With the megapixel rush subsiding, camera manufacturers have to come up with more ingenious ways of getting us to upgrade our cameras. Pentax seems to think that one such way is to produce a digital camera whose form factor is more like an 8mm camcorder than you standard point and click.
Offering 4 megapixels, a 10x optical zoom and numerous scene selection modes the end result morphs digital camera with camcorder. But are the results worth the investment or it is merely just another gimmick to get us to part with our money.
Styling wise the Optio MX4 stands out from the crowd. Folding into a compact, but still fairly large unit the styling is very retro. A “Gun-grip” handle purports to minimise handshake and the 1.8in screen, which is found at the back of the model, pulls up and spins around into an ideal viewing position. A pop up flash sits comfortably at the front (see images for better idea) and is bright enough to shine light on subjects when close. Record and capture buttons have been placed on the gun grip along side the zoom button making the most common controls at your fingertips. Additional buttons like playback, menu options and scene wheel have been placed out of the way on the top of the model.
The unit comes with a 16Mb SD card, although we would recommend upgrading straight away to something a bit meatier if you are planning on shooting video with it. Our 128Mb card we used in testing meant we could capture just under five minutes of footage at the cameras highest setting: 640 x 480 recording pixels at a rate of 30 frames per second and while this would be ample for short movies of the dog or the kids to be displayed on a television, those hoping to create the next Blair Witch will be disappointed with the performance. You can get 10minutes from a 128Mb card by opting for 15 frames per second.
In tests we were fairly happy with the performance of the camera both still and moving however, at times it did have problems focusing quick enough on the subject. Additionally the white balance response was also a bit shaky at times, blanching out the image while the camera's mechanism tried to catch up.
Image quality for picture was on the whole good, although colours on the test shots we took dull in colour.
Pentax has taken a standard feature on digital cameras and through the styling of this model made it the main feature. It's a brave attempt and one that works quite well especially as unlike most digital cameras there isn't a restriction on the amount of footage you can record. All you are limited by is the SD or MMC Card you put in the unit.
It's not going to be good enough to make the next blockbuster, however should be able to cope when it comes to making small home movies of the kids. So should you ditch the digital camera? Unless you use the movie feature, probably not. Picture quality was good, but compared to other 4 megapixel cameras dedicated to taking pictures the size just doesn't compete.