Pentax Optio P70 Review

July 20, 2009 | Mark Goldstein |


The Pentax Optio P70 is an ultra-thin point-and-shoot digital camera with a 27.5mm wide-angle, 4x optical zoom lens and 12 megapixel CCD sensor. The P70 has three different anti-blur modes to help prevent camera shake and an Auto Picture mode which automatically selects the most appropriate shooting mode for a particular subject or scene. The Pentax P70's unique Vertical Snap mode turns the power on and off and zooms the lens in and out using buttons on the rear of the camera. The Face Recognition AF & AE function recognises up to 32 faces in a single image in as little as 0.03 seconds, while the Image Recovery feature retrieves accidentally deleted images. Completing the Pentax Optio P70's headline specs are a 2.7 inch LCD screen, 720p HD movies at 15fps, Digital Wide function which creates an extra-wide-angle 21mm image from two images, and 26 different scene modes. Available in five colours, the Pentax P70 costs £179 in the UK and $199.95 in the US.

Ease of Use

The Pentax Optio P70 is a well-made, very compact digital camera, with a glossy white aluminium body (other colours available) and good overall finish. It's easily small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, measuring just 97(W) x 54(H) x21.5(D) mm.

The Pentax Optio P70 features a 4x optical zoom lens that's equivalent to a focal length of 27.5-110mm in 35mm terms, offering both a useful wide-angle focal length for landscapes and a longer telephoto length ideal for head and shoulder portraits. The maximum aperture is a quick f/2.6 at the wide end, but a much slower f/5.8 at the other extreme of the zoom range. The P70 is very slim, making it well suited to either a trouser or shirt pocket or handbag, and it weighs just 110g without the battery or memory card fitted.

Despite its mostly aluminium construction, the P70 is one of the better models around in terms of build quality. The overall finish is very good, looking and feeling more expensive than its budget price-tag might suggest. Even the tripod mount is usefully in-line with the centre of the camera. The only minor criticisms are the lack of any handgrip on the front, with just a smooth, flat finish embossed with the Pentax brand name, making it more difficult to hold than it really should be, and the unprotected PC / AV Out port which doesn't have a cover. Also, changing cards or batteries is not possible while the P70 is mounted on a tripod, because the compartment door hinge is too close to the tripod socket.

The Pentax Optio P70 has relatively few external controls, just 9 in total, which reflects the fact that this is a simple camera in functionality terms, with very limited photographic control on offer. All the controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology, with just a couple of Pentax-specific buttons that require a quick read of the manual. Located on top of the P70 are the On / Off button and the tactile Zoom Lever and Shutter button. On the bottom are the tripod mount, PC / AV Out port which accepts both the USB interface cable required to connect the camera to a printer or computer, and the AV cable, and the battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot.

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Front Rear

On the rear of the P70 is the 2.7 inch LCD screen, with a number of controls to the right, including a traditional round navigation pad. You can directly access the various flash options by clicking left on the navigation pad, the Drive modes via up, the focus modes via right, and the scene modes via down. The OK button in the middle performs two main tasks - it selects menu options, and also toggles between the three Display modes for the LCD screen.

Directly above the navigation pad are the self-explanatory Face Detection and Playback buttons, and below are the Menu and Green mode buttons. The menu system on the Pentax Optio P70 is perfectly straight-forward to use. A lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed here. A row of 2 icons along the top of the LCD screen represent the Record and Setting sub-menus, each divided into 3 pages, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. Due to the large and bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time.

The Green Mode is targeted at beginners, effectively setting all of the camera options apart from the flash, self-timer, focus mode and face priority setting. It's perfect for the less experienced members of the family who literally want to just piont the camera and press the shutter button. Accessed via the Mode button, the Pentax Optio P70 offers Auto Pict, which automatically selects from 8 shooting modes, and a comprehensive range of 23 different scene modes, making this camera particularly well-suited to the beginner.

