Pentax Optio A10 Overview
by Dan Havlik
Review Date: 10/27/2006
Compact cameras keep getting more and more compact and few do "compact-ness" better than Pentax. A few years ago, Pentax got a lot of mileage out of a marketing campaign that boasted that its Optio S digital camera was so small it could fit into an Altoids mints tin. And it really could. Now that's small.
While the Pentax Optio A10, introduced earlier this year, may be a wee bit too big to squeeze into a tin of mints, it comes pretty close. That what this camera has to offer is so far beyond what the tiny 3.2-megapixel OptioS had back in 2003 is a testament to how much technology manufacturers have been able to squeeze into their little tin boxes lately. Along with an 8.0-megapixel, 1/1.8-inch CCD image sensor, the Pentax A10 has a 3x optical zoom, a 2.5-inch LCD with plenty of resolution, and a newly developed "Shake Reduction System" which uses two gyro sensors coupled with focusing info and a proprietary CCD shift mechanism to reduce blur caused by camera shake. Though Pentax is not the first manufacturer to include optical image stabilization in a compact digital camera, it's a welcome addition which I hope will one day become ubiquitous in all models.
In keeping with its compact form factor -- less than an inch thick -- the Pentax A10 uses Pentax's Sliding Lens System technology which removes elements from the lens' optical path as it retracts to allow a slimmer profile when the camera is powered off. So while in a head to head comparison, the old OptioS "Altoids model" might be slightly smaller and lighter than the A10, it's no match when it comes to firepower. Read on to find out if all the Pentax A10's firepower can be harnessed to capture quality pictures.
Pentax Optio A10 User Report
by Dan Havlik
Little Metal Box. The Pentax A10 isn't a particularly dazzling camera to look at, but it is tastefully designed, if a little dull. Though it's solidly constructed with a classic style, there's no getting around the fact that this camera is basically just a little metal box with rounded corners. There are some nice touches, though. The exterior is composed of textured aluminum alloy that feels smooth and elegant in your hand. The 12-faceted metal lens ring jazzes up the exterior a bit and Pentax's designers did a good job of blending the connector covers into the Pentax A10 by using fitted metallic polycarbonate around the metal eyelet for the strap so it looks like it's all one piece. Tasteful indeed.
Nice Touch. Pentax's designers did a good job of blending the connector covers into the rest of the camera by melding them with the metal eyelet for the wriststrap.
With dimensions of 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches (89 x 55 x 23 millimeters), the Pentax A10 is the perfect size camera for absently flipping around in your hand when you're waiting to take pictures. Thanks to the aforementioned Pentax Sliding Lens System, nothing sticks out on the A10 when it's powered down, making it ideal for travel or sliding into a coat pocket and toting around town.
Controls are small but logically placed, and anyone who's ever used a digital camera should have no problem figuring out where everything is. The only odd choice is what Pentax calls the "Shake Reduction preview button." Located on top of the camera and identified with a shaky hand symbol, the button doesn't enable Shake Reduction -- that's done with a setting in the menu system -- it just lets you see what the scene will look like with Shake Reduction on. I accidentally kept pressing it every time I wanted shake reduction -- which is just about all the time -- only to realize that it was already on. Ostensibly the button is to help you in photo composition while saving the battery life by not keeping the function on all the time on the LCD, but I just found it confusing.
The Pentax A10 makes up for its absence of an optical viewfinder with a nice 2.5-inch LCD screen packed with 232,000 pixels. Though images look great in playback, the tradeoff is that scrolling through images is slow going, with the screen taking a half -second to bring up each shot before you can proceed to the next one. If you take a lot of pictures, get used to tapping the left side of the zoom rocker to give you a nine-frame selection.
One nice touch that's easy to overlook is the Playback Mode Palette which is accessed by hitting the down button in playback. The Playback Mode Palette will give you a selection of 15 options for playing back your images -- such as slideshow, image rotation, and voice memos -- along with basic editing functions such as trimming, color filters, and red-eye compensation. The Palette, like all menus on this camera, superimposes icons and info over the image on the LCD so you can change settings while framing your subject.
Sluggish Performer. The Pentax A10 is one of the slowest cameras I've tested recently, taking nearly five seconds to power on and two seconds to shut down. Shutter lag was also noticeable, with the camera averaging 1.36 seconds -- according to our tests -- to take a picture with the lens set at the widest angle, and 1.64 seconds when fully zoomed in. Things improved when the camera was prefocused but it is still relatively slow, taking 0.30-second to capture an image.
The Pentax A10 was also very slow shot to shot, taking 2.8 seconds per capture in the Single Shot Mode. There was a marginal increase in speed in the Continuous mode with the camera averaging 2.1 seconds per shot, according to our tests. All in all, this camera was disappointingly slow. I took it to a friend's outdoor wedding, and the camera struggled to keep up with the dancing during the reception. The Sports mode -- which uses a higher shutter speed -- was not much help either, mostly because it features a strange tracking autofocus function that is designed to automatically move the focusing target to lock in a moving subject. In my experience though, it just bounced all over the screen and refused to lock in on the bride and groom as they danced.Hit or Miss Quality.
