A bridge camera that performs better than expected
The average bridge camera offers something close to the middle ground between a DSLR and compact camera, with a fixed lens being present along with huge optical magnification and manual controls. The Pentax X90 offers a 26x optical zoom, which is closest to the largest currently on offer, as well as HD movie recording and control over shutter speed and aperture.
Pentax X90 review – Features
The main issues with having such a large lens on a camera still designed to be compact is the amount of glass the light has to pass through before hitting the sensor. By essentially adding more barriers to the process of the sensor capturing light a variety of issues can arise, from limited low light performance to poor reactions to camera shake.
In the case of the X90 there is a reasonably standard ISO range, of 80-6400, with the top two settings coming at reduced resolution. Although this means images can still be taken quality is set to less than half the camera’s optimum at 5MP.
Stabilization is handled with a mechanical, sensor-shift based approach rather than an optical lens-based or ISO system, meaning the sensor itself moves to combat the motion of the user. Both ISO range and stabilization make the X90 a more sensible prospect for those looking to utilize the zoom to it’s full capacity as well as when the sun goes down.
The addition of a 720p HD movie mode is also a bonus, even if it does come in the less desirable Motion J-PEG format which is easier to process than Sony and Panasonic’s AVCHD, but tends to be heavier on the compression front.
Pentax X90 review – Design
The design of the camera is extremely indicative of the intention, being that it’s shaped to resemble a small DSLR. The right hand grip offers a mode dial, zoom rocker switch and shutter release with the less important controls below. A welcome appearance is made by a horizontal dial, enabling the changing of values in a manner similar to a DSLR. The fact that the LCD-based display shows the changing of values means there’s a delay when showing them, but it makes little difference to the end product.
Annoyingly the grooved ring around the lens barrel doesn’t alter focus, nor can it be removed to attach any accessories. This could’ve given the X90 something more unique to elevate it above the chasing pack, making it something of a missed opportunity. There’s also a viewfinder, at a low 200k resolution, which doesn’t switch automatically forcing a button press to activate it. It’s difficult to check focus to a particularly accurate level as the resolution is so low, and those with less than perfect eyesight may have issues reading the text.
The LCD is also a touch disappointing, as the menu system looks extremely dated and the resolution once again lower than expected at 230k. In spite of these relatively minor negative points the build is sold and the camera feels substantial, and settings can be altered rapidly when in the manual modes.
Pentax X90 review – Image Quality
Image quality is dependent on a number of factors, as the sheer size of the optical zoom means the amount of light being captured at the wide and tele end of the magnification can be vastly different. As a result the wide end of the zoom tends to produce well exposed images, only really having issues with areas of extreme highlight.
At the top end it can become extremely difficult to get the lighting at a satisfactory level, with most images being a touch on the dark side. In spite of this the results are excellent for the most part, although the focus can be a touch unreliable at the top end of the zoom. Tones produced edged toward the blue end of the scale, making the images appear slightly cold. Low light performance drops off noticeably around the ISO 800 mark, showing up plenty of noise, but for the most part the X90 produces some admirable images.
A well built bridge model which turns out some impressive images and boasts an admirable feature list
View Pentax X90 product shots
Multi-pattern, Centre Weighted, Spot
Auto, P, A, S, M, Scene (22 Scene Modes)
Auto, on, off, Redeye reduction, synchro
84.5 x 111 x 110mm
JPEG, AVI M-JPEG
Auto, 4 Presets, Manual
View Pentax X90 sample photos