As first efforts go, the 12-megapixel Pentax X70 superzoom camera is a strong effort. The camera's 26mm-equivalent wideangle lens with 24x optical zoom is certainly very flexible and fun, and the X70 is outfitted with a large set of shooting options, from full manual to full auto. But a couple of feature problems, together with performance and photo quality issues, keep it from being a complete success. It's available for around £270.
Light but solid
Lighter than most cameras with its zoom range, the X70 nonetheless looks the part of a superzoom camera, and feels of reasonably good quality, with the exception of the lens, which sort of floats loosely in the barrel. Otherwise, it feels solid, with a big rubberised handgrip on the right and a similarly textured thumb rest on back. An eye piece for the electronic viewfinder juts out above the 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD, and, thankfully, there's a button to take you back and forth between the two. All of the controls and buttons are big and clearly labelled, including the mode dial on top. The camera's menu system is very straightforward and easy to navigate as well.
Most superzooms rely on AA batteries -- alkaline, li-ion or rechargeable NiMH. The X70 uses one of Pentax's rechargeable li-ion packs instead. It's a small one, though, and battery life isn't the best we've ever seen. You'll probably want to get a back-up if you're going to be out shooting all day.
Shooting options aplenty
Those looking either to work up to or supplement a digital SLR, or who need a camera that will suit a number of different user types, will appreciate the large assortment of shooting options. Full manual and semi-manual modes provide finer control and room for experimentation. There's also a 'user' mode that lets you define a frequently used group of settings. If you want the camera to do more of the legwork, there are 'program', 'auto picture' (automatic scene recognition) and 'scene' modes. The X70 has Pentax's dedicated 'green' mode button that sends you straight into simplified automatic shooting with limited access to shooting options.
Most notable is the array of ISO sensitivity options. In addition to complete auto and manual ISO 50 to ISO 1,600 at full resolution, there are fixed-range auto options, which let you choose one of five ranges: ISO 50-100, 50-200, 50-400, 50-800 or 50-1,600. There are also two high ISO settings, 3,200 and 6,400, but the resolution drops to 5 megapixels. If you're going to keep the X70 in auto, use the ISO 50-200 range for the best photo results.
Performance is often a sore spot for superzoom cameras of this calibre. Just because they look, feel and have shooting options like digital SLRs doesn't mean they perform like them. The X70, for example, is slow across the board. The time from start-up to first shot is 3.1 seconds. Shutter lag in bright conditions is 0.7 seconds, while low-light shooting extends the lag to 1.4 seconds. Shot-to-shot time without a flash averages 2.9 seconds, while turning the flash on pushes that up to 3.1 seconds. If you're shooting landscapes, flowers, slow-moving animals, rocks or sleeping people, these times probably won't matter to you.