Pentax's Optio A10 boasts some impressive specs, including 8-megapixel resolution, sensor-shifting shake reduction, ISO 800 sensitivity, and a high-resolution 232,000-pixel 2.5-inch LCD. As you might expect, the camera produces decent images under a variety of conditions, but as in many pocket cameras, excessive noise makes the Optio A10 impractical for use above ISO 200. Add to that an LCD that washes out in direct sunlight and blanks completely when shooting bursts, and you have a mixed bag. Snapshooters looking for a roster of fun features, such as 640x480, 30fps MPEG-4/DivX movie clips, in an ultracompact body may find that the Optio A10 fills the bill. Photographers who want more control over exposure or a more versatile zoom range should try elsewhere.
The 145 gram, 88.5mm by 23mm by 54.5mm camera operates most smoothly when gripped with two hands, and there's even an indentation for your finger on the left side of the camera top. Thankfully, this Optio has plenty of hard-button controls, which reduces trips to the menus to make adjustments. On top, there's an illuminated power switch, a shutter release, and a shake-reduction effect preview button. On the back, controls include a standard zoom rocker, a playback button, a menu key, and a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK button.
The OK button also controls the type of information displayed on the screen, including a rule-of-thirds grid and a live histogram. The left-side key sets flash options, while the right-hand key chooses autofocus, macro, super macro, infinity, manual focus (with 15 fixed settings from 2.4 inches to infinity), and pan focus. The latter basically focuses lens to infinity no matter how far you zoom in or out -- helpful for situations that normally fool the autofocus system or for shooting a moving subject, such as a soccer player. Either five-point autofocus or spot focus can be set in the menu system. The up key selects two- or 10-second self-timers, burst mode and either three-second delay or immediate release with the optional IR remote control.
The down key produces a menu with 15 scene modes: 10 typical ones, such as Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Sport, Surf and Snow, Candlelight, Food, Pet, Text, and Night, as well as five others, including movie, voice recording, frame composite, full automatic and programmed exposure. Some of the scene modes have clever options. For example, in Text mode, you can choose to preserve the original colours in the text or convert it to black-and-white or a negative (black-and-white or colour) image. Pet mode has options to specify the fur tones of your animal for a better rendition.
A green button in the lower-right corner of the back panel that trashes the current picture in playback mode doubles as a function key in capture mode, converting the four cursor keys to adjustments for shake reduction, EV setting, image compression, and resolution. You can redefine any of the four cursor buttons for other functions, such as ISO or white balance.
Although your only exposure control is the EV adjustment, you can select matrix, centre-weighted, or spot metering in the menus, and the camera sets an exposure for you. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 second to four seconds and the lens's maximum aperture spans f/2.8 at 38mm to f/5.4 at 114mm. The flash is good for even exposures out to 16 feet (eight feet at the telephoto position) with ISO set to Auto. There's 24MB of internal memory for emergencies, so an SD card should be on your shopping list.
In-camera processing effects abound. Frame mode can be applied as you shoot, with your selected frame appearing in the viewfinder as you compose your image, or you can add a frame afterward. Only three different frames are supplied, but you can download more from the Pentax Web site. Frame mode reduces resolution to three megapixels. Other postprocessing options include resizing, trimming, rotation, brightness, eight colour filters, five digital filters (including soft focus and Slim, which compresses the image either horizontally or vertically), and post-shot red-eye removal.
Unfortunately, the Pentax Optio A10 proved to be a lethargic performer. The time to first shot was 3.8 seconds, and the Optio could manage no better than one shot every 4.2 seconds thereafter (4.7 seconds with flash). Shutter lag in high-contrast lighting proved more respectable at 0.8 second, rising to 1.4 seconds in low-contrast light with its red focus-assist lamp.
Burst mode was average but open ended. We were able to shoot full-resolution photos at 1.1fps for as long as the memory card held out. At 640x480 pixels, the A10 accelerated to 1.8fps. The novelty of burst mode was diminished, however, because the LCD blanked out during shooting; with no optical viewfinder as backup, you're shooting blind.
Pictures were generally good for a point-and-shoot camera at ISO 50 and 100. We saw very slight JPEG artefacting at the lowest compression setting. Noise was barely evident at ISO 50, rose a bit at ISO 100, became noticeable at ISO 200 and was abundant by ISO 400. The ISO 800 setting is available in only Candlelight mode at a reduced resolution of four megapixels and generates enough multicoloured speckles to render the images barely acceptable.
Exposures were good, with less of a tendency for blown highlights than we've seen in some other high-megapixel point-and-shoot cameras, but the colours lacked saturation, and we noted a slight cyan cast in skin tones, particularly when using the flash. The built-in red-eye-prevention preflash didn't do a very good job of eliminating crimson pupils. We also noticed a moderate amount of purple fringing around backlit subjects.
Snapshooters who frequently make enlargements larger than 8x10 inches and need a pocketable camera will like the Pentax Optio A10's ultracompact size, 8-megapixel resolution, and relatively low price. More finicky or ambitious photographers might want to consider laying down some extra cash for a camera with more controls. For example, Panasonic's pricier, though slightly wider and thicker, Lumix DMC-LX1 includes a full set of manual controls, as well as a full-resolution 16:9 mode.
Note: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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(Longer bars indicate better performance)