The 12-megapixel Pentax Optio P70 point-and-shoot camera is easy to use and takes decent snaps.

The Pentax Optio P70 squeezes in several neat features, including HD video capture, but achieving the low price did necessitate making a few compromises.

The silvery aluminum body of the Pentax Optio P70 we reviewed appears a little cheap, but the white and red models are quite attractive - and alluringly slim.

Despite being only 0.8in thick, the Pentax Optio P70 carries a 4X zoom lens with a 27.5mm wide-angle extreme that's great for shooting expansive panoramas. Unfortunately, the camera's shake reduction mode uses software to compensate for shaky hands, rather than shifting the lens or sensor mechanically.

Like many other recent point-and-shoot cameras, the Pentax Optio P70 recognises faces in portraits and uses them to set the focus and exposure automatically.

In addition, the Pentax Optio P70 has a Smile Capture mode that releases the shutter only when your subjects smile and that warns you with a beep if anyone blinks.

When we accidentally left this mode turned on, we found that the camera shot pictures sluggishly and stored images slowly; but it was much faster once we learned to use the dedicated Smile Capture button correctly. The other controls are sensibly uncomplicated and line up to the right of the standard 2.7in LCD display.

You can customise the Green Button to handle your favorite extra function, such as exposure compensation or focus area setting.

Most cameras priced in the Pentax Optio P70's category let you shoot standard-definition video that works fine for short sequences of friends and family, but looks a bit silly with black bars down the sides on your wide-screen TV.

The Pentax Optio P70 captures high-def video that looks much better, but still lags in quality behind what you'd get from a pricier camera. It records at 720p resolution at just 15 frames per second, and you can't zoom while shooting video.

The Pentax Optio P70 also lacks an HDMI port for connecting directly to your HDTV, so you'll need a TV with either an SD Card slot or a link to your PC, to play your movies easily.

The camera has an HD mode for shooting 16:9 aspect ratio still photos, too. This may be good for displaying slideshows on your HDTV or digital photo frame, but the 2.1-megapixels images it captures won't look so great for printing or editing.

The Pentax Optio P70 offers a unique Vertical Snap mode that lets you take one-handed portraits as if you were using a camera phone. Once you've enabled this mode, you turn on the camera by holding down the ok button at the center of the four-way controller. Then you press the ok button with your thumb to shoot, and you click the controller's up and down buttons to zoom.

We had to flip through the included 256-page printed manual (a pleasant and rare find these days) to get started, but we found the mode easy to use. Ultimately, though, we'd rather see phones become more like cameras than vice versa.

In our informal testing, we took some nice shots of a friend's newborn baby, various sights around town, and a party at a local tiki bar. Our most optimistic low-light and macro shots came out poorly (either under- or overexposed), but for general take-anywhere use, the Pentax Optio P70 did a good job. It earned an image quality score of Fair from our Test Centre judges, thanks to performing consistently in every test.

Pentax Optio P70: Specs

  • 12.0 megapixels
  • 4X wide-angle optical zoom
  • 2.7 inch LCD screen
  • Ultra-slim body
  • Pixel Track Shake Reduction
  • Advanced Face Recognition
  • Smile Capture and Blink Detection
  • PENTAX Auto Picture mode
  • Vertical Snap mode
  • HD movie capture
  • PENTAX Digital Shake Reduction
  • 97x54x21.5mm
  • 125g
  • 12.0 megapixels
  • 4X wide-angle optical zoom
  • 2.7 inch LCD screen
  • Ultra-slim body
  • Pixel Track Shake Reduction
  • Advanced Face Recognition
  • Smile Capture and Blink Detection
  • PENTAX Auto Picture mode
  • Vertical Snap mode
  • HD movie capture
  • PENTAX Digital Shake Reduction
  • 97x54x21.5mm
  • 125g

OUR VERDICT

Despite a few compromises, the Pentax Optio P70 offers good value for a small, light camera that you can carry anywhere. Considering its 12Mp sensor, the camera delivers rather lacklustre image quality, but it's certainly adequate for the price. Though the Optio P70 lacks a few frills, it is a good value for a stylishly thin point-and-shoot.

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