Pentax Optio RZ18 Review
The Pentax Optio RZ18 is a new travel-zoom compact digital camera sporting a wide-angle 18x zoom lens. Offering a versatile focal range of 25-450mm, the Pentax RZ18 also features a 16 megapixel sensor, Dual Shake Reduction system, high-resolution 3 inch LCD screen, 720p HD movie recording, range of digital filters, dynamic range setting and an Auto Picture Mode. Available in three different colours - black, white and orange - the Pentax Optio RZ18 officially retails for £199.99 / $299.95.
Ease of Use
At first glance you'd be mistaken for thinking that the Pentax RZ18 is just another run-of-the-mill compact camera with a standard lens, but further investigation reveals that, as the name suggests, it actually has an 18x zoom with an incredibly versatile focal range of 25-450mm. This makes it well suited to everything from wide-angle landscapes to sports and even nature photography.
Even when set to 450mm, the lens doesn't extend too far from the front of the RZ18, looking to all intents and purposes like a "normal" camera. And despite the big zoom, it still just about fits in the palm of your hand and therefore inside a coat or even trouser pocket at a push, pretty amazing given that lens. At less than 200g it's also pretty light too, although this does come at the expense of a cheap-feeling body that actually sounds hollow when you tap the camera. We were less impressed with the handgrip, though, which just consists of slightly indented panels at the front and rear that are finished off with a slightly textured material, in practice doing little to aid your hold on the camera.
The lens isn't particularly fast at either the wide-angle setting with a maximum aperture of f/3.5, or the telephoto setting with a maximum aperture of f/5.9, but the CCD-shift shake reduction system provides compensation equivalent to 2.5 steps and helps to ensure that the majority of photos taken in good light are sharp. Plus there's a Dual option which boosts sensitivity up to an equivalent of ISO 6400, while the trade off is that resolution drops to five megapixels. Otherwise the ISO range extends from 80 to 6400, the resolution drop occurring automatically above ISO 1600. There's a small lozenge-shaped flash rather inconveniently located just about the hand-grip at the front-left of the RZ18, being obscuredby your right forefinger more often than not. There's also an activity LED, and to the right is the built-in microphone.
Also included are HD movies, albeit only at 1280x720 pixels and more dispappointingly without the use of the 18x zoom, along with stills recording to regular-issue SD/SDHC/SDXC card and wireless capable Eye-Fi cards. The camera's intelligent/smart auto-style 'Auto Picture' technology is the default shooting mode setting. It sizes up potential subjects and automatically selects the most pertinent settings to deliver the (theoretically) best results. As such we found it did so reliably.
The shooting mode options are presented as unthreatening cartoon-ish icons on screen. These are intuitively tabbed through with a thumb press of the four-way control pad on the backplate, selections instigated with a press of the centrally located 'OK' button. Smile Capture and Face Detection (instantly recognising up to 32 faces in the frame) have their own joint access button on the camera back - denoted by a can't-miss-it smiley face icon.
A press of the on/off button on the camera's top plate powers up the RZ18 speedily in just over a second. The rear screen briefly displays the Pentax logo before revealing the scene itself, while the lens extends from storage flush to the body to its wide angle setting ready for the first shot.
The RZ18's top plate also houses the large and obvious shutter release button with just the right amount of 'give' to enable the user to accurately determine the halfway point for lining up a shot. This control is surrounded by a chunky lever for operating the zoom, the lip of which points forwards so that it falls neatly under the forefinger. Completing the top of the RZ18 is the start-shaped speaker which is positioned over to the left when viewed from the rear.
The zoom takes about three seconds to cover the entirety of its 25-450mm equivalent range, and if used in playback mode doubles up as means of enlarging images to check detail or, if the lever is nudged in the opposite (wide) direction, displaying shots as a collection of thumbnails. Take a shot at maximum JPEG resolution and the writing time to the memory card is around two seconds, with the message "Data Being Recorded" annoyingly shown if you attempt to take another shot or use the menu system. The RZ18 has a headline-grabbing Burst Shooting mode of up to 40 images at a maximum speed of 9 images per second, but sadly this reduces the resolution to 5 megapixels.
