12.1MP | 26-676mm (26X) ZOOM | $300/£230
The Pentax X90 was launched almost exactly a year after its predecessor, the X70, and constitutes, like several other cameras in this group test, a fairly minor upgrade. The zoom range has increased from 24x to 26x, Pentax claims battery life has been improved and the electronic viewfinder now comes with dioptre adjustment. However, images are captured on the same 12MP image stabilized sensor that was inherited from the X70. The rest of the features including the 2.7 inch LCD, P/A/S/M exposure modes and HD video recording have also been taken over from the predecessor.
- 12.1 10 effective Megapixels
- 26-676mm equiv lens with 20x optical zoom and 6.25x digital zoom
- 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
- Electronic Viewfinder
- 720p HD video recording
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 6400 (ISO 3200 and 6400 at reduced resolution)
- 10 shooting modes, 20 Scene Modes
- Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Mode
- 11 frames per second continuous shooting (at reduced resolution)
- Face Detection, Smile Capture and Blink Detection
- Battery life: 255 shots
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Despite its vast 26x zoom range the Pentax X90 is one of the smallest and lightest cameras in this group test. The dark blue shell and (faux) chrome plating on the camera top might not be to everyone's taste but if nothing else, the Pentax certainly stands out from the otherwise all-black competition. The rubberized hand grip and thumb rest ensure safe handling and despite its compact dimensions the X90 is comfortable to hold in most situations.
The X90's user interface doesn't seem to be entirely certain if it wants to cater for 'auto-mode users' or more ambitious photographers who frequently change shooting parameters. For the latter the Green and face detection buttons might be of questionable value and there's no quick menu either which means you have to dive into the menus to change some frequently used settings. On the other hand the X90's implementation of exposure compensation (button on top plate + rear dial) was our preferred one in the test field. For those who can't live without direct access to ISO settings the functionality of the Green button can be customized.
The X90 offers movie capture up to HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per seconds and monaural sound. It uses the comparatively inefficient Motion JPG codec which results in pretty large file sizes.
Image quality and performance
From a performance point of view the Pentax X90 could probably be called an average camera in this group test. At 1.4 sec it powers on very quickly. Shot-to-shot times at the highest image quality setting (three stars) are a decent 2.2 sec but there's a few seconds interruption after 5 shots when the contents of the buffer are being written onto the memory card. In the lower 'two stars' setting shot-to-shot times are approximately the same but there is no delay.
At 0.4 sec (wide angle) and 0.5 sec (tele) the AF is not the fastest but well within acceptable limits. At wide angle the focus slows only down marginally in low light but sometimes struggles to find a focus at all. Things can get quite bad when you combine low light levels with very long focal lengths. In those situations the Pentax can take up to 2 sec to lock the focus.
The Pentax X90 is one of a group of cameras in this test that are very close in terms of image quality. There is visible corner softness at some zoom settings but generally the lens delivers good results across the frame range. Sharpness at the maximum zoom setting is actually very good. Fringing is well controlled for most of the zoom range but some quite intrusive CA can appear on high contrast edges at the extreme tele end of the lens.
Up close the X90 output shows clear signs of noise reduction blurring and subsequent sharpening and is in terms of resolution not quite up with the best in this group test. Detail is good though with colors that are a little cooler than most of the rivals but not overly so. We found the occasional slight overexposure in our sample shots but the metering is generally reliable and, like on almost all cameras in this group test, blown highlights are not as much of an issue as they were on previous generations of superzooms.
The Pentax also performs well in our indoor-flash test with natural skin tones and good detail thanks to a low sensitivity of ISO 200. At higher ISOs the Pentax is one of the weaker performers with a lot of smearing, noise and 'noise clumping'. All the cameras in this test are pretty bad at these sensitivities but the Pentax is just a little bit below average.
The video image quality is, compared to the competition in this test, very grainy. This becomes even more obvious if you watch your videos on a larger screen. Motion is smooth though but the Pentax's Movie SR image stabilization is not quite as good as some rivals in this test, so that, depending on the focal length you're shooting at, your video can also appear a little shaky.
In many respects the Pentax X90 is an average camera. Its feature set, base ISO image quality and operational speed are all firmly based in the mid-field of our group review. We liked the long (26x) zoom lens and the compact dimensions, which make the Pentax an ideal carry-anywhere superzoom, but were not too impressed with the camera's performance in low light - neither in terms of autofocus, nor image output (still or video).
The Pentax is far from being a horrible camera but there are simply better alternatives around. If you don't need the X90's 26x zoom range the Panasonic FZ35 could be worth having a looking at. At a similar price point the Panasonic's dimensions are only marginally larger albeit with a shorter (18x) zoom lens. On the plus side both performance and image quality are a step up from the X90. You also get a slightly more coherent user interface and very good video quality with stereo sound.
- We like: Compact dimensions, reliable metering and focus, efficient image stabilization, big zoom range, 'different color', good sharpness at tele end
- We don't like: Low light image quality, focus slows down in low light, grainy videos, some corner softness, some fringing at tele end