Pentax Optio T30 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 11/27/07
The Pentax Optio T30 features a seven megapixel CCD image sensor, coupled to an SMC Pentax-branded 3x optical zoom lens. Announced alongside the Optio M30, the Pentax T30 has the higher specification of the two models. Priced at $349.95, the Pentax T30's standout feature has to be its 3.0-inch touch-screen LCD display with a higher-than-average resolution of 230,000 pixels. The Optio T30 also has more sophisticated metering, with choices of multi-segment, center-weighted or spot modes.
ISO ranges from 64 to 400 under automatic control, with the ability to extend this to a maximum of ISO 1,600 in manual mode (and ISO 3,200 in what Pentax dubs "Digital SR" mode). Images are stored in 19.9MB of built-in memory, or on Secure Digital cards (including the newer SDHC type). The Pentax Optio T30 started shipping in the USA from March 2007.
Pentax Optio T30 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. Pentax has a way of reducing a camera to its essentials and the Optio T30 is a good example. Take one look at it and you know exactly what to do.
The Pentax T30 is an ultra compact, which is lighter than most, but it still has a substantial (and reassuring) heft. The front of the Pentax T30 is almost all lens and the back is almost all LCD. There are only two buttons on the back, in fact, because the LCD is touch sensitive. On top there's just the Shutter button with Zoom collar and the Power button. Nothing extraneous.
All the complexity is built in, which makes the Pentax T30 a pretty friendly companion wherever you take it. It's small enough -- and handsome enough -- to take anywhere. And when you get there, you'll appreciate the Pentax T30's more unusual features, like the Memo Pad. Pentax claims the T30 has Face Recognition autofocus, but I saw no evidence of it.
Design. The simplicity of the Optio's exterior design is just a reflection of the camera's functional design. The aluminum alloy body sports chrome highlights for the finger grip on the front and around the SMC Pentax zoom lens, which is actually set off-center from the telescoping barrel.
The eyelet for the wrist strap is chrome, too, and easy to thread, which isn't always the case. Above the eyelet, a chrome flap reveals the USB port. Below it, a matching chrome flap protects the DC-In port. The speaker and a plastic tripod socket join the battery/memory card compartment on the bottom. The cover for that compartment can be tricky to open. Sometimes, I didn't slide it far enough out and it didn't completely open. Give it a good push.
But the real charm of the T30 is the back panel, which is almost entirely devoted to the touch screen. There is a Playback button and a Menu button, but you won't need them much. You will spend some time on the small thumb indent, though, which helps provide a secure grip.
The telescoping lens extends about 3/4 inch from the body about as fast as other telescoping lenses. I didn't find it annoyingly slow, nor very quick. I was comfortable turning the camera on and off to save battery power. Pentax estimates battery performance based on CIPA-compliant standards to be about 200 shots. That's plenty for me, but not a lot compared to other cameras. There is a reason, however: That touch sensitive screen.
Display/Viewfinder. The LCD that shows you what the lens sees is also the control interface. Measuring 3.0 inches diagonally, it's clearly more spacious than a 2.5-inch screen. But it also has a resolution of 230,000 pixels, currently the common limit. Unfortunately, onscreen type doesn't take advantage of that resolution, appearing as blocky as a 154K display. That may be to conserve space in firmware.
Like all LCDs, its a very accurate rendering of what the lens sees. At wide angle, you see 102 percent and at telephoto 98 percent of the captured image.
It's also usable (just barely) in bright sun. Some LCDs simply aren't. But the T30's LCD does render the scene visible, although that visibility is greatly diminished. Fortunately, the menu system uses a white character outlined in black to heighten the contrast and is fairly easily made out in direct sun. But I never had to shade the LCD to see what it was showing. In that regard, it's better than most.
Performance. Our usual round of performance figures showed the Pentax T30 scoring average marks for startup and shutdown, below average on autofocus lag but above average on prefocus lag, with an average cycle time between shots (See the Performance tab for actual numbers).
The flash recycled quickly (but it isn't a very powerful flash to begin with). The flash can reach to 19.7 feet at wide angle with ISO set to 400 but just 9.8 feet at ISO 400 when at full telephoto. Our flash tests at ISO 100 show generally weak telephoto illumination even at six feet, but at wide angle the Pentax T30 can illuminate well to 9 feet.
The Pentax T30's 3x optical zoom is par for the course while it weighs in less than most. Zoom isn't seamless (it shifts gears to get into digital zoom) but it is smooth and responsive so you can easily compose your shots. The SMC lens does not have much macro capability, however. Our macro test shots are unusually disappointing with a minimum focus area of a rather large 2.22 x 2.96 inches.
Download speeds were just average, transferring at USB 1.1 speeds.
But the feature that separates the T30 from its competitors is its touch screen. Let's take a closer look at that.
Touch Screen. My obscure little bank has offered a very efficient color touch screen on its ATMs for years now. I can get through a transaction in less time than when I use any other ATM system and its buttons.
