Pentax made their first foray into the superzoom compact digital class with last year's X70, an effort that got generally decent reviews for still image quality but took some hits over speed of operation, HD video capability and battery life. This year finds a successor camera, the Pentax X90, which at first blush looks like a re-badged X70. That means it follows the typical superzoom template and resembles a mini DSLR with a large handgrip at the right front of the body, promoting a firm grip.
The 12 megapixel resolution CCD sensor, electronic view finder (which gains a diopter adjustment in the new camera) and 2.7-inch LCD monitor are carryovers (at least in dimensions) and control placement is identical. The 24x optical zoom has made way for a 26x version, spanning the 26 to 676mm focal range (35mm equivalent). The X90 is a bit deeper (to accommodate that longer lens, I'd guess) and a tiny bit heavier but X70 owners will be hard pressed to tell one from the other on looks alone.
Looks can be deceiving, however. The X90 boasts about 50% more battery capacity than the X70, and the 720p HD video that only shot at 15 frames per second (and provoked many of the video gripes) is now up to 30 fps. However, while AF acquisition time at wide angle is fairly quick, the camera slows noticeably at telephoto, even in good light.
AF times look to be fairly slow across the entire focal range as light conditions dim, even with a focus-assist lamp. Shutter lag seems quick, but the half push detent is a bit light and I found myself going right through halfway and taking a shot without acquiring focus a few times until I got used to the shutter.
Image quality in some instances looks to be among the best I've ever seen from a superzoom.
Flash exposure has been good close-up and at various distances.
The camera has struggled with high contrast scenes in this initial shoot, and the high contrast was midday overhead sun which is about as bad as it gets. It recorded this average scene nicely, but lost the cloud highlights in the second shot in a bright blue sky.
The tractor shot is another example of a bright sky getting washed out, but also shows some fairly significant chromic aberration in the pine needles at the upper left of the photo, another area of concern.
This first impressions shoot was a productive one. Having never shot the X70, I was dealing with this platform for the first time. The X90 teased me just enough with some quality images to show great promise, while at the same time revealing some potential shortcomings that will bear closer scrutiny in the more intensive photo days to follow. Is the X90 a digital Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? We'll reveal that answer with the complete review in the not too distant future.