Pentax X70 Review
The Pentax X70 is the first super-zoom camera from Pentax, sporting a 24x zoom lens with a versatile focal range of 26-624mm. The 12 megapixel X70's telephoto setting can even be extended to an incredible 3900mm using the Intelligent Zoom function. An image-sensor-shift shake reduction system helps to combat the inevitable camera-shake, while the X70 also offers continuous shooting up to 11 frames per second (at 5 megapixels), 1280x720 pixel HD movies, a 2.7-inch LCD monitor, ISO 100-6400, 1cm macro setting, and Aperture-Priority AE, Shutter-Priority AE and Metered Manual modes. Available in black, the Pentax X70 is available now for around £370 / $399.
Ease of Use
Despite releasing an impressive run of cameras - particularly the K-7 and K-m - somehow Pentax's products have failed to stay long in the collective consciousness. Will its first big digital zoom in the misleadingly named X70 (this is actually a 24x zoom model) - joining the ranks of very similar 'bridge' models from Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony et al - be the one to receive both critical plaudits and actual real-world sales?
Mirroring a smaller form factor digital SLR in its design and layout, first thoughts are that the 12 megapixel Pentxa X70 is surprisingly (but not unpleasantly) lightweight - partly due to the inclusion of a slender lithium ion rechargeable battery for power, rather than the four standard AAs often supplied with this class of camera - and is comfortable to hold.
There's sufficient space for your three lower fingers to intuitively curl around the large rubberized grip to the right, while a pad at the rear falls under the thumb of your right hand, enabling the camera to be held fairly steadily in just the one hand; that is unless the 26-624mm equivalent lens is fully extended, whereby gripping in both feels both more logical and sensible. As our sample images show, it is however possible to get usable shots without the aid of a tripod, provided there's sufficient light and you take two captures of everything. There's a further digital zoom option that extends the range to an equivalent 3900mm which is more something for the spec sheet than a practical option.
If we've an initial grumble it's that the camera is a little plastic-y in both look and feel, and despite its sophisticated all-black finish doesn't disguise this fact as well as a similarly priced entry level DSLR. Incidentally, the lens tubing extends some 6.5cm from its protective housing at maximum telephoto setting, whereupon the camera begins to resemble less a photographer's tool, more a plumber's. The extremities of the lens also feel a little loose and vulnerable; you certainly wouldn't want to accidentally knock or drop the camera in this state.
Luckily, the Pentax X70 is otherwise fairly solidly constructed, and unlike we found on our recent test of Nikon's D3000 DSLR, the electronic viewfinder's eye relief on the X70 sticks out sufficiently proud of the rest of the body to avoid your nose grazing the LCD screen below as you bring an eye level. There's also enough space provided on the camera layout for buttons and controls to 'breathe', with no fiddly fingernail-precision operation required. Crucially the unassuming looking X70 is a more portable option for those wanting a long lens reach without the usual attendant bulk - and, while not cheap, costs a great deal less than a starter DSLR with a similar telephoto lens would.
Practical considerations aside, the Pentxa X70 doesn't stint as regards on-board features. Alongside that broad focal range, potential users are offered up to 11 frames per second continuous shooting (up to 21 sequential JPEGs) - whereby, as a trade off, resolution drops to five megapixels - plus HD movies (at 1280x720 pixels rather than the Full HD 1920x1080), 1cm macro option and a choice of 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 image ratios. There's also 'proper' CCD sensor shift shake reduction - gyro sensors detect external movement and vibrate the chip to compensate - essential obviously when shooting at the extremities of the zoom, or in low light, where light sensitivity settings extending up to ISO 6400 in theory also come in useful.
From the front then the Pentxa X70 resembles a basic, frill-free DSLR, face-plate dominated by its Pentax branded lens, top right of which (viewed lens-on) is a button to activate the spring-loaded pop-up flash. Left of the optic we discover a porthole for the bright orange AF assist/self timer lamp, beneath which is a narrow slit housing the built in microphone; nothing out of the ordinary here then.
