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Pentax Optio MX Digital Camera

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Review Date
08/24/2004
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Manual Control / Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
High, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10
Availability
July, 2004
Suggested Retail Price
(At time of introduction)
$399

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

Pentax is a camera maker with a long tradition in the film-based world, but is one of the newer entrants in the digital arena. After co-developing several cameras with Hewlett Packard, they stepped out on their own a couple of years ago with digicams entirely of their own design. The introduction of their "Optio" line of compact digicams offered sleek, ultra-compact body styles with ample features, perfect for anyone on the go.

Now, with the introduction of the Optio MX, Pentax has gained a competitive edge in the portable digicam market by combining their tried-and-true digicam feature-set with the capabilities of a digital video camera. With a radical design that features a swivel-mounted handgrip, the MX has a maximum movie recording time of 120 continuous minutes, a 10x optical zoom lens, swivel LCD design, 3.2-megapixel CCD, and a host of creative and manual exposure features that make the camera versatile enough for just about any situation, and a look that will turn heads.

 

Camera Overview

Uniquely designed to function both as a digital still camera as well as a digital camcorder, the Optio MX is surprisingly compact and manageable. The camera's clever design incorporates a small body size, flip-up LCD monitor, and a folding handgrip that rotates 180 degrees, allowing you to hold the camera like an old-fashioned pistol-grip-style movie camera. The Optio MX's main body measures 2.87 x 2.32 x 4.09 inches (73 x 59 x 104 millimeters), and weighs 13.2 ounces (375 grams) with the battery and SD memory card. While that's slightly hefty for a compact digicam, the Optio MX is actually quite comfortable to hold, and fairly light weight considering the 10x optical zoom lens. With its moveable handgrip and easily-stowed LCD monitor, the Optio MX folds down to a very compact unit that can fit into larger coat pockets, purses, and backpacks. The Optio MX features a 3.2-megapixel CCD, which captures a maximum still image resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, suitable for printing images as large as 8x10 inches. Movie mode offers three resolution settings (maximum 640 x 480 pixels) and a range of compression levels as well. Depending on the amount of memory card space, the frame rate setting, and compression level, the Optio MX can capture as many as 120 minutes of continuous video (considerably longer than the average three to four minutes offered by most single-purpose digicams).

The Optio MX has a whopping 10x, 5.8-58mm lens, the equivalent of a 38-380mm lens on a 35mm camera. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.9 to f/3.5, depending on the zoom position. Focus covers a range from 1.31 feet (0.4 meters) to infinity in still capture mode, and from 3.9 inches (0.1 meters) to infinity in movie mode. The camera offers two macro ranges, the first from 7.87 to 19.68 inches (0.2 to 0.5 meters), and the second, Super Macro mode, from 0 to 15 centimeters. (The macro ranges are slightly different in Movie mode.) In addition to manual and automatic focus control, the Optio MX also offers Spot and Multiple AF area modes. The camera's autofocus system uses a TTL contrast-detection method to determine focus, based on a five-point spread at the center of the frame. A maximum of 10x digital zoom is available in addition to the 10x optical zoom (effectively increasing the camera's zoom range to 100x), but keep in mind that digital zoom often decreases the overall image quality because it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. A removable, plastic lens cap tethers to the camera body and protects the lens when not in use. Additionally, the Optio MX's lens has a set of 37mm filter threads for attaching the optional wide angle lens accessory. To frame shots, the Optio MX features a flip-up, swiveling, 1.8-inch, color TFT LCD monitor, which rotates 210 degrees vertically and 180 degrees horizontally. The LCD monitor reports limited camera information in its standard mode, including camera mode, the number of available images, focus mode, date and time, and battery power. An expanded histogram information display not only puts a small histogram on-screen for checking exposure, but also reports more exposure details, such as white balance, quality and resolution, ISO, and metering mode. There's also a grid display option, which divides the image area into thirds, horizontally and vertically, to help you align shots.

