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The P80 does have noticeably better overall performance than the P70, but unfortunately that's not saying very much. Start-up time is fast enough at approximately 2.5 seconds, and it shuts down again in about 1.5 seconds, which is a big improvement. In single-shot mode the shot-to-shot time is now approximately 3.5 seconds, which is pretty slow but a whole second faster than the previous model. In continuous shooting mode it can take three pictures in a little under three seconds, but after that it takes around six seconds to empty the buffer before shooting another three shots. There is a high-speed burst mode that can take six shots in approximately three seconds, but it's limited to 5MP.

The autofocus system appears to be unchanged from the P70. It works quickly and accurately in good light, and while it does slow down in lower light it still copes well with pub/club light levels. There is still no AF assist lamp though, so it will only go so far.

Image quality is quite acceptable for a snapshot compact, with accurate light metering and colour reproduction. Dynamic range is slightly improved by the shadow correction and highlight correction features, but it's still pretty limited, with murky shadows and burned-out highlights in very high contrast shots. The lens is also pretty good, with decent overall sharpness, but it seems to lack contrast. Wide-angle distortion is corrected electronically, which does produce some corner blurring, and there is also a little blue-green chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame, but it's not too horrible, and I've seen a lot worse from more expensive cameras.

Image noise is not so well controlled however, with visible noise even at the minimum 125 ISO sensitivity. The P80 has a maximum sensitivity of an impressive 6400 ISO, but this and 3200 ISO are only available at 5MP image size, and the quality is pretty grim.


For under £140 the Pentax Optio P80 is a very slim and stylish ultra-compact camera that is easy to use, well made and equipped with a decent list of features including HD video recording and a good wide-angle lens. However its overall performance is quite slow, and overall image quality leaves something to be desired.

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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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