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Pentax X90 - Performance and Results

By Cliff Smith

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

The X90's overall performance is pretty good for a superzoom camera. It starts up and is ready to shoot in just under three seconds, and in single-shot mode it has a shot-to-shot time of also just under three seconds, which isn't exactly sparkling performance but is a full second faster than the X70. In continuous shooting mode it can maintain approximately 1.25fps, which is actually pretty quick for a 12MP camera. It also has three burst modes of varying speeds, but since there is no audio cue to let you know when a picture is taken, and the monitor remains blank, these aren't really much use.

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The autofocus system also seems to have had a bit of attention during the upgrade process. It is still very accurate and reliable, and even works well in low light, but it is now much quicker, focusing in a fraction of a second. This is a big improvement, and significant boost to the X90's performance.

Also vastly improved is the camera's battery duration. The 1250mAh Li-ion cell powering the X90 is over 25 percent higher capacity than the battery in the X70, and as a result it can keep shooting a lot longer. I was able to shoot around 220 shots before the battery indicator dropped to one bar and turned yellow, indicating that it needed a recharge. It kept shooting though, managing 270 shots before it finally ran out, exceeding the manufacturer's claimed 255 shots.

There have been a few changes to image quality too, but the X90 still has some room for improvement in this area. The X90 has a new lower sensitivity setting of 80 ISO and appears to have a new noise reduction system. At lower sensitivities the image quality is generally good with no visible noise, but the results tend to look a bit over-processed. By 400 ISO the noise reduction is blurring out fine detail, and at 800 and 1600 ISO noise is a real problem. 3200 and 6400 ISO are available but only at 5MP resolution.

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The new lens however is excellent. Pentax optics have a very good reputation and despite its gigantic zoom range the X90's lens produces superb edge-to-edge sharpness with no trace of chromatic aberration or barrel distortion. This may be due to corrections at the processing stage, but the results are still impressive. Colour rendition and dynamic range are better than average, and exposure metering and focusing are reliably accurate. All in all a significant improvement, and hopefully a sign of great things to come from the Pentax X range.

Verdict

Although it is only a relatively minor upgrade over the X70, it's enough to put the Pentax X90 into the top bracket of superzoom cameras. Build quality, design and handling are right up there with the best, and the improved performance and battery duration are very welcome. There's still room for further improvement in image quality, but the results are far from disappointing.

Money

July 2, 2010, 3:58 am

Great review Cliff, and I agree with your score that this camera deserves.


Lately, I don't understand the trend of using "1/2.3" sensors for most of the new P&S Cameras, every new camera that is being interduced in the photography market had also increased their pixel counts but the sensor remains small. Many of these manufactures are top companies like Pentax, Sony, Canon, Nikon, etc.... They do realized that smaller senor size and increase mega pixel counts = more noise and lower quality images.


I wonder, if it cost more for these companies to produce cameras that use larger CCD/CMOS sensors and keep the pixels at around 10 to 12 Meg?


As consumers, can we get a good P&S cameras that works reasonably well in dark conditions without too much noise?

JK

July 2, 2010, 6:19 am

@Cliff Smith - Sorry if this is a bit off topic, but I didn't know where else to post it...and I would greatly appreciate it if you took the time to answer these questions.





When will you be reviewing Sony's NEX-3 and NEX-5? And what about Fujifilm's new HS10, and Samsung's EX1, any plans on reviewing them anytime soon?? Just a few models I would like to get your opinion on..(I'm interested in versatile cameras with articulated monitors that produce great quality images)





BTW, how would you compare the image quality between a Panasonic DMC-GH1 and a Canon Powershot G11?? (I know they're not in the same category at all, that's why I'm asking)





Have a good one!!

Epic

July 2, 2010, 5:52 pm

@money - I'd love to see an affordable superzoom with a bigger sensor and better low light performance too but I suspect manufacturers steer clear of this to avoid cannibalizing DSLR sales - same reason they usually only come with a weedy built-in flash and no hotshoe.

ChrisC

July 4, 2010, 9:21 pm

Epic - As I understand it, there are 2 main reasons these bridge cameras have smaller sensors. One is cost, since more small sensors can be made on one wafer. Secondly its because smaller sensors need relatively small lenses to focus the image onto them, and as you increase the surface area of the chip you'll need to increase the size of the lens setup in order to throw a bigger image onto the sensor.





Or something.

Driver

July 4, 2010, 11:54 pm

What superzooms and bridge cameras need is:





A larger sensor with a lower pixel count





A hot shoe OR synch lead socket for studio/external flash





A screw on filter ability. Adding an ND or Polarising filter makes a huge difference to the final image.





Better quality optics





BUT few manufacturers will embrace these needs preferring to offer fripperies to attract the casual user.





I use my ancient Olypmus SP 510UZ for semi pro illustrations in a modeller magazine. Mostly it works fine at the lowest ISO rating and working at the 'macro' end of its lens range. The lens chromatic aberrations mean that judicious cropping is needed.





I have looked at a DSLR, 4:3rds or hybrid to replace the super-zoom but so far the cost/return ratio is too steep and the results are not a huge stride on from those I am currently getting.





I would take on another superzoom as they offer me the best all-round performance without needing to carry around an entire camera store of lenses and accessories to grab a small number of different shots.





Without a hot shoe/external synch socket and the lack of a screw-on filter ability the Pentax X-90 is another failure in an increasingly long list.

ChrisC

July 11, 2010, 4:31 pm

Driver - I ended up buying an FZ38 & am really please with it. There are filters & teleconverters available for it, and the lens is pretty good too. No hotshoe though, but for £230 you can't really go too far wrong.

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