie: The X70 captures HD video at a resolution of 1280x720 at 15 fps, which is interesting, because most HD capture in compacts is 24 or 30 fps. The camera also captures VGA resolution video at 848x480 at 30 fps.
Face Detection: This feature captures up to 32 faces in 0.03 seconds. Smile Capture detects when your subject is smiling, and Blink Detection will let you know if the subject's eyes are closed before you press the shutter. This function works great if you are shooting kids or a large group photo.
Exposure Modes: The X70 has four exposure modes, including Program AE, in which the camera selects the best aperture and shutter speed automatically for you; Aperture Priority; Shutter Priority; and Manual, allowing photographers to select their aperture and shutter speed.
Auto Bracketing: With this function you can set the camera to capture three simultaneous exposures, one that is under, one over, and one in between, so that you can choose the right exposure, or even stack them together later for high dynamic range photography.
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
Styling and Build Quality
The X70, much like other cameras in the ultrazoom category, is somewhat of a mini DSLR. That being said, it is not exactly a pocket camera. It is similar in design to offerings from both Olympus and Fujifilm in form factor and overall dimension, measuring 4.4 x 3.2 x 3.9 inches (WxHxD) and weighing in at 13.8 oz.
Ergonomics and Interface
Picking up the X70 is similar to handling a DSLR. It has a similar right-hand grip and a protruding lens that you would typically place your hand on to zoom with, except that with the X70 you obviously can't do this with the barrel.
The placement of the controls, including the mode dial on the top right of the camera, is very reminiscent of an SLR. The top of the camera features the mode dial which allows between movie and manual mode, the on/off button, the shutter with the zoom lever, and the Exposure Compensation button that lets you choose the compensation value, shutter speed and the aperture value. Also on the top of the camera is a button that lets you pop up the flash.
On the back of the X70 is probably the most frequently used dial, also known as the e-dial, which is a DSLR-like wheel that lets you change or toggle the shutter speed, aperture value and exposure compensation.
Other controls on the back conform to a typical set up, including a four-way controller, playback switch, and menu button.
The other helpful buttons on the back include Face Recognition, allowing you to set Smile Capture, and Face Priority On/Off. There is also an EVF/LCD button that lets you choose between using the EVF viewfinder or the LCD, a DISP button that changes the display information, and a Green button that initiates an automatic mode best suited for a beginner.
In most of the reviews that I have written for DigitalCameraReview, I have criticized the EVF as mostly a useless feature that is clunky and just takes up more space on the back of a camera. In the case of the X70, the 200,000 dot resolution viewfinder is fast, accurate, and very similar in responsiveness to the Panasonic G1 (which set the bar high for EVF because of its speed and accuracy). The X70's EVF works great, and displays all the shooting information through the viewfinder. The LCD also works well. Measuring 2.7 inches with a smudge resistant coating, it plays back images accurately with 230,000 dot resolution.
Timings and Shutter Lag
While the X70 is not a speed demon, the lab testing gave us pretty standard results. AF was slow, especially with the lens fully extended, making the zoom lens creep to find focus. When you'd like to shoot an image quickly, this becomes very annoying.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Canon PowerShot SX1 IS
|Casio Exilim EX-FH20
|Olympus SP-565 UZ
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28||0.08|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Canon PowerShot SX1 IS
|Casio Exilim EX-FH20
|Olympus SP-565 UZ
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28||1.25*|
* Note: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 was measured at 1.25 seconds in its default multi-area AF mode, but was able to achieve a very fast 0.16 seconds in this test in its single-area high speed mode.
It is pretty interesting to see continuous shooting of this caliber. Although this frame rate works quite well, it drains the battery, but overall is a welcomed feature in this class of digital camera.
The X70 uses a contrast-based AF system with 6 different options. The Standard AF works for most shooting scenarios. The second AF mode, Macro, offers a focusing distance of 4 to 20 inches for close pictures of your subject. One of my favorite focusing options for the X70 is the 1 cm Macro mode, allowing you an extreme close up of your subject within a centimeter away. This is a unique and helpful option that gives you an incredible level of detail.
Infinity AF is optimal for taking images of distant objects and still being able to keep most the frame in focus. There is also a Manual Focus that lets you set your own focus, and an AF Area Selection that lets you select a specific area to focus the frame with 25 user selectable points.
Lens and Zoom
Although the X70 doesn't have the highest optical zoom power in its class (other manufacturers have models with 26X), it provides a wide range that appeases all types of photographers. Based on a 35mm equivalency, the camera's focal distance ranges from 4.6-110.4mm (26-624mm) with an aperture range of ƒ/2.8-5.0.
At the wide end of the range, the X70 is capable of capturing nice landscapes and works well at fighting lens distortion at this focal length, leaving buildings or other tall buildings and structures free from distortion. While at full telephoto length, the lens works quite well. However, auto focus is a bit slow and the ISO bump from the Shake Reduction tends to produce an overexposed image.
The X70 has a pop-up flash with various settings, including Auto, Auto with Red-eye, Flash on + Red-eye, Slow-speed Sync and Slow-speed Sync with Red-eye, which can be changed by clicking the left arrow button on the four-way controller. It has an effective range of 29.9-ft (wide, auto ISO) to 16.7-ft (tele, auto ISO).
