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Pentax Optio A30 Digital Camera Full Review
by Jim Keenan -  4/7/2007

When Pentax introduced the Optio A20 in August 2006, they called it the “flagship of the Optio digital camera line”. Don’t look now, mates, but the admiral has just transferred his flag.

pentax optio a30
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Pentax still shows the A20 on their website, but the A30 is clearly an improved A20. Or, as Pentax puts it: “enhanced autofocus speed and accuracy as well as overall higher performance when compared to the Optio A20”. Are the improvements enough to warrant A20 shooters jumping ship to the A30? Not having shot an A20 myself, that’s probably a judgment best left to the A20 folks themselves. But after spending some time with the A30 I can say it produces some seriously see-worthy images.

The A30 offers a 10 megapixel sensor, 2.5 inch LCD monitor and a 3x Pentax optical zoom which provides a 35mm film equivalent focal length range of 38 to 114 mm. Top ISO sensitivity is increased to 1600 from 800 in the A20, and the Digital SR (blur reduction) mode gets a top ISO sensitivity of 3200 versus 1600 in the A20. The camera’s aluminum body features a flat black and chrome color scheme to differentiate it from the silver and chrome A20, and build quality appears excellent.

A CLOSER LOOK 

The Pentax Optio A30 is a largely automatic compact digital point and shoot, but Pentax has blessed it with Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes should the shooter so desire. I’m a big fan of manual controls, particularly Aperture Priority, so kudos to Pentax for giving the camera some extra creative versatility. The A30 will do a fine job for folks who just want to put it on auto and blaze away, but offers the means for shooters to exert a little of their will on image creation when the mood strikes them. The 10 megapixel sensor will produce large files tailored to permit big enlargements or aggressive cropping to compose shots.

pentax optio a30 sample image
Original (view medium image) (view large image)

pentax optio a30 sample image
Crop (view medium image) (view large image)

Pentax provides USB and AV cables, a camera strap, rechargeable battery, charger and AC power cord, and software with each camera.

The camera has 22MB of internal memory and accepts SD or SDHC memory cards. The internal memory provides a limited backup capability in the event of memory card failure or operator error in forgetting to install the card in the first place.

Camera dimensions are 3.5 x 2.3 x .9 inches with a shooting weight of about 5.3 ounces.

The A30 will capture JPEG still images in 640, 1024, 2MB, 3MB, 5MB, 7MB and 10MB sizes; movies are captured at either 320 or 640 pixels in MPEG-4 DivX format. The DivX format reportedly produces a higher quality image than motion JPEG. Both still and movie images may be captured at “good”, “better” and “best” quality levels.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The front of the camera houses the lens, self-timer lamp/auxiliary AF lamp, microphone, flash and remote control receiver.

pentax optio a30
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The rear of the A30 is taken up largely by the monitor; zoom, playback, OK/display, green and menu buttons, and the four-way controller are also located here. Despite the compact nature of the A30, the buttons and controls are spaced well enough apart that they posed no problem for my medium sized hands/fingers. Folks with large hands might find the camera a little difficult to manipulate with regard to the OK button and four-way controller.

pentax optio a30
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The top of the camera is home to the shutter release button, power switch/power indicator lamp and shake reduction preview button.

pentax optio a30
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The camera bottom includes the battery/memory card cover and a threaded tripod socket.

pentax optio a30
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On the camera’s right side are found the terminal cover for the PC/AV and DC input terminals as well as the lug for the camera strap. A speaker is found on the left side.

pentax optio a30
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SHOOTING WITH THE A30 

Auto Mode 

The A30 comes out of the box with default settings for JPEG still capture at 7MB with a “better” quality image. I changed these settings to 10MB and “best” quality for all the shots in this review, except where noted in order to access certain features. Auto white balance, multi-segment metering, auto ISO in the 64-400 range and Shake Reduction are also standard. When shooting in “auto”, the A30 selects the most appropriate capture mode from its “Normal”, “Night Scene”, “Landscape” or “Portrait” modes

Movie defaults are 640 pixels and “best” quality at 30 frames per second.

The A30 produces excellent color images, perhaps a bit too saturated for some shooter’s taste. Personally, I liked the images. My first shots with the A30 were at sunup on the beach, and even with the sunlight making review of the images in the monitor difficult, the color of the water jumped out immediately. I did notice a tendency of the A30 to overexpose some white water portions of wave shots where high contrast between the breaking part of the wave and the darker unbroken section create a challenge for any camera meter. On more evenly lit scenes the auto mode worked well. Probably my favorite shot with the A30 is “Auto 4”, the dawn shot of the power plant and lagoon – the A30 did a nice job of metering the early light and foggy background.

pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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Additional Shooting Modes 

Besides “auto”, the A30 permits the shooter to select from three “exposure modes” or twelve “picture modes”.

The “exposure modes” include “program”, where the camera sets aperture and shutter speed to determine exposure; “shutter priority” (shooter selects shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture) and “manual exposure” (shooter selects shutter speed and aperture).

“Picture modes” include Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Kids, Surf & Snow, Sport, Pet, Text, Food, Voice Recording, Digital SR (blur reduction), and Frame Composite. Here’s a “Night Scene” shot.

pentax optio a30 sample image
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Exposure Compensation 

The A30 permits exposure compensation of +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV increments. 

Light Metering 

Multi-segment metering is the default setting, but center-weighted and spot metering options are available. 

Focus/Macro Focus 

Autofocus is the standard mode, but Macro, Super Macro, Pan, Infinity and Manual modes may be selected. Normal focus range is from about 13.8 inches out to infinity. Macro/Super macro focus can be as close as about 2.4 inches out to about 15.75 inches.

