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Pentax Optio M30

An affordable, yet sleek and stylish 7.1 megapixel Optio
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The Optio M30 is the latest model in Pentax's M-Series of "nicely equipped" yet affordable ultra-compact digital cameras. Those familiar with the Optio series and naming system may be a bit confused though as the M-Series is no longer the entry level, lowest cost faction of the Optio family. That role is now filled with the new E-Series. The M-Series has gone slightly upscale, with a sleek and elegant new look. You still get 7.1 effective megapixel as in the M20, but they now come in a sexy, ultra-slim body.

The big picture is that with the M30, Pentax seeks to offer an inexpensive camera with classy upscale looks and a quality feel. They didn't skimp on options and features -- the M30 has digital shake reduction, face recognition, auto macro, a very powerful flash, high quality movies and more. You just don't get all the latest and most advanced technologies and some of the costlier extras. That's what the A-Series and T-Series Optios are for.

Sleek and sexy design

Compare the older M20 with the new M30 and you're looking at a whole different design. It's like the M30 is really one of those sleek and slender Casios that's been adopted into the Pentax lineup (ironically, recent Casios have become broader and heavier). The 3.8 x 2.2 footprint is a bit larger than the credit card gold standard, but the M30 is just 0.7 inches thick and clever design makes it look and feel even slimmer than that. It also only weighs 4.2 ounces bare, and still less than five ounces with battery and SD card. This camera definitely fits into any pocket.

The M30's aluminum-alloy body is all matte silver and chrome. It looks and feels precision-crafted and assembled rather than "milled-from-a-solid-block." No matter what angle you look at this camera, it's clear that a lot of thought and attention went into every smallest detail. Materials, curves, edges, angles and accents are clevely used to create a very elegant, visually interesting, yet ergonomically correct camera that is easily the best looking in the current Optio lineup. Someone at Pentax did a super job here. Oh, and when you sit it down on a flat surface it won't fall over despite its slender design. That comes in handy.

Controls and operation

As far as operation goes, the Optio M30 is your typical modern digital camera and that includes the current thinking on controls and layout. Compact digital cameras have become very standardized in the way they work, and even a newcomer will be able to use this camera pretty much right out of the box. If a little help is needed, no problem. Unlike several others, Pentax continues to provide excellent, detailed printed manuals -- in this case a 185-page book all in English.

On top of the M30 there are just two buttons. To the right is a small and slightly raised rectangular shutter that offers good tactile feedback. To the left of it is a slightly recessed on/off button.

The left two thirds of the backside are taken up by a 2.5-inch LCD. It's large enough, but only has 115k pixel resolution, making for a fairly coarse display and not much detail when you zoom in during playback. It is also not a wide viewing angle display which in this case means the picture remains viewable at an angle horizontally but quickly disappears vertically. To the right of the LCD it's all standard. There is a small rocker switch for the camera's 38-114mm 3X optical zoom. Below the zoom a button that toggles between recording and playback. Below that is the standard 5-way navigational disc, with each directional button serving both to navigate and to access frequently used functions: flash, focus mode, scenes, and drive mode. The labels are black on silver and very clearly readable. Pushing one of those directional keys in recording mode brings up a menu bar with both icon and text labels -- a sensible solution. The center "Ok" button also cycles through three LCD display modes: off, basic info, and more info plus histogram. In histogram mode, the screen flashes areas that are under or overexposed -- a handy feature that is not available in the more expensive A30. Below the nav disc is a menu button and a "green mode" button which is, in fact, green. In the M30, the green mode button toggles between whatever scene mode is selected and basic automatic mode (in some other Optios, the green mode button can alternately be used as a function button to which you can assign settings).

The left side of the A30 houses the microphone and a DC input for an optional power adapter; the right side sports a sturdy strap lug.

The bottom has a compartment for the battery and the SD storage card. A little latch keeps the battery from falling out when you open the door to remove or exchange the card. The plastic tripod mount is located off-center center, next to a proprietary USB/AV connector (see picture below). The A30's battery, incidentally, goes in both the right and the wrong way, but only snaps in place when it is inserted with the proper side up.

Menus and modes

The Optio M30 is exclusively a point & shooter camera. There are no manual exposure modes. You can either leave the camera in fully automatic mode, or select from one of the 14 scene modes. They are accessible by pushing the Modes button, then selecting a scene icon on the screen. The icons only have a label such as "Food," but if you move the selection box onto one and wait three seconds or so, a brief narrative shows up that explains the mode in more detail. That can be a bit annoying as the narrative window obliterates the scene icons beneath it.

Some modes have sub-selections. Select "Pet," for example, and you can further enhance the likelihood of a great picture by selecting the fur color of your cat or dog: black, white, or inbetween. And yes, dogs and cats are totally separated.

In "Frame Composite" you can pick from one of three cute frames (you can download more; see here), and in "Text" mode you can select reverse mode for both black-and-white and color text and adjust contrast.

In "Portrait" mode and "Kids" mode, face recognition kicks in. In the "kids" pamodert the camera's auto focus keeps tracking even after you've pushed the shutter halfway down. It also goes for what the manual describes as a "healthy" look.

The "Menu" buttton acts as an "Esc" to back out of selections. All in all very simple.

While the M30 has no manual exposure modes, there is a "P"rogram mode that allows you to adjust a variety of setting such as picture quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity, flash mode, focusing type and so on. There is a manual focus mode.