Up on the top plate, set into an L-shaped metal panel, we find the catch for operating the zoom encircling the large and springy shutter release button, which there is no mistaking. The zoom itself is quick and response, travelling through its gargantuan range from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto in just over a couple of seconds. It can be a little tricky therefore to pinpoint your framing completely accurately, and usually involves tabbing back and forwards in baby steps to arrive at the desired composition.
Just set back from these controls is a dedicated exposure compensation button offering a compact range of +/- 2EV, settings selected via a twist of the DSLR-like command dial at the rear. Behind which again is the on/off button, partially recessed into the bodywork to prevent accidental activation. Press this and, again like a DSLR, the camera powers up from cold almost instantaneously, rear LCD bursting into life and lens extending to maximum wide-angle setting. Go on to press the shutter release button and within three seconds of pressing the power switch you can be capturing your first image, with little in the way of noticeable shutter delay. There is a degree of picture control in that the user can choose whether to give image a bright, natural or monochrome look - the first option producing the better defined results.
The largest control on the Pentxa X70's top plate is logically its shooting mode dial, featuring the usual suspects of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, alongside pre-optimised scene modes, a point-and-shoot auto picture function, the aforementioned video mode, user setting, sports mode and digital image stabilization option which automatically bumps up the ISO as necessary. The control itself provides just the right amount of 'give'; that is it can turned to a chosen setting with a definitive click and won't accidentally slip between settings when transported in a camera bag.
At the back users get a choice of composing and reviewing shots via the main 2.7-inch, 230k-dot resolution LCD monitor or, if sunshine stops play, electronic viewfinder directly above, with a button provided for quickly switching between them. Shame then that the larger screen cannot also be angled or tilted for a greater range of photo taking possibilities. A press of the similarly sized button marked 'display' to the right of the viewfinder either adds a histogram and other key settings (selected white balance, image quality, compression level and metering option) to the on-screen info, calls up a nine zone compositional grid, or wipes it clean of any distractions.
To the right of this is the previously mentioned command dial, which, when shooting in program mode can be used to alter shutter speed and aperture on the fly. When reviewing images it also acts as a way of zooming into and enlarging image segments with a twist to the right, whilst scrolling the dial to the left calls up images on the card or internal 33.6MB memory as a series of thumbnails.
The rest of the buttons and pads on the Pentxa X70's backp late pretty much function as illustrated. Directly beneath this, top right of the LCD, is a button emblazoned with a self-explanatory smiley face for invoking the X70's face priority and/or smile capture functions, and below this the familiar playback button. Happily, if you're reviewing images when a photo opportunity presents itself, a half press of the shutter release button will throw you back into image capture mode, thus providing a more seamless transition.
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A four way control pad is also just as you'd expect to find on a camera of this ilk, centrally placed 'OK' button surrounded by a means of variously adjusting flash, close up mode, self timer, flash and, with top dial at the 'scene' position, calling up the 20 scene modes on offer which, showing the Pentax's possible family appeal, include babies, kids and pets alongside the more regular landscape and portrait mode variants. Said button also calls up the playback modes when in that operational setting, which include the ability to add a range of digital filter effects to images (sepia, black and white, fish eye, soft focus), as well as the more regular rotating, cropping and re-sizing.
The last two equally comfortably sized buttons on the Pentxa X70's back are for menu - a press of which brings up four record and three set up folders, options overlaying the handily still visible image on screen in white text - and user friendly, photographic option-reducing 'green' mode for the more inexperienced. Press this and all ability to change key camera settings is disabled; meaning it can in theory be handed to the mother in law and the kids without the device doing something untoward.
While the right hand side of the camera is given over to the grip and eyelet for attaching a strap, the left hand flank of the camera - as viewed from the rear - features a built in speaker, just below which is a rubber flap protecting standard ports for USB and AV connectivity. There's no HDMI out option or cabling provided to hook the X70 up to an HDTV set however.
The base of the Pentxa X70 features a screw thread for attaching it to a tripod, next to which is a shared compartment for battery and SD or SDHC media, protected by a door with lockable catch, slid open with strong fingernails. While design, layout and operation is reasonably streamlined, less impressive is a battery life of just 170 shots from a full charge; in practice juice levels were running low after just a weekend's use, meaning this isn't the greatest choice of travel companion. A pity, as its compositional versatility would be a boon for both city and country touring.