Pentax Optio X90 Review
The Pentax Optio X90 is a super-zoom digital camera that looks and feels like a DSLR. Featuring a 26x, 26-676mm lens with a sensor-shift Shake Reduction system, the X90 should cover most photographic bases. Also on offer are a 12 megapixel sensor, 720p HD movies with an HDMI port, electronic viewfinder and a 2.7 inch LCD screen, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual shooting modes, and a 1cm macro mode. The Pentax Optio X90 has a recommended retail price of £329.99 / $399.95.
Ease of Use
Not to be confused with the waterproof W90 or standard H90 snapshots also from Pentax, this latest 12.1 effective megapixel X90 is a digital SLR-styled 26x optical zoom model, a step up from the 24x X70.
It is, in fact, the kind of semi-chunky bridge camera that was all the rage before Micro Four Thirds cameras and their ilk came along and introduced another meeting point between compact user-friendly snapshot and fully-featured DSLR.
So, while having such a broad focal range, equivalent to a wide-angle 26-676mm in 35mm terms, never fails to come in useful, do we still want another choice of camera that outwardly resembles an entry-level DSLR - yet isn't, in that among other things said lens cannot be swapped? Then there's also the fact that the X90's asking price at £329.99 comes very close to the cost of a budget DSLR and standard lens.
Sporting a dark gunmetal grey livery as an indicator of a more serious intent, Pentax would argue of course that its X90 provides the kind of reach that would cost a lot more were you to equip an actual DSLR with comparable lens - and it would be right.
As such it markets itself as an accessible all in one option for those looking for big zoom power in a single (relatively) affordable package; and to ram the point home its manufacturers own blurb trumpets the claim that it does everything 'except the ironing'.
We'd have been surprised then if the X90 didn't offer HD movie capture and HDMI output, and indeed it does, with video at not-quite-full HD 1280x720 pixels and smooth frame rate of 30 fps. There's no dedicated button for one touch capture though. The movies feature is instead selected via familiar top plate shooting mode dial, and recording commences and ends with a press of the main shutter release button.
Like assorted Panasonic compacts the X90 additionally features what Pentax is calling its own Intelligent Zoom function, extending coverage to a frankly ridiculous 162.5x (or 4225mm) equivalent if you don't mind shooting at a VGA resolution (otherwise it's 7 megapixels at 33.9x). All this and a macro mode that allows photographers to get as close as 1cm from their subject/s and still maintain sharpness. There's no RAW capture here though, despite its bridge model pretensions, merely three quality levels of JPEG: Good, better and best. Light sensitivity is however respectably broad, stretching from ISO80 through ISO6400 and incrementally selectable with it.
Marginally smaller than a budget DSLR with overall dimensions of 84.5x111x110mm, grip the X90 in your right hand, three fingers instinctively snaking around the provided grip while your forefinger hovers above the shutter release button and thumb rests on the rubberised pad at the rear, and the camera feels surprisingly lightweight given its dimensions. It's 400g unloaded, or 428g with battery and SD/SDHC or Eye-Fi card - yet reasonably sturdy with it.
The camera's build is obviously quite plastic-y though, something it also shares with starter DSLRs. The lens is protected by a slip-on plastic cap that can be attached to one of the side lugs for the shoulder strap via the thread provided in the box. Otherwise we can see this cap quickly getting mislaid.
Thankfully for those looking to eschew use of a tripod a zoom of this size is supported by anti shake or rather Pentax's proprietary Shake Reduction, here of the CCD sensor shift variety, built-in gyro sensors detecting external wobble and vibrating the sensor horizontally and vertically at high speed to compensate. Pentax claims this compensation is the equivalent of three stops.
Picture composition is via rear 2.7-inch, 230k-dot LCD monitor with anti reflective coating or 200k-dot resolution electronic viewfinder with DSLR-like dioptre adjustment dial situated directly above.
The eye relief for said viewfinder juts out quite prominently from the camera back so your nose doesn't squash uncomfortably against the rear screen below. However this means that it does unfortunately clunk against your spectacles, should you happen to be a wearer. LCD visibility is adequate outside, but indoors in lower lighting relays a rather noisy image; we'd expected a slightly better quality, higher resolution display at this level.
