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Pentax RZ18

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Pentax Optio RZ18 Overview

Posted: 09/12/2011

The second model in the company's RZ series of long-zoom cameras, the Pentax RZ18 includes an even more powerful lens than the preceding RZ10 model, with a whopping 18x optical zoom on offer. Pentax is targeting the RZ18 at two main groups: photographers seeking a relatively compact camera whose lens reach won't feel restrictive (such as travel and nature photographers), and those who need a powerful telephoto to get them closer to the action (spectator sports and action photography). With 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from a useful 25mm wide angle to an impressive 450mm telephoto on offer, the Pentax RZ18 provides a zoom range that an interchangeable-lens camera would require several lenses to cover, so the potential for lightening your load when traveling is significant.

The Pentax Optio RZ18's zoom lens has actual focal lengths ranging from 4.5 to 81.0mm, and its maximum aperture varies from f/3.5 to f/5.9 across the zoom range. The lens design features twelve elements (four aspherics) in eleven groups. Importantly, given the reach of its zoom, the Pentax RZ18 includes true mechanical, sensor-shift type image stabilization. The RZ18 also provides software deblurring and can further use high ISO sensitivities to freeze camera and subject motion.. It also offers a movie-only stabilization mode that increases effective focal lengths somewhat, so as to provide free space around the capture area of the sensor, and then automatically moves the capture area so as to provide a steadier movie stream.

Behind its powerful zoom lens, the Pentax RZ18 places a 1/2.33-inch type, 4:3 aspect ratio, RGB CCD image sensor with an effective resolution of 16 megapixels (16.56 megapixels total). The maximum resolution for still images is 4,608 x 3,456 pixels, and the Pentax RZ18 also offers a 16:9 aspect ratio mode with resolutions as high as 4,608 x 2,592 pixels, plus a 1:1 aspect ratio mode offering 3,456 x 3,456 pixel images. Although we don't yet have information on the RZ18's continuous burst shooting rate, we do know that it retains a reduced resolution, five megapixel burst mode offering a choice of three rates. The RZ18 can also record standard or high definition movies, with monaural audio. The RZ18's movies are recorded at either 15 or 30 frames per second, at 720p (1,280 x 720), VGA (640 x 480), or QVGA (320 x 240) resolution.

On its rear panel, the Pentax RZ18 offers up a 3.0-inch TFT LCD display with wide viewing angles, and a resolution of approximately 153,000 pixels (460,000 dots, with each pixel comprising adjacent red, green, and blue dots). This display serves as the sole interface between camera and user, with the Pentax RZ18 not offering any form of optical or electronic viewfinder.

As well as a Program mode, the Pentax RZ18 offers a generous selection of 21 scene modes that help users tailor the look of their images, as well as an Auto Picture mode that automatically selects from a subset of 16 common scene types, as the camera deems appropriate to the subject. For creative types, there are also a selection of post-exposure digital filter modes on offer, including B&W, Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color, Extract Color, Color Emphasis, High Contrast, Starburst, Soft, Brightness, and Miniature filters.

Direct control over shutter speeds or apertures isn't available on the RZ18. Exposures are determined using multi-segment metering by default, with center-weighted and spot metering modes also available. 2.0 EV of exposure compensation is available in 1/3 EV steps. ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 1,600 equivalents at full resolution, while 3,200 to 6,400 equivalents are available at five megapixel resolution or below. Available shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds, depending on operating mode. Six white balance modes are available, including Auto, Manual, and four presets. A built-in six-mode flash is included, although we don't yet have any information on working range or recycle time. A digital panorama function can automatically stitch two megapixel images in-camera to create a final panoramic image with a minimum of fuss, and a D-Range Adjustment setting works to combat blown highlights or blocked shadows.

The Pentax RZ18 uses contrast detection autofocusing, and includes a face detection feature which can recognize up to 32 faces within the image frame in just 0.03 seconds. In addition to using this information to take account of your subjects' faces when determining focus and exposure variables, this is also used to provide both a smile shutter function that captures an image when your subject is smiling, and a blink detection function that warns if your subject's eyes were closed at the moment of capture. In addition, the RZ18 can locate the faces of dogs and cats, and is capable of recognizing three specific pets' faces for tagging purposes (although it can locate only one pet in any given image). The Pentax RZ18 also includes a tracking AF function that can follow moving subjects around the image frame, and can operate in nine-point or spot AF modes. Minimum focusing distance is ordinarily 1.31 feet at wide angle or 4.3 feet at telephoto, but the RZ18 can focus as close as 4 inches at wide angle in Macro mode, and to just 1.6 inches in Super Macro mode with the lens focal length locked towards the middle of the range.

The Pentax RZ18 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the newer, higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. The RZ18 also supports Eye-Fi's WiFi-capable SD cards, and provides for card management in-camera. There's also a generous 96MB of available built-in memory, enough for a fair few shots if you accidentally leave your flash card at home. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-speed data for PC transfer, standard-definition NTSC / PAL video output for viewing images and movies on a TV, and an infrared remote receiver for use with optional Pentax IR remote controls. Power comes courtesy of a D-LI92 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, but we don't yet have information on battery life. An optional AC adapter is also available for use with the RZ18. The software bundle includes MediaImpression 3.1 for PENTAX compatible with Windows 7, and MediaImpression 2.1 for PENTAX compatible with Mac OS X 10.7.

The Pentax Optio RZ18 ships from October 2011, with three body color choices--black, pearl white, and metallic orange--priced at about US$300.

Click here to read our Travel Zoom Shootout 2011!