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Accurate colors have a big impact on image quality, whether you are shooting landscapes or people. We test color accuracy by photographing a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart and comparing the colors the camera reproduces with the known colors of the chart. The image below shows how the Pentax Z10 performed. The outer squares show the colors the Z10 reproduces, the inner squares show the ideal colors of the test chart corrected for exposure, and the inner rectangles show the ideal chart colors at a perfectly even exposure.

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As you can see from the image, many of the inner squares do not match up well with the outer squares, showing that the Z10 has problems with color accuracy. Yellows, blues, and reds are especially inaccurate. This information is shown graphically in the image below. The locations of the ideal chart colors are plotted on the color spectrum as squares, while the locations of the Z10’s corresponding colors are shown as circles. The lengths of the lines connecting the squares and circles show the amount of color error for each color tile.

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The graph confirms the poor color accuracy seen in the first image. Many colors are drastically shifted, especially yellows, blues, and even reds. This will certainly change the appearance of landscapes and other photos. To its credit, the Z10 reproduces skin tones quite well, meaning people shouldn’t look unnaturally pale or flushed, but because the majority of colors are inaccurate, the Z10 receives a poor color accuracy score.

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Resolution*(5.95)*

We test resolution performance by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart at varied focal lengths and exposure settings. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures resolution in terms of line widths per picture height. This unit refers to the number of equally spaced, alternating black and white lines that could fit across the image frame before becoming blurred.

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Click the chart to view the high resolution image

The 8-megapixel Z10 took its sharpest photos at ISO 64, f/3.8, and a focal length of 12 mm. The camera resolved 1627 lw/ph horizontally with 6.9 percent oversharpening, and 1588 lw/ph vertically with 0.2 percent oversharpening. These are respectable numbers, but nothing special. Unfortunately, the camera also suffers from a number of optical problems related to resolution. The edges of the frames are blurry, subject to color fringing, and the corners are darkened. When lines get too small for the camera to distinguish, they turn into an ugly mush of color moiré. Despite these issues, the Z10 scores better for resolution than a several more expensive in-body lens cameras, including the Casio Exilim EX-V8 and the Nikon Coolpix S51c.
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Noise – Manual ISO*(4.86)

*Image "noise" refers to the ugly sandy or splotchy effect that digital photos can have, especially at high ISO speeds or in low light. To test noise levels, we photograph our test chart under bright, even studio lights at all ISO speeds available. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise levels by the percentage of image detail they drown out.

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The Z10 keeps noise levels very low at ISO 64 and 100, but above ISO 200 the noise becomes quite noticeable. At ISO 1600 and 3200, noise levels are so high they begin to wash out the entire photo, which is noticeable even in thumbnail versions (see the Still Life photos further down the page). The noise itself is very ugly, showing tiny splotches of yellow and blue and little specs of black and gray. At ISO 800 and above, some noise smoothing is apparent, which destroys some fine image detail. Overall, the Z10 is a noisy camera, and the ISO 1600 and 3200 settings are virtually useless.

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Noise – Auto ISO*(0.93)*

We also test noise levels with the camera set to Auto ISO. Under our bright studio lights, the Z10 shot at ISO 320, yielding a large amount of noise. Keep this camera at low ISO speeds manually in order to minimize noise effects. 

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**Still Life Sequences

***Click to view the high resolution images

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White Balance*****(7.20)*

Accurate white balance is critical to accurate color reproduction, since different types of light sources have different color casts to them. We test white balance by photographing the Colorchecker test chart under four different types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test the auto white balance setting and the appropriate white balance presets for each type of light source. The camera has no autofocus assist light, so were were unable to take focused shots using the flash as the only light source.

Auto (7.49)

Using the auto white balance setting, the Z10 is very accurate in outdoor shade, mediocre in fluorescent light, and poor in tungsten light. The auto setting is fine for shooting outdoors, but you may want to try using the presets when shooting indoors.

Preset (6.92)

The presets test very similar to the auto setting, the only notable difference being that the fluorescent preset is slightly more accurate than the auto setting. This may help if you encounter color casts to your photos when shooting indoors.

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Low Light*(4.89)

*Not all your shots will be taken in perfectly lit situations, which is why we also test cameras in less-than-ideal shooting conditions. To test low light performance, we photograph the ColorChecker chart at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. This corresponds to the amount of light in a room lit softly by two table lamps (60 lux), down to very dim light levels that would make you squint. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.

The camera cannot expose properly at 5 lux, showing the sensor has clear limits. You could get closer with ISO 3200, but, as it is,  ISO 1600 is really pushing it in terms of noise levels. Color accuracy suffers a bit in low light, which is especially a problem because it isn’t even very good in bright light. Noise levels are very high and distracting. This is not a great camera for low light shooting.