The Optio MX doesn't skimp on exposure features, offering a full range of exposure modes to choose from. An Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera offers Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Audio, and Picture modes. Program mode provides access to all of the camera's exposure options, with the exception of shutter speed and aperture. Shutter and Aperture Priority exposure modes provide user control over one exposure variable while the camera sets the other, and Manual exposure mode provides full user control over both settings. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds, giving the Optio MX fair low-light shooting capabilities. Picture mode offers a range of preset shooting modes, including Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-Portrait (for holding the camera in front of you), Surf&Snow, Sunset, Night Scene, Soft, Illustration, and Panorama. Each of the Picture modes is accessed via the Mode menu, activated by pressing the down arrow of the Multi-Controller while the Exposure Mode dial is set to Picture. Audio mode captures sound only, for a maximum of four hours and 22 minutes, though actual recording time depends on the space available on the memory card. By default, the Optio MX uses a Multi-Segmented metering mode, which reads the entire image area to determine exposure. Through the Record menu, Center-Weighted and Spot options are also available. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-quarter-step increments, and an ISO adjustment offers an Auto setting, as well as 100, 200, and 400 equivalent settings. White Balance options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual settings. An Auto Bracketing mode not only brackets exposure and white balance, but also image sharpness, saturation, and contrast adjustments (the latter three are also independently adjustable). The Optio MX offers a Digital Filter mode, which captures images in black and white or sepia tones, or with red, pink, purple, blue, green, or yellow filters applied.

The Optio MX's Self-Timer mode provides either a two or 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the camera actually takes the picture, allowing you to get into your own shots. For shooting fast action subjects, the Optio MX's Continuous and High-Speed Continuous shooting modes capture a rapid series of images for as long as you hold down the Shutter button, much like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera. Though it's slow and pauses momentarily on occasion, the amount of available memory space determines the maximum number of images the camera will capture in Continuous mode, and details like resolution size and shutter speed determine the shooting interval. In High-Speed Continuous mode, the camera captures a maximum of three images in a single burst. The camera's flash operates in either Auto, Off, On, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, or On with Red-Eye Reduction modes, and is effective from 3.94 inches to 16.7 feet (0.1 to 5.1 meters). You can also adjust the flash intensity, from -2 to +1 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-quarter-step increments.

The Optio MX's movie recording capacity is what gives Pentax bragging rights on the Optio MX. Rather than have a separate movie mode that captures only a few minutes at a time, the Optio MX can capture a maximum of 120 continuous minutes of moving images with sound (depending of course, on resolution, quality, and available memory card space). Frame rate is adjustable to 15 or 30 frames per second, through the Movie menu. In any image recording mode, pressing the Movie button on the camera's handgrip starts recording (a second press ends recording). Since the Movie button controls recording, pressing the Shutter button while recording video locks the focus for as long as it's held down. A timer appears in the LCD monitor, counting down the remaining recording time. Movies can be recorded at 160 x 120, 320 x 240, or 640 x 480 pixels, with three compression levels available as well. The optical zoom is available while recording movies, as are the Landscape and Manual focus options. The Record menu offers a Fast Forward Movie option, which slows down the frame rate, so that when movies are played back, the action appears sped up (like time-lapse photography). A Color Mode option on the Record menu lets you record movies in black and white or sepia tones. (You can also apply any of the digital filters post-capture through the Playback menu.)

The Optio MX stores images on SD/MMC memory cards, and comes with a 16 megabyte SD card. Since 16 megabytes isn't enough to record much video or very many images, you'll want to pick up a large-capacity card right away, so you don't miss any shots. (Particularly in light of the MX's video capabilities, you should get a really large memory card - 256MB or larger, if you can handle the budget.) The camera utilizes a D-LI7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. Since the Optio MX does not accommodate AA batteries in any form, and can record a maximum of 120 continuous minutes of video, I sincerely recommend picking up an additional battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter is also useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, or recording long events. A USB cable accompanies the camera for quick connection to a computer, as well as a software CD containing ACDSee, ACD Showtime, and ACD Fotoslate software for Mac and PC platforms.

