Pentax – Optio H90 Digital Compact Camera

There are times when you’re out and about when that teeny tiny phone camera you take everywhere just won’t cut the mustard. Like when there’s a plane crash right in front of you and you can’t get close because of the police.

And at the same time, lugging a weighty SLR around isn’t ideal for the many days when planes don’t throw themselves on the ground when you’re walking the dog. So the market for small, lightweight compact digital cameras is an important one for outdoors enthusiasts (especially those who live under flight-paths), and as such those nice people at Pentax lent us their stylish Optio H90 to play with for a month.

Out of the box, you’re immediately struck by the sleek lines and simple design of the H90. Pentax say that it’s inspired by Japanese trends and it is certainly a joy to look at and feel. It’s got a very tactile aluminium and rubberised finish and the buttons are firm and positive in use.
After a couple of hours of charge on the battery I was ready to take the H90 out for a play. I was slightly bemused by the lack of memory card supplied on my demo model, so I checked the box and sure enough you don’t get one. So, just to be fair that’s how I conducted the test – without an extra card.
The camera has an inbuilt memory which is good for seven 12MP Hi-res photos. Handily you do have the option to use lower resolutions and thus get more photos, so I turned it down to 3MP and was able to shoot 40 photos without a card. Just to note, you can get 31 seconds of 720p video on the H90 without a memory card… assuming you haven’t taken any photos.
31x Digital Zoom and things get fuzzy, but close!
What we needed was something interesting to test the H90 with, and it wasn’t long before the Gods provided a real life plane crash within half a mile of GearWeAre HQ!
The police cordon was set to around 200yds from the crashed plane (pilot and passenger escaped OK), so it was an excellent opportunity to test the H90’s 5x Optical Zoom, and its scarcely believable 31x Digital Zoom.
5x Optical Zoom gets us closer than the naked eye
You can see from the pictures on the right that details start to get a fuzzy halo effect when you use maximum digital zoom, but the results for the optical zoom are still fairly crisp.
One of the nicest features of the H90 is its speed. From pressing the power button to being able to take a photo takes around a second, so it’s perfect for those opportunistic shots that a phone or slower camera would miss.
28mm wide-angle shot from behind the police cordon
Like all Pentax point-and-shoot’s, the H90 comes loaded with different modes for different settings. You have everything from Landscape to Snow to Kids and Food (!). Each mode tweaks the contrast, saturation, white balance and speed of the photo. I was impressed by how well the ‘Auto’ mode dealt with most situations though with only a bit of undersaturation (lack of colour) being a small concern in some shots.
The H90 features a freaky setting called Smile Capture, which finds faces and takes shots when it knows the person is smiling. I’d imagine this would be an excellent idea for someone who takes photos and doesn’t check them for gurning relatives until they’ve loaded the shots onto their computer!
Super Macro with Zoom.
A feature that does work particularly well on the H90 is the Super Macro, which could be useful in the outdoors. Mega close-up shots of flowers, bugs and interesting details are made possible by using Super Macro combined with full optical zoom. You can see the detailing in this shot of a leaf, and if you click through to our H90 Gallery, you can see a bunch of other shots which exploit some of the camera’s features.
I also had the H90 for Bonfire Night, and took it to the UKs biggest display for a test of how it dealt with low-light. It has an in-built ‘Fireworks’ mode, which worked rather well for sparklers, but sadly less so for the fireworks themselves. Results taken on ‘night’, ‘night portrait’ and ‘auto’ mode were more impressive in some cases. The H90 is a camera where it is worth playing around for best results, rather than relying on artificial intelligence.
SUMMARY: The Pentax Optio H90 is a very neat little package with good battery life, decent quality photos and a superb level of zoom. You lose some contrast and sharpness with the digital zoom, but it’s a trade-off. The very simple interface, big on-screen writing and nice positive buttons make it very easy to use. The design is stylish, and the 2.7in LCD screen is big and bright enough to see what you’ve taken. The in-built ‘modes’ make life easy, but don’t expect, for example, every firework shot to work on firework mode – Auto mode sometimes works better. The H90 is sadly let down by the lack of memory-card supplied. I’d feel bad if I gave this as a gift to someone and then realised a card wasn’t included. I’m afraid it has to be marked down for that. Otherwise, it’s a cracking little camera for the price. Excellent pocket snapper.

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    My missus keeps running off with my compact, so would love this one (just don’t tell the wife)