I’ve always liked Pentax cameras. I’ve owned several Pentax 35mm and Digital SLRs over the past twenty-five years and I’ve taken some of my favourite photos with them. However I try not to let my personal bias get in the way of an objective review, and it has to be said that over the past couple of years I have not been particularly impressed by many of Pentax’s Optio range of digital compact cameras.
About four years ago the Optio range represented the state of the art. Models such as the Optio 555 and Optio S were outstanding compact and ultra-compact cameras with innovative optical technology, good picture quality and unbeatable value for money. However the market moved on, other manufacturers overtook Pentax’s lead in optical design, producing slimmer, faster cameras with better picture quality, and the Optio range slowly slipped downmarket. Recent models such as the T20 and E30 have been frankly disappointing, especially so because I know that Pentax is capable of so much more. What it has been lacking is a new breakthrough model, something to put it back on top, and give the Optio range a much-needed shot in the arm. I believe that with the launch of the Optio A30 Pentax may just have found what it needs.
The specification is ambitious to say the least. The A30 is a 10-megapixel ultra-compact with a larger-than-usual 1/1.8-inch CCD sensor, flush-folding 3x zoom f2.8-5.4 lens (38mm-114mm equiv.), 3200 ISO maximum sensitivity, 2.5-in 232K pixel LCD monitor, DivX movie recording, face detection, manual exposure options and no less than three types of shake reduction, all in a camera measuring 57.5 x 89.5 x 23.5mm and weighing just 130g. That wish-list of features puts it straight into the top bracket of digital compacts alongside the best of Canon’s Digital IXUS range and Sony’s N-series cameras.
It certainly has a price to match. The A30 is officially listed at £249.99, although despite only being launched in February this year there are already a number of online retailers offering it for under £160. There aren’t many comparable models at this end of the market, but the closest matches are the Canon IXUS 900 Ti (£230)and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 (£230), so in terms of price the Pentax is definitely competitive. The only cheaper 10MP ultra-compact is the Casio Exilim EX-Z1050 (£145) but it doesn’t have as many features as the A30.