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD for still shots.
  • MPEG-4 Movie mode for continuous movie recording (with sound) as long as 120 minutes.
  • 1.8-inch color TFT LCD monitor that flips up 210 degrees and swivels 180 degrees.
  • Glass, 10x, 5.8-58mm lens, equivalent to a 38-380mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • As much as 10x digital zoom.
  • Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, plus a range of preset "scene" modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to four seconds.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.9 to f/3.5, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity setting.
  • SD/MMC memory card storage, 16 megabyte card included.
  • Power supplied by one D-LI7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack or optional AC adapter.
  • ACDSee, ACD Showtime, and ACD Fotoslate software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Normal and High-Speed Continuous Shooting modes.
  • Panorama mode.
  • Night Scene photography mode, plus eight preset Scene modes.
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing.
  • Two- and 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Adjustable color mode with eight color filters.
  • Macro and Super Macro (close-up) lens settings.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six modes, including a manual adjustment and a bracketing mode.
  • Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments with bracketing.
  • Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents (100, 200, and 400) and an Auto setting.
  • Adjustable autofocus area and available manual focus control.
  • PictBridge compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

Compact and versatile, the Optio MX offers the capabilities of a digital video camera and a digital still camera combined -- perfect when you need to record more than just a couple of minutes of video but want to continue snapping still images. (A useful feature for say, a ballet recital, where you'd like to record a decent amount of footage, but capture a few stills of the performers.) The folding handgrip and flip-up LCD monitor keep the camera body reasonably small when both are stowed, making the Optio MX a great fit for larger coat pockets and purses, but we recommend you put this camera in a case to keep it nice. The Optio MX has an abundance of color and exposure features for creative shooting options, and a generous 10x optical zoom lens for great close-ups. And let's not forget the 3.2-megapixel CCD, which delivers high quality images, good enough for printing as large as 8 x 10 inches or distributing via email. We did note some problems with color saturation in the yellows, as well as a little too much contrast overall. See our picture analysis page for more. Likewise, the Optio MX's video recording isn't quite up to the quality level of most digital camcorders. (Although I didn't feel that I saw the "jumpiness" in its video that some reviewers commented on.) A more serious issue is its very sluggish shutter response in still-capture mode. For its price, the Optio MX really doesn't have a competitor in the current digicam marketplace, but for $100 more, the Canon S1 IS is much more responsive to the shutter button.

 

Design

The Optio MX is the latest addition to the Optio line, and by far the most versatile. Built as a combination digital video and still camera, the Optio MX packs a lot of features into its small size. With a folding handgrip, flip-up LCD monitor, and a completely enclosed 10x optical zoom lens, the Optio MX has a clever, compact design that serves well for traveling (do be careful at a Star Trek convention and airport security checkpoints, however, because many will think you're about to vaporize them with your phaser). Measuring 2.87 x 2.32 x 4.09 inches (73 x 59 x 103.5 millimeters) at its most compact, the Optio MX should fit well into larger coat pockets and purses, and comes with a wrist strap for carrying (though I'd recommend picking up a soft case for better protection). With the battery and memory card installed, the Optio MX weighs only 13.2 ounces (375 grams), which is reasonable considering its 10x lens (for comparison the 8x Nikon 5700 weighs 19.1 ounces with battery and card, and the lighter, 10x Minolta Z2 weighs 15 ounces with battery and card).

The front of the camera features the lens, self-timer LED, microphone, and battery compartment cover (when the handgrip is stowed). A plastic, removable lens cap protects the lens and tethers to the camera body to prevent it from being easily lost.

The rotating handgrip swings up along the right side of the camera body when not in use, or swings downward to form a pistol-style grip. You can also pull the handgrip straight back 180 degrees, probably desirable for bird watchers. On the right side of the lens barrel is the SD/MMC compartment and door release. Slide the release toward the back and the compartment door springs open.

The opposite side of the Optio MX holds an additional microphone screen and speaker, as well as the Flash Release, Flash / Protect, Drive / DPOF, and Focus Mode / Erase buttons. On the bottom panel are the connector compartment and wrist strap eyelet, a chrome dome that swivels 360 degrees. A plastic door protects the connector compartment and remains tethered to the camera body when opened. Beneath the flap are the PC/AV and DC In connector jacks.

