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Pentax Optio 30 Digital Camera Review
Introduction: A 3.2MP digital camera with 3x Optical zoom (38mm to 114mm equiv.in 35mm format), the camera has 16mb built in and takes AA batteries. The camera has a 1.6" Colour screen, and an impressive 2cm macro mode, as well as manual focus(!), ISO settings, histogram display etc. The camera takes SD/MMC memory, and records videos without sound. The camera has an RRP of £149 inc vat, and is available from around £110 online (see kelkoo.co.uk). The camera size and weight is: 93.5 x 61.5 x 36mm, 130g without batteries. Check latest price on Amazon.co.uk Pentax have this to say about their camera:

"The Optio30 is the ideal camera for the newcomer to the digital photography. Compact, ergonomic, and lightweight, it’s as comfortable in the hand as it is attractive to the eye. With the ample imaging ability of 3.2 effective megapixels and the versatility of 3X optical zoom, it has the power to offer a satisfying blend of clarity and compositional freedom. It also offers exceptionally easy operation, conveying a confident sense of satisfaction, even before you view its impressive results."

What's important, is Image Quality, Ease of use, etc, whether it is actually as easy to use as Pentax want you to believe - and whether the image quality and camera as a whole performs as well as other cameras available. You may want the latest 5/6/8MP digital camera, but a 3mp/3x Optical zoom camera is much closer to your budget, especially as this may be your first digital camera - lets see how it performs.

Full specifications and further details can be found on the Pentax site, and press release.

The Camera: It's a quite compact, smaller than the Pentax PC-550 35mm, that I use as a size comparison.


Front - Camera off. Built in lens-cover.


Front - Camera on - lens extended.


Back - Optical viewfinder, Macro/Landscape/Manual Focus button, Wide/Telephoto Zoom control, Flash button, 4 way controller with an OK button in the middle, Menu Button, Play button, 1.6" TFT screen. There's also a grip on the back that the thumb rests on.


Top - On/Off - and shutter release button.


Bottom, under the camera is the tripod mount which is not under the lens. On the left is the battery/SD/MMC memory compartment.


Left Side - There is the camera strap loop, and the small grip.


On this side is the DC-In, and computer connection (usb).

Size Comparison: Compared to a HP Photosmart 735 (another 3mp/3x Optical camera), and a 35mm Pentax PC-550.


As you can see, the HP 735 appears quite large when compared to the Pentax Optio 30.

Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic

The optical viewfinder is quite small, but still usable, and zooms in when you use the optical zoom on the camera.


On the top of the Pentax is simply the shutter release, and on/off button.

Specifications:

  • 3.2 megapixels (effective)
  • 1/2.7" CCD - 3.34 million total pixel sensor
  • Pentax 3x Optical zoom lens - 38 - 114 mm (equiv.) - F2.9 - F5.7
  • 1.6" LCD colour monitor with 85k pixels
  • 16mb of built in memory (expandable with SD/MMC)
  • 320 x 240, 15 fps videos (without sound)
  • Shutter: 2 - 1/2000 sec
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • ISO: Auto/50/100/200/400
  • Metering: Multi-segment, Center-weighted average, Spot

Full Specifications can be found on the Pentax Site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • 2 AA batteries
  • USB Cable
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Wrist Strap

A fairly basic box contents, unfortunately no case. Mine didn't come with a manual - only a "PC connection manual" - I'm not sure if this is normal as I got mine second hand.

Features / Options: The main modes are: Photo / Play.

In Photo mode you can choose from the following modes by pressing the down arrow (mode) on the 4 way controller: Program, Panoramic, Video mode, Dog, Food, Wine, Flower, Snowman/Sea, Portrait, Night-time/Portrait, Night(building), Cloudy Landscape. These are all represented by graphical icons, unfortunately without referring to the manual, it is a little difficult to guess what some of them are.

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: Macro / Landscape / Manual Focus, Wide/Telephoto, Flash, Menu, Play mode. OK will display a live histogram, as well as the F/Aperture setting and shutter speed when you half press the shutter.

In Photo mode there is a Basic Menu and a Full Menu, accessed by pressing the MENU button - both menus are explained below.

  • Basic menu
    • Image Quality (Superior 3mp, *** / Super 2mp, ** / Normal 1024x768 ** / Economy 640x480 **)
    • Movie
      • Recorded Pixels (320x240 / 160x120)
      • Color Mode (Colour / B&W / Sepia)
      • Fast Forward Movie (Off / x2 / x5 / x10 / x20 / x50 / x100)
    • Digital Zoom (On / Off)
    • Digital Filter (Brightness / B&W / Sepia / Colour filters etc in playback mode)
    • Format (Memory card)
    • Date Adjust
    • Language
    • Screen Setting (Start-up Screen / Background Colour)
    • USB connection (PC / Pictbridge)

To access the full menu you have to press the zoom button, and to get back to the basic menu you have to press it again.

  • Full menu (options not fully explained due to time)
    • Rec Mode
      • Recorded Pixels
      • Quality Level
      • White Balance
      • Focusing Area
      • AE Metering
      • Sensitivity
      • Movie
      • Digital Zoom
      • Memory
      • Sharpness
      • Saturation
      • Contrast
    • Playback
      • Resize
      • Trimming
      • Copy Image
      • Digital Filter
    • Set-Up
      • Format
      • Date Adjust
      • Language
      • Screen Setting
      • USB Connection
      • Sleep Timeout
      • Auto Power Off
      • Reset

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit in the 16mb provided memory: (an extra memory card is recommended if you intend to go on holiday or are going to be away from a computer for more than half a day!)

Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality / Average file size
  Best (***) Better (**) Good (*)
2048x1536 (3mp) 7 (1.5mb) 13 (950kb) 19 (680kb)
1600x1200 (2mp) 12 20 28
1024x768 25 46 58
640x480 54 84 103
Movie 320x240 to the limit of the card    
Movie 160x120 to the limit of the card    

You can fit an average amount of images on the provided 16mb, depeding on the size and amount of compressions used - although a larger memory card is definitely recommended. There is a good choice of image size and compression levels available.

Speed, ease of use: Very easy to use, simply switch the camera on, and start taking photos. The screen updates, and camera are quick. The camera is very easy to use, even without reading the manual - the preset modes make it even easier to use the camera, as does the basic menu. When you become more adventurous, you can then start to use manual focus, adjust the iso setting etc. I'd even go so far as to say that it's fun to use the camera - as everything works as it should do. The small size and weight of the camera add to this.

Battery usage: Seems quite good - Ni-Mh rechargable batteries are highly recommended, as with pretty much all digital cameras.

LCD display in photo mode: Pressing the OK button will display a live histogram, and when the shutter is half pressed, the screen will display the shutter and aperture settings. The screen is clear, and updates smoothly. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, it also shows the date and time, the battery level, current mode, plus other things.

Playback mode: Pressing OK will display additional information about the picture, eg size, compression, white-balance, ae, ISO, shutter speed, aperture size, as well as a small histogram. Scrolling through the photos is very fast. The zoom can be used up to 8.0x, and is also quick. The blue buttons on the back of the camera are used when in playback mode. The menu system is the same in playback mode or in photo mode.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size versions of these photos are available in the gallery!

Inside:

Close portrait Group flash (in dark restaurant) Inside - Fruit, no flash

Inside in fairly poor lighting the camera focused quite successfully. The group photo in the middle does seem a little bit dark.

Noise: [A small paragraph about noise:] Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue / red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise.

The camera has 5 modes for ISO: Auto, 50, 100, 200 or 400. To choose the ISO setting, you need to access the Full Menu.


