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Pentax Z10 Overview

Review Date: 04/23/08

The Pentax Optio Z10 features a Pentax-branded 7x optical zoom lens, the highest magnification among current Pentax compact digital cameras. Designed with a refraction lens system, the lens never protrudes from the camera while zooming. The Pentax Z10's 7x optical zoom covers a broad range, from a rather tight wide-angle 38mm-equivalent to a moderate 266mm equivalent telephoto. The lens is coupled with an eight-megapixel sensor and a 2.5-inch LCD display that has 230,000 pixels. As is common on many digicams these days, this LCD is the sole method of framing images, as the Optio Z10 forgoes any form of optical viewfinder.

Other Pentax Z10 features include 15 shooting modes, high speed face recognition for improved portraits, digital Shake Reduction that allows ISO to 3,200 to capture sharper images even in low light settings, a unique Digital Wide function that converts two images into an approximately 28mm-equivalent wide-angle image, and FotoNation's red-eye compensation function for flash shots.

Power for the Pentax Z10 comes from a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery or optional AC adapter, and the camera stores images on SD/SDHC cards or 52MB of built-in memory. There's also USB 2.0 High-Speed computer connectivity and NTSC / PAL video out to let you see your photos or movies on a television.

Priced at US$249.95, the Pentax Optio Z10 shipped starting in September 2007.

 

Pentax Z10 User Report

by J. Allen Mullins with Shawn Barnett

Straight out of the box, the Pentax Z10 is reminiscent of the subcompacts of yesteryear, but not just because it has a sliding lens cover that also serves as the power trigger. Though it has a folded optic, its 7x optical zoom is impressive, as is its complement of hot features: Face Detection, digital image stabilization, and high ISO, plus a new digital wide mode. It is not without its flaws, however, with an unusual amount of pincushion at telephoto.

Look and Feel. A low-luster matte-black finish makes this 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 inch (94 x 58 x 25mm), digital camera pretty discrete visually, if a little thick physically. Weighing just 5.1 ounces (145g) with battery and SD memory card, the Pentax Z10 is certainly light. The chrome trim around the Pentax Z10's body adds a little contrast to what might otherwise have been a boring casing; unfortunately, it also collects finger smudges with each contact, as does the rest of the camera's surface.

Controls. Good buttons, but clustered a little tightly for all but smaller hands.

Grip and controls. Its surface is also very slick, so while it's light, it's also hard to hold. The small chrome nub on the lens door does less than the camera's overall thickness to establish a grip, and that's not much either, so make sure to attach the wrist strap to this slick little number.

The controls are simple, so there really isn't much need to look at the manual. A few minutes of examination and anyone who has owned a digital in the past can pick up the Pentax Z10 and start shooting. Everything you need is at your right thumb and index finger. Controls are a little cramped for medium to large hands, but the buttons are just firm enough to resist accidental activation in normal use.

The four navigator buttons serve as Drive, Macro, Mode, and Flash mode buttons. Press them once to bring up a mode's menu, then either press it repeatedly to cycle through the available modes, or use the other arrow keys to select your mode of choice.

LCD viewfinder. The Pentax Z10's only viewfinder is the 2.5-inch LCD, and it's pretty accurate at wide angle, though a little tight at telephoto. It's got 230K pixel resolution, and a wide 170 degree viewing angle.

Lens. Its 7x optical zoom paired with an 8-megapixel sensor is sufficient for 11x14-inch prints, but not without some distortion, chromatic aberration, and corner softness, unfortunately. The latter two items are not uncommon in cameras of this size, but the distortion is a little more than we're used to seeing.

Lens. A folded optical design does not protrude from the camera, yet this model is capable of zooming in to 266mm equivalent.

The lens covers a 38 - 266mm equivalent range. Though that's not a very wide-angle setting, the zoom is something to appreciate in such a small package. Zoom action is pretty fast, with many steps, with none of the usual change of framing as the lens refocuses when you stop zooming. That should be a feature on the spec sheet, if you ask us.

The Pentax Z10's lens cover yields gradually, but smoothly to a pull to the right, feeling essentially identical to the original Sony T-1's sliding lens cover. It's a pleasure to open, with a feel of quality that makes you appreciate the design more.

The zoom remembers what setting you were at when you powered the camera down and returns you to that position, unless you disable the function under Memory in the menu. You can adjust 11 other memory options as well, including Flash, Drive, Focus, Manual Focus, White Balance, ISO, EV Compensation, AE metering, Details Zoom, Display mode, and File number.

Though it may sound impressive that the Pentax Z10 has Digital Shake Reduction, all that means is that the camera automatically raises the ISO when light is too low for a fast enough shutter speed. It is not optical or sensor-shift shake reduction, which is far more effective, without the burden of increased noise.

Interface. The menu is easy to navigate. Within the sub-pages you can customize sounds, set your language preferences, date and time, and even do some tweaking on white balance, light metering, and focus preferences. 

Record mode and menus

Playback mode and menus

Face Detect mode

Various mode settings will "pre-set" the camera to flatter your particular subject: Full-auto, Program, Night scene, Landscape, Flower, Natural Skin Tone, Surf & Snow, Sports, Kids, Pets, and Food. The Pentax Z10 of course records video, but it also has a voice recording mode. 