The Optio MX's top panel features the biggish pop-up flash compartment, Exposure Mode dial, lighted Power button, Five-way navigator, Playback, and Menu buttons. When the handgrip is extended downward, the Shutter button, Zoom Lever, and Movie button are visible. My only complaint here is that with the LCD panel upright, it's somewhat difficult to reach these buttons. In practice, I had to lower the LCD slightly, make my adjustments, and then return it to its upright position. A minor complaint, but I thought it worth mentioning given the importance of these controls when shooting. Small as it is the Five-way navigator is surprisingly usable. Also visible from this view are the hinges for the flip-up LCD monitor.

The 1.8-inch color TFT LCD monitor takes up the Optio MX's entire rear panel. The LCD monitor flips upward for viewing (210 degrees), and can swivel horizontally 180 degrees. I found the LCD monitor slightly difficult to open when clasped fully shut, as the pressure switch that releases it was somewhat sticky. If the handgrip is stowed, the Shutter button, Zoom Lever, and Movie button are all visible as well.

The bottom panel of the Optio MX features only the tripod mount, which is unfortunately placed as close to the swivel grip as possible, requiring the user to permanently stow the grip while shooting on almost any tripod.

 

Camera Operation

With only a handful of external controls and an easily navigable LCD menu system, the Optio MX's user interface is straightforward. A Multi-Controller on top of the camera lets you adjust a range of exposure features without activating the LCD menu, and the Exposure Mode dial quickly sets the camera's exposure mode. You can record movies at any time by pressing the Movie button on the handgrip. When it is necessary to enter the LCD menu system, you'll find it simple to navigate. Four menus are available, delineated by subject tabs at the top of the screen, and the Playback and Setup menus are available in any mode. The arrow keys of the Multi-Controller scroll through each selection, and the OK button, available by pressing down on the center of the pad confirms any changes. It shouldn't take much more than half an hour to an hour to become familiar with the camera setup, as it's fairly intuitive.

Record Mode Display: In Record mode, the Optio MX's LCD display reports battery power level, the exposure mode, number of available images, and the date and time. When the Shutter button is halfway pressed, the aperture and shutter speed appear in the lower left corner, and the flash mode in the upper left corner. (The adjustable exposure option appears constant in Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, and both appear in Manual exposure mode.) Through the Setup menu tab, you can enable an alignment grid, histogram display, or a full-frame display mode without any information (only the focus brackets remain).

Playback Mode Display: In Playback mode, the default display shows the image number, basic exposure information (shutter speed and aperture), date and time, battery power level, and the functions available via the Multi-Controller. You can choose to see a much more detailed information display, or dismiss the information overlay entirely. You can also zoom out to an index view showing thumbnails of images on the memory card, or zoom in to an amazing 12x, to check detailed framing or focus accuracy.

 

External Controls


Power Button
: Wisely placed lower than the Five-way navigator and mode dial, and only a little forward on the camera's top panel to reduce accidental activation, this button powers the camera on and off. When the camera is on, the button glows green.


Exposure Mode Dial
: The largest protrusion on the top panel, this notched dial sets the camera's exposure mode to one of the following options:

  • Program AE: This mode places the camera in control over both the aperture and shutter speed settings, while the user has access to all other exposure variables for both still and moving images.
  • Shutter Priority: Places the shutter speed under user control, while the camera selects the best corresponding aperture setting.
  • Aperture Priority: Opposite of Shutter Priority, this mode puts the user in charge of the lens aperture setting and the camera in charge of the shutter speed.
  • Manual: This mode provides complete user control over the exposure.
  • Audio: Records sound only, for a maximum of four hours and 22 minutes continuously (depending on the available space on the memory card).
  • Picture: Accesses a range of preset shooting modes, including Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-Portrait, Surf&Snow, Sunset, Night Scene, Soft, Illustration, and Panorama.


Multi-Controller
: To the left of the Power button on the top panel, this multi-directional rocker button features four arrows and a center "OK" function. In any settings menu, the arrow keys navigate choices and the OK button confirms selections.

