First Look: Pentax Optio I-10 digital camera review

0 out of 5
£199.99

For

Big widescreen display, design, 24 scene modes, Auto button

Against

Widescreen only maximised at 9MP, retro look might mean capabilities are confused with Panasonic or Olympus Micro Four Thirds models

The Pentax Optio I-10 is the latest compact camera to come out from Pentax and stands out from the crowd not because of a higher than average megapixel count, or smile technology, but because it offers a retro design similar to Pentax's Auto 110 film camera. But can the camera that takes its heritage from yesteryear perform today? We were able to take it for a quick spin for a First Look review.

As not to mislead, this First Look impression is based on a pre-production sample sent to us by Pentax. While the handling, form factor and general performance of the camera are finalised, the image processing elements are still being worked on we are told. On the two models (a white version and black version) sent to us, the video capture feature wasn't working for example, and we noticed blips in the performance of the rear display.

Those caveats aside, that doesn't stop us telling you about the design and the feel of the camera. It's light in weight to hold (approx 140 grams with battery), while that retro feel certainly stands it apart from most of the compact cameras on the market today gunning for a compact, slim, feel.

The front of the I-10 boasts a large lens that offers a 5x F/3.5-5.9 optical zoom and further digital zoom qualities beyond that. In reality that gives you the equivalent of a 28-140mm in 35mm speak. The digital zoom (which we always recommend against using) offers a 6.25x zoom giving you a possible total 31.3x if you are willing to forgo image quality.

Above the lens is the flash (rather than to the side) and whether it's down to the handgrip or the mottled pattern layered over the camera, Pentax has successfully carried off the look they were after. Old meets new has been finely balanced.

Around the back you get a 2.7-inch LCD screen sporting a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio that gives you plenty of scope for seeing what you are doing. There is no electronic or optical viewfinder; the raised flash housing might make you expect one, but whether you need it or not comes down to personal preference.

Unfortunately if you opt to shoot at the highest resolution (12 megapixels) you won't be able to benefit from the screen's 16:9 aspect, with "widescreen" shooting coming in at 9 megapixels. Shooting in 12 megapixels means a black box down the left hand side is automatically filled with data like battery life, what scene mode you are in, whether face detection or smile mode is on, and how many shots you've got left, leaving your camera shot free of clutter. In other shooting modes this information is overlaid, but we like the fact that Pentax didn't choose to put black bars either side of the image, as is often the case, so it looks nice and tidy.

To the right of the screen is the usual array of quick link buttons, nothing unusual there, and the on/off switch, shutter and zoom controls are found on the right hand shoulder. The left hand shoulder sports a finger grip and the zoom ring sits around the shutter button. Usually you'll find the zoom ring on a compact camera has a knurled grip on the front, here it doesn't - it faces you rather than away from you, which takes some getting used to.

As with previous Pentax models, the "Green" auto shooting mode will automatically choose the best option for you and let you get on with snapping the pictures. Those that want some control can opt for the specific scene from 24 on offer and here they range from fireworks, to parties to pets. Opting for the pets mode for example allows you to register your pets into the camera so it can then detect their faces in future photographs and make sure they are in focus.

You also get CCD-shift Shake Reduction, which can be used on both stills and video. The video is capable of shooting HD 720p although as we've already said we weren't able to test this on our First Look play.

As for connections, there isn't HDMI or a dedicated TV out, although a USB cable in the box will allow you to output to a TV via NTSC or PAL. The battery and SD card slot can be found on the bottom. It's a slide and lock mechanism that won't give you any problems and should hold up to the test of time.

The menu's are basic in their approach, easy to understand, however from a graphical point of view not as smooth and styled as some of the camera interfaces out there. Everything is easy to find and we had no problems with them.

Overall the camera was quick to respond with plenty of options to suit most compact camera users. We will hold further judgement on photo quality when we get a full working model, although have included some shots to give you an idea.

Verdict

The Pentax I-10 looks to offer you the usual Pentax compact camera capabilities in a rather eye-catching retro design. People we showed it too thought that it looked "cute" and rather "fun", however we also got questions as to whether it was a DSLR (due the styling) and if it was more powerful than a regular compact.

That perception, mainly inspired by companies like Olympus and Panasonic with the Micro Four Thirds cameras (such as the Pen E-P1 and Lumix GF1), might mislead some at first glance. This is, and Pentax makes no claims otherwise, a standard compact digital camera in a funky retro body. 

We'll be looking at the performance and image quality in more detail when we get a retail version of the camera in for review.