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Battery life is also good. The camera is powered by a small 740mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery, for which Pentax claims 230 shots on a full charge. I took about 150 shots before the charge meter dropped from three bars to two, so this claim sounds reasonable.
In maximum quality mode the M30 produces files that are around 2.5MB in size, which is very small for a 7MP camera, allowing around 280 pictures to fit on a 1GB card, or just over 15 minutes of video shooting.
Unfortunately this heavy file compression does nothing to help with picture quality, which is a pity because the M30 needs all the help it can get in this department. Unusually for a Pentax camera the main cause of image quality problems is the lens, which causes heavy barrel distortion at wide angle, and pincushion distortion combined with appallingly bad corner blurring at medium zoom settings and close range. At ranges longer than a few metres optical performance is better, but still far from good. I hope that this isn’t a general problem with Pentax’s updated sliding lens system, because it is used on many other cameras in the company’s current range. I’ve got the Optio E30 to test next week, so I’ll be looking out for it.
Also causing major problems in many shots was our old friend the purple fringe, although this appeared inconsistently, sometimes present on one shot but not on another similar shot. There were also some strange red fringes on a few pictures, which didn’t look like chromatic aberration. Possibly this could be some filtering system to reduce purple fringing.
Noise control however was very good, producing quite acceptable results up to ISO 400, and usable shots at 800 and 1600 ISO. At the maximum 3200 ISO the noise levels were too high to be used, but the same is true of most cameras offering this high sensitivity setting.
Apart from the lens quality issues, overall exposure was fairly good under most circumstances. There were one or two few hiccups when shooting in very high contrast situations, when the limited dynamic range of the sensor caused many burned-out highlights, but on the whole the camera coped fairly well with most usual circumstances. Colour rendition was also reasonably good, with detail visible even in areas of bright colour.
The Pentax Optio M30 is the latest in a long line of low-cost, easy-to-use and extremely stylish pocket compacts. It is well made, well designed and has reasonably good performance, but it is let down by poor low-light capability and some worrying image quality issues, particularly very bad lens distortion under some circumstances. If you want an ultra-slim 7MP camera, save up a bit more and get the Casio EX-S770 instead.
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