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A 1.8in LCD screen acts as a viewfinder and can either be placed above the camera or swivelled round and clipped to the back. This gives easier access to the controls at the top, including a dial that switches between the fully automatic program mode or a 'Pict' (Picture) mode, which offers a number of presets for taking pictures under different conditions.
There are also aperture priority and shutter priority modes and for the control freak a fully manual mode. Pressing halfway down on the still image button activates the focus lock and brings up on screen settings information. From here you can adjust the aperture priority or shutter priority settings depending on which mode you have the dial set to. The aperture size can be adjusted between f2.9 and f8.0, while the shutter can be set between 1/2,000 of a second and four seconds. As you press down these settings are displayed in red if the camera thinks that they are not suitable for the light conditions. Pressing the 'Ok' button also brings up various useful information such as the white balance and a histogram.
There are also options for adjusting exposure compensation and for choosing between ISO settings of 100, 200 or 400. Additionally, there's a continuous shooting option. In standard speed mode (approximately 0.5 fps) this is activated by holding down the shutter button and takes images until the memory card is full. In high-speed mode you can capture a burst of three images in about a second. This option however, turns off the flash. Down the side are buttons to engage a Macro mode and a Super Macro mode, which can take snaps of objects pressed right up against the lens.
In daily use, I found myself grabbing the Pentax more readily than my Sony PC105 DV camcorder, which next to the Optio MX4 seemed relatively bulky and heavy. Movie files are recorded as .mov files, which most video editing packages, such as Ulead Video Studio 8, will happily edit. Quality wise results were acceptable, without being spectacular. The Pentax generally appreciated good light conditions but quality tended to suffer in low light.
On the video side, there was an unmistakable step down in quality compared to a DV camcorder, with picture being far grainier and noisier. Another issue was focusing, which took a significant amount of time especially after camera panning.
At maximum quality overall still image quality was acceptable, but tended to suffer from noise, even at ISO 100. At ISO 400 noise was excessive and the setting should best be avoided. However, the 10x zoom was highly impressive for a device this size.
If you're really bothered by image quality I wouldn't rely on the Optio MX4 to replace your digital camera and camcorder. However, as long as you are aware of its limitations, then the Optio MX4 is a fantastic device to have around. Having the abilty to shoot video or take pictures on a device with a 10x zoom that you can easily carry around, quickly becomes addictive.
We like the Pentax Optio MX4 a lot. It’s superbly compact and easy to use, and its abilty to take both MPEG4 video and high resolution stills is a killer combo. However, ultimately reservations about the quality of its output prevent it from garnering an award but if ease of use and portability are more of a concern than out-and-out quality, then the multi-talented Pentax should definitely be considered, especially as it can be picked up online for as little as £300.