We also test performance for long exposure photos in low light, this time at ISO 400. The Z10 can take exposures as long as 4 seconds in Night Scene mode, but we couldn’t get it to focus on anything dark enough to need an exposure that long. The longest exposure we could get out of the camera with sharp autofocus was 0.5 seconds, which produced strong color error and high noise levels. Again, this camera is not your best bet for low light shooting.

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Dynamic Range*(5.08)*

Dynamic range is a measure of a camera’s tonal range, i.e. how many shades of gray it can distinguish. This is particularly important for scenes with high contrast, such as a wedding photo or a landscape in bright sunlight. A camera with good dynamic range will keep detail in both the highlights and shadows of the same scene. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer step chart at all ISO speeds. The Stouffer chart consists of a long row of gray rectangles, varying slightly in tone from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can discern, the better its dynamic range.

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The Z10 has decent dynamic range at ISO 64 and 100, but then drops quickly at higher ISO speeds. This is important to realize when shooting scenes with high contrast; lowering your ISO speed will greatly improve image quality. Dynamic range is limited by noise levels, and the Z10 is very noisy at high ISO speeds.

Z10-Scores-DynRange.gif



Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card, with the camera set to highest resolution and best quality, unless otherwise noted.

Startup to First Shot (7.6)

The Z10 takes 2.4 seconds to turn on and fire its first shot. This is a bit slower than many small point-and-shoots.

Shot-to-Shot (9.1)

In continuous mode, the Z10 takes 3 shots 0.9 seconds apart, and then pauses for roughly 3 seconds before shooting again every 2.1 seconds. In HS mode, the camera takes 4 3-megapixel photos 0.3 seconds apart. This is not a terrific burst mode, and will make it difficult to capture some action shots.

Shutter-Shot (9.0)

The Z10 has no measurable lag when the shutter is held halfway down and prefocused, but has a short lag of 0.2 seconds when not prefocused.

Processing (1.0)

The camera takes 4.5 seconds for the little green light to stop blinking, though another photo can still be taken during that time. This was measured for a 3.3 MB full resolution photo taken at ISO 160.

Video Performance*(4.05)*

Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux

We shoot video of our color charts under bright indoor studio lights set to 3000 lux. Under such bright light, the Z10 had relatively good color accuracy (especially for auto white balance), and very low noise.

Low Light – 30 lux

We also take footage of our color charts with the lights dimmed to 30 lux, roughly the amount of light in a room lit only by a 40 watt bulb. In this low light, the Z10 has good color accuracy, but a lot of jumpy noise.

Z10-Scores-Video.gif

Resolution

We test video resolution by recording footage of our resolution chart under bright studio lights set to 1700 lux. The camera resolved 305 lw/ph horizontally with 3.4 percent undersharpening, and 363 lw/ph vertically with 37.4 percent oversharpening. This is extreme oversharpening, and leads to very ugly image artifacts, such as jagged lines and moiré.

Outdoor Motion

To get a look at how movie modes handle moving subjects, we take our cameras down to the street to shoot footage of cars and pedestrians in action. The Z10’s video look decent overall, though it was a bit noisy, showed some overexposure and motion moiré, and a bit of stuttering to objects moving off of the frame. Overall though, it isn’t bad video for a point-and-shoot digital still camera.

Viewfinder(0.0)

Instead of an optical viewfinder, there is a 2.5-inch LCD screen on the camera's back for composing shots. This is just as well, because optical viewfinders generally aren’t very accurate on point-and-shoots. The Z10’s view on the LCD isn’t very smooth. If either the camera or the subject moves, the screen shows some blur. The refresh rate isn’t very fast: it’s definitely slower than 30 fps, so moving subjects really don’t look good unless the camera is panned at exactly the same speed.

Pushing the OK button cycles through a host of display options. The screen can be void of info, turned off completely, basic camera info can appear, such as battery life and remaining pictures left on a card, or full file info can be displayed, with a histogram and flashing highlight/shadow indicator. The latter looks a little crowded in the 2.5-inch space. The highlights flash red and the shadows flash yellow: the bright colors and the constant flashing are enough to cause a headache.

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LCD Screen(7.5)

The 2.5-inch LCD screen on the Pentax Z10 has excellent 230,000-pixel resolution and a 170-degree viewing angle. As mentioned above, its refresh rate isn’t fantastic, so it makes a much better playback screen.

In the Setup menu, users can adjust the brightness of the LCD on a +/- 3 scale. This is somewhat helpful when shooting outdoors under the bright sun, as the normal setting is impossible to see at all. Boosting the brightness doesn’t solve the problem of glare, though. Users can check their smiles in the screen easier than they can see what’s going on in front of the camera.

Unfortunately, the screen also collects finger grease that is so visible kids will want to finger paint on it. All in all, the LCD screen is decently sized and has great resolution, but is tough to see in harsh lighting because of its glare and grease.

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Flash(5.0)

The Pentax Optio Z10 has a flash unit on the upper edge of the camera that is off-axis with the lens but still out of the way of wandering fingertips. The flash’s reach is decent for a camera of this size, but its performance is still questionable.

