The Pentax Optio E70 is geared in every way to the beginning photographer. It's equipped with the simplest of controls and almost totally automatic shooting. With a 10.0 megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom lens, it's not at the top of its class in terms of zoom power or resolution, but it has the makings of a decent starter camera.
In addition to beginner-friendly controls, the Optio E70 brings something else to the table we've seen from other entry-level Pentax cameras – the Cute Factor. They've turned cute all the way up to eleven. With optional meowing sounds for menu functions and graphic frames that can be super-imposed over images, it's sure to please the young photographer (or the very young at heart).
Pentax has built a solid reputation based on a history great imaging products, so we hoped to find the same high level of quality embodied in this smaller package. However, the big name didn't exactly measure up to our big expectations. We found some significant issues using the E70 that potential buyers should weigh carefully when considering this camera.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Optio E70 cuts a familiar figure stylistically. Rounded edges and a metallic finish give it a nice modern look. Our particular unit is a very subtly hued "champagne gold," a color (and beverage) I happen to like. It's a good-looking camera, but it doesn't break the mold either.
Ergonomics and Controls
The right side of the camera is slightly thicker than the left, making it easier to balance in my right hand.
The buttons on the back panel are large and laid out in a traditional arrangement, which is sure to help out those who want ease of operation. A zoom button, four-way controller, OK button and four dedicated buttons offer quick access to menus and shooting modes.
Menus and Modes
Shooting modes are accessed via the four-way controller, and shooting options are as follows:
Program Auto mode relinquishes the most control to the user, and even then you won't be able to tweak white balance or metering settings.
Auto Picture mode is designed to select the right scene mode for the conditions you're shooting in. It usually picked settings that produced a decent image, but it made some baffling decisions somewhat frequently. The camera often recognized certain shapes as flowers and tried to photograph them as such. While the images that these picture modes produced weren't by any means ruined because of the mode that was selected, it's still a far from flawless system.
An option in Auto Picture or Program auto mode is smile capture mode. The camera's sensor looks for a face in the image, locks onto it, and trips the shutter when it detects a smile across the subject's face. This function worked pretty well for me, both in good and darker lighting conditions. Personally, I've never been keen on this feature in any camera, so I wouldn't call it a major selling point.
Another function is the "Green" mode, which has been given a dedicated button along the perimeter of the four-way controller. This is bare-bones shooting, stripping manual controls down to the very basic.
The Optio E70 is equipped with 34.8MB of built-in memory, which equates to eight high resolution images. An on-board flash boasts a range of 16.4 feet. This was consistent with my own measurements, though best results with flash will be achieved when your subject is closer than sixteen feet.
With no optical viewfinder, shooters will rely on the 2.4 inch, 112,000 dot LCD to compose shots and review images. The screen is adequate, but it felt small as I reviewed photos on-screen. The resolution isn't great either, so you would need to offload your pictures onto a computer to display them properly.
We've established that the Pentax Optio E70 is aimed for a user who doesn't want much control. Without being able to adjust basic settings like white balance, the E70 is at the very bottom of the camera learning curve. It offers the ease of hands-off shooting, but it doesn't provide any room to learn either. The lack of manual controls aside, the E70 is just a slow camera. After capturing a shot, the camera will spend up to three seconds processing the image with a black screen displayed.
The E70 boasted some decent press-to-capture times when pre-focused, coming up just a touch slower than the Canon SD970 and the Sony T700. It proved to be much slower to find focus at an average of just under 0.80 seconds. In my own experience shooting with the E70, AF acquisition slowed down further under poor lighting conditions, easily stretching past a full second.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
|Pentax Optio E70||0.04|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||0.07|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||0.28|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||0.47|
|Pentax Optio E70||0.79|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
The E70 proved a bit slow in burst shooting as well, although our tests proved it capable of continuous shooting without a pause to buffer or process image data.
|Nikon Coolpix S620||3||1.7 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6 fps|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||13||1.3 fps|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||∞||1.1 fps|
|Pentax Optio E70||∞||0.7 fps|
* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Pentax claims a CIPA-compliant average of 210 images for each pair of AA batteries. This was consistent with my experience, and since I used the flash somewhat rarely, I got a couple of days' worth of shooting out of my batteries.
The Optio E70 is equipped with a 3x, f3.1-5.9 35-105mm equivalent lens. Performance was good, not great, and this lens is plagued by the same troubles that often crop up in cameras of this size. I saw some softness creeping in at the edges of images like the one below.
Barrel and pincushion distortion were obvious near the top and bottom of the focal range. Even our studio test shots, which aren't taken at full telephoto, exhibit a fair amount of pincushion distortion.
Chromatic aberration also cropped up in high-contrast areas of images like the one below.
Pentax's competitors offer cameras in this class with a much wider angle lens, so the Optio E70 doesn't offer anything special in terms of focal flexibility.
The Optio E70 doesn't offer anything special in terms of video capture. Resolution at 640x480 VGA is acceptable for capturing video in a pinch. It allows for up to 7 minutes and 31 seconds of recorded video with a standard SD card, and it will shoot continuously up to 2GB.
Generally speaking, the Optio E70 turned in acceptable images. At low ISO settings in good lighting conditions, image quality was at its highest. In dimmer light, even bright indoor shots, the E70 had a tendency to ratchet ISO up too far and overexpose images.
As expected, shots taken under incandescent light were very warm. With no way to adjust this function, expect indoor shots to take on a yellow tint – looking very much like our studio tests, which are taken under 3200K incandescent light.
We also found that noise began to creep in at ISO 200 and beyond. There's even a bit of noise evident in the cropped ISO 100 image.
ISO 64, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
It would be best to limit use to ISO 400 and under. The 10.0 megapixel sensor produces images that are sufficiently large, but with so much noise at even low ISO settings it's not easy to utilize all of those megapixels.
Bottom line, the Pentax Optio E70 is just too slow. Image quality is sufficient for the needs of a beginner, but no photographer at any skill level wants to wait for their camera to finish processing an image. Again and again.
Slowness aside, the Optio E70 offers very little in terms of performance, especially considering the $140 MSRP. Pentax's competitors offer many options at or below that price point with greater focal range, better image quality and more manual control.
The E70 does offer simple, automatic shooting. The aforementioned "cute factor" is either a bonus or is easily ignored. Shooting under good conditions turned up some decent images, but there's just not enough going for the Optio E70 to make it a good starter camera.