With the Optio X, Pentax obviously spent a lot of time finding ways to squeeze lots of features into an ultracompact, 112mm by 53mm by 18mm, 145 gram package but perhaps didn't devote enough attention to how people take pictures. For example, the most natural way to hold the Optio X is with the thumb and index finger of the left and right hands gripping the top and bottom surfaces of each half (there are thumb depressions, plus the shutter-release button to make sure you take the hint). That leaves your right thumb well out of reach of the sliding power-zoom button, making zooming and shooting a distinct two-step operation.
While it's easy enough to use if you're willing to let the camera do all the thinking for you, an eccentric design and control layout sometimes make shooting photos your way tricky. The metal tripod socket shares the same bezel on the left edge with the hand-strap ring, so when mounted on a tripod, the camera is oriented for vertical shots and must be tilted (upside down, if your tripod's tilt head flips to the left) to take horizontal images. As with many of the newer ultracompacts, there's no optical viewfinder, and while the 210,000-pixel, 2-inch LCD is bright and fun to use indoors, outdoors it tends to wash out in even moderate direct light. The Optio's 270-degree-swiveling two-part body makes it easy to frame images at waist level, eye level, or above, but there's no optical viewfinder for lining up shots when the 2-inch LCD is washed out by bright lighting. There's no USB connector on the camera itself, so you'll need a card reader or the multifunction cradle/charger handy to transfer your pictures.
The Optio X's featherweight portability and attractive appearance may help you overlook its quirks. The aluminum-and-resin body makes an excellent conversation piece. For example, you get three -- count 'em -- power buttons on the top surface: one each to boot up the camera into audio recording, motion picture, or still picture modes. You can also hold down the Review button on the back of the camera while pressing any of the power keys to boot into image-viewing mode without extending the slide-out lens from its niche. Once the Optio X is powered up, you can switch to any of the alternate modes by pressing one of the other two power buttons, each of which has a centre indicator LED.
The power buttons are flanked by a microphone on the left and the shutter release on the right. There's a speaker on the left edge beneath the tripod socket/hand-strap ring, and the right edge includes a slot for an optional SD card. Although there's no door covering the card slot (a supplied dummy card keeps dust and moisture out when you're using the Optio X's 14MB of internal memory), a clever, recessed design makes it unlikely that you'll eject the card by mistake.
The Menu key displays recording, playback, and setup menus, in addition to a user-definable My Menu that duplicates any of the choices from the other three listings. A Function key activates an LCD menu with shooting options such as flash mode; focus settings; and adjustments such as the self-timer, burst mode, bracketing, and time-lapse. The adjacent minijoystick-style button is a versatile four-way cursor control key for navigating menus and can be depressed to activate your choices. Or, when a menu is not visible on the LCD, the four-way key can be pressed left or right to change exposure compensation settings and up or down to display a palette of the Optio's 14 Scene modes. The fourth button changes the information displayed on the LCD, including a live histogram (with accompanying highlighting that shows over- and underexposed areas on the screen), or shuts off the LCD entirely.
As with other point-and-shoot Pentax models, the Optio X is oriented toward snapshooters who would rather let the camera make all the decisions, with nary a manual setting nor even an aperture- or shutter-priority option to slow down the picture-taking process. The camera automatically selects settings from 4 seconds to 1/2,000 second, using apertures from f/2.6 to f/4.8. Exposure control is limited to EV settings (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments) and your selection of multisegmented, centre-weighted, or spot metering. The Optio is quite willing to hedge your bets, though, and provides automatic exposure bracketing, snapping off three shots with your choice of 0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 1.3, 1.7, and 2.0 stops under- or overexposure. If you prefer, you can bracket white balance, sharpness settings, colour saturation, or contrast over a trio of shots, too. The Optio selects both ISO sensitivity and white balance for you, or you can choose ISO 80, ISO 160, or ISO 320 manually, and select one of four white-balance presets or set a custom white balance.
The 14 scene modes include all the traditional choices, such as Landscape, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Panorama Assist, and Fireworks, along with some oddball choices such as Food, with extra contrast and saturation to make even the blandest comestibles look more appetizing, and Pet, which lets you specify whether your beast has dark, medium-toned, or light-colour fur, for improved exposure.
The 3X 36mm-to-107mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens offers decent close-up capabilities, autofocusing as close as 396mm in normal mode, down to 178mm in macro mode, and 61mm at the supermacro setting. If you'd prefer to take command of focus yourself, you can move the autofocus spot to any of nine positions -- located near the centre of the shooting area -- or focus manually.
Flash range extends out to 3.65 meters in the wide-angle position when set at Auto ISO but to only 1.8m when the telephoto is cranked out. You won't be shooting flash pictures at your next concert, even if you're seated in the front row. Flash modes are limited to off, forced on, forced on with red-eye, automatic and automatic with red-eye.
The Optio has a useful time-lapse mode for shooting from 2 to 99 pictures at intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 4 minutes, with a start-time delay of as much as 24 hours. Digital effects include black-and-white, sepia, red, pink, purple, blue, green and yellow filters, as well as a postshot brightness control. Pictures can also be trimmed, downsampled or copied in the camera. If you shoot sound movies (limited to 320x240 pixels at 15fps), you can save individual movie frames as still pictures, divide a single movie into several clips, or combine clips into a longer sequence.
The Pentax Optio X's performance leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the shot-to-shot-time arena, as well as in the continuous-shooting benchmarks. It took a full 4.7 seconds to awaken this Pentax from its slumber to take a first shot, then the lethargy set in. Below-average shot-to-shot times of 5.7 seconds (7.0 seconds with flash) seemed even longer when we pressed the Review button after taking several shots, and we had to watch a "Data being recorded" reminder for a few seconds before we could begin checking out our images.
The stingy buffer size crippled the Optio's burst mode shooting, too. In our worst-case continuous-shooting test at maximum resolution and best quality, this Pentax was quite willing to take photos for as long as the shutter release was pressed but only at intervals as long as 5 seconds per picture -- more of a bust than a burst. Reducing resolution to 640x480 pixels at maximum JPEG compression yielded roughly 1 shot per second for about a minute. The golf-swing analysis mode was equally anemic, providing only a 4-shot sequence in a single frame where many other digital cameras squeeze as many as 16 shots into a full-resolution picture.
If your hopes of using this ultracompact as a sports/action tool haven't evaporated by now, shutter lag measuring 0.9 second under high-contrast lighting and, with no focus-assist light to help, ballooning to 1.9 seconds when faced with more-challenging low-contrast lighting.
Seconds (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Shutter lag (typical)||
||Time to first shot|
Frames per second (Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Typical continuous-shooting speed|
NOTE: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.Image quality
The Pentax Optio X's image quality was mediocre at best, with less sharpness than we expected from a 5-megapixel camera and with abundant JPEG artifacts visible at even the lowest compression settings. While exposures were actually quite good, with detail -- what there was of it -- in both highlights and shadows, it was easy to blow out the lighter tones, and purple fringing was easy to detect. Red eyes were frequently a problem with flash, even when the preflash red-eye prevention was activated. Flesh tones were generally good, but the automatic white-balance controls frequently lent a slight yellow cast to many indoor pictures and a blue tint to outdoor shots.