The flash is effective from 0.52 to 17.7 feet when the lens is zoomed out. When zoomed to telephoto, the flash can reach 0.98 to 13.1 feet – decent for a flash unit of its size. The flash doesn’t necessarily look great, though. It casts harsh shadows and seems to highlight blemishes and splotchy skin.

The Flash modes can be found by pushing the left portion of the multi-selector: Auto, On, Off, Red-Eye Reduction, and Soft Flash are the normal palette. Soft Flash is a nice inclusion for close-up subjects, but still doesn’t hide blemishes or eliminate shadows. Unfortunately, the flash output in any of these modes isn’t very even. The corners are significantly darker than the center of the image.

There is a red-eye fix function available in Playback mode. This feature is brought to you by FotoNation, a company that has licensed its technology to several manufacturers to provide a solution to red eyes. This technology comes in handy, as this tiny flash caused dozens of red-eyed photos during the review process. The red-eye compensation is surprisingly effective. It takes a few seconds for the camera to process the image, and again to save or overwrite, but it’s worth it. It worked on every red eye in our test images. Too bad there’s no magic fix for the uneven and unflattering lighting.

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Zoom Lens(7.0)

The Pentax Optio Z10 has a 7x optical zoom lens that remains in the camera body at all times. The Pentax lens remains flat and when the camera is powered down, a metal sliding door covers it to protect it from scratches and debris.

The lens measures 6.3-44.1mm, equivalent to 38-266mm in the traditional 35mm format. This makes it the longest nonextending lens on a Pentax Optio digital camera, not that there’s any real prize for that. The widest 38mm focal length isn’t very impressive when many compact digital cameras are as wide as 28mm. Pentax acknowledges the competition and attempts to respond with its "Digital Wide" mode, which shrinks the image size to five megapixels and zooms in to simulate a 28mm focal length.

The lens is built from 12 elements in nine groups; that number includes two dual aspherical elements and two single aspherical elements. The 7x optical zoom lens’ widest aperture is only f/3.5, a couple stops slower than the average f/2.8 aperture available on most compact digital cameras. The narrow aperture allows much less light to hit the sensor – and it only gets worse when the lens is zoomed to its 266mm focal length. In telephoto, the aperture shrinks to f/5.4.

The realm of the 7x optical zoom can be extended if the image size is reduced. The "intelligent zoom" uses the entire image sensor to capture a picture rather than using part of the sensor and enlarging individual pixels. This feature doesn’t show up in any menus, though. It is automatically activated when the image size is reduced and the digital zoom is turned on in the Setup menu. When the 5.1x digital zoom is turned on and users are zooming in and out, a horizontal line appears on the LCD screen and shows a line where the standard optical zoom ends, where the intelligent zoom ends, and where the digital zoom ends. The intelligent zoom offers the following zoom powers at reduced resolution: 8.8x at 5 MP, 9.9x at 4 MP, 11.2x at 3 MP, 14.3x at 2 MP, 22.3x at 1024, 35.7x at VGA.

The Z10’s 7x optical zoom lens is controlled by a low-quality-feeling rocking button on the upper right corner of the back. When pushed on its left side, it zooms out. The right side zooms in. The control takes some getting used to, but can stop at 15 focal lengths throughout its range when finagled with.

The Pentax Z10 has a shake reduction system that has almost nothing to do with the lens, whereas optical systems on other cameras are built into the lens. The system on the Z10 reduces blur by quickening the shutter speed and increasing the ISO. When the flash is on, it’s hard to tell the difference between a picture taken in the "Digital SR" mode and one taken in the Program mode. With the flash turned off, though, it’s a world of difference. The Program image has soft edges and is underexposed, but the Digital SR image is overexposed and so noisy that the edges of its subjects are soft, too.

The 7x optical zoom lens functions in the Movie mode and stays nice and quiet. There is a "Movie SR" – shake reduction – option available in the menu. This is also a digital image stabilization system and isn’t as effective as optical image stabilization technology.

The Casio Exilim EX-V8 has a similar internal 7x optical zoom lens. It has the exact same 38-266mm zoom range, but slightly wider max apertures of f/3.4 to f/5.3. It functions fully in the camera’s Movie mode, just like the Z10. The Casio V8 has the edge on image stabilization, though: it includes an optical CCD-shift system, rather than the less-effective digital stabilization the Z10 has.

All in all, the Pentax Optio Z10’s 7x optical zoom lens isn’t stellar. There’s not much to get excited about other than its 7x power. It isn’t very wide, and its shake reduction system is inferior to most other cameras’ systems. But when zooming in it keeps going and going, a nice component to have on such a small camera.

Model Design / Appearance(7.5)

The Optio Z10’s small and sleek body makes it one of the most attractive cameras produced by Pentax. It has a black matte shell with a few chrome highlights and elements to add some visual interest. Overall, the camera looks good.

