Those looking to step up from taking photos with their phone or other mobile device will want to consider the Pentax Optio P70, available for around £170. Fronted by a 28mm-equivalent wideangle lens with a 4x zoom, this 12-megapixel ultra-compact camera is point-and-shoot simple, with all the automatic comforts we expect, as well as some extras found above its price point. It looks great too, and is so thin and light that you may forget it's in your pocket. The P70 has plenty to offer for such a small camera -- just not speedy performance.
Much like the , the P70 is a sliver of a camera, and roughly the size of a closed flip phone. The aluminium body is attractive, if slightly slippery, and available in four colours: silver, white, red and blue.
Our biggest gripe with the design is that there's no dedicated area for your thumb. There's some room to the right of the face-detection-activation and playback buttons but, because of the body's rounded edge, you won't get a firm grip for one-handed shooting. Aside from this, the P70 boasts an exemplary ultra-compact design. Pentax even managed to get a wideangle lens with a 4x zoom in the petite body.
For the generation of snapshot photographers who've adjusted to shooting photos with their mobile phones, Pentax has added a 'vertical snap' mode. Hold down the 'OK' button while the camera's off and, when the camera eventually turns on, that button becomes a shutter release, and the directional pad controls the zoom and exposure compensation. The only other control you get is the ability to turn the flash on and off. It's a fun mode, but holding the camera like that can be tricky, particularly if you need to use the flash.
The P70 isn't short on the point-and-shoot features we've come to expect. You get smile capture, blink detection, and Pixel Track SR shake reduction. There's also face detection and, while that's not new, the P70 is capable of hunting down up to 32 faces in as little as 0.03 seconds. Also, if you've never been good about switching to an appropriate scene mode, the P70 will pick out one of eight automatically.
Like the less-expensive , the P70 has no optical stabilisation, but instead features Pentax's Pixel Track SR for helping 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, it worked better than the traditional electronic-stabilisation method of boosting ISO and shutter speed, as Pixel Track SR doesn't introduce more noise. In some of our shots, however, it sacrificed sharpness in order to remove a slight blur. It's not perfect then, but it's worth turning on if camera shake is unavoidable.
What really brings down the overall rating of the P70 is its slow performance. It starts up moderately quickly, at 2.5 seconds. But its shutter lag is at the high end of what we consider acceptable for point-and-shoot cameras: 0.5 seconds in bright conditions and 1 second in dim. After the shutter's released, it takes an average of 3.9 seconds until it's ready for another shot. That's long enough for the flash to recharge when you're using it, so at least that doesn't add to the time. Of course, turning on the Pixel Track SR adds several seconds to these times. The P70 has a high-speed continuous mode that drops the resolution to 5 megapixels. Its full-resolution continuous mode is capable of 0.9 frames per second.
Photo quality is good for an ultra-compact camera, but low-light shooters will probably be disappointed. The camera offers ISO sensitivity settings from 100 to 6,400, but ISO 3,200 and 6,400 are fixed at a 5-megapixel resolution. The P70 is best at or below ISO 200, and that best is actually quite good.
The P70 isn't great with extreme highlights and lowlights, but it produces photos with bright, natural colours and good detail. Its photos are relatively sharp, despite the early onset of noise. Photos taken at ISO 400 would still be suitable for smaller prints and certainly for online use, but the noise reduction starts making subjects look unclear and edges get fuzzy. Detail and sharpness are poor at ISO 800 -- as is the case with most cameras in the P70's class -- and we don't suggest using higher settings.