The third shake reduction system is an electronic image stabilisation system for the video mode. This does in fact work very well, producing good shake-free video clips comparable with a mid-range camcorder. It shoots at the standard resolution of 640 x 480 and 30 frames a second. Unfortunately the zoom lens cannot be used when filming (digital zoom only, up to 5.4x), but the DivX compression system does mean that a 1GB SD card is enough for 47minutes of filming.
Overall performance has been one area where I have had a lot of criticism of recent Optio compacts. They have been getting better, but still lag behind the best of the competition. The A30 is the best yet by a significant margin, and is certainly not the slowest camera around, but it’s not the quickest either. It starts up in just over 2.5 seconds, but shuts down again in under two. In single-shot mode it has a shot-to-shot time of just less than three seconds, but in continuous mode it is somewhat faster, managing a frame every 0.8 seconds which it can maintain until the memory card is full. At the maximum quality setting a 1GB SD card provides enough space for approximately 304 shots, with JPEG files of around 3MB, which is about average for a 10MP camera. There was a wider than usual variation in JPEG file sizes, ranging from under 2MB to over 4MB, but I didn’t find compression artefacting to be a major problem even on the smaller files.
Focusing speed was also much improved over previous models, and now compares favourably with most of the competition. Only Canon and Casio are noticeable faster. It does slow down a little in reduced light, but the AF assist lamp means it can focus in darkness at a range of several metres. Flash output and coverage was also exceptionally good, with a range of 7.1m at wide angle and 3.5m at telephoto. It was also very good at close range, producing perfectly even illumination at just a few inches.
Image quality is one of the A30’s many strong points. At low ISO settings (64-200) the level of fine detail, the edge sharpness and the richness of the colour rendition were among the best I’ve seen from a compact camera. At higher ISO settings noise did become more of a problem, but the A30 uses an unusual noise reduction algorithm which is very good at retaining edge sharpness and contrast detail even when noise levels are quite high, avoiding many of the problems associated with previous 10MP compacts. Even at 800 ISO noise was only prevalent in darker areas, with colour rendition and sharpness still retained, both of which are important for print quality. The lens too performed well, producing some barrel distortion at wide angle but with good corner and edge sharpness at all focal lengths.
The Optio A30 is Pentax’s best ultra-compact camera to date, combining stylish design, excellent build quality, easy handling and much improved performance, with outstanding picture quality and a comprehensive set of features including many unusual and useful options. It is a superb camera and one which puts Pentax firmly back into contention at the top of the market.