My first experience with a camera touch screen was with Kodak's EasyShare One. The 3.0-inch LCD was sensitive to either a finger or the built-in stylus and was cleverly programmed to draw the screen rather than dump bitmap displays of menus. As far as the touch screen went, the One did a nice job.
The Optio T30 is very sensitive, too. Your finger will do. But there the similarity ends.
The menus are drawn very crudely, probably to save firmware memory. The squares imitating buttons are large but the layout is without design. Pentax calls it a toolbar, but that's because they're just strung out across the screen. In short, while it's functional, it's ugly.
I didn't find it particularly functional either, though.
Without a physical navigator button, I had a very hard time trying to discover how to slip into Macro mode. Maybe, I told myself, the lens switches into Macro automatically. Nope. My close-up shots, even in Auto Scene mode were all blurry using that presumption.
I had to resort to the manual (which should be a 15-yard personal foul on a touchscreen). There I discovered that a tap on the shooting screen would bring up the Capture menu, where, under the AF button (the focus button showing the camera is in autofocus mode), I'd find the Macro option. Compare that to a navigator arrow button toggle.
The labsters, in contrast, really liked the touch interface. Luke noted, "The first touch screen I've seen that's actually faster and easier than buttons, at least for the commonly accessed functions. It is responsive and the menus are arranged well and they are mostly consistent in operation."
Yes, it's responsive (and there certainly are some un-pressable buttons out there) but I found the hierarchy of menus obscure even after working with it for a while. Where's EV? How do I set White Balance? After the Kodak Easy-Share One, I was really expecting not just more eye candy, but more efficiency, too.
The confusing thing about the interface may be its two buttons. To get to EV or White Balance, you have to hit the Menu button, not double tap the screen. Of course, you have to understand which screen icon to hit after that (obscurely named Rec. Mode 1 and Rec. Mode 2) before you see them. That's just bad design.
Charger. Rob found a design issue with the charger, too. "The charger supplied with this camera will let you put the battery in upside down and not charge the battery! Most charger/battery combos have a protection against this. You could put a battery in the charger and walk away and come back to an uncharged battery. The charge indicator will not glow if the battery is inserted wrong, but its easy to miss. The charger will actually let you insert the battery four different ways, only one is correct!"
You can find the correct one by matching the icons on the battery with the icons on the charger. But you shouldn't have to look. A battery should only go into a charger one way.
Focus Options. The Pentax T30 has a couple of notable focusing options besides the common autofocus. In Portrait mode it recognizes and will focus on faces, also setting the exposure for the faces, though it's a little slow at times. Digital zoom can't be used in Portrait mode (although why you'd want to is another question).
Face detection is increasingly common, but manual focus, which the Pentax T30 also supports, is rather rare. When you set the Pentax T30 to Manual Focus, the screen displays a Adjustable MF Guide (a box in the middle of the screen). Tap inside the box and Left and Right arrows will appear to let you adjust focus. Press the Shutter button halfway to return to the particular capture mode you've selected.
Another nice touch is that you can save settings like the Focus mode in memory so when you power up the camera the next time, it remembers how you set it. Drive mode, Focus mode, Zoom position, manual focus position, white balance, AE metering, ISO, EV, and Display mode can all be saved. Flash mode, Digital Zoom setting, and File Number setting are always remembered.
Shooting. The Pentax T30 is such a novelty, I couldn't wait to get out of the bunker and take some shots with it. I found a small group of dahlias nearby and went to work. That's when I discovered I had no idea where the Macro function was and Auto Scene mode wasn't going to detect it. Still I got some colorful shots at ISO 64.
The detail from the 7.1 megapixel sensor was a little disappointing. The purple dahlia actually has an insect at its center and it isn't sharp. Nor are the petals. Did the shot suffer from camera shake or a breeze? Not at 1/500 second.
When I did find Macro mode, I used ISO 3,200 to capture a keyboard in dim light and at wide angle. I liked the color rendering of the shot but there was a lot of noise in the monochrome subject. The Pentax T30 really doesn't have the kind of macro capability most digicams have.
You can take the thing anywhere, though, and I did. I took it with me to Berkeley one day, catching a farmers' market and an unusual sidewalk on Addison. Those shots have a natural color, not oversaturated, that I found very pleasing.
And not just the color, but there was surprising sharpness in the bottles of olive oil where even the type on the bottle caps was quite distinct.
Digital zoom was another disappointment. The image is resized to the full resolution of the sensor even though only a crop is being captured. That accounts for the soft detail in our downtown shot. The camera will bump up ISO to avoid camera shake (digital image stabilization) but our distant shots were all taken at ISO 64.
To get a feel for high ISO shooting, we went into the garage and shot the interior of the Rumbalino. We couldn't get a good macro shot of the stick shift knob, but we did get nice shots of the engine compartment and dash at ISO 400. A shot of the shift stick at ISO 800 exhibited plenty of noise but the detail was sharp.
Voice Memos. I'm a big fan of voice memos (well, in theory). And it really isn't too much to ask of any camera with a microphone. The T30 does have a Voice Memo mode and it records when you press the Shutter button. You stop recording by pressing the Shutter button a second time. Since the mic is on the front of the camera, I turned it to face me and recorded some samples.
