Pentax Optio E30|
Your basic, low-cost 7.1 megapixel digital camera
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
The Optio E30 is the latest in Pentax's E-Series of inexpensive entry-level compact digital cameras. Those who have been following the Optio series may be a bit confused as this E-Series model seems to pick up where the Optio M20 left off. The M20's successor, the M30, is now a slim, sleek ultra-compact, and for some reason the M-Series design and conceptual heritage now appears to be carried on by the Optio E30.
What you get with the E30 is a basic, inexpensive digital camera from a camera maker with a rich history and tradition. You're not missing out on megapixel and other basics; the E30 comes with a competent 7.1 megapixel CCD with primary color filter, a nice 3X optical zoom, a fair-sized, albeit low-res, 2.4-inch LCD, and also the ability to run on a couple of AA batteries, a solution which many prefer over expensive, rechargeable powerpacks. Don't look for a lot of extra features, though; that is not what this camera is all about.
Bargain or stripper?
Sometimes, going for an entry-level model is a smart choice as you get all the functionality but don't pay for a lot of unnecessary extras and features. Other times you do miss out on things you really need and have to make do with the bare basics. It's all a question of priorities. So which is it with this inexpensive Pentax? Is it a smart bargain or a basic stripper?
That depends on your expectations. Only three or so years ago a 7-megapixel camera would have been considered top-of-the-line; now Pentax offers that resolution for less than $150. So if pixels and basic functionality are all that matters, saving the equivalent of a tankful of gas may be a good choice, as long as you're aware of the trade-offs and realize what you are and are not getting. The way Pentax played it here is that you get a real high-res camera with a good zoom lens and all the basic features, but almost everywhere you get a bit less: fewer functions, fewer options, and less technology.
As is, the E30 is a nicely made plastic polymer-bodied digital camera that looks and feels no less sturdy than its pricier, aluminum-alloy clad siblings. The color scheme is the same as well, all matte silver and chrome. Pentax labels the E30 a compact rather than an ultra-compact and it's indeed heftier. Not so much in its footprint which at 3.7 x 2.4 inches barely exceeds that of a credit card, but in its thickness of almost 1.4 inches on the right side that houses the two double-A batteries. The overall design is that of a compact with a conventional "powerbulge," just like most cameras used to have before the advent of those tiny Li-Ion battery packs. Like the other new Optios, the E30 freely mixes straight lines and curves, rounded corners and sharply creased edges. The overall effect is not unpleasant, it just doesn't have that high-tech look to it.
The controls of the Optio E30 are no different than those of the other new Optios. It's a standardized layout that seems to work. Gone, for now, are mode wheels and such; everything is operated via menu and a minimum of hardware buttons. Operation is straight-forward and you don't need to read the manual to start shooting pictures. That's a good thing, too, because of all the new Optios, the E30 is the only one that does not come with a printed manual (other than a QuickStart Guide). If you want to look something up you need to pop the CD with the PDF manual into your computer's optical drive. The 161-page manual is very good, but there are definitely times where you'll miss a printed version.
A walk around the Optio E30
But let's take a look at the camera and its controls and features. On top of the E30 you'll find the on/off switch and the shutters. The shutter offers good tactile feedback but is mounted a bit too far forward and not where my index finger expected it. No big deal, but I did put my finger onto the wrong spot again and again.
Most of the backside is taken up by a 2.4-inch LCD. None of the new Optios has an optical viewfinder anymore, and that includes the E30. The LCD is large enough (only a few years ago it would have been considered enormous) but its marginal 110k pixel resolution is a reminder that cost was an issue when Pentax specified components. The low resolution means the screen looks grainy and it's hard to see if a picture is really sharp even when you zoom in. It is also not a wide viewing angle display which in this case means the picture remains viewable when you look at the display at an angle horizontally but it quickly disappears when you tilt the camera vertically.
