Pentax Optio X
The Pentax Optio X's stylish appearance and distinctive design will appeal to snapshooters looking for a pocketable conversation piece, but molasses-slow performance, mediocre image quality, and lack of manual controls will turn off both casual and serious photographers looking for high-quality results. With the Optio X, Pentax obviously spent a lot of time finding ways to squeeze lots of features into an ultracompact, 4.4-by-2.1-by-0.7-inch, 5.3-ounce package but perhaps didn't devote enough attention to how people take pictures. For example, the most natural way to hold the Optio X is with the thumb and index finger of the left and right hands gripping the top and bottom surfaces of each half (there are thumb depressions, plus the shutter-release button to make sure you take the hint). That leaves your right thumb well out of reach of the sliding power-zoom button, making zooming and shooting a distinct two-step operation.
While it's easy enough to use if you're willing to let the camera do all the thinking for you, an eccentric design and control layout sometimes make shooting photos your way tricky. The metal tripod socket shares the same bezel on the left edge with the hand-strap ring, so when mounted on a tripod, the camera is oriented for vertical shots and must be tilted (upside down, if your tripod's tilt head flips to the left) to take horizontal images. As with many of the newer ultracompacts, there's no optical viewfinder, and while the 210,000-pixel, 2-inch LCD is bright and fun to use indoors, outdoors it tends to wash out in even moderate direct light. The Optio's 270-degree-swiveling two-part body makes it easy to frame images at waist level, eye level, or above, but there's no optical viewfinder for lining up shots when the 2-inch LCD is washed out by bright lighting. There's no USB connector on the camera itself, so you'll need a card reader or the multifunction cradle/charger handy to transfer your pictures.
The Optio X's featherweight portability and attractive appearance may help you overlook its quirks. The aluminum-and-resin body makes an excellent conversation piece. For example, you get three--count 'em--power buttons on the top surface: one each to boot up the camera into audio recording, motion picture, or still picture modes. You can also hold down the Review button on the back of the camera while pressing any of the power keys to boot into image-viewing mode without extending the slide-out lens from its niche. Once the Optio X is powered up, you can switch to any of the alternate modes by pressing one of the other two power buttons, each of which has a center indicator LED.
The power buttons are flanked by a microphone on the left and the shutter release on the right. There's a speaker on the left edge beneath the tripod socket/hand-strap ring, and the right edge includes a slot for an optional SD card. Although there's no door covering the card slot (a supplied dummy card keeps dust and moisture out when you're using the Optio X's 14MB of internal memory), a clever, recessed design makes it unlikely that you'll eject the card by mistake.
The Menu key displays recording, playback, and setup menus, in addition to a user-definable My Menu that duplicates any of the choices from the other three listings. A Function key activates an LCD menu with shooting options such as flash mode; focus settings; and adjustments such as the self-timer, burst mode, bracketing, and time-lapse. The adjacent minijoystick-style button is a versatile four-way cursor control key for navigating menus and can be depressed to activate your choices. Or, when a menu is not visible on the LCD, the four-way key can be pressed left or right to change exposure compensation settings and up or down to display a palette of the Optio's 14 Scene modes. The fourth button changes the information displayed on the LCD, including a live histogram (with accompanying highlighting that shows over- and underexposed areas on the screen), or shuts off the LCD entirely.As with other point-and-shoot Pentax models, the Optio X is oriented toward snapshooters who would rather let the camera make all the decisions, with nary a manual setting nor even an aperture- or shutter-priority option to slow down the picture-taking process. The camera automatically selects settings from 4 seconds to 1/2,000 second, using apertures from f/2.6 to f/4.8. Exposure control is limited to EV settings (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments) and your selection of multisegmented, center-weighted, or spot metering. The Optio is quite willing to hedge your bets, though, and provides automatic exposure bracketing, snapping off three shots with your choice of 0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 1.3, 1.7, and 2.0 stops under- or overexposure. If you prefer, you can bracket white balance, sharpness settings, color saturation, or contrast over a trio of shots, too. The Optio selects both ISO sensitivity and white balance for you, or you can choose ISO 80, ISO 160, or ISO 320 manually, and select one of four white-balance presets or set a custom white balance.
The 14 scene modes include all the traditional choices, such as Landscape, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Panorama Assist, and Fireworks, along with some oddball choices such as Food, with extra contrast and saturation to make even the blandest comestibles look more appetizing, and Pet, which lets you specify whether your beast has dark, medium-toned, or light-color fur, for improved exposure.
The 3X 36mm-to-107mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens offers decent close-up capabilities, autofocusing as close as 1.3 feet in normal mode, down to 7 inches in macro mode, and 2.4 inches at the supermacro setting. If you'd prefer to take command of focus yourself, you can move the autofocus spot to any of nine positions--located near the center of the shooting area--or focus manually.