As indicated, the main shooting options are located with a twist of the familiar bottle-top design mode dial located on the X90's top plate, next to the housing for the pop-up flash. Sufficiently stiff to avoid accidental jogging from one setting to the next and slotting into place at each option with a definitive click, the X90, like an entry class DSLR, mixes a choice of the fully automatic with the manually creative.
Suggesting family friendliness is that the most prominent setting is an Auto Picture mode. This, like other Smart Auto or intelligent Auto technology on rivals, compares the scene before the X90's lens with eight on board settings - including portrait, landscape, night-time and macro scene options - and theoretically selects the most appropriate for optimal results. In practice too it's reliable, though busy scenes do cause the camera to flutter between options.
Adjacent settings on the same dial include a separate scene mode option for non-automatic selection, plus Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual shooting modes as you'd expect.
There's further a customizable User mode to which commonly used settings can be attributed (as a default this provides a short cut to the camera's pared-down green - read 'easy' - mode). Also featuring on the dial are a means of accessing movie recording, additional ISO-boosting digital shake reduction (wherein resolution drops to five megapixels) plus a sports mode.
Like Pentax's own K-x DSLR, beginners can, by using the above, feel their way gradually into using the camera by utilising it as a point and shoot first and foremost, and then moving onto experimenting with more manual settings as experience and so confidence grows. Also like its DSLRs, there are also a few fun digital effects filters on board, including Toy Camera and Retro options - but here applied in playback mode rather than at the point of capture.
Less helpfully, users only get a quick start pamphlet included in the box, the full manual being supplied on CD only. An additional disk supplies PC and Mac compatible ArcSoft MediaImpression 2.0 software, an image viewing, editing and cataloguing program.
So, as noted, from all angles the X90 looks and feels distinctly DSLR-like. Viewed lens on, the front is dominated by that whopper of a Pentax branded lens, the surround of which on first glance looks like it features a ridged manual adjustment ring; but sadly this transpires to be fixed rigidly and merely a detail of the design.
Directly above the lens sits the pop up flash, with dedicated flash button located on the ridge to its right. However a press of this won't prompt the flash to pop up ready for duty unless the camera is switched on first. Once it is, the Pentax will provide a text prompt to tell the user to raise the flash should a forced flash setting be selected.
Over at the left hand side of the flash housing is a large-ish window for AF assist lamp and self-timer indicator, and just below it a narrow slit housing the built in microphone. Adjacent to these on the forward sloping ridge above the comfortably moulded camera grip we find the large and sufficiently springy shutter release button and, surrounding it, a compact camera-like lever for adjusting the zoom.
Whilst that's it for the front of the X90, the top plate is slightly more interesting. The chief feature here is of course the aforementioned shooting mode dial - and the other two controls are a dedicated button for exposure compensation (a modest adjustment range of +/- 2EV) and the on/off switch, with cheerful green lamp inserted into its centre as a visual indicator that the camera is indeed active.
Press this button and with a brief audio flourish the back screen bursts into life, lens extending to maximum wideangle setting ready for the first shot in just over a second - an impressive response by any standards.
Wrap a finger around the zoom lever and that's also near instant in its response; in fact the zoom is so responsive and quick to race through the entirety of its range - just under three seconds from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto, a timing more usually seen from humbler 10x zoom compacts - that precise control is tricky. With a gentle touch it is possible to progress in baby steps, but this obviously doesn't provide the same degree of control as a manual zoom ring.
A major disappointment is the fact that the optical zoom is disabled in video mode; that's to say the zoom remains at the same fixed position it was before the user pressed the shutter release button to begin recording. So if you've zoomed in before filming commenced, you can't then zoom out mid way through. The additional digital/ 'intelligent' zoom is however accessible should you want to go closer still in HD video mode, but as this progressively degrades the image, we'd argue it's best avoided.
The lack of optical zoom control is a real shame; especially considering the big zoom is literally the X90's big feature. And we'd further argue it's not as though the zoom itself is particularly noisy in operation - often the reason why manufacturers disable it in movie mode.
Still, once the user has alighted on framing that they're happy with, the camera in offering 9-point AF takes just over a second to determine focus and exposure with a half press of its shutter release button. Proceed to take the shot and a full 12 megapixel, best quality resolution photograph is committed to memory - here removable SD/SDHC plus wireless-enabled Eye-Fi media - in around two seconds. Again this timing is very respectable for this class of camera, and so in terms of overall responsiveness, zoom aside, we take no issue with the X90.
