Pentax Optio H90 Review

April 16, 2010 | Gavin Stoker | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Pentax Optio H90 is a new budget compact camera with style, sporting a retro look developed under Pentax’s new 'functional beauty' concept. In addition to its unusual looks, the entry-level Pentax H90 offers a 12.1 megapixel image sensor, 5x optical zoom lens with a focal range of 28-140mm), a 2.7 inch LCD, Face Detection system that recognises up to 32 faces plus Smile Capture and Blink Detection, compatibility with Eye-Fi wireless memory cards, and even 720p HD movie recording. Available in three different two-tone colour schemes, the Pentax Optio H90 costs £129.99 / $179.95.

Ease of Use

When Pentax's own press release begins with a description of the £130 H90 as 'no frills', the reviewer's emotions are mixed. Should we feel despondent at the thought of seemingly another bland, run-of-the-mill 'landfill' compact being forced upon us? Or applaud its manufacturer for some refreshing straight talk in an industry usually hailing the humblest point and shoot as somehow 'revolutionary'?

In fact here Pentax is doing its own camera something of a disservice. Yes, the H90 does look rather utilitarian from some angles, its traditional boxy design with nevertheless classy aluminium alloy construction consciously recalling film compacts from the 1960s and 70s. And going the retro route doesn't seem to have done recent Olympus Pen or Leica offerings any harm. Indeed it's got people talking. Pentax's own take is that the minimal design is inspired by Japanese lifestyle trends, a connection that is tenuous to say the least.

In any event, with our review sample matt black in the main with metallic silver top plate, the H90 thankfully isn't the unwieldy brick with two AAs we were formerly used to at this beginner's end of the market. With lithium ion rechargeable battery inserted it's small and slender enough to slip comfortably into the top pocket of a shirt come the summer. In fact it's rather cute, and you have to properly hold it to discover how lightweight at 131g with accessories and how tactile it feels. The almost credit card sized dimensions and hint of a front grip further ensure that it sits very comfortably in the palm.

So while its manufacturer won't claim the H90 will set your world alight, it's not completely without interest or merit. The headline specs reveal it welds a larger than average 5x optical zoom lens (28-140mm equivalent) to a 12.1 megapixel effective resolution and 2.7-inch, 230k dot 4:3 ratio LCD. Rather more of a surprise is that 1280x720 pixels HD video recording with mono sound also features, light sensitivity extends from ISO80 to ISO6400 (with a drop to 5MP at the top two settings), while the ubiquitous face detection can now spot up to 32 faces in the frame and gives rise to both smile capture and blink detection features. Like Panasonic, Pentax also sees fit to flag up what it calls an Intelligent Zoom function that extends the camera's range to 6.5x with a pixel drop to 7MP, or approximately 31.3x with a further decrease to a VGA 640x480 pixels.

Also unexpectedly found on a model in this price bracket - and so again giving the lie to the 'no frills' tag, are a set of well-hidden digital effects filters including 'toy' and 'retro' options - supplementing an Auto Picture mode that compares the scene before the lens with eight pre-optimised settings and (hopefully) selects the most appropriate - thus allowing for complete point and shoot freedom - plus auto tracking AF to keep a moving subject in focus. Add to this an exposure tweaking D-Range function to prevent lost highlights or irretrievable shadow detail (with the user being able to decide which to bias), digital panorama mode plus digital wide function - compositing an extra wide angle image from two pictures - for those looking to take in some dynamic scenery, and the Optio H90 looks to be shaping up as rather more than your average £100+ camera.

Pentax Optio H90 Pentax Optio H90
Front Rear

It's a pain though that the full manual is only offered on CD ROM, a cursory quick start pamphlet (that doesn't tell the user anything they couldn't work out for themselves) the only hard copy included. Like its bigger brother in the waterproof W90, the H90 offers compatibility not just with SD and SDHC cards but also Eye-Fi media; more expensive than non wireless enabled media for sure, but an automatic way of transferring your captured images when the camera comes within range of a similarly wireless enabled desktop or laptop computer. Otherwise there's a 32.7MB internal capacity to fall back on.

Predictably, the slot for this optional yet essential removable media nestles next to one for the power cell, under a catch at the base. Like most cameras in this price bracket, battery performance is so-so, the Optio H90 promising just 210 shots from a full charge. That said, our experience fell well short of this: at barely half that number we were already down to the last of three bars on the camera's battery life indicator, so you'll want to pack the charger if you're intending on holidaying with this device. It's one of the biggest black marks against this otherwise fun and easy to use snapper. The camera base is also where the dual-use single port for the combined AV/USB output cable lives, unprotected against pocket fluff and grit, with a screw thread for attaching a tripod over at one side, rather than the traditional location of dead centre.

