There's no such thing as a baby digital SLR, but, if there were, it would look like the Pentax Optio I-10. The I-10 is actually modelled on Pentax's old Auto 110 film-format SLR, a weird idea which combined the cheap naffness of 110 snapshot film with a rather expensive interchangeable lens design. At around £130, is the 12.1-megapixel I-10 just an expensive novelty or a real camera?
The original 110 SLR used a miniature film format that was never going to produce decent-quality images, but the I-10 is different. It uses the same size sensor as many other compact cameras, so, in theory, the playing field should be level.
The I-10 is also very well made. It comes in a black or white lacquered metal finish with matching leatherette on the front panels. You can even get 'vintage' leather cases in both colours. In fact, the I-10 looks much more expensive than it actually is, so where's the money been saved?
Inside, perhaps? Well, the I-10's 12.1-megapixel sensor is pretty ordinary, but you do get a 5x wide-angle zoom, sensor-shift shake reduction and a 720p movie mode. There are some neat digital filters, a panoramic mode and a 'digital wide' function that stitches together two shots to produce a single wide-angle image -- and it does work, although you have to line up the shots carefully. The focusing options are pretty serious too, with autofocus, macro, super-macro, pan focus, infinity and manual focus among them, plus a face-detection mode that works with cats and dogs.
Pentax has also lifted the dynamic-range-expansion technology from its digital SLRs. It allows the camera to record extra shadow or highlight detail, and it seems to work by adjusting the ISO values locally within the image.
The I-10 looks like much more than just a novelty item, that's for sure. It's too well made for that, and there are some pretty serious photographic tools on offer too. But a cute appearance and smart features aren't enough. It still has to take decent pictures.
That's the I-10's downside. Its pictures are okay, but only just. The lens is sharp enough in the centre, but softens up quite badly towards the edges. It's a shame that Pentax should design such a good-looking camera and then lumber it with cheap, mediocre optics.
There are other aspects of the camera that aren't quite right. The interface's playschool graphics and crude-looking menu text really do lower the tone, as do the silver-coated plastic buttons on the back -- the finish was already wearing off on our sample unit. And it's all very well having an HD movie mode, but it's not much use if you can't use the zoom or autofocus while you're filming.
It's also rather strange to have some quite involved photographic features in such a self-consciously stylish camera. Who exactly is the I-10 aimed at?
The Pentax Optio I-10's problem is that it's just not consistent. Its exterior is cute and classy in equal measure, but the rest of it is pretty weak. The clever shooting options are all very well but, if the camera fails to deliver good images, then it's difficult to get particularly excited about any of them.
Edited by Charles Kloet