**Size / Portability (7.5)

**The Z10 has dainty measurements of 3.7 x 2.3 x 1 inches. The camera is thinner, at about 0.8 inches, but its siding lens cover adds just enough to make it an inch thick. This cover is one of the things that separates the Z10 from its sister model, the S10. The S10 has a 3x lens that extends from the camera and does not have a lens cover, but does have a 0.8-inch thin body. This Optio weighs 4.4 ounces unloaded and 5.1 ounces when the battery and memory card are inserted.

There is a wrist strap eyelet on the right side where users can loop the included strap into it and carry it like a giant charm on a bracelet.

Handling Ability(5.0)

This camera is about the width of two pancakes and handles similarly to the breakfast food. Maybe not even that well. The Z10 is a box of a camera and doesn’t provide any hand grip to make long photo shoots comfortable. It isn’t built for long photo shoots, though: it’s made to whip out of a pocket and snap an occasional picture. The sliding lens cover provides some substance for the right fingers to hold, and the plastic bumps on the back are a feeble attempt to provide traction for the right thumb’s support. Handling is not a strong point for the Pentax Z10. 

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Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(6.75)

*The buttons on the back of the camera are small and plastic in contrast to the large, metal shutter release button on the top. The plastic buttons on the back make a high-pitched crackling noise when pushed in; they sound low-quality. They are small, but aren’t crammed together so tightly that they’ll be accidentally simultaneously pushed.

Menu(7.0)

The menu is easily accessible with the designated menu button to the lower right corner of the LCD screen. The menu’s contents vary depending on which recording mode is selected. The most options, outlined in the table below, are in the Program mode.

 

 

The menu items are spelled out in text, but there are some icons for the individual options. There aren’t many live views; that handy feature is only available for viewing white balance, exposure compensation, saturation, and contrast. The Setup menu only has one live view, for the brightness level of the LCD. The Setup menu is tucked in the menu system and accessible with a quick scroll to the right.

  

Perhaps the first thing users will do when they unbox the Pentax Z10 is try to turn off the annoying beeping operation noise. Sound number three may prove all too tempting: a soft meow is much more soothing while navigating a menu than a shrill beep.

Navigation is done using the multi-selector. There are arrows on the screen guiding users which way to push the selector to access certain options. Navigating isn’t very complicated, but the menus themselves are lengthy and there is no way to instantly jump to a certain page or set of options. It comes in one long list, although there is a page indicator (eg. 1/3) at the top of the screen. All in all, the text menus are intuitive, but not perfect.

Ease of Use (7.0)

The Pentax Optio Z10 has properly-labeled buttons and fairly intuitive menus, but neither are top of the line. The camera is missing a mode dial, which would have been a nice escape from the menu system altogether. The menus could have been organized more neatly, too. That said, the Z10 does have its "Green mode," which is exceptionally easy to use. It can be accessed with the green button on the camera – not quite a mode dial, but as close as it gets on this camera. It automates everything and disables the menu system so beginners don’t get lost and confused.

Auto Mode(7.25)

Pentax calls its most automatic mode Green mode. It’s easily accessed using the green button in the lower right corner of the camera’s back. The Green mode severely limits what options are accessible: the Recording menu doesn’t show up at all and few options are available on the multi-selector. Self-Timer, Macro and Panning modes, and the Auto flash can be activated. Besides that, the Green mode is completely automated.

Movie Mode(7.5)

The Movie mode is grouped in the Mode menu with everything else. The camera can record Motion JPEG files with mono audio. The video is recorded at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels; either one can record at 30 or 15 fps. The video resolution and frame rate, among other things, can be set in the "movie" option in the standard Recording menu. Within that option, there is a full submenu that allows users to adjust the quality level with the same three-star compression ratings as on still images. Movies can be recorded up to 2 GB.

Users can also activate "movie SR," the digital shake reduction system. Continuous autofocus can be turned on and off, along with the 7x optical zoom. The optical zoom is very useful and hardly makes a sound; it is the continuous autofocus with its low-pitched grinding noise that causes the most operational distraction in movies.

There are two Color modes in addition to the standard available from the movie portion of the menu: sepia and black & white. The Color modes go above and beyond what most digital cameras offer in the Movie mode, and are a nice inclusion.

Videos can be played back and edited. The options aren’t elaborate, but users can save low-resolution still images and divide and stitch movies.

There is more info in the Testing/Performance section, but the movie mode generally had good color accuracy in bright and low light. The noise was the difference though: it was nearly absent in bright light, but schizophrenically jumpy in low light. The resolution proved unimpressive, but the Pentax Z10’s movie mode gets an otherwise positive report.

Drive / Burst Mode(4.75)

The Burst mode can be difficult to find. It is accessible from the top portion of the multi-selector. The trick is that the button is labeled only with a self-timer icon, not with any icon that represents a Continuous Burst mode.

