I approached the review of Pentax's new little baby with some trepidation. Why, you may ask? Well, for the last 5 years I have been a Canon user through and through. I have had two of their Digital Ixus cameras (4 and 6MP – megapixel) and three of their Amateur status Digital SLRs (300D, 350D and 400D). I have also played with the Canon 10MP Ixus, and was not all that impressed, hence the reason I stuck with our 6MP Ixus.
With that in mind, I came to the Optio not expecting too much. So far, all of the 10MP compacts that I have seen or seen shots from have not been all that impressive.
The A20 is the replacement for Pentax's much liked A10, but adds some nice touches. The most obvious is the 10 Effective Mega Pixel CCD Sensor with a max capture resolution of 3648 x 2736. Other features are Shake Reduction (3 modes), Facial Recognition, a soft flash mode and most importantly the new ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) processor.
- 10.0 mega pixels
- 2.5inch TFT LCD screen
- 3x optical zoom equivalent to 38mm-114mm in 35mm format
- 22 MB Built-in memory
- SD & SDHC memory card compatible
- 15cm macro
- Sensitivity range – ISO64 – ISO800
- Shutter speed range – 1/2000 sec. to 4 sec.
After charging the battery and popping my memory card into the camera (note: the A20 does not come with an SD card at all, so make sure you have a spare) I decided to perform a test in typical English overcast weather, as it should show up any issues with changeable light conditions.
I took the camera into the countryside, and took some shots that would allow me to judge the quality of the A20's sensor and processor.
As you can see with all the shots here, the quality of the photos is top notch – even if my skill is not. You can click any of the thumbnails for a higher resolution version, but be warned most of them are in excess of 4Mb.
The camera worked well and felt good on my initial outing. The build quality is certainly up there with anything that Canon and Fuji have put together; it does not weigh much and is very slim with a great screen that is easy to see under all light conditions. I was also impressed with the speed of the auto focus when in its full auto mode; some of the other 10MP cameras struggle to do this quickly, especially when the light is low.
On that initial outing I filled my 1Gb card, then filled the 256Mb replacement I popped in, all on the same charge. So battery life is good – I was expecting the screen to sap the battery life, so this is a welcome surprise.
The A20 also seems to be quick when saving a shot to the card. I was timing writes on its 10MP fine mode at below 3 seconds. Considering that there is 10MPs worth of data for the ASIC to process this is good, showing that the processor is up to the job. Incidentally, the timings are around the same for my Ixus which is a lower CCD size.
As you can see the A20 makes easy work of even very low light shots.
Ease of Use
This is where the A20 really shows off. The layout of the camera and menus is very intuitive. The modes are easy to identify and use; with only a single button press to access the mode menu, switching between them is easy and quick. There are a variety of built in photo modes ranging from the default Auto mode through to completely manual modes, with things like People, Landscape, Animal, Baby and even a Food mode. In the manual mode access to speeds and ISO modes is a doddle. There is even a quick switch button to put you back into the Auto mode should you need to get back to it in a hurry.
The lens is the same 3x zoom SMC one found on the previous compact Pentax cameras, and this is no bad thing. The reputation of the lens is a good one, and let's be honest: if it's not broke, don't fix it.
The lens always produces sharp pictures up to its 3x magnification. However, the digital zoom mode is – like all cameras – one that should be used sparingly.
The effective lens magnification is 38mm-114mm if compared to a 35mm camera, so gives a decent range. However it's not quite wide enough at its lowest magnification level, where as a true 35mm would have been nice.
Besides the obvious 10.4MP CCD (10MP effective) there is a lot of nice technology on this camera. The most obvious of which are the Share Reduction and the Face recognition.
The Shake Reduction system works better than the one employed on the Sony cameras of this size, and does not seem to clip the photos as much. This is probably because it uses Pentax's CCD-Shift system rather than a pure digital version. In practice I found that you could shoot at around 2 speeds quicker with the system than without. For example, a shot that I could hold sharp and steady at 1/60sec would be usable at 1/8sec with the system active. A definite advantage.
The other system that seems to be popular with manufacturers at the moment is the facial recognition. The camera 'sees' a face and automatically adjusts both the focus point and the shooting mode as it sees fit. The Pentax system goes a little further and can actually recognise children and animals as well, and this makes the camera a great 'point and shoot' tool.
The A20 seems to manage happily under most conditions, although I did see it struggling on some dark scenes. However, these could be easily corrected using Photoshop without loosing any details.
I was also shocked by how little noise this sensor created even at high ISO modes. The Ixus certainly looks better "un-shopped" but the resulting images are certainly more detailed using the A20. Even at ISO 800 the noise was not as high as I would have expected. It is worth noting that the auto mode seems to suffer most at low levels, and the best results are achieved using the Manual modes.
As you can see, under dark light conditions the photos seem to benefit from a little Photoshoping. However the details are captured well so the photos look good after balancing.
The quality of the shots are great, and the device is light, small and easy to use.
This camera will certainly be added to my list of devices when I replace my now aging Ixus.
Yes the shots are not as good as the ones I get from my Canon 400D, however the lens on my 400D cost the same as this camera, and because of these points I can highly recommend this camera to anyone that wants a new compact digital camera.
I forgot to mention it earlier in the review, the digital video capture mode is very good as well, and records in DivX.
The only downside that I noticed, was the USB port on the device. Instead of using a standard mini USB port, Pentax have gone for an even smaller port. This means that you cannot just use a standard cable, and instead have to carry the included one around.
Score : 9/10 – Highly versatile, small, light and easy to use compact digital camera.