In Picture mode, the down arrow displays the Mode menu, letting you select one of the 10 available preset scene modes. In any capture mode, pressing the right and left arrow keys adjusts the exposure compensation. In Aperture or Shutter Priority modes, the up and down arrow keys control the available exposure setting. However, in Manual mode, the up and down arrows adjust aperture, while the left and right arrows control the shutter speed. If manual focus mode is enabled, the up and down arrows manually adjust focus. In any Record mode, the center OK button changes the display mode when pressed outside of a settings menu. Through the Setup menu, you can set the OK button to adjust the digital filter option instead.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows navigate through captured images and movie files. The up arrow lets you record a short sound clip to accompany an image, and the down arrow rotates the image in 90-degree increments clockwise. If viewing a movie file, the up arrow begins playback, while the down arrow stops playback.


Playback Button
: Behind the Multi-Controller, this button puts the camera into Playback mode.


Menu Button
: Directly to the right of the Playback button, this button displays the settings menu in any Record mode, as well as in Playback mode.


Shutter Button
: Encircled by the Zoom Lever on the top of the handgrip, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button on the handgrip, this button controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images, as well as the index display mode.


Movie Button
: Located behind the Shutter button and Zoom Lever on the handgrip, this button starts and stops movie recording.


Focus / Erase Button: The first in a series on the left panel, this button cycles through the available focus modes: Autofocus (no icon), Macro mode (flower symbol), Super Macro mode (flower symbol with an "S"), Infinity focus mode (mountain symbol), and Manual Focus mode ("MF").

In Playback mode, pressing this button displays the Erase menu, which allows you to erase all images on the card or individual images.


Drive/DPOF Button
: To the left of the Focus / Erase button, this button accesses the two- and 10-second Self-Timer modes, as well as the Normal and High-Speed Continuous Shooting and Auto Bracketing modes when pressed in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this button pulls up the DPOF settings, allowing you to specify an image to print, the number of copies, and whether the date is imprinted.


Flash / Protect Button
: The final button in the series on the left side of the camera, this button cycles through the available flash modes in any Record mode. Flash modes include Auto, On, Off, Auto Red-Eye Reduction, and On Red-Eye Reduction.

In Playback mode, this button marks the currently selected image as protected, or removes protection. ("Protection" simply means that the image cannot be altered in any way or deleted, except from card formatting.)


Flash Release Button
: Situated on the camera's left panel, next to the microphone, this button releases the pop-up flash from its compartment. It is recessed, so it does have to be pressed in with a finger- or thumbnail.


Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In Record Mode, the camera can capture still images or movie files, or plain audio. The Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera controls the operating mode, offering Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Audio, and Picture modes. Audio mode records pure audio, while the remaining modes capture still images and movie files.

Playback Mode: This mode allows you to review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, or play them back in a slideshow.

Menus: The following settings menus appear in any camera mode. However, not all Record functions are available in all record modes.

  • Record Mode Settings
    • Recorded Pixels: Sets the image resolution size to 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 pixels.
    • Quality level: Sets the JPEG compression level to Good, Better, or Best (three stars being Best and one star being Good).
    • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Manual.
    • Focusing Area: Designates the area of the frame that the camera determines focus from, either Spot or Multiple (five-point AF).
    • AE Metering: Chooses how the camera determines exposure, choices are Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Segment.
    • Sensitivity: Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity, options are Auto, or 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
    • Flash Exposure Compensation: Controls the flash power, from -2 to +1 EV in one-quarter-step increments.
    • Digital Filter: Selects from a range of color filters, including Black and White, Sepia, Red, Pink, Purple, Blue, Green, or Yellow.
    • Digital Zoom: Sets digital zoom to 4x or 10x, or turns the feature off.
    • Instant Review: Turns the Instant Review function off, or sets the review time on the LCD screen to 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 seconds.
    • Memory: Specifies which camera settings are saved when the camera is powered off. 14 items can be set to remain or be reset, including Flash Exposure Compensation, Zoom, and Digital Zoom levels
    • Sharpness: Adjusts the overall image sharpness to Normal, or to plus or minus settings.
    • Saturation: Controls the level of color saturation, with three adjustment levels.
    • Contrast: Adjusts overall image contrast to one of three settings.

