The Pentax Optio A30 is an understated 10-megapixel compact. The cutesy menu system and fully automatic 'green mode' make this as user-friendly as lower-spec cameras in the Optio range such as the budget M30 and E30. It even meeows like a cat when you press a button, should you want it to. But this is a high-resolution camera with optical image stabilisation and costs around £150, so we expect more. Fortunately the A30 delivers.
The A30 has an unpretentious air, with the only design flourish being a curved silver trim on the matte black frame. Two of the most interesting design features are harder to spot at first glance. The telescoping 3x optical zoom lens folds down flush with the body, rather than jutting out slightly as on cheaper compacts to fatten up the profile of the camera. The A30 also has a focus assist lamp, useful for ensuring the autofocus has enough light to find subjects in darker conditions.
The screen is the standard 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD display, which is something of a let-down on a camera that is otherwise so good at quietly exceeding expectations. This average screen size is a trade-off for the A30's overall diminutive dimensions, however. The body measures just 58mm wide, 90mm high and 24mm deep. It's not the slimmest compact in the world, but it is one of the smallest to include optical image stabilisation.
The buttons sadly look like they've been held over from cheaper cameras like the plasticky M30. The user-friendly green button is also present, although anyone who doesn't want to sign over all manual control to the camera can customise the button as a hotkey.
As well as sensor-shifting image stabilisation, there's an ISO-boosting shake-reduction function, which leads to noise issues. Fortunately the tempting button only previews the function rather than activating it, so the feature can be avoided if the results are too hideous.
The A30 is packed with a wealth of manual options. You can manually control ISO, white balance, exposure, shutter speed, aperture and metering, and even focus manually. The centre of the screen helpfully enlarges to aid manual focus. Face recognition is in there too, automatically focusing on and exposing for faces.
The A30 carries over the menu system from the Pentax range, which like the tacky buttons seem incongruous on this higher-spec camera. The cartoon icons are at least easy to follow.
Prefocus the A30 and there's no appreciable shutter lag. Processing is much slower at more than 2.5 seconds between shots, while in continuous mode the A30 manages 1 frame per second. The only real speed gripe is the inteminable wait for the A30 to turn on, complete with onscreen Pentax logo that can't be disabled.
The A30 boasts a relatively sizeable 1/1.8-inch CCD sensor, bigger than the typical 1/2.5 inch in many other compacts. This is important as it means the 10-megapixel resolution is supported by an appropriately sized-sensor, so the A30 is able to really take advantage of its high resolution.
Colours are slightly undersaturated, especially in portrait shots. Apart from this the A30 provides Pentax's best picture quality, with crisp sharpening. Resolution and detail is impressive, with noise reduction avoiding softening up the image, at all but the highest ISO setting.
Higher light sensitivity, or ISO, settings are intended to allow cameras to operate in lower light conditions. Unfortunately there's a trade-off in speckly noise as the ISO increases. The A30 is no exception. Noise reduction keeps images acceptable at ISO 400, but above that images are unattractively noisy, or at maximum ISO 1,600, blurry through excessive noise reduction.
As always, these higher settings are best avoided. This is true for dynamic range as well. The A30 distinguishes detail and colour well in lighter and darker areas of the image, but this suffers as ISO increases.
Unusually, the A30 shoots video in DivX video format, which has the advantage of compressing files into significantly smaller file sizes. Unfortunately the advantage is cancelled out by jerky video lacking dynamic range, while the zoom cannot be used during filming.
Despite a few flaws, notably in video quality, the Pentax Optio A30 is a strong compact camera. The plasticky buttons and cutesy menus don't do justice to the excellent manual options, shooting flexibility and respectable picture quality.
The A30 may have an average-sized screen and zoom, but it trumps the cheaper BenQ DC C1050 on image quality and is substantially cheaper than 10-megapixel cameras with extra features, such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3, which offers 10x zoom and a 76mm (3-inch) screen. Modest it may be, but the A30 is Pentax's best compact.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide