Pentax Optio H90 review
Performance, Value & Image Quality
Pentax Optio H90 review - Performance & Value
For around £130 most compact cameras don't offer too much for the money, but the Pentax H90 bucks this trend. It's relatively well built, looks unique, is easy to use and even packs HD video into an entry-level product.
It's not entirely roses however, as the 2.7in screen is fairly small and doesn't have a particularly good viewing angle. It can be tricky to view in bright light and the lens suffers from considerable sun glare that can ‘streak' across a the screen and cause difficulty with composition.
Otherwise however, and certainly for the money, the H90 is fairly plain-sailing. The Macro mode provides an effective close-to-lens focus option that's useful for many scenarios and the lens' 5x optical zoom range is a fairly wide 28mm through to 140mm. It's not the longest range out there, but for a compact body will provide the staple wide and mid-tele focal lengths to cover all varieties of photography.
Rather than optical or sensor-based image stabilisation, Pentax's Pixel Track SR (Shake Reduction) detects motion blur at pixel-level and counters this when processing. It's an interesting concept, though images in our tests suffered from notable softness as a result. A Digital SR shooting mode is also available, which shoots at a lower resolution using Auto ISO.
Autofocus options provide a wide-area, spot or subject-tracking AF - though the latter can be a bit hit and miss at times, sometimes losing the targeted subject and ‘latching' on to a surrounding feature that you do not wish to be the main focus. Face Detection is effective and can be quickly switched on or off with a single button press that will over-ride the current focus mode. Autofocus itself depends on areas of contrast to establish focus, but is a pretty nippy system that outshines some entry competitors.
Other quirks include an in-camera wide or panoramic mode that auto-threads two to three images together with good results. After taking one frame, the edge of the previous shot is superimposed on the LCD screen to assist with lining up for the most successful results.
Pentax H90 review - Image Quality
A D-Range Setting is available for Shadow Correction and/or Highlight Correction from the menu system. This pulls more detail from shadow and highlight areas for an overall better exposure which is subtle yet effective. Even with these options off the overall exposure of images is good, with the ability to easily adjust exposure compensation where needed too.
Although the specification lists ISO 80-6400, the upper sensitivities of ISO 3200-6400 are only available at a 5MP resolution. Furthermore, should Highlight and/or Shadow Correction be activated, the lowest sensitivity starts at ISO 160.
Image quality from ISO 80-200 is fairly good, with clear resulting images, but quality and colour begin to dwindle thereafter as a result of noise reduction. From ISO 400 colours begin to ‘dull' and vibrancy is lost, a result that rises exponentially through to ISO 1600. The 5MP ISO 3200-6400 shots are significantly soft, devoid of bright colour and detail - so much so that they appear out of focus and, as such, aren't particularly useful for real-world shooting.
Barrel distortion of images at the wide end is fairly pronounced, so don't necessarily expect perfectly straight lines when shooting at 28mm wide. And at the opposite end, when the H90 is at full zoom extension, resulting images were often soft at any of the ISO settings, even when focus was successfully attained.
JPEG quality is fairly heavily compressed, with a standard file (despite 12.1MP resolution) only notching up around 1-2MB in file size. Noise reduction causes notable softness at the expense of defeating some image noise, and edges are often fuzzy with visible JPEG artifacts present.
This may sound entirely negative, but for real world shooting in sunlight or dark evenings using built in flash, low ISO shots produce perfectly competent images from a compact. It's the upper-ISO settings that throw a bit of a spanner into the works.