Pentax X90 review

Full review: Compact DSLR alternative, with 26x optical zoom

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Zooming prowess and great pics, from a relatively compact bridge camera

Pentax has produced some excellent DSLRs like the Pentax K-7 and Pentax K-M, but not everyone wants to invest in a camera with interchangeable lenses. The X90 is a bridge camera with an integrated 26x optical zoom, it bucks the trend for black livery with a gunmetal grey makeover.

The X90 offers 12.1 megapixel stills and HD 1280x720 pixels video at a frame rate of 30fps. With a focal range equivalent to 26-676mm the 26x optical zoom, competes with the Nikon P100 and Kodak Z981, but the Pentax is more compact and feels more manageable.

More on Pentax

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With noticeable plastic construction the X90 feels well made. The rechargeable lithium ion battery is housed in the base of its grip and rubber padding at front and back ensure that it doesn't slip from your grasp when shooting handheld.

If we take issue with its design it's that the eye relief for the electronic viewfinder at the back juts out a little too far, making it tricky to use if wearing glasses of any description. A better bet therefore is reliance on the 2.7-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD monitor below.

Pentax X90: Features

The X90's top plate shooting dial once again runs the gamut of creative options in program, aperture priority, shutter priority plus manual – alongside the point and shoot Auto Picture mode, which compares scenes against eight on-board presets for common subjects. Mostly reliable, it's occasionally wrong-footed by busy scenes.

Built-in digital effects filters including Toy Camera and Retro feel. Saving time up front, here these are applied to pre-captured images, rather than as the shutter is fired.

Powering up in just over a second, Pentax has included an 'Intelligent Zoom' function. This runs on from the end of the optical range when keeping a forefinger on the zoom lever, incrementally boosting telephoto performance to either a 33.9x equivalent at 7 megapixels or mind-blowing 162.5x with the compromise of a fuzzy 640x480 pixels resolution. The lower resolutions are because the camera is effectively cropping the image to make it appear as if it has zoomed in.

Pentax X90: Picture quality

So how about the pictures? Well, exposures are even and metering is generally spot on, with striking colours giving rise to some particularly lush looking landscapes. There is some barrel distortion at 26mm wide angle setting, and although shots at the telephoto end occasionally lack critical sharpness,

There are three levels of JPEG compression but no Raw shooting on the Pentax and also the zoom cannot be used when filming video, which feels wasteful.

The zoom is however effectively supported by sensor shifting anti shake to combat blur when taking pictures in low light – though noise is instead a problem above ISO1600 – or at the extremity of its focal length.

Though a smaller more portable option than the likes of Fuji's HS10, the Pentax X90 is still a solid performer, capable of taking good-quality images, and with an intuitive layout that won't scare off novices looking to upgrade from a compact.

Available now, find out more from Pentax

Sensor: 12 megapixels CCD
Lens: 26-676mm (26x optical)
Screen (size and res): 2.7-inch, 230k dots
Max ISO: 6400
Flash: Built-in pop up flash
Viewfinder: Electronic, 200,000
Stabilisation: Sensor shift, High sensitivity
Video: 1280x720 at 30fps
Storage (card and internal): 31MB SD/SDHC/Eye-Fi
Connections: HDMI, AV, USB 2.0
Battery life: 225 shots per charge
Dimensions/weight: 85x111x110mm/428g

Gavin Stoker

Gavin Stoker has been writing about photography and technology for the past 20 years. He currently edits the trade magazine British Photographic Industry News - BPI News for short - which is a member of TIPA, the international Technical Imaging Press Association.