Returning momentarily to the shooting mode dial, it's here with a twist to scene mode and a further press of the 'mode' button that makes up part of the cross keys control pad on the camera's back, the user can call up the 20 pre-set options herein. These are displayed as a series of cartoon-ish icons that wouldn't look out of place on a point and shoot compact.
Along with the expected landscape, portrait, children and pets optimized options, the X90 user has a chance via 'digital wide' mode to shoot two shots which are then stitched together in camera along with a broader panorama option. Again, these are the sort of options to be found on Pentax's snapshot compacts, such as the numerically similar H90 and W90, recently reviewed on this site.
The rear LCD screen is positioned directly below alternative EVF on the backplate and a small button to its left allows one-touch swapping between the two, with a further self explanatory display button to the right of the EVF. A press of the latter turns off the basic functional information, calls up a nine zone compositional grid, or adds to the presented information courtesy of a live histogram.
The rest of the controls to the left of the X90's screen again are a mix of what you'd expect to find on a regular compact and an entry level DSLR. Thus we get a DSLR-style command dial top right of the camera back, a twist of which allows shutter speed and aperture adjustments if shooting in one of the camera's creative modes, the jumping between one function folder and the next if in 'menu' mode or usefully zooms in or out of an image if in playback/review mode.
Beneath this dial is the ubiquitous face detection/smile capture button - subsequent presses of which turn the former on or off and summon up the latter. The X90 can detect up to 32 faces in the frame, and in all of 0.03 seconds according to Pentax. For those who imagine they look a bit fat in the face, the camera deploys a 'small face filter' in playback mode that makes said visages appear smaller in camera than they are in reality. Rather bizarre. Face detection is coupled with blink detection - the camera prompting you if a subject's eyes appear closed, though this feature can be enabled or disabled via the main shooting menu, more on which in a minute.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
Beneath the face detection control is a familiar playback button. An additional press of the 'mode' button within this setting and the user has access to quite an extensive range of image slideshow and in-camera editing facilities - it's here you'll find the odd small face filter for example - as well as the toy camera and retro options mentioned earlier. Interestingly, and showing that this camera is aimed as much at beginners as anyone else, there is also an image recovery setting to try and retrieve images accidentally deleted.
Underneath the playback button is the set of operational cross keys, with a centrally-located 'OK' button in their midst for implementing any changes once menu items have been tabbed through and selected using said keys (fittingly, the main menu button sits just below).
Situated at 12 o'clock within this configuration is a dedicated button for calling up the X90's self timer options/drive modes (including impressive 11.1fps high speed capture at 5 megapixels), at three o'clock a manual means of selecting macro mode, at six o'clock the main 'mode' button, whereby for example the scene options are summoned up, and at nine o'clock we find a dedicated button for controlling the flash.
If shooting in program mode the flash options are auto flash, off, on, auto flash plus red eye reduction, forced flash plus red eye reduction, slow sync flash, and finally slow sync flash with red eye reduction. As we've already noted, if the flash hasn't been manually activated prior to selection, an on-screen prompt tells the use to 'please pop up the flash'; it won't do so automatically.
Just underneath the above keys we have a menu button, and alongside it the dedicated 'green' (easy) mode button, as found on Pentax point and shoots. This doubles up as a handy delete button when in playback mode, to save the user otherwise having to wade through menu screens.
While the right hand side of the X90, if viewed from the back, is devoid of any controls whatsoever - and features only a lug for attaching the shoulder/neck strap - a feature mirrored at the other side - the left hand flank is where we find a flap protecting a mini HDMI output port plus separate joint AV out/USB connection.
The bottom of the camera features a centrally located screw thread for attaching a tripod - though it is possible to shoot handheld in daylight and achieve sharp enough results at extreme telephoto - and to its right, and so within the base of the handgrip, we find a joint battery and card compartment protected by a plastic cover with sliding catch.
Battery life is good for an adequate 255 shots from a single charge of the X90's supplied lithium ion battery, mains charger and lead also included in the box.
In summary, everything on this Pentax falls readily beneath finger or thumb which makes for swifter overall operation; this is down to both sufficiently large controls, a smaller form factor than a DSLR proper and also the fact that Pentax has not overburdened the X90 with extraneous buttons.
