Camera Review: Pentax Optio Z10

This pocketable 8-megapixel compact offers a 7x optical zoom lens and respectable high-ISO performance.

Camera-Review-Pentax-Optio-Z10

Camera-Review-Pentax-Optio-Z10

At one-inch thick, the 8-megapixel Pentax Optio Z10 ($200 street) just barely misses its chance to join the elite ranks of ultra-thin digital compacts, but its feature set justifies a little extra girth around the waist. Available in a sleek black and silver package, the Z10 features a solid build, a large 230,000-dot, 2.5-inch LCD with a 170-degree viewing angle, and an internal 7x, 38mm-266mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.4 zoom lens. With these specs, an extra fraction of an inch in depth shouldn't cause too much of a stir, and that long zoom range is mighty handy in a nearly ultra-slim package.

There are plenty of ultra-thin digital compacts with 8-megapixel sensors and a powerful optical zoom range. However, with a maximum wide-angle aperture setting of f/3.5 and no optical image stabilization, this digital compact may be more suited to outdoor use or brightly-lit environments.

While the 7x zoom lens is great for photographing distant subjects, the camera's maximum wide-angle focal length of 38mm is a disadvantage when capturing group portraits in tight indoor spaces, making the Z10 difficult to justify as the only camera for your family vacation.

Pentax's solution for the camera's lack of a wide-angle lens is the inclusion of a "Digital Wide" option, which allows you to rotate the camera and capture two sequential images of a scene. Zooming out beyond the widest focal length presents the photographer with an option to enter the Z10's "Digital Wide" mode, where a pair of images are combined in-camera as a single frame. Images recorded in this mode are captured at 5-megapixels at the lowest quality JPEG setting, making them great for web use and 4x6's, but poster sized prints are out of the question.

The Z10's LCD is large, sharp and bright, even when used outdoors on a sunny day. Its 170-degree viewing angle makes capturing images from below the waist or above the head possible, though photographers accustomed to tilt and swivel displays may find shooting from different angles to be awkward at first.

The camera's design is simple and intuitive. It's thin (1-inch), light (4.4 oz.), and small enough to carry in your pocket (3.7-in. wide by 2.3-in. tall). A large sliding lens cover protects the internal zoom lens when not in use. Sliding the cover to the left reveals the 7x lens and powers on the camera. A slim, rectangular flash is positioned above the lens cover and featured on the top are a shutter release on the far right and a microphone positioned directly above the lens.

In addition to the 2.5-inch LCD, a zoom lever and playback mode button, the rear of the camera includes the typical multi-array pattern of directional buttons, that also double as dedicated buttons controlling the camera's drive mode, flash, focus and shooting modes. In the center of the four directional buttons is an "OK" button for confirming menu commands. Dedicated buttons to activate the camera's menu and "Green Mode" are also included.

Divided into two categories, each with three pages, the camera's setup menu is easy to navigate. Among others, adjustable settings include white balance, metering, resolution, JPEG quality, and exposure compensation. There's also an option to modify the "Green Mode" button to launch a function menu overlay, with the ability to display four of 11 function menus on screen at a time, great for adjusting settings on the fly.

Among the automatic shooting modes featured on the Z10 are a Green Mode for simple operation, as well as Landscape, Portrait, Night Scene, Program, Movie and Voice Recording modes. Flower, Natural Skin Tone, Surf & Snow, Sport, Digital SR (shake reduction), Kids, Pet and Food modes are also offered. In addition to 30 fps VGA video with sound, the camera can also record audio independently with its mono microphone with up to 24 hours of continuous recording.

Audio recorded with the Voice Recording mode sounded better than when recorded while filming in the camera's Movie mode. Video was smooth, and while optical zoom during recording is disabled by default, it can be turned on in the camera's main recording menu. Because the internal optical zoom lens offers virtually silent operation, the microphone doesn't pick up any motor noise when zooming during a clip. While recording, the camera can adjust to a change in exposure and white balance, though it was sluggish in doing so. As expected, video shot indoors in low light was slightly grainy, but cleared up when captured outside.

Like comparable cameras, the Z10 offers face detection technology, but activating it requires some digging through the manual. The feature will work exclusively in the Portrait and Natural Skin Tone modes, both activated from the same icon in the shooting mode selection menu, but will not function in other modes. Face detection worked well, even in low light, and could recognize faces from the front as well as tilted up or down 45-degrees. Pentax claims the camera can recognize up to 15 faces in a frame. It was unable to identify faces from the side or positioned away from the camera by more than a few degrees. While the camera offers face recognition in both the Portrait and Natural Skin Tone modes, I wasn't able to notice a difference in skin tones captured with either mode, both with and without flash.

Though it won't be winning any awards for speed, the Z10's startup and shot-to-shot delays were acceptable. After opening the lens cover, the camera was ready to fire its first shot in about three seconds. Its continuous shooting mode captured a little over one frame per second, comparable to Pentax's claim of 1 fps. Shutter lag in a well lit room was noticeable at about 0.5 seconds, measured with a stopwatch.

