Pentax Optio MX4 review

£267
Price when reviewed

Camcorders have been trying to muscle in on the digital-stills business for long enough, so it was about time photography fought back. Many digital cameras already have limited movie recording, but this is usually far from full TV resolution and heavily compressed. The Pentax Optio MX4 hopes to give you the best of both worlds, with 4-megapixel stills and full-resolution video capture, all in one device.

Pentax Optio MX4 review

The MX4 certainly has the credentials on paper. The 4.2-megapixel 1/2.7in CCD is slightly behind the 5-megapixel sensors in the best budget compact cameras these days, but it’s still capable of 2,304 x 1,728 resolution photos, which is more than enough for standard photo printing. Movie recording can be up to 640 x 480 at 30fps, which is also close to TV resolution.

However, while 640 x 480 video is higher than most still cameras, it isn’t unique – Canon’s A95 and Sony’s DSC-W1 are both capable of the same resolution. And while the Canon can manage only 10fps at this resolution, the Sony offers the full 25fps. Annoyingly, the Pentax has only 15fps or 30fps options – there’s no European PAL TV-friendly 25fps. This is irritating if you hope to edit your movie for burning to an optical disc for use in a European DVD player. The fact that the capture format is QuickTime MPEG4 is also a hindrance. While many editing apps support this, editing is usually a lot less fluid than with DV AVIs. The bundled 32MB SD card won’t fit much video, either (though Pixmania was offering the MX4 with a 1GB SD card for £330 as we went to press). At the highest quality setting, nearly 400KB is taken per second, so there’s room for only 82 seconds as standard.

Where the Pentax does win out as a camcorder is with its healthy 10x optical zoom. This is considerably superior to the 3x optical zooms found on most digital-stills cameras in this price range. The 10x factor gives the Pentax a 35mm-equivalent range of 37-370mm. This big zoom is the main benefit from the elongated form factor, although as a result the Pentax is less pocket-friendly than a compact digital camera. The zoom is also a little sluggish, taking a second or so to kick in once the control has been pressed.

In both camera or camcorder mode, the auto white balance coped badly with low light, although it was good with decent outdoor illumination. There are four manual presets to choose from, however, and there’s a fully manual mode as well. The presets corrected the indoor white-balancing issues well, but annoyingly, every time you turn off the Pentax the white balance setting goes back to automatic.

As a digital camera, though, the Pentax is reasonably impressive. Colour, detail and focus are all commendable both outdoors and in, although for the latter the flash is generally required. The ability to resolve contrasting illumination was also effective. There was little sign of compression artefacts at the highest still-image setting, either. At this setting, each image takes 2.54MB, so a larger SD card will be a necessity, as only 12 images will fit on the one supplied.

So the Pentax doesn’t quite live up to its ‘all-in-one’ marketing. It’s a good digital camera, and the video recording is certainly usable. But, we’ve yet to find a single device that can shoot photography and movies to the same standard as standalone devices in either category.

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