The options are single drive, self-timer, standard continuous, and high-speed continuous burst modes. The first option is the default and the second option has two settings: 2 and 10 seconds. These delays are indicated by the tiny flashing red light on the front of the camera. The standard burst mode takes about one picture every 0.9 seconds and does so for three shots before stuttering along at a slower and more random clip. The high-speed mode takes four shots at a quick pace every 0.3 seconds, but does so at the expense of image size: the resolution automatically shrinks to 3 megapixels. This unimpressive burst mode is common on pocket digital cameras though. The Casio V8 has the same 1 fps standard burst mode and a 4 fps high-speed mode that cuts resolution to 2 megapixels.

**Playback Mode (8.0)

**The Pentax Optio Z10’s Playback mode can be accessed when the camera is turned on or off. When off, users need only push the playback button for a full second. A much shorter push is required when the camera is on. Navigation through images is done with the left and right sides of the multi-selector. This scrolls through individual images, but pushing on the wide end of the zoom toggle shows nine pictures on the screen at a time. Pushing it again shows a calendar view, and pushing the Green mode button while viewing this screen shows pictures organized by folder. Pushing the zoom toggle to telephoto magnifies images up to 8x.

Pushing the top of the selector does nothing. Pushing the bottom, labeled "mode," enters the Playback menu. This is confusing considering there is another button labeled "menu." That button accesses only the Setup menu from here.

The Playback menu isn’t the typical menu. It isn’t a list of text; rather, it is a collection of icons similar to the exposure mode menu. Some of the options access functions directly while others go to sub-menus with more options. 

  

When scrolling through the many icons in this menu, the text title and a relevant explanation appears for the selected function. There are lots of effects and editing options available such as resizing, cropping, and rotating. Not to mention the many digital color filters and effects. The red-eye compensation is very effective: it eliminated every red eye in the many test shots that were plagued with the off-color eyes.

The voice memo function’s only limit is the size of the memory card. This is different than most cameras that top off their memo functions at five or ten seconds. The Image Recovery feature is interesting, although it has limitations. It can restore accidentally deleted images as long as users are still in the playback mode during the same session. For instance, if users delete an image and instantly recall it through the menu, the recovery will work. However, if users delete an image and then return to the recording mode then there is no hope for it upon return to the playback menu.

Deletion is a chore compared to other cameras that allow batch deletion. The only deletion tool on this camera is the delete button on the back; this makes for a laborious process of one-by-one deletion.

Movies and audio can be played back, histograms can be viewed, and full file info is available in the Pentax Z10’s thorough Playback mode.

Custom Image Presets(7.5)

All of the camera’s exposure modes are grouped in a single menu accessed with the bottom of the multi-selector labeled "mode." The menu consists of 15 icons that represent different exposure modes. When users navigate through the icons, a text title appears for the selected icon. If users linger for about a second on any icon, further explanation appears overlaid. When the Natural Skin Tone mode is scrolled on, this appears: "Adjusts color and brightness to reproduce skin more beautifully than Portrait."

These are the 15 modes included in the menu: Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Movie, Voice Recording, Landscape, Flower, Natural Skin Tone, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Sport, Digital SR, Kids, Pet, Food, and Frame Composite. Most are self-explanatory, except for the vaguely-titled Frame Composite mode. It allows users to frame their subjects in tacky floral or cartoon frames. Users can also add the same frames in the Playback mode.

The Scene mode selection covers the basics and is easy to find. Some of the modes could have been helped by better features on the camera, though. For instance, the 38mm widest focal length on the lens isn’t complementary to the Landscape mode, and the 1 fps Burst mode isn’t fast enough for a true Sport mode.

Manual Control Options

The Pentax Optio Z10 isn’t going to please manual control freaks. It is built for point-and-shooters whose idea of manual control is to switch from the Auto mode to the Portrait mode. The individual exposure parameters cannot be changed on this camera, although exposure compensation is available, along with a few other controls.

Focus

Autofocus(6.75)

The first thing we noticed about the Pentax Z10’s autofocus was its slowness; we captured many blinked eyes and turned heads. The second thing we noticed was that it didn’t work well: many images look soft, especially in low light. We looked and looked for an autofocus assist lamp to no avail – no such thing on this camera. Beware in low light!

The through-the-lens contrast detection autofocus system has an upgraded version of face recognition technology that differentiates it from its sister camera, the Pentax Optio S10. The Z10 is faster, recognizing up to 15 faces at a time in three-hundredths of a second. There isn’t a menu option through which to find the Z10’s face detection; instead, it is automatically activated in the Portrait, Kids, and Natural Skin Tone scene modes. The face detection worked very quickly in testing, but strongly prefers larger faces. The face detection system has trouble when there are more than five people crammed in the frame for a full-bodied group portrait, likely because the faces are too small to detect. Still, it works well for the classic single portrait.

There is an autofocus setting option in the Recording menu, with 9-point Multi, Center, and Tracking focusing areas. The Tracking autofocus works well and is great for photographing sports like basketball, where movements aren’t always as predictable as shooting track runners, for instance. In that same option in the menu is a focus limiter that can be turned on and off: this quickens the amount of time it takes to focus. It does so by limiting the focus to faraway subjects during normal shooting and very close-up subjects in Macro shooting.