On the positive side, unlike a lot of consumer cameras on the market, the Pentax A10 did not oversaturate skin tones in its default mode so portraits of people did not have an overly pink cast as on some competing models.Easy to Use. Though it suffered from some speed and image quality issues, the A10, like most of Pentax's consumer models, was very easy to use with a simple menu system and very clear labels in a readable font. Kudos to Pentax for its choice of iconography and navigation in its Mode Palette option. Though the color cartoon icons might be a little cutesy for some, it's very easy to figure out what each one represents.
Battery life on the Optio A10 is below average. Its proprietary Lithium Ion rechargeable battery can record 150 images, according to CIPA standards.
The Bottom Line. The Pentax Optio A10 was a disappointing camera to use. Though its small, solid form factor is perfect for travel, and its specs -- including an 8.0-megapixel image sensor and shake reduction technology -- would suggest this camera should be capable of capturing above-average photos, image results were very hit or miss, especially in low light. The camera was also one of the slowest all-around performers I've used recently, making it very frustrating to shoot with if you're trying to capture anything other than still or slow-moving subjects. If you're looking for a well-performing compact digital camera, there are other models in the Pentax A10's price range that offer better overall performance.
- 8.0-megapixel (effective) CCD captures images as high as 3,264 x 2,448 pixels
- 2.5-inch color TFT LCD with 232,000 pixels of resolution
- 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- Maximum 4x digital zoom
- Green (Basic) and Program main exposure modes
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds
- Maximum aperture from f/2.8 to f/5.4, depending on zoom position
- Built-in flash with six modes
- SD/MMC card storage slot plus 24MB built-in memory
- Power supplied by one proprietary, rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- USB 2.0 high-speed computer connection
- ACDSee software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms
- Built-in Shake Reduction System for reducing image blur
- Sliding Lens System for slimmer camera profile when powered down
- DivX MPEG-4 movie mode (maximum 640 x 480 resolution) with sound
- Anti-shake movie function
- Voice Recording mode
- Normal and Continuous shooting modes
- 11 preset "Scene" exposure modes
- Playback Mode Palette with 15 playback options
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release
- Macro and Super Macro modes
- ISO settings of Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 equivalents (800 only available in Candlelight mode)
- Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments
- White balance (color) adjustment with six options, including a manual setting
- Multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering
- Five Digital Filter modes -- Soft, Illustration, Special Effect 1, Special Effect 2, Slim
- Automatic exposure compensation with manual adjustment at +/-2 EV in 1/3 steps
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Pentax Optio A10 digital camera
- D-LI8 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
- Battery charging stand with AC plug cord
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CD
- Operating manual and registration card
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- Soft camera case
- Additional battery pack
- AC adaptor
On the surface, the Pentax Optio A10 would seem to be the ideal travel camera. With a small, solid, form factor, the A10 is perfect for stuffing into a travel bag or coat pocket and hitting the road. It also boasts a large 2.5-inch LCD with 232,000 pixels of resolution for excellent image playback that's great for sharing shots with friends. On paper at least, the camera would also seem to have enough firepower -- including an eight-megapixel image sensor and a Shake Reduction System for reducing image blur -- to produce decent images. Unfortunately, however, those specs did not translate to great image quality in my testing. Many shots I took were surprisingly soft with much image noise when set to anything above ISO 200. Chromatic aberration, including purple fringing turned up quite a bit in shots taken in high contrast situations such as trees against a sky. While the Shake Reduction System worked well for still or slow moving images in average shooting conditions, it failed to reduce blur in even moderately low-light settings when zooming. In general, moving objects were difficult to keep in focus even when using the Pentax A10's Sport Mode, which uses an unusual and largely ineffective tracking autofocus function.
The Pentax A10 was also one of the slowest compact models I've tried in recent months. For starters, while images looked great on the camera's high-resolution LCD, scrolling through them on the screen is a very slow process that I found so frustrating I quickly sought out the 9-frame playback setting so I could speed through shots quicker. The slow scroll speed, unfortunately, carries over to almost all aspects of the camera. In our speed tests, the Pentax A10 fared poorly overall with a slow start-up speed, noticeable shutter lag even when pre-focusing, and abysmal shot-to-shot speed even when the camera was in Continuous mode.
On the positive side, skin tones appeared very natural in images captured with the Pentax A10 and, like most of Pentax's compact models, it was very easy to use with a clearly marked and enjoyable menu interface. The Pentax A10's Cons, however, greatly outnumber its Pros which is why I cannot make this camera a Dave's Pick.