The camera offers good image quality at low-ISO settings, especially in bright light. With the omission of an optically stabilized lens, bumping up the ISO to 3200 may be tempting, but using the camera's SR scene mode could result in noisy, unusable images. Unlike with most point and shoot cameras, images shot at twilight at ISO-settings up to 1600 were still usable, apparently without the use of a blur filter to cut back on noise and steal too much resolution. Noise became visible at ISO 200, but images captured through ISO 800 still looked very good. While the camera's Digital SR mode allows you to shoot beyond ISO 1600, noise became overpowering at the top light sensitivity setting of ISO 3200. Also worth noting, when shooting with sensitivity set to auto, users can select the ISO range used by the camera, a nice touch if you seldom change ISO settings and want to restrict the camera to recording at low ISO settings.

In playback mode, images can be displayed individually with info and a histogram, nine at a time, or by date in the calendar view. You can verify focus and subject expressions by zooming into an image with up to 8x magnification. Digital Shake Reduction can also be applied to images in playback mode, with an option to overwrite or save as a new file, though it only appears to work with images captured with flash, simply applying an in-camera sharpen filter. A simple slideshow option is also available.

Rated for approx. 180 images with its rechargeable Li-Ion battery fully charged, the 700 mAh battery is about the size of a single AA, and the included compact charger won't take up much room in your suitcase. For storage, the camera includes 52.1 MB of internal memory, but also accepts both SD and SDHC cards.

While the lack of a true wide-angle lens and optical image stabilization will surely be a turn-off to some, the Pentax Optio Z10 offers a respectable feature set at a reasonable price. Redeeming its imperfections with a long-reaching 7x optical zoom lens, good image quality through ISO 1600, a compact, durable design, and features that are sure to appeal to both beginners and intermediate photographers alike, the Z10 is good choice for families on a budget and photographers looking to upgrade without breaking the bank. The Pentax Optio Z10 is available now for about $200 (street).

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Pentax-Optio-Z10-Noise-in-the-previous-image-cap

Noise in the previous image, captured at ISO 1600, is overpowering when the image is viewed at full size.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-With-crisp-details-elements-in

Pentax-Optio-Z10-With-crisp-details-elements-in

With crisp details, elements in this image appear true to life. Colors are accurate and the slight overexposure was easily corrected with auto levels in Photoshop. 1/60 sec at f/3.5 @ ISO 64.Photo By Zach Honig
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Pentax-Optio-Z10-The-camera-exposed-properly-in-t

The camera exposed properly in this low-contrast image. Noise becomes an issue only when viewed at full size despite the high light sensitivity used to capture this scene at sunset. 1/100 sec at f/4.2 @ ISO 500.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-The-camera-found-a-nice-balance

Pentax-Optio-Z10-The-camera-found-a-nice-balance

The camera found a nice balance between the lit Eiffel Tower in the background, and the darker foreground elements. At ISO 800, there's noise to be seen, particularly in the shadow tones. 1/20 sec at f/3.5 @ ISO 800.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-Exposing-for-elements-towards-th

Pentax-Optio-Z10-Exposing-for-elements-towards-th

Exposing for elements towards the center of the frame, few details are overblown and shadow detail is maintained as well. Elements are sharp throughout this ISO 64 image and colors appear accurate. 1/100 sec at f/3.5 @ ISO 64.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-Details-appear-sharp-throughout

Pentax-Optio-Z10-Details-appear-sharp-throughout

Details appear sharp throughout this scene adjacent to the Roman Colosseum. This multilayered image is well exposed for the different architectural elements as well. 1/100 sec at f/4.2 @ ISO 125.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-Details-in-this-image-of-Rome-s

Pentax-Optio-Z10-Details-in-this-image-of-Rome-s

Details in this image of Rome's famous Trevi Fountain are sharp, thanks to a low ISO setting and a nice ledge used to lean the camera on. Colors and exposure are dead on. 1/50 sec at f/3.5 @ ISO 125.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-A-perfect-exposure-everything-a

Pentax-Optio-Z10-A-perfect-exposure-everything-a

A perfect exposure, everything about this macro image is technically correct. While captured at ISO 250, details appear crisp with elements in focus. Colors are accurate as well. 1/50 sec at f/3.5 @ ISO 250.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-Details-appear-sharp-throughout

Pentax-Optio-Z10-Details-appear-sharp-throughout

Details appear sharp throughout this frame, thanks to the bright direct light on the woman and pigeons in Venice's Piazza San Marco. Colors and exposure are accurate, with few overblown highlights. 1/125 sec at f/3.5 @ ISO 64.Photo By Zach Honig
Pentax-Optio-Z10-Though-the-sky-is-slightly-overe

Pentax-Optio-Z10-Though-the-sky-is-slightly-overe

Though the sky is slightly overexposed, the camera exposed well for the statue in this Venetian square. Shadow detail is a complete loss, though it helps remove distractions, keeping the image clean. 1/80 sec at f/3.9 @ ISO 64.Photo By Zach Honig
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