The Macro focus mode can be turned on by pushing the right side of the multi-selector. This allows the camera to shoot subjects from 0.26 to 1.64 feet. Normally, the Z10 focuses from 1.31 feet to infinity. A small sub-menu appears with other options, too: pan focus, landscape focus, and a link to the manual focus.

In the Movie mode, the continuous autofocus system is activated and makes strange grinding noises that are surprisingly noisier than the functional 7x optical zoom lens. The autofocus system lags behind the zoom lens, so if users zoom close on their subjects then they will be blurry for a moment until they come into focus.

Overall, the Pentax Z10’s autofocus system has the trendy face detection perk, but still falls behind in basic performance like speed.

Manual Focus(5.5)

The Z10 doesn’t have a slew of manual controls, but it does have manual focus. It can focus as close as 0.33 feet and as far as the eyes can see. The Manual focus can be found in the submenu that appears when the right side of the multi-selector is pushed. The view on the LCD shows the entire picture with a frame near the center. When the right side of the multi-selector is pushed again, the view is magnified to within that frame and a vertical scale shows up on the left side of the screen. The scale has numbers to indicate the approximate focal distance; users can scroll up and down to manually focus. The resolution of the LCD screen is complementary to this feature, so users can truly judge the focus.

ISO(8.75)

The Z10 has more ISO options than most digital cameras its size. Its automatic setting can even be adjusted. Many cameras now have two automatic settings: standard Auto and High ISO auto. However, the Z10 goes above and beyond by allowing users to customize the Auto setting to choose an ISO within the following ranges: 64-100, 64-200, 64-400, 64-800, 64-1600, and 64-3200.

The Manual ISO settings are just as generous: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200. These can be found in the Recording menu in many of the still image shooting modes. There is a Digital Shake Reduction mode that automatically chooses higher ISO settings up to 3200 combined with quick shutter speeds to reduce blur.

Don’t get too excited about the ISO 1600 and 3200 settings: they introduce an unacceptable amount of noise into images. The noise at every ISO setting is analyzed in the Testing/Performance section, but the gist is that the Pentax Z10 didn’t perform very well.

White Balance(7.25)

There is a decent set of white balance settings in the Recording menu. Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual are on the docket. There is a live view when the options are scrolled through. The Manual option is easy to set, with a prompt on the LCD screen to push the shutter button along with brackets in the center that shows where something white should be framed.

The Testing/Performance section goes into more detail, but as a general rule the Z10’s presets should be used indoors and the auto setting is fine for outdoors in sunny and plentiful light.

******Exposure**(6.5)

The shutter speed and aperture cannot be individually manipulated, but there is an exposure compensation option with a live view in the Recording menu. It has the same +/- 2 options in increments of a third, as most cameras have.

Metering(7.0)

The Pentax Optio Z10 has a through-the-lens metering system with three options found in the Recording menu: Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The Multi-Segment metering is the default.

Shutter Speed(0.0)

The Pentax Z10 doesn’t have a very expansive range of shutter speeds and it can’t be manually adjusted. Its range is limited to 4-1/1440 of a second. Compare that to the Casio V8, with its 60-1/800 shutter speed range that has long exposures but, oddly, not very fast ones. There is also the Sony T100 with its 1/2-1/1000 range. A more expansive range can be found on the Fujifilm F50fd, with its 8-1/2000 shutter speeds.

Aperture(0.0)

The Z10 has a Pentax 7x optical zoom lens that doesn’t have the most impressive apertures – but that’s the name of the game with internal long lenses. The Z10 has a max aperture of f/3.5 at its widest and f/5.4 at its 266mm focal length. This is similar to the Casio V8’s 7x internal lens: it has max apertures of f/3.4-f/5.3, respectively. The Panasonic TZ3, also known for its long lens and compact body, has max apertures of f/3.3-f/4.9, but its 10x lens extends from the camera.

Picture Quality / Size Options(8.0)

Outfitted with an 8-megapixel 1/2.5-inch interline transfer CCD, the Pentax Z10 offers a full range of image sizes and compressions. The following image sizes are available: 3264 x 2448, 2592 x 1944, 2304 x 1728, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, and 640 x 480 pixels. Each of these are available in best, better, or good JPEG compression represented by one to three stars in the menu. Pictures can be resized in the Playback menu to any resolution and compression smaller or less than the one used on the image. The files can also be cropped in the Playback mode.

As the resolution is reduced, there is more room on the memory card and there are a few more features available. The "intelligent zoom" uses the entire image sensor when the resolution is reduced to digitally zoom without degrading image quality.

