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Pentax has been making ultra-compact cameras longer than most, and that experience shows in the P80's simple but effective control layout. The rear panel has a D-pad and four buttons which, despite the camera's dimensions, are relatively large and easy to use. Like most other Pentax cameras the P80 has a "Green Button" mode, an instant idiot-proof auto-everything setting suitable for quick snapshots. However for more experienced users the green button can be re-assigned to something more useful, such as ISO setting, white balance or metering mode. The P80 also incorporates more manual control than is often the case with point-and-shoot compacts. Saturation, sharpness and contrast are all adjustable, and the highlight and shadow correction can be selected independently.

One feature that isn't quite so impressive is the "Triple Anti-shake Protection". Although this sounds impressive, it's just another name for digital image stabilisation, plus a high-ISO setting to boost shutter speed. It does offer some advantage, but the results are nowhere near as sharp as the sensor-shift image stabilisation that Pentax uses in its DSLRs and more expensive compacts.

Like most of the budget compacts jumping on the HD video bandwagon, the actual video recording mode is nothing too special. The picture quality is reasonably good in decent light, but drops off quickly as the light dims. It is is restricted to digital zoom (up to 6.3x) and mono PCM audio through a non-directional internal microphone which picks up sound behind the camera just as loudly as from in front. Clips are limited to 11 minutes in HD mode, or just under four gigabytes using the bulky rather bulky file format.

Like most Pentax compacts the P80 does have some fun features, such as the half-length portrait mode with automatic zooming to frame the shot, or a large selection of wonderfully tacky frame composites., but sadly the colour filters and digital effects found on some previous models have been omitted. There are several useful features in playback mode, including automatic cropping for portrait shots, and basic movie editing. The menu system is simple and easy to understand, and there are notes explaining what each scene mode does.

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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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