The P70 can record HD quality movies at at 1280x720 pixels at 15fps, resulting in rather slow and jerky footage, and standard quality movies at 640x480 pixels or 320x240 at either 30fps or 15fps, all in the AVI format. During movie recording, the Optio P70 can prevent unwanted camera shake via the Movie SR option. Unfortunately this is a software based solution that considerably narrows the angle of view compared to normal shooting.

There are some other limitations to the P70's movie mode too. The AVI format choice results in some massive file sizes that quickly fill up your memory cards. The sound quality is not that great, with the usual background noise that accompanies movies shot with cameras that only have mono sound. Even worse, you can't use the optical zoom at all during movie recording (although there is a 6.3x digital zoom setting available).

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Front Front

There are no controls on the left or right sides of the P70. Overall the camera body feels well-designed and not at all cluttered, despite the presence of the large 2.7 inch LCD in such a small body, which has a wide viewing angle from left to right, average resolution of just 230,000 dots, and is visible in most conditions. There is no optical viewfinder on this model.

The P70 doesn't have a mechanical image stabilisation system, but it does combat camera-shake for still images in two different software-based ways. The Digital SR (Shake Reduction) mode, called Pixel Track SR in the menu, compensates for camera shake by processing affected images with Pentax exclusive software. Although quite effective, the resulting images contain more unwanted artifacts than a lens- or body-based mechanical anti-shake system, and it also slows the image processing time down considerably to over 10 seconds. The High-Sensitivity SR mode automatically raises the sensitivity to as high as ISO 6400 to allow for a higher shutter speed. The downsides are the greater levels of noise and reduction in image size to 5 megapixels. You also can't use both modes at the same time.

With Face Priority turned on, the P70 automatically recognizes and captures up to 32 faces in just 0.03 seconds. In addition the Smile Capture function automatically releases the shutter when it detects the main subject's smile, and the Blink Detection option warns the photographer if the subject's eyes were closed when the picture was taken. 

The Vertical Snap mode is a rather novel feature that uses the OK button to take a picture and the 4-way controller to adjust the zoom when the option is selected and the camera turned to the portrait orientaion. At least that's the idea - it wouldn't actually work on our review sample. The Digital Wide function is more effective, creating an extra-wide-angle image that's equivalent to an image taken with a 21mm lens in 35mm format from two images. If you want to to go wider still, the Digital Panorama mode creates a single panoramic picture from up to three images.

If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive but relatively easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Pentax have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you for easy reference.

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Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The start-up time from turning the Pentax Optio P70 on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 3 seconds, and it takes about 2 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, although there's no focus-assist lamp. It takes a very slow 3 seconds to store an image, with the message "Data being processed" often displayed on the LCD screen, and during which you can't take another picture. We haven't seen such slow processing times for many years, and it completely spoils the overall experience of using the P70. It gets even worse if you turn on the Pixel Track SR option - this may help to remove camera shake, but it pushes the image processing time to over a frankly unreasonable 10 seconds.

In Continuous mode the camera takes just 0.5 frames per second at the highest image quality, which is very slow for this class of camera, although the shooting rate is at least maintained until your memory card is full. There is a much faster high-speed continuous shooting mode, providing 2.5fps, but the image size is drastically reduced to 5 megapixels and you can only take 6 images before the camera locks-up.

Once you have captured a photo, the Pentax Optio P70 has an above average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 9 thumbnails onscreen at once, and zoom in and out up to 10x magnification. You can view slideshows with different effects and interval settings and set the print order and the transfer order.

You can also protect, rotate, resize, crop, and copy an image, plus choose your favourites. A range of 6 digital filters can be applied to a specific image, you can add one of the rather cheesy frames, and red-eye compensation reduces the effects of red-eye. The Image Recovery option recovers images and sound files that have been accidentally deleted, providing you don't turn off the camera. A movie frame can be saved as a still image and movies can be divided.

In summary the Pentax Optio P70 is quite a stylish and well-built point-and-shoot digital camera that's unfortunately almost ruined by its agonisingly slow image processing and overall operation.