The Flash output also lets you change Flash Exposure Compensation in EV values of -2.0 to +2.0 in 1/3 EV steps via the Rec. menu.
Image stabilization is called Triple Shake Reduction (coined by Pentax), and uses a CCD-shift or another form of digital and a high-ISO setting to prevent blurring. Shake Reduction can be hit or miss in the X70, depending on your focal length. That being said, shooting at the wide end of the lens will produce less blur issues if there is enough available light. When using telephoto lengths, however, real problems crop up.
Shake Reduction can be accessed through the Rec. menu, and there is also a Digital SR option on the mode dial. Overall, the camera worked fine at the wider focal lengths, but at telephoto I encountered a few problems and ended up with some overexposed images.
I found the Movie SR for shooting video mostly useless because the video captured with the X70 is sub-par, but I'll get more into that later.
Battery life on the X70 depends on if you shoot video or stills. The X70 uses a lithium-ion rechargeable battery that comes with the camera, and according to CIPA-compliant testing, 170 stills can be captured if half of these images are used with flash. My field-testing, with only about 10% of my shots using flash rendered about 250 or more stills.
However, battery time drained quickly when the 11 fps continuous shooting mode was employed or when I shot HD video. Overall, field-testing was similar to Pentax's in-house testing.
The true test of a digital camera is its image quality and how accurately it reproduces what you see before you press the shutter. The X70 produces a pretty good image after it has been processed into a JPEG (it would be great to see a RAW image out of this camera!).
With the X70's default settings, my images were accurate and had faithful color reproduction. While shooting in automatic, the X70 can be a bit conservative and automatically ramp up the ISO in lowlight, ultimately giving you noisy images, even in enough available light. But with the X70 and all of its manual offerings, it allows you enough control to fool the camera. Employing a slow shutter speed, setting your ISO to about 400, and taking a slow exposure in a dimly-lit room will even give you a usable image.
There's not much to be said about the X70's HD video quality because it's not very good. The X70 allows you to shoot HD at 720p at 15 fps. The frame rate is peculiar because most digital cameras shoot video at 24 or 30 fps (24 being the cinema rate, and 30, the basic camcorder speed). While trying to record a well-lit boardwalk, the video I captured was noisy, giving me strange colorcasts and aberrations. The video quality was not a strong feature of the X70.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The X70 has three exposure modes; including Multi-segment, Center-weighted and Spot AE modes. The X70 uses Multi-segment mode as its default, and when shot in both a high-contrast scene and a dark room, this exposure mode worked quite well at reproducing color accurately.
Center-weighted metering, which had similar results as Multi, worked well in both high and dark scenes. The Spot AE, which works by determining exposure by metering only at the center of the frame overexposed images in both dark and high-contrast shots. With both of these shooting conditions aside, the X70 works great in common, low-contrast scenes.
Metering aside, there are three exposure modes, or Image Tones, including Bright, Natural and Monochrome. Bright is the default setting, and is good for most shooting conditions, giving you a little more saturation. Natural will give you neutral tones with less punch, and Monochrome is just an average Black & White setting. The X70 allows you a bit more control than just these two settings if you venture into the menu, scroll down to the fourth page and you will find that you can manually change Sharpness, Saturation and Contrast, which is great for tailoring your own default settings.
Using the Auto White Balance while shooting in the field worked well for most shooting conditions, but incandescent lighting deceived the camera indoors. If you're familiar with the different WB settings, this problem can be resolved easily. The white balance settings include Daylight, Shade, Tungsten Light, three different fluorescent settings (white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent and neutral) and a custom WB.
Sensitivity and Noise
The X70's ISO settings can be manually set from 100-1600 at 12 megapixels. Higher ISOs of 3200 and 6400 are also available, but selecting these will reduce resolution to 5 megapixels. After taking a look at the studio shots, I thought that the ISO performance of the X70 was quite impressive. From 100-1600, the X70 had great sensitivity performance.
ISO 50, 100% Crop
ISO 100, 100% Crop
ISO 200, 100% Crop
ISO 400, 100% Crop
ISO 800, 100% Crop
ISO 1600, 100% Crop
Additional Sample Images
The X70 offers a lot in the way of control and focal length, but is it worth the $400 price tag? Most ultrazooms are running at this same price point, and most have fared considerably well on this site, but the X70 is a great camera that offers a lot of control similar to a DSLR. Not only can the X70 take you from extreme wide-angle to super telephoto with one lens, it does so with the ability to take control of nearly every aspect of shooting.
In comparison with the Pentax K2000 DSLR, you can purchase this camera with two kit lenses, including the 18-55mm & 50-200mm for $649 from their Web store, giving you a zoom range of 18-200mm, which still can't touch the 624mm tele on the X70. For $250 more, you get a larger sensor, bigger camera and a larger quiver of lenses.
Depending on your experience with photography and your budget, the X70 is a worthy competitor in the growing ultrazoom market, and after using quite a few over the years, this camera by far exceeds where the others have failed. If you have the dough to move up to DSLR photography, then by all means do it. Nothing beats a good DSLR. If you're a dedicated shutterbug and want a camera with all the focal power you'll ever need in one place, the X70 is your camera. This is even a great intermediary camera for the casual shooter who wants to move up to a better class of camera than a typical point-and-shoot. All things considered and tested, the Pentax X70 is a worthy competitor in the ultrazoom market.
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