This photo (featuring a model "bananalamb" / "lamb banana") was taken with flash, actual pixels shown below from area next to the speaker:

ISO50 ISO100
ISO200 ISO400

Noise levels at ISO50 are very low - which means you get very nice smooth images. ISO100 and ISO200 are still acceptable. ISO400 is where the noise starts becoming much more noticable, but it is still not really really bad.

Outside:

Subway building White Statue (Sefton Park) Terrapin! (Sefton Park lake)

Good colour, low noise, good detail - no signs of vignetting in the corners or CA.

Zoom: The camera has a built in 5x Digital zoom, as well as a 3x optical zoom lens - the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software to blur the image so that it does not look pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using this, and simply crop the image later on your computer. I've included an example below simply to show what this feature does - and whilst it looks acceptable at the size shown (the last photo), if you printed the images out or viewed the full size versions in the gallery you would easily notice the negative effect it has on image quality.

Wide-angle Full telephoto (3x Optical zoom) Full telephoto + digital zoom (5x)

The digital zoom is seperated from the optical zoom with a line. A magnifying glass appears on screen when using digital zoom, but the camera does not show how much digital zoom you are using.

When using the optical zoom, it's quite noisy, but seems fairly quick, and has about 7 steps between wide and telephoto.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is at full wide angle, and you can not zoom in - you can use the digital zoom though. The camera can focus down to 2cm!

Macro - Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro - Fingers Actual Pixels (100%)

Very very impressive - one of the best macro modes I've ever seen on a digital camera! (yet)

Movie: 320x240 / 15fps (no sound) - you can use the optical zoom, and the digital zoom whilst recording. The movie is recorded as a .mov file.


Download movie - Click here. (2.91mb) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie seems okay, although the size and framerate is rather average - and it's a shame that there is no sound recorded. When recording the movie, the camera continues to focus as the subject distance changes.

Conclusion: This is a small, light, easy to use camera that produces great images. The camera stands out due to it's EXCELLENT macro mode, low noise levels, small size, and light weight. It is a shame the camera does not record sound with videos, but if you are not interested in this feature, then this camera is highly recommended! Despite there being no AF-Illuminator the camera is still able to focus in dark situations. The camera has a lot of great features, such as manual focus, iso settings, saturation, sharpness, etc and a lot of preset modes that make it easier to use in all situations.

Image: Great image quality, thanks to the excellent Pentax lens - the camera produces good colours both inside and outside. Good sharpness, saturation, and low noise as well! The camera has an EXCELLENT macro mode - which I wasn't expecting, as it doesn't seem to be especially marketed by Pentax.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): This camera is easy to use, easy to hold, and easy to take with you due to the small size and light weight of the camera. It's simply a case of picking up the camera and using it. The only negative is the lack of sound on videos. The camera is priced extremely competitively and is available from around £110 including vat - for this price I would highly recommend this camera. 16mb is not enough memory, unless you are happy to use the smaller image sizes and / or higher compression settings.

Alternate cameras: There is a lot of competition from other 3mp/3x zoom digital cameras, but you would be quite hard pushed to find a better camera at this price point, although if you needed sound with videos then you would have to look elsewhere unfortunately - other cameras you could have a look at are the: Pentax 33LF (£99), Fuji A210 (£99) / A310 / A330 (£119), Nikon 3100 / 3200, Canon A70 / 75, Olympus C-310 (£113) / C-350 / C-360, Minolta Dimage E323, Sony P-72, Kodak CX7330 (£118). Prices correct at 09/07/04 - see www.kelkoo.co.uk or www.dealtime.co.uk for the latest prices. Check latest price on Amazon.co.uk

What I like:

  • Great image quality, Low noise
  • Fantastic Macro mode! (As close as 2cm)
  • Compact, very light
  • Easy to use
  • Advanced features (histogram / manual focus etc)
  • Good preset modes

What I don't like:

  • No sound with videos :(
  • No Case
  • 16mb is limiting - additional memory card is needed

Other Reviews:

Steve's Digicams.