The 14-megapixel Pentax Optio RZ10 is part of an ever-less-exclusive club of compact cameras with long zoom ranges -- 10x in this case. Available for around £160, has it got what it takes to compete with the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS (14x), Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 (12x) and Fujifilm FinePix F300 EXR (15x), to name but three competitors?
We had the all-black version of the RZ10 in for review. Its matte exterior looks rather serious and utilitarian, but you can also get the camera in white, purple, green and orange versions. The handgrip and back plate have a soft and tactile thin rubber coating. This is a pleasing touch.
The camera's design packs a few minor surprises. The chunky lens surround feels like it should be detachable, allowing the attachment of supplementary screw-on filters, but it isn't. The mono speaker mounted above the lens is located where a microphone might be found on other cameras -- the RZ10's mic is instead tucked unobtrusively to the top right of the lens. Also, the power switch has a red dot on it that makes it resemble a one-touch video-record button. The RZ10 doesn't have one of those buttons at all, though.
Caught by the buzz
The RZ10 responds almost instantly to a press of its power button. It takes about a second for the lens to extend to its maximum wide-angle setting and for the 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD to burst into life with an audio flourish. There's no optical viewfinder. Flick the lever encircling the large shutter-release button and the RZ10's zoom lens powers through its broad 28-280mm equivalent range in 2 to 3 seconds, which is also swift. There's an accompanying buzz, but it's fairly quiet.
Given the quiet buzz, it's a shame that the optical zoom is disabled when recording 720p high-definition video, and doubly so given the lens' extensive reach. A digital alternative (up to 6.7x) can be used instead in video mode, but it only serves to deteriorate the image. Output to TV or PC is via a combined AV out and USB port. There's no HDMI connection for hooking the camera up directly to a high-definition TV.
Video and stills are saved to SD, SDHC or Eye-Fi cards, or a weedy 87MB of internal memory. It takes just over a second to save a photo. The memory-card slot sits in a cavity together with the battery, which will last for a fairly average 260 pictures or so.
You may want to make use of the tripod connection, given the likelihood of camera shake when holding the RZ10 at full zoom, although built-in sensor-shift shake reduction helps minimise this to a certain extent. For boosting low-light performance, the camera's light-sensitivity range stretches through a respectably broad ISO 80 to ISO 6,400.
The camera also proves versatile in its ability to shoot up to 9.1 frames per second, for an impressive total of up to 40 shots in burst mode. You'll have to accept a resolution drop to 5 megapixels, however, and the relevant drive mode is mysteriously hidden away within the self-timer options on the rear control panel.
But it doesn't take too much hunting around to find the settings you want, as the camera's rear controls are well labelled, well spaced out and comfortably sized. The camera has a playback button rather than a switch, so you can jump back into capture mode with a half press of the shutter-release button should a photo opportunity present itself while you're reviewing your images. As a family-friendly snapper, the RZ10 also has a dedicated control for activating the face-detection and smile-shutter mode.
Around the four-way control pad are means of adjusting the flash settings, calling up the macro mode (which lets you get up to 1cm from your subject), accessing the self-timer settings, and bringing up the 24 shooting modes on the screen. These shooting modes include the usual portrait and pet options, alongside auto and program modes. There's no separate, bottle-top-style shooting dial on the RZ10.
The RZ10 also has an easy-mode button that strips away the options in the recording menu. This mode will appeal to people who just want to point and shoot. By delving into the camera's menus, the function of this button can be changed to a shortcut for recording voice memos, kickstarting the movie mode, or calling up a pared-down function menu, allowing resolution and ISO to be adjusted in a trice. This same control doubles up as the delete button if you have the playback mode selected.
The menu button brings up three screens of recording options, and a further three screens of set-up options. Among them is hidden Pentax's D-Range exposure-correction facility, which the user can manually set to correct highlights or shadows depending on current conditions.
The RZ10 works and handles well. Its performance and features are better than we expected for the price. Noise creeps into shots upwards of ISO 800, but that's not unexpected, nor is occasional pixel fringing between areas of high contrast. These are both bugbears of compacts in this price bracket and beyond. What really impressed us was the edge-to-edge sharpness delivered by the RZ10's lens and sensor combination, plus the rich, lush colours, which create flattering portraits and really bring landscapes to life.
The Pentax Optio RZ10's pricing and design might make it seem merely a fun, family-friendly option, but its pictures have real bite. Once you've got used to snapping with a 10x zoom at your disposal, going back to a 3x or 5x zoom will make you feel like you're taking photographs with one hand tied behind your back. More experienced photographers will find the RZ10's feature set limiting, but casual photographers will have their creative horizons broadened.
Edited by Charles Kloet