Pressing the Drive mode button will give you choices between Self-timer, Continuous shooting (both high- and low-speed), and Standard drive modes. The Continuous shooting mode captures only 0.49 frames per second, which means that it captures a frame every two seconds. It only takes two seconds to clear the buffer after 20 frames, but that's not really a surprise considering the slow capture rate. High-speed shooting mode delivers 3 frames per second for four frames, but it also chokes your image down from 8 megapixels to 3; while 3 megapixels is enough to print an 8x10, it's still a 5-megapixel loss in quality.

Full-autofocus shutter lag is on the slower side as well, clocking in at 0.72 second at wide angle, and 0.77 second at telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag, when you half-press the shutter, however, is pretty fast at 0.15 second. In Continuous AF mode, performance is a little faster at 0.49 second.

Rounding out the speed analysis is the slow download speed via USB 2.0. It's a little faster than USB 1.1, but not much, at 1,434KB/second.

Battery life is below average, with the typical charge yielding about 180 shots. Just enough to shoot during the day, and to charge it back up at night while on vacation, but insufficient for average video use and a good set of snapshots. A spare battery will be necessary.

The Pentax Z10 is equipped with a flash, a typically small one at that. When the flash is active, the camera dials up the ISO to increase flash range, resulting in a noisy image. The flash takes about 4.7 seconds to recharge after a full-power shot, which is pretty good.

Pentax Z10 Image Quality

Color intensity is sub-par and color shift seems to be a little greater than normal. Yellow leans yellow-green and reds lean orange; purples and blues are pretty punchy though. 

The low-light shooting capabilities are okay for normal, street-lit city night scenes. You will still need a tripod to cure the blur resulting from the slow shutter speed required to properly expose the image.

The white balance presets are generally pretty good, but the full-auto setting has some issues dealing with household lighting. Even the most expensive DSLRs have trouble with this, so it's not uncommon; but there are better performers. The incandescent preset gets it close, but slightly over-corrects and throws a bluish cast upon the image. 

Noise is present with the higher ISO settings required to shoot in low-light or at faster speeds. Compared to other compact consumer cams it's average; hold it to the standards Pentax has set in the past, and it is among their best to date.

Printed results. We don't place as much value on how an image looks when blown up to 100% on a computer screen. It's cameras like the Pentax Z10 that reinforce our decision to give printed image performance heavy weight on overall image quality. Though we're not as impressed with the onscreen image performance at 100%, the printed results are quite good. The 8.0-megapixel images can produce very sharp ISO 64 and 100 11x14-inch prints, and even 13x19-inch prints don't look bad. ISO 400 shots can produce a competent 8x10, and even ISO 1,600 shots turn in a decent 5x7. Colors are indeed a little shifted, and they start to fade a little bit as ISO rises, but it's not too bad.

See the Optics and Exposure tabs for more on the Pentax PZ10's image quality.

Appraisal. Though it has no manual control and is a little thicker than some, the Pentax PZ10 is quite simple to use and does a good job at all but the highest ISO setting. Its interface is straightforward, and its zoom is smooth and accurate, without a lot of fiddling to get the right framing.

Pincushion distortion at telephoto is a bit off-putting, bending straight lines unnaturally. That's not surprising considering the long zoom, but it's also unappealing.

So while we were impressed with the print quality, the zoom mechanism, and like the idea of a 7x zoom in such a small package, the pincushion distortion prevents a strong recommendation.

 

Pentax Z10 Basic Features

 

Pentax Z10 Special Features

 

In the Box

The Pentax Z10 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Pentax Z10 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Small, light
  • 15 shooting modes
  • Nice sliding lens cover
  • Face recognition
  • Long telephoto zoom for a small camera
  • Good sharpness at wide angle and tele
  • Easy menu navigation
  • Good printed results
  • Somewhat thick
  • Cramped controls on back
  • Slick and hard to hold
  • Collects fingerprints
  • Color hue is shifted
  • High pincushion distortion at telephoto
  • Digital Shake Reduction really isn't
  • Small, low power flash
  • Auto flash boosts ISO to 800
  • High chromatic aberration at wide angle
  • Poor auto white balance performance under incandescent light
  • Noise and noise suppression at the lowest ISO
  • Slow startup time
  • Below-average battery life
  • Slow continuous mode

 

With a slick lens cover protecting a 7x zoom in a pocket-size camera, and face detection in the mix, the Pentax Z10 has a few interesting features to line its spec sheet, but by and large it's a pretty ordinary digital camera offering. It has 15 shooting modes, an easy menu, and a simple interface with moderately small buttons. Performance is not remarkable, but not bad either. Corner sharpness is respectable, but pincushion at telephoto is extreme to a fault. The zoom control is well-behaved, however -- a welcome surprise -- because it zooms and stays put, unlike others that zoom, stop, refocus, and significantly reframe. Printed results are also respectable, turning out good quality 11x14-inch prints up to ISO 200, and ISO 1,600 permits decent 4x6-inch prints. The Pentax Z10 is a decent little camera, but it isn't a top pick.