While that's all well and good, what of the resulting pictures? Can Pentax deliver where (and when) it counts?
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3.5Mb.
We were shooting with the Pentax after a typically British mixture of sunshine and rain that had given rise to some particularly verdant natural hues. This, coupled with the X90's willingness to boost colour saturation anyway (common across its range) gave rise to striking colours that if we hadn't witnessed them in nature ourselves would have appeared quite unrealistic. Exposures are even however and metering is generally spot on, so require little adjustment post capture, which again suggests the camera is suitable for an amateur/family audience.
As our white wall test shots indicate, there is some barrel distortion at maximum 26mm equivalent wideangle setting on the X90, but this is kept fairly minimal and so unobtrusive. And, though shots taken handheld with the lens set at maximum telephoto occasionally lack critical sharpness, this is only to be expected given the much better than average reach. Pixel fringing is kept well under control - much better than on consumer-level DSLRs in fact. We also had very occasional white balance issues where there was a dominance of one particular colour in the frame - but this is easily adjusted.
In terms of light sensitivity, up to ISO 800 the X90's performance is pretty good, though detail is beginning to soften at ISO 800. At ISO 1600 images really are quite noisy, though as processing kicks in more conclusively at ISO 3200 this lessens; unfortunately at the expense of critical detail. At ISO 6400 pictures look distinctly painterly. Not a great showing in low light then; the best we can say is that's it's an adequate one.
There are 8 ISO settings available on the Pentax Optio X90. 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 just 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)
The Pentax Optio X90 handled chromatic aberrations excellently during the review, with very 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 X90 allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm 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.
The flash settings on the Pentax Optio X90 are Flash-on, Flash-off, Red-eye reduction, Low-speed synchro, and Low-speed synchro + Red-eye. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (26mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (26mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (676mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (676mm)
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 (100% Crop)|
Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Pentax Optio X90's maximum shutter speed is 4 seconds, which is not very good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds at ISO 800.
Night (100% Crop)
This is a selection of sample images from the Pentax Optio X90 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Front of the Camera / Lens Extended
Front of the Camera / Flash Raised
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
|Side of the Camera|
|Memory Card Slot|
The target audience for the Pentax X90 is surely the existing compact camera user looking to upgrade, as well as the family user. But then the same audience will also be ideally suited to an entry level DSLR or a lower-priced Micro Four Thirds type interchangeable lens camera for that matter. So what's the difference here?
Basically the X90 can be viewed as a 'DSLR Lite' for those aspiring photographers who would like more control over their images than a regular compact will allow - and obviously a whopping zoom range - without that steeply pronounced learning curve. It's arguably even easier to use than a compact system or 'hybrid' camera. And don't forget that while £329.99 seems quite high an asking price for a specification set that isn't quite at the level of a DSLR, it's the attached big zoom capability, giving amateurs the equivalent reach of a paparazzi, that you're paying this sort of premium for.
The lack of optical zoom control in movie mode is a real disappointment however, given that the former is the X90's major USP. Still everything on the camera falls readily to hand, making for both swifter and easier use than flashier alternatives. Ultimately that means that the Pentax X90 gets a Photography Blog Recommended badge, but with the above caveats.
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||3.5|
|Effective Pixels||12.1 megapixels|
|Still||12M (4000x3000), 10.7M (3:2) (4000x2672), 9M (16:9) (4000x2256), 9M (1:1) (2992x2992), 7M (3072x2304), 5M (2592x1944), 3M (2048x1536), 1024 (1024x768), 640 (640x480)
3 Quality levels of JPEG (good, better, best)
|Movie||HDTV (1280x720), 15/30fps, VGA (640x480) 15/30fps, QVGA (320x240), 15/30 fps|
|Colour Depth||12 bits x 3 colours|
|Sensitivity||Auto, Fixed (ISO 80 - 6400)|
|Shake Reduction||CCD-Shift-Type (SR : Shake Reduction) Hi-sensitivity anti-shake mode (Digital SR) Movie shake reduction mode (Movie SR)|
|Focal Length||4.6 - 119.6mm f/2.8 - 5.0 (approx. 26 - 676mm in 35mm format)|
|Digital Zoom||Digital zoom: 6.25X approx.