Playback was really quiet, but that's the way I like to be reminded of things. In a whisper. There is a volume control but it really doesn't jack the sound up very much at full throttle.
Jot a Note. The T30's touch screen, like the mic, also provides a note taking capability. You can draw on the screen and record the image as a memo. While you can use your finger, your drawing with the stylus will make your notes look like you have attended an institute of higher learning. I also tried the plastic tip of a retracted ball point pen (only the plastic of the pen touched the screen) and that worked fine.
You can adjust the width and softness of the line by tapping the Line Selection tool that appears in the toolbar in this mode. You can also select from among 12 colors, and you can restrict your line to straight lines or dotted lines or curved lines.
There's also an eraser on the toolbar (although its icon resembles a paint bucket) so you an clean up your doodles.
But wait, there's even more! You can do this in Playback mode, too -- on an actual image. So you can circle things, point to others, include a note, even a bubble caption.
Performance is not Wacom-fast, but if you scribble slowly, the camera can keep up with you. Normal handwriting will outrun it, though.
One of the annotated gallery shots is also a demonstration of the built-in image editing that can impose a fish-eye effect. You're looking at a light bulb not a lava lamp. You could have fun with that, no doubt.
It almost makes you wonder when someone is going to develop a pocket-size Photoshop so you can do a little retouching on the way back to the studio.
Movie Mode. There are a few options in Movie Mode, ranging from quality 640x480 at 30 fps to 15 fps and 320x160 at either 30 or 15 fps. There are also three quality settings (compression levels) and three color modes (full color, black and white, sepia).
You can zoom but only using digital zoom and the small microphone does pick up wind, as our sample clip shows.
There are a few editing functions worth noting, too. You can divide a movie into two clips, stitch together two movies, and save a still image from a movie clip.
Appraisal. The Pentax Optio T30 is an attractive camera, with a unique touchscreen interface. Unfortunately, though the menu is responsive, it's not entirely logical, nor does it make items like EV compensation easy to set. Image quality is just okay, and not up to the standard we're seeing from other 7.1-megapixel digital cameras. If the lens were a little better in the corners, we'd be able to let that slide, since the Pentax T30 is able to produce decent 11x14-inch prints except for the noticeable softening in the corners at that size. Macro mode is really lacking as well. Finally, it's one of the slower cameras we've reviewed in awhile, with a very long power-on time of 3.38 seconds and full autofocus lag times hovering around one second. It's not a bad camera exactly, and it's certainly attractive and small, but it's not the best digital camera on the market either.
- 7.1 megapixel CCD
- 3x optical zoom with 4x digital zoom
- 37.5 to 112.5 35mm zoom equivalent
- Focus range from 1.31 feet to infinity and 0.49 to 1.64 feet in Macro at wide angle
- Maximum aperture of f/2.7 to f/5.2
- Shutter speed 1/2,000 to 4 seconds
- Ultra compact aluminum body
- 3-inch touch LCD with 230,000 pixels
- PictBridge compatible
- Auto ISO to 400 with full resolution ISO up to 3,200
- Metering: TTL, multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot
- EV compensation from +2.0 to -2.0 EV in 1/3 steps
- White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual/Custom
- Self-timer with 2- and 10-second options
- Touch screen user interface
- Digital Shake Reduction mode selects higher ISO
- Manual and automatic Macro focusing
- 19.9MB internal memory with SD/SDHC removable memory
- Scene modes: Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Movie, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Digital SR, Surf & Snow, Sport, Pet, Kids, Frame Composite (3MP), Food, Text, Voice Recording
- Lots of special effects (like the fish-eye effect)
In the Box
The Optio T30 ships with the following items in the box:
- Optio T30 digital camera
- USB Cable I-USB7
- AV Cable I-AVC7
- Rechargeable Battery D-LI63
- Battery Charger D-BC63(A)
- AC Plug Cord D-CO2U
- Strap O-ST20, Stylus Pen O-SP63
- Software S-SW63
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- Remote control
Attractive as it is, the Pentax Optio T30 had too many image quality issues to earn a strong buy recommendation. It has a good 7.1 megapixel sensor, a 3x zoom, a 3-inch LCD, and high ISO capability, and a touchscreen menu system. But it's hard to say if the touch screen in just a novelty or a useful tool. The ability to add annotations to images with the stylus does give it a boost if that kind of function is useful to you, but I do wonder just how many people will use it more than once, if at all.
I liked the way the T30 handled color: Naturally, without oversaturation; unfortunately that also included undersaturation and a bias toward cooler color rendition. Lack of a good Macro mode was a bit of a disappointment, making my flower shots that much harder to get, and the flash is a little weak, even for a pocket camera. So while it's good to look at and slips into a pocket well, the Pentax Optio T30 is just about two years behind in terms of overall optical quality, a disappointment from Pentax, whose SLR optics are quite good. We won't say it's a bad buy, but there are better choices.