With this Optio model activated with a press of the on/off button recessed into the top plate and marked with a red/orange dot - which might otherwise symbolize a record button on other models - the H90 powers up for action in just over a second (once location and date have been preset), lens extending to maximum wideangle setting with an audible flutter that resembles a moth buzzing close to your ear.

Next to this control sits the larger shutter release button with thankfully a definite halfway point determinable when pressed, allowing the camera to measure focus and exposure against your intended subject and then for user to recompose the frame as necessary. Go on to take the shot and, with a barely perceptible shutter delay, maximum resolution images are written to memory in a speedy two seconds - so the camera is as responsive as you've any right to hope for, given its budget pricing.

Pentax Optio H90 Pentax Optio H90
Front Top

Though the information displayed on the rear LCD is simplistic, with a press of the 'OK' button set into the middle of the four-way control pad at the rear a live histogram can be summoned up on screen to reveal the areas of brightness in the image. There's otherwise no dedicated 'display' control.

Thankfully then the H90 is a camera on which the essentials fall easily to hand. Top right of the LCD on the backplate is a rocker switch for operating the zoom, its position meaning that it falls conveniently under the thumb as your forefinger hovers over the shutter release button.

Response times are swift, the lens racing through its basic optical focal range in all of two seconds. Hold down the telephoto end of the rocker switch once you've reached the 5x marker and the camera will peddle furiously onward to reach its 31.3x equivalent. The images produced at this setting are so soft and low res however - looking as if taken through a frosted piece of glass - that there seems to be no useful reason to actually use it, so it does come across as something of a gimmick.

Beneath the zoom control on the backplate we find a pair of identically sized small buttons. On the left is a self-explanatory playback button, and to the right, symbolised by a smiley-faced icon, users have the ability to turn face detection on or off and/or deploy the automatic smile capture setting.

Beneath these two buttons we have the four-way multi directional control pad, as previously touched on. At 12 o'clock on the dial we have a means of selecting a drive mode: standard single shot capture, two or ten second self-timer option, continuous shooting or burst shooting. At three o'clock we find, unusually on this class of point and shoot, a means of adjusting the focus mode, from regular auto to macro or super macro, and then on through a pan focus, infinity focus and, finally, a manual focus option.

Select the latter and an enlarged central portion of the screen appears to aid the user's judgment, an adjustable distance slider appearing on the left of the LCD, with options of 0.1 metres to infinity. Again, this is more than Pentax had led us to expect at the outset, cunning devils.

Pentax Optio H90 Pentax Optio H90
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

At six o'clock we have access to the camera's shooting modes, via an on-screen toolbar of cartoon icon led options rather than a dedicated, physical, mode wheel. This is where users can either stick with the reliable auto everything default setting of 'auto picture', or tab to the right for program mode and an extensive 20+ range of scene modes, covering everything from night shooting to panorama mode, via ISO-boosting high sensitivity mode.

At nine o'clock on the shooting mode dial meanwhile, is a means of adjusting settings governing the built-in flash. Here the user can tab through auto, off, forced on, auto with flash, forced flash with red eye, or 'soft' flash.

A press of the menu button just below the dial, and in capture mode three recording screens are presented with a further three for the set up menu. It's within the former that users will find the exposure adjusting D-range setting with the ability to choose highlight or shadow correction or both, plus shake reduction, blink detection and activate (or not) the digital zoom. More unusually for a budget point and shoot, users can also adjust sharpness, saturation and contrast separately, in camera, via simple on-screen sliders. Also unusually, within the set up menu there's a pixel mapping function selectable to correct any defective pixels on the sensor. Not what you expect from a point-and-shoot.

The last button on the H90's back plate is the green button, which is in effect Pentax's easy mode. Push this and the on-screen icons get fewer and larger in size. Press the menu button when this mode is selected and all the recording options are gone, only for the user to be left with the basic set up menu. In other words it renders the H90 idiot proof. However, for more experienced users, the function of this button can be customized. In program mode its function can be reassigned to either become a short cut to adjusting the number of recorded pixels, white balance, focus area, metering or ISO sensitivity with a single button press. These options then appear as a thin unobtrusive toolbar along the top of the screen. It's a neat touch.

With the camera's flanks devoid of any features at all - except a lug for attaching a provided wrist strap - the bottom of the camera is the next place of interest. We've already mentioned the shared unprotected port for USB and AV output, and it's worth adding to that, that because of space restrictions, the catch for removing the battery is quite tight and so it's a tad fiddly to prise it free for a re-charge.