In the absence of a viewfinder, all shot composition and review is obviously done via the RZ18's 3-inch 4:3 ratio LCD which has a good resolution of 460,000 dots. Overlaid icons reveal the selected shooting mode, a battery life indicator, flash mode, number of shots remaining, time and date, and if the user already has face detection/smile shutter modes selected, that option as well.
By changing the resolution/quality settings via the two-folder menu screen, there is the alternative option to shoot in 16:9 ratio or 1:1 ratio. As this is in effect a cropped image, the resolution drops from the full 16 megapixels to 12 megapixels. If you really want to squeeze as much as possible on the available memory, there's also a further 4:3 option at 7 megapixels and a 16:9 option at 2 megapixels.
To the right of the screen at the camera's rear is a control pad with central 'OK' button for effecting changes, top and tailed by two pairs of buttons. The top two are a dedicated playback button, and to its right the aforementioned Face/Smile Detection control to manually activate the function when shooting portraits.
Beneath this pairing is the main control pad, with designated functions accessible at each edge. At 12 o'clock we find the self-timer/drive mode control, to the right, at three o'clock, the macro/close up control (also where you'll find a manual focus option with adjustable slider from 0.8 metres to infinity), and at the bottom, at six o'clock, a 'mode' button in the absence of a possible alternative shooting dial/wheel control for the same. Press this and the user has access to 24 scene/shooting modes, with the option of the slightly more expansive Program as an alternative to Auto Picture.
This is also where the user selects video mode in the absence of a dedicated record button for the movies feature. The other options selectable here include the usual run of pre-optimised settings for photographing night scenes, landscapes, pets and people as well as the Digital Wide - stitching together two images shot in the portrait format to provide one slightly wider 21mm equivalent landscape image than the lens itself will allow - plus a Digital Panorama mode.
The final control on the pad - at nine o'clock - is for adjustment of the built-in flash. The user selectable options here include auto flash, flash off, forced flash, auto flash with red eye reduction, forced flash with red eye reduction and soft flash modes.
Keeping things simple still, below this pad the final two buttons on the backplate - and the RZ18 itself - are menu and green mode/delete button. A press of the former in either image capture or playback modes brings up four Record folders. If in Auto Picture mode some settings (governing the likes of white balance, metering and exposure compensation) are automatically deselected, so switch to Program instead to access the full gamut. It's here that one can adjust movie resolution and quality levels - as well as that of stills - plus access a D-Range setting so the camera automatically corrects for shadows, for highlights - or for both. This isn't an automatic default feature; it has to be selected by the user.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
In 'menu' mode, by tabbing to the right of the record folders there's access to three further Setting folders. This is where you'll find the normal date and time settings plus a slider for adjusting the brightness of the LCD. More unusually, this is where a pixel mapping function is also to be found hiding, as a means of correcting defective pixels if there any.
A press of the 'green' or easy mode button to the right of menu and the info display is immediately writ large for the myopic. Try pressing the menu button in this mode and all you'll have access to will be set up options rather than anything that could directly influence image capture. So the recording folders disappear entirely - meaning operation is point and shoot in its purest sense. In playback mode, as we've noted, this same button doubles up as a very useful delete key.
If the Pentax RZ18 truly is missing something it's that there's no HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) output at one flank for hooking the camera up directly to a flat panel TV - all there is, is a lug for attaching a wrist strap and a merely standard AV/USB out port, but then this is hardly a deal breaker. And you do also get compatibility with Eye-Fi cards should you want to transfer images wirelessly of course.
The camera bottom features a poorly located screw thread for attaching a tripod, and the shared rechargeable lithium ion battery and card compartment for optional media. Media cards are easily inserted and removed and battery life is good for 240 pictures from a full charge. That's par for the course for the camera's class, though not exactly exceptional.