Trendy design and an affordable price, how does the new Pentax H90 shape up? The What Digital Camera Pentax H90 review investigates…
Pentax Optio H90 review – Features
The Pentax H90 is an affordable, strikingly-designed compact ‘inspired by Japanese trends’. With a 12.1 megapixel CCD sensor, 28-140mm 5x optical zoom lens and 2.7in, 230K-dot LCD screen, it’s possible to shoot stills or even 720p HD video. A Programme Auto (P) mode features to allow user-defined sensitivity adjustment from ISO 80-1600 (3200-6400 at a 5MP size), as well as exposure compensation and in-camera digital filter effects, such as black and white shooting mode. As such the Pentax H90 is an ideal point-and-shoot snapper that comes with a rechargeable li-ion battery – at around £130 it’s a competitively affordable product that should appeal to those on a limited budget.
Pentax H90 review – Design
The Pentax H90 comes in one of three choice finishes – silver & orange, black & white or silver & white. Each design has a ‘top strip’ of colour across the upper quarter of the camera which makes for a striking and unique design. The orange may not be for everyone, but with the three different colour choices there should be something for all tastes.
The 2.7in screen on the back is inset a couple of millimeters into the raised plastic body of the rear, with the zoom, d-pad and button controls to the right hand side. Layout is straightforward and the buttons are well labeled on the d-pad and standalone playback, face detection, menu and ‘green’ (for user-assignable function) buttons. As the zoom is set to the rear of the camera, it can be a bit more fiddly to use than if it was on the camera’s top, though this is down to personal preference.
The H90’s in-camera menu options are easy to use, divided into two main sections: a three page ‘Rec. Mode’ and three page ‘Setting’ page available when in P mode. Scrolling down through the pages can make locating some options a little slow, but as this is predominantly a point and shoot, toggling between options is unlikely to be required for each time a shot is taken.
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.
The Pentax H90 looks the part, is a generally solid compact camera and, despite the image quality being a bit of a let down, is a front-running entry-level compact. For the money it’s one of the better compact cameras out there, is well-equipped with a rechargeable li-ion battery and will do you proud for day to day point-and-shoot antics.