Pentax Optio M30 digital camera

Pentax launched this, the Optio M30 along with the (already tested) budget, Optio E30 at the recent PMA show in Vegas and it arrives with a 7.1-megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom lens and slim line styling that makes it eminently pocketable.

The silver liveried metal body feels tough and looks suitably grand, the 38-114mm F3.1 to F5.9 optical zoom packs snugly away, flush with the body when not in use. Turn the camera on using the top plate's on/off button and the lens pops briskly out, the camera ready to shoot in less than a second. Responsiveness is good barring one aspect dealt with in a moment.

The body has a slight wedge-shape on the right "grip" side that helps handling; it makes the use of the shutter release on the top and the back plate controls – along with a nice 2.5-inch LCD that dominates the back of the camera – such as the zoom rocker, four-way jog buttons and the OK button much more pleasing to use. The camera is very tactile in the hand.

Movies are recorded at 640 x 480-pixels with audio at 30fps although this can be adjusted downwards to 320 x 240 if needed. The scene modes are indicated using Pentax’s usual (childish looking) icons but they are simple to understand. But in just in case, there is an explanatory help screen that pops up for each mode if you leave it highlighted for a couple of seconds, which is very helpful.

Sensitivity is very broad based with a range from ISO 64 to ISO 3200 and with the Digital SR mode, which is a blur reduction mode that bumps up the ISO to the maximum – if needed, you can fill your images with noise. Digital SR uses a software blur reduction solution; noise issues become very problematic at the higher ISOs, particularly over ISO 800.

The M30’s neat auto tracking nine-zone auto focus system works well enough following moving subjects across the frame and, when in Portrait mode, it switches to a “Face Recognition AF and AE mode; here it tracks and focuses any face in the frame to keep it sharp and meters from it too. It works well but still does not get round the slightly sluggish focus system, which struggles in low light, macro and complex scenes.

Metering is excellent though and coped well with a range of difficult subjects during the test while the white balance (WB) fared less well. The auto WB mode left something to be desired when shooting indoors and when in mixed lighting. Finally, your captured images are stored on SD/SDHC or the 21.9Mb of internal storage, the card slotting alongside the camera’s lithium ion battery pack under a very flimsy cover on the base.

Image quality is however excellent at the lower ISO settings, with plenty of detail at ISO 64, only very slight shadow noise at ISO 100 and 200. However, once the sensitivity rises above ISO 400, noise becomes and issue and noise reduction software starts to eat into detail. ISO 800 images are acceptable while over ISO 1600 things become bad enough for me to say don’t bother.

Verdict

This, the latest M-series Optio is a real slim line package that with the camera in an inside pocket will not plump the lines of your suit jacket and thanks to its keen pricing, it won’t affect the line of your back balance to badly either.

It’s a great point’n’shoot model with neat features, but I can’t help feeling that 3200 ISO setting is a tad silly given the huge amount of noise it generates in the images.

At lower ISO’s image quality is more than acceptable and excellent at ISO 64 so with the caveat on those higher sensitivity settings, the Optio M30 is certainly a compact worth closer inspection.


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