Intelligent zoon: approx. 33.9X at 7M, approx. 162.5X at 640 (including optical zoom)
|Construction||14 elements in 11 groups (4 aspherical elements, 3 ED elements)|
|Type||TTL contrast detection autofocus system|
|Functions||9-point AF, Spot AF, Auto tracking AF
Infinity-landscape, Manual Focus, AF Point switching
|Focus Range (automatic)||Normal: 0.4m - Infinity (at wide setting), 1.7m - Infinity (at tele setting)
Macro: 0.1 - 0.5m (from wide to middle zoom setting)
1cm Macro: 0.01 - 0.3m (at focal length of 9.3mm)
|AF assist||AF assist lamp at front|
|Type||Electronic viewfinder, approx. 200K dots|
|Type||2.7" (6.86cm) LCD screen, extra wide angle viewing, with AR coating|
|Resolution||Approx. 230K dots|
|Speed||1/4000 - 1/4 sec. 4 sec at most (Tv, Av, M, Night Scene mode setting)|
|Metering||Multi-segment metering, Center-weighted metering, Spot metering|
|Exposure Modes||Programs: AutoPicture, Movements, Anti-shake, Movie, USER, Manual, Av, Tv, P Scene modes: Auto Picture, Sport, Digital SR, Movie, Manual, User, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Backlight, Half-length Portrait, Night scene, Night scene Portrait, Stage Lighting, Surf & Snow, Baby, Kids, Pet, Food, Fireworks, Frame Composite, Party, Museum, Sunset, Digital Wide, Digital Panorama, Green|
|Compensation||+/-2EV (1/3EV steps)|
|Type||Integrated auto flash control|
|Modes||Flash-on and Flash-off modes. "Red-eye" reduction function employs a pre-discharge.
Soft flash, Low-speed synchro, Low-speed synchro + Red-eye
|Effective Range||Wide: approx. 0.2 - 9.1m (ISO Auto)
Tele: approx. 1.7 - 5.1m (ISO Auto)
|Modes||One shot, Self-timer (2 or 10 sec), Continuous shooting, High-speed continuous shooting (11.1 fps at 5MP size), Interval Shooting, Auto Bracket|
|Face Recognition||Face recognition AF&AE is available at all modes. 32 people at most
Smile Capture and Blink Detection functions
|White Balance||Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten light, Fluorescent light (W, D, N), Manual setting|
|Digital Filter||B&W, Sepia, Colours (6), Extract colour, Colour enhancement, Toy camera, Retro, Soft, Fisheye, Brightness|
Movie: “Shake reduction” - stabilized video
Duration: Depends on memory card capacity
Resolution: HDTV (1280x720), 15/30fps, VGA (640x480) 15/30fps, QVGA (320x240), 15/30 fps
|Options||Small face filter, Slideshow, Histogram, Calendar, Frame composite, Resize, Cropping, Image rotation, Movie edit, Red-eye compensation, Voice recording, Protect, DPOF, Image recovery, Picture selection as Start image, Date printing, Face close up playback|
|Internal||Built-in memory (approx. 31.2MB)|
|External||SD, SDHC memory cards, and Eye-Fi wireless memory cards|
|File Format||Photo: JPEG (Exif 2.2), DCF 2.0, DPOF, PRINT Image Matching III
Video format: AVI (Motion JPEG)
Sound format: WAV (PCM), mono
|Features||World time: 75 cities, 28 time zones|
|Language||English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Greek, Russian, Thai, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese|
|Format||DPOF (Digital Print Order Form)|
|Interface||Micro-HDMI output, USB2.0 (Hi-Speed), PC/AV terminal (PAL, NTSC, mono) and AC power input|
|Source||Rechargeable D-LI106 Lithium-ion battery, Optional AC adapter kit is also available|
|Performance||Still*: Approx. 255 shots (Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery)
Playback**: Approx. 360 min (Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery)
* 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.
|Weight||400g unloaded, 428g loaded and ready (with battery and SD memory card)|
|PC||Microsoft Windows XP SP2, Vista and 7|
|Mac||Mac OS X 10.3.9 or above|
|Included Software||Arcsoft Media Impression 2.0 for PENTAX|
|Kit Content||AV cable, USB cable, AC cord, Li-ion rechargeable battery, battery charger, strap, lens cap and software|
|Optional||Black neoprene case, AC charger kit, battery charger kit|