Pentax claims a .54 second time to acquire focus with the A30 and under good lighting conditions the camera met this mark. There is an auxiliary focus lamp, which helps with focus in low lighting conditions.  Macro shots of flowers and gull tracks on the beach follow.

pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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Monitor 

The A30 features a 2.5 inch monitor with 232,000 pixels and a wide angle of view – up to 160 degrees horizontally and vertically per Pentax. In good lighting the monitor is a joy – great color and resolution for image composition or editing. While adjustable for brightness, the monitor is hard to use in bright sunlight, particularly with subjects that lack contrast. There is no optical viewfinder.

Flash 

Pentax lists a flash range out to about 23 feet at wide angle, and nearly 11.5 feet at telephoto, figures which are accurate based on my experience. The A30 flash features excellent color reproduction, and there are red eye reduction settings available as well as a red eye compensation feature that allows post processing to remove red eye that does appear.

pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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Color 

The A30 can record movies in black and white or sepia tones as well as full color. Still images are recorded in color, but Pentax has included a “Digital Filter” feature in the camera that allows selected images to be post processed using a number of colored filters, color extraction filters, a soft filter and a fisheye filter. Color, B&W and Sepia filtered shots follow.

Image sharpness, saturation and contrast may be increased or decreased via camera menu, but visually there is not a striking difference to my eye between the default and increased levels.

pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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pentax optio a30 sample image
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ISO 

The A30 permits the selection of five ranges of auto ISO (64-100, 64-200, 64-400, 64-800, 64-1600) as well as the individual 64, 100, 200, 400, 800 or 1600 ISO sensitivities. With everyday shots that included a portion of the sky, images at ISO 64, 100 and 200 were essentially equal, with 400 not far behind. Noise became more readily apparent at 800 and 1600 settings.

White Balance 

In addition to “auto” white balance, the A30 has settings for daylight, shade, tungsten and fluorescent light sources. A manual (custom) setting is also offered. I used “auto” for the images in this review and found color reproduction to be good in a variety of outdoor lighting ranging from early morning clear to heavy clouds and fog.

Battery Performance 

Pentax lists a battery life of 150 shots for the A30, but my experience fell well short of that figure – I got about 100 shots before the battery died. I was doing a lot of menu surfing to learn and try the many features on the camera, and this no doubt caused battery life to suffer. Folks who are accustomed to the camera and just shoot will probably come much closer to the stated performance, but if I was going on an all-day shoot with the A30 I’d have several spare batteries. The A30 can’t accept alternate battery types such as AA or AAA.

Shutter Performance 

The A30 is credited with a .02 second shutter lag by Pentax, and shot-to-shot single frames in 1.3 seconds (acquire focus, shoot, re-acquire focus, shoot).  There is also a “continuous shooting mode” setting that takes pictures continuously while the shutter button is depressed; shooting may be continued until the memory card or internal memory is full, exposure for the shots are determined by the first shot of the series and speed depends on image size and quality levels.

With a SanDisk Extreme III memory card on board, 10 megapixel size and “best” quality selected, the A30 took 15 shots in 13.0 seconds. I arbitrarily stopped at 15 – the camera would have kept going. Suffice it to say, very impressive performance (with a high-performance memory card).

Lens Performance 

A30 images at the wide and telephoto ends of the spectrum appeared pretty uniformly sharp across the entire frame. There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) present at the wide end which might cause a sharp-eyed viewer to notice a “bent” line here or there. There is very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast boundary areas of images. All in all, an impressive performance for such a compact device.

MISCELLANEOUS 

The A30 features “sensor shift” shake reduction (the CCD sensor is physically moved) that Pentax equates to 2.5 to 3.5 additional stops of shooting speed. The camera features “face recognition” technology that optimizes exposure and focus for faces it detects in images, and it is able to print directly with PictBridge compliant printers without need to work through a computer.

A “green button” feature allows quick selection of “green mode” ( pre-set camera settings that differ somewhat from the default settings) or other specific camera functions  pre-selected by the shooter.

An intriguing feature of the A30 is “intelligent zoom”, which Pentax describes as “an evolved form of digital zoom”. At least one  reputable camera shop website says “intelligent zoom” works by “cropping into” the central portion of the CCD sensor image.

In the past, the words “digital zoom” were enough to send most folks in the other direction – digital zooms provide image enlargement but with definite degradation in image quality. The first thing I did with all my P&S cameras was disable the digital zoom. The Pentax “intelligent zoom” does seem to be a different critter with respect to image quality, however.

On the A30, “intelligent zoom” ratios are directly tied to image size – the feature is not available at the 10 megapixel size, but offers 3.6x at 7 megapixels, 4.2x at 5 megapixels, 5.3x at 3 megapixels, etc. If you don’t have need for the A30’s full 10 megapixel sensor capacity, “intelligent zoom” looks like a great way to get some added focal length without the usual image degradation found with digital zoom. (The A30 does have a 5.4x standard digital zoom as well, for those who wish to use it).

In the photos that follow, the 7 megapixel images were taken from a distance of about two feet from the model, with the 2 megapixel images from a distance of about a foot.

pentax optio a30 sample image
Optical zoom at 7MP (view medium image) (view large image)
pentax optio a30 sample image
Optical zoom at 2MP (view medium image) (view large image)
pentax optio a30 sample image
Intelligent zoom at 7MP (view medium image) (view large image)
pentax optio a30 sample image
Intelligent zoom at 2MP (view medium image) (view large image)

CONCLUSION 

The Pentax A30 offers vibrant color reproduction, great image quality, some manual controls, image stabilization, good shutter response and a 10 megapixel sensor in an easily portable compact digital camera.

PROS 

CONS