Picture Effects Mode(8.0)

The Z10 is loaded with picture effects in the Recording and Playback modes. In the Recording menu, there are three image adjustments that can be made: saturation, contrast, and sharpness. All of these come with low, normal, and high options. The Frame Composite scene mode is also a sort of picture effect. It allows users to select from three frames and record pictures within them. One frame has colorful flowers, another has a pearly beaded heart shape, and the last has a cartoon girl saying "Wow!" in a word bubble. These are incredibly tacky and should be limited to making locker signs for teenagers and other such cheesy projects. These frames can also be added in the Playback mode.

There is a healthy set of picture effects available in the Playback mode. There are scores of color filters: Black & White, Sepia, Red, Magenta, Purple, Blue, Green, and Yellow. There are also three additional Black & White color modes that allow green, red, and blue highlights to remain. There is a Soft Focus filter that makes the whole image look foggy – a little too soft, in our opinion. There is also a three-step fish-eye lens effect and a 13-step brightness adjustment that is perhaps the most useful editing feature among the bunch.

Connectivity

Software(7.0)

The Z10 comes with a CD-ROM with ACDSee for Pentax 3.0 image viewer and management software. It works on Macintosh and Windows operating systems and supports Windows Vista. It takes just a few minutes to install.

This software has the same basics as other programs included with digital cameras. ACDSee allows users to organize images into folders and view them in folders, on a calendar, or as favorites. Along the top of the browsing window are options for navigating, getting photos, sending, creating, modifying, printing, editing, and playing slide shows. The thumbnail images’ size can be adjusted with a sliding bar in the upper right corner of the window, and pictures can be filtered and grouped easily so they are easier to find. Individual pictures can also be tagged with captions, authors, dates, notes, keywords, and categories so they are very searchable.

If users click on an image and then click on the edit button up top, another window appears with a large preview of the image and a panel of editing options: exposure, shadows/highlights, color, red eye reduction, photo repair, sharpness, noise, resize, crop, rotate, effects, and add text. This isn’t Photoshop or anything, but is still a nice selection of editing tools for an included software package.

The ACDSee software for Pentax is a nice inclusion that allows users to organize, view, and edit images as well as burn them to CD, DVD, or VCDs. Users can convert them into PDF files and/or print and e-mail them. This program offers more than what most included photo editing programs have.

Jacks, ports, plugs(5.0)

The Z10 has two ports hidden on its right side beneath two separate doors. The doors have chrome plating that blend into the camera's design, but they fold out and are attached by small rubber straps. The door at the top opens to the USB/AV terminal, while the bottom one accesses the DC-in power adapter port. The AV-out function can be set to NTSC or PAL standards.

Direct Print Options(6.5)

The Z10 is PictBridge compatible with its AV/USB jack on the right side of the camera. This camera supports Print Image Matching III and DPOF print standards. Print orders can be made from the DPOF option in the Playback menu. Users can select one image at a time or all images at once to add to the print order. Users can then choose how many copies of the image to make, from 0-99, and whether the date should be printed on it.

Battery(6.0)

The Pentax Optio Z10 has a small door on the bottom of the left side for the battery. This compartment looks large enough for a single AA battery, but it comes with a lithium-ion battery and does not accept AA cells. This is a very odd size and shape for a rechargeable lithium-ion battery; it looks similar to a Tootsie Roll. This D-L172 battery is more powerful than it looks: it gets 180 shots per charge. That’s not much, but it’s more than one would expect from a Tootsie Roll. The camera comes with a charger and a cable that hooks the charger to the wall outlet. An optional AC adapter is available from Pentax, too. The battery takes about 90 minutes to charge when fully spent. The battery is more powerful than it looks but is less powerful than the average rechargeable battery included with a point-and-shoot camera. The Sony T100’s battery, for instance, snaps 340 shots before needing a break in its charger.

Memory(5.0)

The Pentax Optio Z10 has 52 MB of internal memory, surpassing what most digital cameras offer. This allows users to capture 13 full-resolution images if a memory card is forgotten. The Z10 also accepts SD and SDHC memory cards. The Casio V8 has 11.8 MB of internal memory and the Sony T100 comes with 31 MB; the Pentax Z10 comes out on top in this category.

Other features(3.5)

Clock – If the OK button on the back is pushed while the camera is off, an analog-style clock appears, along with the date. It stays on the screen for about three seconds.

Alarm Clock – The alarm clock can be set to sound once or daily. The hour and minute can also be set in the Setup menu. One quick catch, though: if the operation volume is turned off in the Setup menu, you won’t hear the alarm. The analog clock appears, but no sound is made unless the audio is turned on, which can be done elsewhere in the menu. Just don’t assume the alarm clock will make noise if the other sounds have been deactivated.

World Time – Users can choose from 75 cities and 28 time zones and choose whether they are home or away so users don’t have to reset the clock on vacation and upon return.

Value(5.75)

The 8.1-megapixel Pentax Z10 may be very convenient with its thin body and nice 7x optical zoom lens, but it still isn’t worth the $249 retail price tag on it. The autofocus system is slow and caused many, many missed opportunities, turned heads, blinked eyes, and otherwise bad photos. In this price range, it is possible to have better-quality images.

