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Since Pentax merged with the Hoya Corporation in 2007 there have been persistent rumours that the company's Optio range of digital compact cameras would be cancelled, freeing resources for the development of its much more profitable digital SLR range. However these rumours seem to be unfounded, at least so far, because new Optio models continue to appear, such as this Optio P80, a stylish 12-megapixel ultra compact with a 4x zoom wide-angle lens.

There may be some evidence that compact camera development isn't as high a priority as it used to be though, because the P80 is virtually identical to the Optio P70, launched earlier this year. The only real upgrades are the video recording mode, increasing the frame rate of the 1280 x 720 mode from 15 to 30fps, and an improvement to the face detection/recognition function, which can now detect up to 32 faces, and do so more quickly.

All of the camera's other features remain unchanged, including the 12.1-megapixel CCD sensor, the 4x zoom wide-angle lens (equivalent to 27.5 - 110mm) and the 2.7-inch 230k monitor. The body is also identical to that of the P70. The P80 is a very slim and compact camera by any standard, measuring 97 x 54 x 21.5mm, and tipping the scales at an ultra-light 120g including battery and memory card. The body is all aluminium, and is available in either silver, metallic green or the attractive gloss black finish shown here. The build quality is as good as ever, but like the P70 the round-ended shape is hard to grip securely especially with sweaty fingers.

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October 26, 2009, 4:30 am

How is it possible to ruin a brand name the way Pentax is doing?

With their compact cameras they have been going from good to bad

and even worse.

I bought the first Optio S when it first appeared - must be 5 or 6 years ago.

It was extremely well made, cast aluminum body, an ingenious lens retracting mechanism

and an a coupled optical viewfinder. The optic was good relative to the competition and at ISO 100 the pictures came out quite good and made enlargements to A4 with very acceptable quality.

But what has happened since - one compact camera after the other getting worse and worse and the change of company ownership has not brought about any change to the better - in

fact rather the opposite.

Would it not be better to drop compacts altogether and concentrate on DSLR type of cameras?




October 26, 2009, 5:57 pm

I agree Pentax can do so much better than this. I disagree that their compacts have only got worse over the last 5 years or so. The last of the "S" range retained excellent build and image quality. But the newer range, the P, M and E series; have been horribly uninspired. They are not bad as such; the problem is more that they do not stand out at all. Either very little time and effort were put into the design, or they were specifically designed to be as boring as possible, so that no-one would tell it was a Pentax without reading the name. The waterproof W series at least have a unique(ish) selling point, however the decision to make these look and feel like cheap plastic toys was a terrible one.

However Pentax are not alone in disappointing with their compacts; I think Olympus have lost sight of what made their compacts different since the days of the wonderful Mju Mini. Nikon's compact range is also fairly tedious, other than the P-series, and gives no indication of the quality evident in their dSLRs. Canon have at least maintained a consistent approach to their designs (though I am not a great fan for other reasons).

It seems to me that optics/camera companies are just surrendering the compact market to electronics companies. Panasonic compacts are now, for many, the standard by which others are judged. In addition to excellent build quality, they put a lot of thought into the control system and the automated metering, focusing etc, to produce cameras that the average consumer can use with minimal effort and produce images that are instantly suitable for printing. In other words, they actually spent time and money thinking about what features could be improved and what consumers wanted. Meanwhile Nikon, Pentax etc simply churned out me-too clone cameras, albeit with a few more pixels each time. Similarly, Samsung may have some way to go in terms of implementation, but in terms of design they are at least trying new ideas, and new approaches to existing ones. If Apple decided to wade in as well, then all of those traditional optics companies may as well pack up and go home.

The thing is, right now no compacts (other than expensive niche ones) really stand out in terms of the quality of images they can potentially produce. Therefore they have to compete with unique designs and/or unique feature sets, which can be advertised effectively. Just having slightly more pixels will not do anymore, and HD video may be appealing but not when it's simply crammed in as an afterthought, like in the P80 here. I'm sure Pentax et al realise this; I just hope they get their act together and either step their game up, or give up.

OK, that's my essay for the day ;)

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