To the right of the LCD is the Optio-standard controls layout. On top, a small rocker switch handles the camera's 36-108mm 3X optical zoom. Below the zoom rocker is a button that toggles between recording and playback modes. 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 dark gray on silver and readable enough. 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: screen off, basic info, and more info. There is no histogram, something that comes in handy when composing a pictureif you know how to read it. Below the nav disc are the menu button and the "Green Mode" button that toggles back and forth between fully automatic mode and whatevers scene mode or special settings you may have selected.
The left side of the A30 houses the microphone and a proprietary USB/AV terminal. The right side has an integrated plastic strap lug. A small rubber plug covers the cutout for an optional DC coupler cable kit that you may want to consider if you use the camera for a long time while connected to a PC or TV.
The bottom (see picture below) has a compartment for the two AA batteries and the SD storage card. Make sure you don't let the batteries fall out when you open the door to remove or exchange the card as there is nothing to retain them. A plastic tripod mount is located off-center center, next to a dock connector for the E30's optional ImageLink Terminal. A small black-on-yellow label shows how the SD card goes in. That's thoughtful and keeps you from the usual 50/50-chance of putting the card in the right way.
Menus and modes
The Optio E30 is a basic point & shooter without any manual exposure modes. You either put the camera into fully automatic mode with the "Green Mode" button, or select from one of the 15 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" or "Flower." Unlike the other Optios, no narrative box shows up that explains the mode in more detail if you move the selection box onto one and wait a few seconds. That can be annoying and we didn't miss 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 from here). Though the E30 has the same number of scene modes than the other new Optios, the more elaborate ones -- such as face recognition, text, or anti-shake -- are missing and have been replaced with simpler modes like "Night Scene," "Surf and Snow," or "Sunset." The "Menu" buttton acts as an "Esc" to back out of selections.
While the E30 has no manual exposure modes, the "P"rogram mode 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.
Sound and audio
The E30 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 (24 hours). 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 8 functions: Slide show, resize, cropping, copy, rotation, voice memo, protect, and DPOF. The screen offers no clue on how to access this menu (use the down navigational button), and there is another reason to read the manual at least one. Playback zoom is up to 8X.
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. You can also install QuickTime.
The Pentax Optio E30 isn't as unobtrusive as some of its sleeker, smaller siblings. In addition to being fairly thick already, the lens barrel motors out another three quarters of an inch when you turn the camera on. It still fits into pockets, though not as easily. The E30 starts up quickly and is easy to use.
The M30 produces good picture quality under most conditions, and 7.1-megapixel is plenty of resolution for later cropping or for doing large prints. The camera takes good close-ups and the macro works well, but you can't go closer than 12 inches as there is no "super macro" mode here as in other Optios.
Taking movies with sound is easy and you can record in 640 x 480 VGA mode at almost 30 frames per second. You can use digital zoom during shooting, but it is very choppy. So much so that I only used it once and never again.
Shooting in low-light conditions is more difficult as there is no autofocus illuminator and ISO sensitivity tops out at 400. There's also no image stabilization of any kind, so it's either a steady hand or a tripod.
Battery life is rated at 200 pictures for standard alkaline AAs, and as many as 500 pictures with rechargeable NiMH batteries. AAs may be heavier and bulkier than Li-Ion powerpacks, but you can find them anywhere, and it's easy to bring along as many spares as you need.
Every lineup has an entry-level camera, and among the Pentax Optios, the E30 is it. You pay less for it, and you get less. There are fewer features, fewer adjustments, and fewer amenities. And some features don't work as smoothly as they do on the pricier models, such as the movie zoom. Yet, you do get a 7.1 megapixel imager and a good 3X optical zoom, and the camera takes good pictures. The basics are all there, we very much appreciate the ability to use standard AA batteries or rechargeables, and operation is simple and easy. As a starter camera, the Optio E30 makes a lot of sense.
Not so much:
- Inexpensive 7.1-megapixel camera
- Good lens, good picture quality
- Logically laid out and very simple to use
- Uses standard AA batteries or rechargeables
- VGA movie mode at almost 30 fps
- Some menus and functions are buried or not marked
- Choppy digital zoom in movie mode
- No anti-blur, AF illuminator, or super-macro
- Low 110k pixel resolution LCD