Comparisons

pentaxs10.jpg
Pentax Optio S10 – Announced on the same day as the Z10, the S10 is the sister camera available only at Wal-Mart. It has the same retail price of $249. It has a skinnier 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8-inch body, but no sliding cover and its 3x optical zoom lens extends outward. It has similar modes and features, but its face detection is an older version, so it reacts slower than the system on the Z10. The S10 has more resolution with 10 megapixels.

casiov8.jpg
Casio Exilim EX-V8 – These cameras could be twins. They both come in matte black bodies and have metal sliding doors to protect their internal 38-266mm, 7x optical zoom lenses. Both have 8.1 megapixels and 2.5-inch LCD screens. Their dimensions are within a few hundredths of an inch of each other. The Casio V8 has Manual and Priority exposure modes, more manual controls, 34 Scene modes, and a YouTube Movie mode that can automatically upload videos to the online video sharing site. The V8 has another edge on its competition with its optical image stabilization system. The V8 sells for more, though, with its $329 retail price.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7 – The 7.2-megapixel LZ7 has a slightly chunkier body but is still compact and comes for a less expensive $199. It has a 6x optical zoom lens that has a superior optical image stabilization system. Like the Pentax, it has mainly automated modes but just a few basic color modes like Black & White and Sepia. It has the same 2.5-inch LCD screen, but its resolution is half that of the Z10, so it doesn’t look nearly as smooth. Its flash is more powerful, as it can reach 17 feet, and it also has an autofocus assist beam to help out in low light – something the Z10 could use. The Panasonic LZ7 has ISO settings that aren’t quite as expansive, from 100-1250, but is still a decent range for this price point.

samsungnv7.jpg
Samsung NV7 OPS – This 7.2-megapixel digital camera doesn’t have the same flat body, but is sleek and compact nonetheless. Its 7x optical zoom lens protrudes from the body. The camera has an Optical Picture Stabilization mode that reduces blur from pictures and keeps the 640 x 480-pixel, 30 fps movies stable. The NV7 has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with the same 230,000-pixel resolution, but it has a much cooler "smart touch" user interface that consists of touch sensitive buttons surrounding the screen. These buttons allow users’ thumbs to travel over them and navigate quickly through menus and images on the screen. The Samsung NV7 has Manual, Priority, Program, Auto, and 11 Scene modes in addition to its Movie mode. It has a wider 15-1/2000 shutter speed range and wider apertures that max out at f/2.8 in wide and f/3.7 in telephoto. The Playback mode is loaded with picture effects and even has photo frames. The NV7 originally retailed for $399 but now sells for about $250. 

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T100 – The 8.1-megapixel Sony T100 comes in a thin metal body and has a sliding door that covers its internal 5x optical zoom lens. It has an optical image stabilization system that makes the image on its larger 3-inch LCD screen look much better. The resultant images look great, too. Not only is there less blur from the image stabilization, but the colors are more accurate and its dynamic range and noise performance is excellent. Its battery lasts much longer at 340 shots per charge and it has the capability to output high-definition images. The T100 is loaded with automated modes and a face detection system that recognizes up to eight faces at a time. The Sony T100 is a great performer for an ultra-slim camera, but it costs a lot more at $399.

**Who It’s For

***Point-and-Shooters* – The Z10 can be stuffed into a pocket with its flat body and can be flung out at a moment’s notice to easily point and shoot at the nearest subject.

Budget Consumers – The Z10 is right on the edge of what these consumers are willing to pay. Most will opt for less expensive digital cameras, although the 7x lens at this price is a nice touch.

Gadget Freaks – There isn’t much allure in this area for these folks.

Manual Control Freaks – There are a few manual controls hidden in menus, but the lack of control over shutter speed and aperture is sure to scare these consumers away.

Pros/ Serious Hobbyists – The Pentax Optio Z10 won’t get as much as a glance from this crowd.

Conclusion

The Pentax Optio Z10 packs a lot of seemingly great features into a small body. It has 8.1 megapixels and a 7x optical zoom lens that goes beyond the typical 3-4x zoom offered on most slim digital cameras. It also has a decently-sized 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels. Add in a generous 52 MB of internal memory and there are some very tempting components on the Z10.

There are quite a few serious drawbacks, too. The autofocus system is so slow that candid shots are out of the question. Every shot must be posed for it to be captured properly. The Pentax Z10 has a digital blur reduction system, but it isn’t as effective as optical systems on competing cameras. The Z10 also has a face detection system, but it is crippled by the shutter lag.

The Optio Z10 has a $249 price tag that isn’t terribly out of line, but there’s more and better competition in this price range especially when the Z10’s performance is taken into account. With less than ideal dynamic range and more noise than is tolerable (above ISO 200), the Pentax Optio Z10 is a hard sell for any photographer.

Specs Table

Meet the tester

Emily Raymond

Emily Raymond

Editor

Emily Raymond is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

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