  • Movie Mode
    • Recorded Pixels: Sets the movie file resolution to 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.
    • Quality level: Sets the compression level to Good, Better, or Best (three stars being Best and one star being Good).
    • Frame Rate: Adjusts the movie frame rate to 15 or 30 frames per second.
    • Color Mode: Offers Black and White, Sepia, and Color shooting modes.
    • Fast Forward Movie: Adjusts the frame rate of Movie mode to create a time-lapse effect. Options are Off, x2, x5, x10, and x20.

  • Playback Settings
    • Slideshow: Activates an automatic slideshow of images on the card. You can set the image interval time from three to 30 seconds.
    • Resize: Changes the size of captured images to any resolution smaller than the original file.
    • Trimming: Allows you to crop captured images and save a new copy. Zoom ring is used to resize the crop area at preset intervals.
    • Digital Filter: Applies any of the digital color filters (Black and White, Sepia, Red, Pink, Purple, Blue, Green, or Yellow) to a captured image or movie.
    • Quick Zoom: When activated, this function enlarges the captured image to the designated size with only one press of the Playback Zoom button. (If off, the button gradually enlarges the image.)
    • Quick Delete: Activates a Quick Delete option, which automatically selects "Delete" on the Delete screen, rather than the "Cancel" option.

  • Setup
    • Format Card: Formats the SD or MMC card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Sound: Controls the volume and sound type of the camera's playback, operation, startup, shutter, focus and self-timer sounds.
    • Date Adjust: Sets the camera's internal date and time.
    • World Time: Allows you to set the time for another city, so that you can display the time in London, for example, on the LCD monitor. A full list of cities is in the manual.
    • Language: Changes the menu language.
    • Display: Controls the LCD display in record mode. Options are Normal, Histogram with Information, Grid, and Frame.
    • Screen Setting: Activates a screen effect for transitioning between LCD screens, and selects the background color.
    • Brightness Level: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
    • Video Out: Sets the Video Out signal to NTSC or PAL.
    • USB Connection: Designates the USB connection type as PC, PC-F, or PictBridge.
    • Sleep Timeout: Turns the Sleep function off, or sets the camera to go to sleep after 30 seconds, or one or two minutes.
    • Auto Power Off: Turns this feature off, or sets the camera to shut off after three or five minutes of inactivity.
    • OK Button: Controls the function of the OK button (center of the Multi-Controller). Choices are Display, Filter, or None.
    • Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.

In the Box

Packaged with the Optio MX are the following items:

  • 16 megabyte SD card.
  • Lens cap with strap.
  • D-Ll7 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger with AC plug cord.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Wrist strap.
  • Software CD.
  • Operating manual and registration card.


Recommended Accessories

You can use the Optio MX right from the box, but the following items may increase our enjoyment of it:

Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images and Photo Gallery

See our test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo. For a set of more pictorial sample photos from the Optio MX, visit our Pentax Optio MX photo gallery.

Outdoor
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy



Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Optio MX's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Optio MX's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Optio MX with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Generally good color. Some greens and yellows weak, some reds too hot, but images are generally appealing. Incandescent and Manual white balance do fine with incandescent lighting. In my testing, the Optio MX generally produced pretty pleasing color. Some bright greens and yellows were muted, and some reds were oversaturated, but most of the spectrum was pretty accurate, and the overall "look" of its images was nice. While its Auto white balance option had severe trouble with the household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test, its Incandescent and Manual settings did very well.

  • Exposure: Average exposure accuracy, high contrast. The Optio MX generally required an average amount of exposure compensation on the shots that typically require it. A couple of shots came out very slightly dark, but the effect wasn't too pronounced, so I'd still call its exposure accuracy "average." Its default contrast is quite high though, causing it to lose highlight detail under harsh lighting. A contrast adjustment option on the shooting menu helps with this, but even at the low setting, contrast is still higher than I'd like for harshly-lit subjects. Shadow detail also tended to be somewhat limited.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Moderately high resolution, 1,000 lines of "strong detail." Slightly soft-looking images. The Optio MX turned in about an average performance for its 3.2-megapixel class on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 950 lines vertically, 1,050 lines horizontally, so a fair average would be 1,000 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,200 lines. While its resolution wasn't too bad, I didn't feel that the Optio MX's images were quite as crisp-looking as those of the best 3 megapixel cameras I've tested in the past.