This feels like nit picking however, as for the money the Pentax Optio H90 suggests itself as one of current good deals for anyone looking for a straightforward point and shoot that fits neatly in both palm and pocket, plus throws in a touch of retro style too. Those looking for the ultimate travel compact and jack—of-all-trades might prefer a broader focal range still - look to the likes of the Canon SX210 IS for that - but, again, for the money this plucky Pentax ticks all the essential boxes.

So what of the pictures it produces. Do they betray compromises given the budget price, or surprise with their brilliance? Keep reading to find out…

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel High JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3.75Mb.

Generally we were pleasantly surprised - I'd even go so far as saying 'pleased' - with the snapshots (for this is very much a 'snapper') the Pentax Optio H90 delivered over the course of our test period. Certainly the image performance is better than other £100+ rivals; with attractive deeply saturated colours and reassuringly even exposures for the most part. The Auto Picture mode is reliable and there's the standard Program mode as well as the usual run of scene modes to switch to if you do want a bit more hands on control.

Of course there are caveats. When shooting at the extremities of the zoom handheld, shots are noticeably soft, even when shooting in bright, clear conditions. Interior shots without flash are also distinctly shaky in appearance. At maximum wideangle setting outdoors though, edge-to-edge sharpness is well maintained. The digital wide function (equivalent to 21mm in 35mm terms) also takes some getting used to - and it's very hard to get the two separate images married up when shooting in sunlight, as this obscures essential detail on the screen. The two separate images are stitched together in camera to create a slightly wider single image than the actual lens will allow. But, going against convention, these have to be shot portrait fashion - otherwise you just end up with one image pasted above the other, rather than alongside. We've included a couple of examples of what the quality is like among our presented test shots.

In terms of low light performance, the lack of mechanical or optical anti shake means that shooting handheld in more challenging conditions results in a fair share of soft shots when using the H90. With a steady surface or tripod however it is possible to get usable results with the flash disabled, as our nighttime images reveal. Otherwise it's a clean bill of health when shooting up to ISO 400, detail starting to soften at ISO 800. Even without enlarging portions of the image, at ISO 1600 the entire shot is soft, progressively worsening at ISO 3200 and results resembling an image viewed through frosted bathroom glass at ISO 6400. Despite this, noise is kept reasonably at bay - the compromise here is losing detail rather than revealing a gritty appearance - helped by the resolution drop in the highest two settings.


There are 8 ISO settings available on the Pentax Optio H90. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 80 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)


Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting. You can change the in-camera sharpening level if you don't like the default look.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Pentax Optio H90 handled chromatic aberrations very well during the review, with limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the example below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)


The Pentax Optio H90 allows you to focus on a subject that is 8cms away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.


100% Crop


The flash settings on the Pentax Optio H90 are Auto, Flash On, Flash Off, Auto + Red-eye reduction, Flash On + Red-eye and Soft Flash. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (140mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (140mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Flash On or the Red-eye-Reduction settings caused any red-eye.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Pentax Optio H90's maximum shutter speed is 4 seconds in the Night Scene mode, which is not very good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 3 seconds at ISO 800. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.


Night (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Pentax Optio H90 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel High JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 24 second movie is 71.2Mb in size.

Product Images

Pentax Optio H90

Front of the Camera

Pentax Optio H90

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Pentax Optio H90

Isometric View

Pentax Optio H90

Isometric View

Pentax Optio H90

Rear of the Camera

Pentax Optio H90

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Pentax Optio H90

Top of the Camera

Pentax Optio H90

Bottom of the Camera

Pentax Optio H90

Side of the Camera


Pentax Optio H90

Side of the Camera

Pentax Optio H90
Memory Card Slot
Pentax Optio H90
Battery Compartment


Pentax's Optio H90 camera may indeed be 'no frills' at first glance. But in a world where we're overwhelmed with visual information, its boxy retro looks - resembling what would transpire on paper if you asked a child below the age of ten to draw a picture of a camera - are oddly comforting.

So too is the price. At £129.99 for a pocket model with a decent 12 megapixel stills resolution, a focal range that's broader than average for its class, plus HD video to boot, it can be praised as something of a 'recession buster'. We have minor issues with its claims for battery life, but are willing to put this down to either a dodgy charger or battery with our review sample.

Results in a variety of conditions were reassuringly consistent, meaning that users can really just point and shoot for usable results. For anyone on a tight budget who wants to avoid the ungainly brick that spending around £100 used to buy, the H90 is a sensible option and in both operation and design is rather more sophisticated than one might expect. It's an ideal unobtrusive device for carrying anywhere, to be ready for those spur of the moment snaps.

