The Pentax Optio H90 has a 2.7in display and weighs a scant 128g – comparable to a mobile phone. Unlike most compact cameras we’ve reviewed, its presence is barely felt when you’ve got it stashed in a handbag or backpack. In fact, the main giveaway is its slightly angular edges which are a bit like sharp elbows when knocked against.
The other impressive thing about the Pentax Optio H90 is that the £100 camera packs in a 12.1Mp sensor, a wide-angle lens to capture whole vistas and a 5x optical zoom. Design-wise, there’s one thing we liked less, though: the on/off switch and the shutter release button are right next to each other and at first are far too easily mistaken for each other. In fact, the larger shutter button is subtly raised while the power button is flush with the top of the camera case. Even so, it’s all too easy to press the wrong one.
For situations where you’re composing an image in a more deliberate way (or, simply, if you’re less of a klutz than some of us seem to be), the location of these buttons is no problem. You don’t have to press exceptionally hard to trigger the shutter release either – clunky buttons that cause judder being a common complaint with cameras. In fact, we got some particularly bright, sharp shots using the Pentax Optio H90. The zoom action is a rocker button on the back of the camera. This is smoother than many we’ve tried, while focusing at distance is fairly fast. We were able to snap a squirrel crouching on a branch 12 feet above our heads and get good results, with perhaps an oversaturation of colour but crisp reproduction of the important details.
As is common on compacts, Pentax includes a smile sensor. This has a dedicated activation button indicated by a smiling South Park-style character. The face-detection function can distinguish between 32 faces in a shot. We didn’t test this claim but the Pentax Optio H90 was quick to frame several individuals in crowds whenever we whipped it out.
Low light performance was a mixed bag. We got fuzzy, lacklustre results using the camera’s auto settings but very good ones using the appropriate indoor scene mode. This is as it should be, but given the tempting price tag of this superb value compact camera, we think it’s likely to attract pure point-and-shoot photographers. However, for all its modest cost, the Pentax Optio H90 repays the user who spends time getting to learn what it’s capable of. Switching to the strong complement of scene modes pays dividends even if you alter nothing else about your photography. As well as the usual sport, sunset, tungsten and party options are some more creative ones a la Olympus and other retro-styled cameras.
Adding again to the incredible value of this camera is the inclusion of a decent 1280x720 HD video capture mode. Oddly, the tripod mount to help with rock-steady action shots is off to one edge of the camera, but a mini tripod is definitely worth using if you’re going to go to the trouble of taking HD video. Beware, however, this camera’s battery drains faster than with rival compact models we’ve tried and shooting video will only exacerbate this flaw.
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