The "Digital SR" function

Unlike the more expensive 10-megapixel Optio A30, the M30 doesn't come with Pentax's full Shake Reduction function that uses CCD-shifting to compensate for shaking hands and prevent blurry images. Instead, the M30 only has "Digital SR" that boosts sensitivity up to ISO3200 and increases shutter speed. In fact, shutter speed is never longer than 1/15th of a second. The system can be used both for still photography and when taking movies.

Sound and audio

The M30 has a voice recording mode that lets you record until the card is full, up to a maximum of 24 hours. You can also assign voice memos to indivdual pictures, and they are also essentially unlimited in length. Sound starts recording immediately once you selected the sound memo function. For audio clip playback there is a small onscreen representation of the nav disc shows that shows your options. If there is sound attached to a picture, a little green "play" triangle indicates which navigation button to push, and while it is playing, the traditional "stop" square shows how to quit out of it. Sound playback isn't very loud, so make sure you speak into the microphone.

Playback mode menu

While in playback mode, you can access 15 functions but unless you read the manual, you wouldn't know that unless you read the manual. If you do, you have access to a variety of filters, slide shows, cropping, image rotation, the above mentioned voice annotation, red eye removal, resizing, movie edit, setting an image as the startup picture, and more. Playback zoom is up to 8X.

Software

On the software side the Optio A30 comes with ACDSee for Windows and the Mac OS. For the PC, that is version 6.0; on the Mac version 1.6.9.

Everyday use

The Pentax Optio M30 is a friendly, handy camera to take a long, and one that is certain to attract a good deal of attention due to its slender, attractive looks. It is small and thin enough to fit just about anywhere, it's simple to use, and it starts up quickly. Try out all those different modes, and you'll quickly get very good pictures in almost any setting. Do not expect miracles, of course. Face recognition works fine, the camera has no problems following kids that move around, and the digital image stabilization does its job. Don't expect miracles, though.

The M30 produces very decent picture quality under most conditions, and 7.1-megapixel is enough so you can crop away whatever you don't need. The camera takes very good close-ups and the macro and super-macro modes work very well. However, everyday use is also where some of the features missing from the M30 to faciitate the lower price would come in handy. Compared to the Optio A30, there is no intelligent zoom to extend the 3X optical zoom with virtually no reduction in image quality. There is also no autofocus illuminator light to improve low-light image quality. And the lack of an active anti-blur mechanism means you have to try harder to hold the camera still. And while the M30 can take nice 640 x 480 movies, they are recorded in MOV format (QuickTime Motion JPEGs. That's good, but not as good as the DivX format the A30 uses. There is no optical zoom while taking movies, but digital zoom is available, and it works smoothly.

Battery life is rated at 230 pictures -- not great but acceptable, and significantly better than the A30's 150 pictures.

Bottom line

Pentax moved the M-Series "upscale" with the totally redesigned Optio M30. It is a sleek, slender and very elegant camera that is certain to attract attention. Its 7.1 megapixel resolution is plenty good enough even for massive enlargements or cropping. The camera is quick and simple to use, with the exception of some menus that are a bit confusing. The M30 offers an awful lot for the money, but Pentax did have to leave out some features to make that low price possible. Some users may miss intelligent zoom, autofocus illumination, DivX movies, active anti-blur and so on, but others may not. The low-res LCD is something that no one will particularly enjoy. Still, as is, inexpensive digital cameras have rarely looked this good. And the M30 delivers to boot.

We like:

  • Sleek, slender, very elegant, handy 7.1-megapixel camera
  • Logically laid out and very simple to use
  • High ISO 3200 sensitivity available
  • Decent battery life
Not so much:
  • Some menus and functions are buried or not marked
  • No optical zoom in movie mode
  • Digital anti-blur only
  • 2.5-inch LCD has low 115k pixel resolution

Specifications Pentax Optio M30
Status Added 04/2007
Camera Type Ultra-Compact
Body Aluminum alloy
Size 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.7
Weight (oz.) 4.8 w/o battery
Effective Pixels 7.1 mp
CCD Type 1/2.5" Interline Transfer CCD
Max pixel size 3072 x 2304
File formats Still: JPG (EXIF 2.2), DCF, DPOF, PIM III; Movie: MOV (QuickTime Motion JPEG); Sound: WAV (PCM), monaural
Compression Best, better, good
Movie recording (best) til full @ 30fps
Max movie pixels 640 x 480
Voice recording Voice memos and sound clips til full (24 hour max)
Speed Startup: approx 2.0 sec; Release lag: approx 0.05 sec; Shot to Shot: NA; Autofocus time: NA
Image stabilization Still: Digital SR Mode ISO 3200; Movie: Movie SR mode
Lens 6 elements, 5 groups
Focal length 6.3-18.9mm (38-114mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/4X
Aperture f/3.1 - f/5.9
Focus modes 9 point AF, spot, tracking, face priority, manual
Focus macro/normal 2 inches, 1.3 feet
Shutter speed 1/2000 to 4 sec
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/64-1600 (3200 available in Digital SR Mode)
Autofocus system TTL contrast detection autofocus
Metering TTL multi-segment
White-balance modes auto, 5 presets, manual
Shooting modes auto/15 modes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.5" LCD (115k)
LCD type Standard
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 27 feet
Flash modes on, off, auto, redeye, soft flash
Camera internal memory 22MB
Storage Medium SD Card, SDHC
I/O USB 2.0/AV
Battery type Li-Ion D-LI8 (3.7V, 740mAH)
CIPA Battery life 230 images
List Price US$199.99
Contact www.pentaximaging.com

 

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