Given its overall plus points it's a shame therefore that Pentax lacks the marketing budget and spend of its electronic company rivals when it comes to shouting about its products. Scoring highly across most categories, there's a time and place for humility, but the Pentax Optio H90 isn't it.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 5


Camera Type Digital zoom compact camera
Type CCD
Size 1/2.3''
Effective Pixels Approx. 12.1 megapixels
Still 12M, 7M, 5M, 3M, 2.1M (16:9), 1024, 640
Movie HDTV 720p (1280x720), VGA (640x480), QVGA (320x240)
Colour Depth 12 bits x 3 colours
Sensitivity Auto, Fixed (ISO 80 - 6400)
Shake Reduction Pixel Track SR
High sensitivity anti-shake mode (Digital SR)
Focal Length 5.1 - 25.5mm f/3.5(W) - f/5.9(T), equ. to 28-140mm in 35mm
Digital Zoom Optical zoom: 5x
Digital zoom: approx. 6.25x
Intelligent zoom: approx. 6.5x at 7M, approx. 31.3x at 640 (including optical zoom)
Construction PENTAX zoom lens, 7 elements in 6 groups (3 aspherical elements)
Focusing System
Type TTL Contrast detection Autofocus system
Functions 9-point Multi-AF, Spot AF, Auto-tracking AF (anticipating moving subject)

Focus Range (automatic) Normal: 0.4m - infinity (at wide setting), 1m - infinity (at tele setting)
Macro: 0.1m - 0.5m (at wide setting), 0.2 m - 0.5m (at tele setting)
Super macro: 0.08m - 0.15m (at focal length of 6.36mm) Infinity-landscape, Pan Focus, Manual Focus: available
AF assist AF assist lamp at front
Type 2.7'' (6.86mm) colour LCD, extra wide angle viewing
Resolution approx. 230k dots
Speed 1/2000  - 1/4 sec.  4 sec max. (Night Scene mode setting)
Exposure system
Metering Multi-segment metering, Centre-weighted metering, Spot metering
Exposure Modes Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Half-length Portrait, Movie, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Sport, Digital SR, Kids, Pet, Food, Fireworks, Frame Composite, Party, Natural Skin Tone, Candlelight, Text, Blog, Digital Wide, Digital Panorama, Green  
Compensation +/-2EV (1/3 EV steps)
Type Integrated auto flash
Modes Flash-on and Flash-off modes
"Red-eye" reduction function employs a pre-flash.  Soft flash
Effective Range Wide: approx. 0.15 - 4.0m (ISO Auto)
Tele: approx. 1.0 - 2.4m (ISO Auto)
Exposure Parameters
Modes One shot, Self-timer (2 or 10 sec), Continuous shooting (2.9 fps), High Speed Continuous shooting (5.9 fps at ISO 3200/6400 setting), Burst shooting
Face Recognition Face recognition AF&AE is available for all modes up to 32 faces, Smile Capture, Blink Detection
White Balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual setting
Recording Sound : Yes
Movie “Shake reduction” - stabilized video
Duration : Depends on memory card capacity
Resolution : HDTV (1280x720), 30fps ; VGA (640x480) 30fps ; QVGA (320x240), 30 fps
Editing Yes
Digital Filter B&W, Sepia, Colours (6), Extract colour, Colour enhancement, Toy camera, Retro, Soft, Brightness
Options Slideshow, Histogram, Calendar, Resize, Cropping, Image rotation, Frame composite, Red-eye compensation, Movie edit, Voice recording, Protect, DPOF, Image recovery, Start-up image, Date printing, Face close up playback
Internal Approx. 32.7 MB
External Compatible with SD, SDHC, and Eye-Fi cards
Special Features
Features World time :
75 cities, 28 time zones

Others :
Noise reduction if shutter speed exceeds 0.25 sec. Motion Blur reduction. Pixel Track SR EyeFi* cards compatible
Language English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Greek, Russian, Thai, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese
Interface USB2.0 (Hi-Speed), AV terminal (NTSC/PAL, mono), AC power input
Source Rechargeable D-LI88 Lithium-ion battery
Performance Approx. 210 shots* and 250 min** in play mode    * Recording capacity shows approximate number of shots recorded during CIPA-compliant testing. Actual performance may vary depending on operating conditions. ** According to the result of PENTAX in-house testing.
Height 56.5 mm
Width 94.5 mm
Depth 24.5 mm
Weight 114 g unloaded, 131 g loaded and ready
PC Windows XP SP2, VistaTM and 7
Mac OS X 10.3.9 or above
Included Software Arcsoft Media Impression
Kit Content AV cable, USB cable, AC cable, Li-ion battery, battery charger, strap and software

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