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Pentax Optio RZ-10
14.1MP | 28-280mm (10X) ZOOM | $173/£120

The cheapest camera in this group test by some margin, the Pentax Optio RZ-10 is the first attempt by Pentax to design a 'travel zoom'-type compact camera. Sporting a 10x optical zoom lens which spans 28-280mm (equivalent), most of the RZ10's body is rubberized which - in conjunction with the substantial hand grip - makes the camera body very comfortable to handle. The camera's control layout has a lot in common with the rest of the cameras in our group test, featuring a circular 4-way rear button that can be programmed by the user, as well as dedicated menu, playback, delete/function, and face detection buttons.

Of all the cameras in the group test, the RZ10 has the most basic feature set. In several respects - its 230k dot LCD screen, 720p video recording, and relatively restricted 28-280mm (equivalent) zoom range - the RZ10 sits at the bottom of the group in terms of specification. That said, at a street price of under $200, the RZ10 ticks most of the required boxes and has the potential to be something of a bargain.

  • 14.1 effective Megapixels (CCD sensor)
  • 28-280mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
  • 720p HD video
  • 2.7in LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400 (at reduced resolution)
  • 24 shooting modes

Click here for full product information including reader reviews and image samples (opens in new window)

Key Features

Manual control of shutter speed and aperture is not possible with the RZ10, but 24 shooting modes are available which cover all common shooting situations, as well as an 'auto picture' mode which automatically selects what the camera believes to be the appropriate scene mode for the situation. Post-capture, the RZ10 gives you the option to apply currently-fashionable color effects such as toy camera, Sepia, B & W, and cross process via a dedicated editing menu. Images which have had an effect filter applied to them are saved alongside the original on your memory card.

The same image editing menu provides access to features like image rotation, cropping, re-sizing, red-eye reduction, and the ability to attach a voice recording to an image. Perhaps the oddest option is the 'small face filter', where face detection is used to identify any faces in the picture and then 'slim' them down.

The RZ10's 4-way control dial provides access to flash mode, drive mode, focus mode, and shooting mode. Also, the lower right green button serves as a function button, providing user defined access to a second set of 4 controls using the 4-way dial. To the left you will see the standard menus accessed via the rear dial first, then 4 custom menus accessed after pressing the function button.
The RZ10 has several selectable focus modes, including focus tracking, which can track a subject around the scene after locking focus on it. The video to the left demonstrates this feature.

In our experience, as long as the 'locked-in' subject is kept within the bounds of the the frame, focus lock is successfully maintained.
'Small face filter' is designed to give your subjects slimmer faces. It certainly does that, but whether you like the results or not is a different matter. Overall, we're equivocal about its usefulness (but it is a lot of fun).

Image quality and performance

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in our experience of using the RZ10 we found that its simplistic, slightly crude exterior design is a pretty accurate indicator of the shooting experience. With shot to shot times of around 2.3 seconds and a continuous shooting mode of 1 fps, the RZ10 is the slowest camera in this test by only a relatively small margin, but in real world use an extra half second between shots compared to its competitors is surprisingly long, and we often found ourselves waiting for the camera to finish writing to the card before we could view the shot, or take another.

A less predictable, but equally frustrating quirk is that when using the camera in bright sunlight the RZ10's LCD screen sometimes takes on a vivid magenta or blue color cast when pointed near or directly at the sun. This is caused by sensor blooming (too much light hitting the photodiodes on the camera's sensor and spilling over into neighboring diodes) and fortunately, is rarely visible in captured images. More of a worry in bright daylight is the poor contrast and low resolution of the RZ10's LCD screen, which makes it difficult to accurately determine what your images look like (both before and after taking them).

The shot on the left was shot at 28mm (equivalent) and displays decent corner to corner sharpness, although the effects of over-sharpening are clear in the halos which surround high and medium-contrast edges. The image on the right was taken in optimal, bright daylight settings at full zoom at relatively close range and under bright sunlight.

At default settings, Images from the RZ10 are saturated and contrasty, especially in bright light. Coupled with the camera's heavy sharpening this delivers crisp, punchy JPEGs that will keep the majority of casual shooters perfectly happy. More critical photographers will be disappointed by the RZ10's aggressive sharpening and relatively high noise levels, which combine to give decidedly 'digital', JPEGs that look distinctly over-processed when viewed at 100% on-screen.

The RZ10 provide 3 adjustable settings for contrast, saturation, and sharpening, but regardless of how we configured them images from the RZ10 still look crunchy and over-processed, even in what should be optimal shooting conditions. When using ISO sensitivity settings higher than 800, image detail really begins to deteriorate and ISO 3200 and 6400 are 'stunt' settings which offer little real value.

Image Stabilization

To test image stabilization we shoot a standard test target at the long end of these cameras' zooms, at 1/30sec. We take ten images at each stabilization setting (including 'off') and average the results, expressing performance as a percentage of shots which we judge to be 'very blurred', 'blurred', 'soft' (usable at small print sizes) and 'sharp'.

The RZ10 has two configurable IS settings when activated, Sensor shift' and 'Dual'. 'Sensor Shift' is exactly what it sounds like - the camera's sensor is shifted to counter the effects of camera shake. 'Dual' IS couples sensor shift with in-camera processing to track and digitally reduce blur at a pixel level. This 'fake' stabilization is surprisingly effective, as you can see from the graph of our image stabilization test results.

Most of the shots we took with the RZ10 in our stabilization test environment were somewhat blurry or downright soft with the camera's 'Dual IS' mode turned on. Dual IS makes a difference though - switching to 'CCD shift' stabilization produced even worse results, with none of the captured images qualifying as 'sharp'.

Summary

On paper, the Pentax RZ10 has a lot going for it. It is the cheapest and the lightest camera in our group, and its basic feature set makes it one of the easiest cameras to get to grips with. There is no doubt that for some, this camera will fulfill their photography needs. On the other hand, it has the most restrictive zoom, the lowest resolution LCD and most limited video specification, lacks 'bells and whistles' such as built-in GPS, and it has the least powerful flash.

Starting with the RZ10's good points, we like the rubberized body and hand grip. As much as we struggled with this camera at times, it is one of the most comfortable cameras to hold in the group test. And while they are not the prettiest we've seen, the camera's somewhat pixilated menus are easy to navigate and very functional. Also - let's be honest - it is hard to argue with a street price of $173.

Sadly, the list of weaknesses is somewhat longer. In day-to-day use, what frustrate us most about the RZ10 are its poor rear LCD, slow performance, and the sub-par quality of its JPEGs when observed critically. Ultimately, like a basic table wine, the RZ10 serves its purpose cheaply and without fuss. Unfortunately, also like a table wine, all too often when sampling it we found ourselves hankering for something more sophisticated. We might be more prepared to overlook some of the camera's handling weaknesses if its image quality was above average, but sadly it isn't.

Pentax Optio RZ10
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Everyday, fair weather photography
Not so good for
Anything where critical image quality is a priority, and bright outdoor shooting, where rear LCD is useless
Overall score
65%
The Pentax Optio RZ10 is Pentax's first 'travel zoom' and it gets a lot of things right. Images are bright, contrasty and saturated, its interface is simple and unintimidating, and lens performance is very good considering its low cost. Corners have been cut though, and while it is excellent value, there are better-specified, and better performing cameras available in this class.

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