Available for around £90, the Pentax Optio E70 is an inexpensive 10-megapixel ultra-compact camera that takes good photos for the price. It's an attractive camera, too, with big controls that are well suited to beginners. You don't get much more than the basics at this price point though, and the E70 certainly can't take on more-expensive models in terms of photo quality and performance.
The E70 is just small enough to be considered an ultra-compact. It's slight and light enough to stick in a trouser pocket or small handbag -- a rarity at this price. It's available in three colours: gold, blue and red. The strength of its design lies in its simplicity, although some may see this simply as a lack of features. On the top is a power button and shutter release. The rest of the controls, including the zoom rocker, are on the back.
If you don't like small or cramped buttons, you'll probably love the E70. The buttons for menu navigation, flash, capture mode, drive mode, focus, playback and activating face detection are big, spaciously laid out and labelled with a large icon or word. This possibly makes the E70 a front-runner for those who have trouble seeing or using the smaller controls of other compact cameras. Pentax has used a relatively small 61mm (2.4-inch) LCD on the E70, though.
Not surprisingly, there isn't a great deal of shooting flexibility with the E70. The mode button opens up a menu of 18 shooting modes, including Pentax's 'auto picture' auto-scene-selection option, which determines the best shooting mode for your subject, such as 'landscape', 'night scene' or 'flower'. The results are reliable, so those who like to leave their camera in auto should be happy with the outcome. There's also a 'program' mode, which lets you pick focus area and ISO sensitivity, and adjust exposure compensation. Pentax's 'green' mode takes away all control.
One thing worth mentioning is Pentax's new 'pixel track shake reduction' mode, aimed at helping to minimise the effects of motion blur. Turn it on and it will track motion blur at the pixel level, determining in real-time the amount of blur. Once you've taken a shot, it filters the effect motion has on each pixel to sharpen them and remove blur. All of this takes a few seconds after the photo is captured.
In our tests, this mode worked better than the traditional method of electronic stabilisation -- boosting ISO and shutter speed -- as pixel track doesn't introduce more noise. In some of our shots, however, sharpness was sacrificed in order to remove a slight blur. While the mode isn't perfect, it's worth turning on if camera shake is unavoidable.
The camera's overall performance is merely okay. In our tests, the E70 averaged a power-on-to-first-shot time of 2.4 seconds, which isn't too bad. But the shutter lag was long in both bright and dim lighting -- 0.6 seconds and 1.2 seconds, respectively. Shot-to-shot times averaged 3.3 seconds without flash and 4.2 seconds with flash. Finally, although there isn't a burst mode, just a continuous-shooting option, the E70 was able to eke out 0.6 frames per second.
For the price, the E70 produces good photos. The camera offers ISO sensitivity settings from 100 to 6,400, although 3,200 and 6,400 are fixed at a 5-megapixel resolution. The E70 is best at or below ISO 200, but photos at all sensitivities look softened from noise reduction. There are no white-balance options and, unfortunately, everything we shot indoors under incandescent light looked too warm. This is particularly disappointing because the Optio E60's auto white balance is really accurate. But outdoors colours looked bright and natural, and photos were reasonably sharp and detailed.