  • Image Noise: Higher than average image noise, some loss of detail in an effort to suppress it. The MX exemplifies a trend I've been seeing more of lately. While its absolute noise levels in "flat" areas of its images were fairly low, noise levels increase in regions where subject detail is stronger, and the anti-noise processing very evidently fuzzes-out fine subject detail in areas of subtle contrast. Likewise, while image noise increases only slowly with increasing ISO, fine detail takes a heavy hit, particularly at ISO 400.

  • Closeups: Good macro in normal mode, astonishing in "Super" macro mode. The Optio MX performed well in its normal Macro mode, capturing a minimum area of 2.98 x 2.23 inches (76 x 57 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins and brooch. All four corners of the frame are soft, with the right side of the image being the worst, but this is fairly common in digicam macro modes, in my experience. In Super Macro mode, the camera focuses incredibly close, with a minimum area of 0.99 x 0.75 inches (25 x 19 millimeters). However, getting light in to the subject is nearly impossible at the very closest range. - The MX's manual states the minimum focus distance in Super Macro mode as "0 cm". That's right, the camera can focus on dust (or anything else) that's actually touching its front lens element! The Optio MX's flash throttled down pretty well for the macro area, but the brooch happened to positioned just right to reflect the flash right back into the camera's lens. - The resulting glare really isn't the camera's fault.

  • Night Shots: Pretty good performance, with good exposure and color at fairly low light levels. (More than good enough for typical city night shots.) The Optio MX offers a full manual exposure control mode, as well as adjustable ISO and a maximum shutter time of four seconds. Thus, the camera performed fairly well in the low-light category. In my testing, the camera produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level at the ISO 400 setting. At ISO 200, images were bright down to 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux), and at ISO 100, images were bright as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux). Color was good, though slightly warm, with increasing warmth in the dimmer shots. Image noise was moderate at ISOs 100 and 200, becoming high at the ISO 400 setting. The camera's autofocus system could focus as low as about 1/8 foot-candle, a very good performance, particularly for a camera with no AF-assist light. Overall, the MX would do fine at all ISO settings for typical urban night photography, as typical city street-lighting gives about one foot-candle of illumination.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A nearly accurate LCD monitor, just slightly tight. The Optio MX's LCD monitor was only a little tight, showing about 92 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 93 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Optio MX's LCD monitor isn't bad, but still has a little room for improvement.

  • Optical Distortion: Slightly higher than average barrel distortion, and high pincushion as well. Good chromatic aberration and corner sharpness though. Geometric distortion on the Optio MX is slightly high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only a little better, as I measured a 0.7 percent pincushion distortion there. (This last in particular is high, but long-zoom cameras do tend to have more geometric distortion at the limits of their zoom ranges.) Chromatic aberration was fairly low, showing only about two or three pixels of moderate coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The MX's images also lost less sharpness in the corners than I'm accustomed to seeing in digicam photos. - Overall, it seems that the Optio MX's lens is of above-average quality.

  • Battery Life: Better than average battery life, but still plan on buying a spare. With a worst-case run time of just under two hours, the Optio MX's battery life is better than average. As always though, I strongly recommend purchasing a second battery at the same time as the camera, to have a spare.

Conclusion

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Those wanting a hybrid digital still and video camera with a satisfying zoom and no costly digital video tapes to mess with may want to consider the Optio MX. With an available 120 minutes of continuous movie and sound recording time (depending on resolution, memory space, etc.), the Optio MX operates as both a digital still camera and a digital video camera. I did find some issues with color saturation, particularly in strong yellows, as well as a little too much contrast overall. See the Optio MX picture analysis page for more. Likewise, the Optio MX's video recording isn't quite up to the quality level of most digital camcorders. (Although I didn't feel that I saw the "jumpiness" in its video that some reviewers commented on.) A more serious issue is its sluggish shutter response in still-capture mode. For its price, the Optio MX really doesn't have any competitor in the current digicam marketplace, but for $100 more, the Canon S1 IS is more responsive to the shutter button. Overall though, the Optio MX does serve the middle ground of camcorder and still photography in an innovative and lightweight package--with one heck of a zoom, and for a very good price.

 

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