Pentax X70 digital camera review

3.5 out of 5
£369.99

For

Big zoom capability from relatively compact dimensions, easy to use intuitive operation for the most part, good results achievable shooting handheld if plenty of light available

Against

Plasticy build, resolution drops when choosing faster capture setting, no RAW capture option, disappointing results at ISO 800 and above, zoom disabled when shooting video

The Pentax X70 is a 12 megapixel, DSLR-styled digital camera notable chiefly for the whopping 24x optical zoom bolted on the front. The theory is that, with the broad focal range on offer (26-624mm in 35mm terms), the X70 will be all the camera that most will ever need, so why stress that we can’t actually change the lens, like on an actual DSLR?

It’s not the first compact model such featured – Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony all offer their own big zoom rivals – nor will it be the last. So what else does Pentax’s contender, its first ultra zoom, possess to make it worth your further investigation?

Feeling roughly half the weight of an entry-level DSLR with lens attached – such as Nikon’s new D3000 for example – the unassuming looking X70 is obviously a more portable, not to mention affordable, option for those wanting a long lens reach without the usual bulk.

Coupled with its on board Intelligent Zoom function, the lens reach can be extended to a camcorder-like 150x (a frankly ridiculous 3900mm equivalent!). OK, its manufacturer’s suggested asking price almost matches that of a DSLR "proper", but you are getting a lot of lens for your outlay.

Of course, with any telephoto zoom model it’s important to have some reliable form of anti-shake on board, and here Pentax offers image sensor shift-type shake reduction. Gyro sensors detect movement prompting the CCD to move vertically and horizontally at high speed to counterbalance and hopefully cancel out any external wobble. As with any such system, it’s not infallible, but on a more positive note a higher proportion of usable images are achieved with it than without.

Also, thanks to a comfortable grip that your fingers can mould to, with a pad at the back for the thumb, it’s possible to hold the camera steady enough to attempt hand held shots at the extremities of the 24x zoom. And, on a series of bright summer days, we were able to achieve acceptable results when doing so.

The only initial note of disappointment is that the build looks and feels rather obviously plasticy in comparison to a starter DSLR. But it does feature a rechargeable lithium ion battery – inserted into the base of the grip along with an optional SD or SDHC card (33.6MB built-in memory) – rather than the handful of AAs traditionally utilised by bridge models that add to the overall weight.

The X70’s shooting modes are accessed via a familiar top-mounted dial with just the right amount of "give" to click definitively into place at each setting and not accidentally slip from one to the other when fetching it out of a camera bag. Here we are offered the creative quartet of program, shutter priority aperture priority, and manual settings, alongside full auto, with pre-optimised scene, sports, user attributable plus digital shake reduction settings also selectable.

While the rear 2.7-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD is fine for composing shots, the ability to switch to use of the electronic viewfinder immediately above proved a boon when wanting to more accurately check the detail of a shot, free from the distractions of sunlight on the screen.

Shame then that the screen itself is fixed, i.e., cannot be angled or tilted for a greater range of photo taking possibilities. There is a degree of picture control in that the user can choose whether to give image a bright, natural or monochrome look – the first option, for us, producing the better defined, dynamic looking, results.

The X70’s operation is intuitive, so shouldn’t daunt anyone trading up from a compact or indeed looking to supplement their entry- or mid-range DSLR with a more portable, yet not un-versatile snapper. And here we also get the option to shoot movie clips in high definition (1280 x 720 pixels), the final setting to flag up from the mode dial, though no HDMI output is provided, just the standard AV out and USB 2.0 connection ports.

The now ubiquitous face recognition is also present – biasing focus and exposure to up to a whopping 32 different faces in the frame; double that offered by most rivals. Macro functionality, selected via the four-way control pad right of screen at the rear, allows for close ups down to 1cm from your subject – which is what in truth we expect from this class of camera, as is a broad ISO range stretching up to ISO 6400 equivalent.

Better than average is an 11 frames per second continuous capture speed, for up to 21 sequential images. Inevitably there is some trade off to achieve said speed however, here a drop in resolution to 5 megapixels.

In terms of overall image quality, though pictures are well saturated and colourful in the main, unsurprisingly there’s occasional softness when shooting at maximum telephoto, while pixel fringing creeps in between areas of high contrast upon close inspection – both pretty much what you’d expect from a camera of this ilk.

A disappointment when it comes to shooting video is that the optical zoom is disabled; the framing merely stays the same as it was before the shutter release button was pressed, which seems something of an oversight given the camera is majoring on its broad focal range.

Taking photographs in low light at settings up to ISO 800, results are usable, though we’d advise steering clear of ISO 1600 and above as detail is noticeably softened – at ISO 6400 images more closely resemble sketchy brass rubbings than photographs.

Verdict

Offering itself up as a jack-of-all-trades tool, the X70 can either be used like a point and shoot on steroids, or a more creative device according to user experience or desire. It will seem immediately intuitive to use for anyone who has handled an entry-level digital SLR.

If it’s a camera that will slip into your top pocket or take slightly crisper images overall, then look elsewhere. But if a long lens is your chief concern, then the Pentax X70 offers an easy and affordable route to capturing candid, fly-on-the-wall style shots.