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DCRP Review: Pentax Optio 750Z
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 7, 2004
Last Updated: February 4, 2008
The Optio 750Z ($599) is Pentax's entry into the growing field of 7 Megapixel cameras. Building on the Optio 555 from last year, it offers a 5X optical zoom lens, full manual controls, dual focusing system, VGA movie mode, and rotating LCD display.
Other cameras in this category include the Canon PowerShot S70 (review), Olympus C-7000Z (review), and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150 in the compact category, and the Canon PowerShot G6 (review), Casio Exilim EX-P700, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 (review) in the full-featured group.
That means the competition is pretty fierce. How does the Optio 750Z perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Optio 750Z has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Pentax includes a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card with the 750Z. That's not going to hold too many 7 Megapixel photos, so a larger card is a must. I'd recommend a 256 or 512MB card as a place to start. The camera can also use MultiMedia (MMC) cards, though I'd advise against it. A high speed SD card is probably an unnecessary purchase based on my experiences with the camera.ek
The Optio 750Z uses the D-LI7 lithium-ion battery, which packs 6.7 Wh of energy, which is impressive for a compact camera like this. That translates into 245 shots per charge using the CIPA battery life standard. Comparing that with the other three compact 7MP cameras, the Canon S70 gets 140 shots, the Olympus C-7000Z gets 175 (though they don't use the CIPA standard to come up with this number), and the Sony DSC-P150 can take a whopping 320 photos.
No review would be complete without a complaint about proprietary batteries like the one used by the 750Z. For one, they're expensive, costing $40 a pop (and I do recommend buying a spare). Secondly, you can't drop in some disposable batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera. None of the 7 Megapixel cameras currently on the market use AA batteries.
When it's time to recharge the battery just snap it into the included external charger. It takes about three hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy (in my opinion) "plug it right into the wall" chargers -- you must use a power cable.
The 750Z has a built-in lens cover, so there are no lens caps to worry about. As you can see, it's a fairly compact camera (though it is pretty thick, as you'll see later).
There aren't too many accessories to mention here. In fact, the only things I could find were an AC adapter ($50), your choice of two remote controls ($15-20), a soft case, and a 3D image viewer ($10; more on this later).
ACDSee 1.6 for Mac OS X
Pentax includes ACD System's ACDSee for both Mac (v 1.6) and PC (v 5.0) with the camera. While it's not equal to Photoshop, this is still pretty good software. It runs natively in both the Mac OS X and Mac OS 8/9 environments. There's also a program called ACD PhotoStitcher which assembles panoramic shots for you. It's not Mac OS X native, but runs in Classic.
The manual included with the Optio is slightly better than average. It's complete, with a minimum of fine print. The writing isn't terribly clear, but after some searching you'll find what you're looking for.
Look and Feel
The Optio 750Z is a stylish and fairly compact camera with a faux leather front, mostly-metal body, and a flip-out LCD. For the most part the camera is well put-together, and it feels solid in your hand. The important controls are well-placed and easy to use.
While it looks small from the photos I've shown thus far, the 750Z is pretty thick, comparable in size to something like the Canon PowerShot A95. It won't fit in most pockets, but it was never a burden to carry around.
Here's a look at how the 7 Megapixel cameras compare in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the 750Z is comparable in size to the C-7000Z and S70, but the Sony P150 is really quite a bit smaller. I put the DSC-V3 and G6 in there for the sake of completeness -- they're quite a bit larger but they offer things like hot shoes and conversion lens support.
Enough about that, let's start our tour now!
Despite its relatively compact body, the Optio packs a powerful 5X zoom lens (probably the same one that was used on the Optio 550/555). This F2.8-4.6 lens has a focal range of 7.8 - 39 mm, which is equivalent to 37.5 - 187.5 mm. You cannot attach a conversion lens to this camera.
To the upper-right of the lens is the 750Z's built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.4 - 5.2 m at wide-angle and 0.15 - 3.2 m at telephoto, which is impressive for a camera this size. The 750Z does better than the other 7MP compacts in this area. Like those cameras, you cannot attach an external flash to the Optio.
Just above-left from the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp. This helps the 750Z focus in low light situations, and it's a welcome feature on all cameras. Even better is what's located above that lamp: a hybrid autofocus sensor. This speeds up focusing in normal lighting. Of the three compact 7MP cameras, the 750Z is the only one to have both of these items.
The only other things to see on the front of the camera is the microphone (just under the "X" in Pentax) and the remote control receiver on the far left side.
The C-750Z is the only one of the compact 7 Megapixel cameras to offer a flip-out, rotating LCD display. It can rotate 270 degrees, from facing the ground to pointing at your subject. While it may sound like a novelty, rotating screens like this allow you to shoot over people in front of you, or take creative ground-level photos.
Here's the back of the 750Z with the LCD in a more traditional position. I should mention that you can also flip it around to close it (this will certainly help with battery life). The screen is average-sized at 1.8 inches, and it packs 134,000 pixels. Images on the screen are nice and sharp, and motion is fluid. In low light, things go downhill: the screen barely "gains up", making it quite difficult to see what's in front of you. At least there's still the optical viewfinder.
Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's pretty large for a compact camera, and as an added bonus, there's even a diopter correction feature (to focus what you're looking at).
To the right of the viewfinder are three multi-function buttons. They do the following:
Those buttons require a lot of explanation. I'll start with the drive options.
Continuous shooting mode will keep taking pictures until the memory card is full. The frame rate will vary depending on the image resolution and quality setting. At the highest JPEG quality setting, the 750Z took six shots in a row at 1 frame/second before pausing for a moment to clear out the buffer. In addition, the screen goes black between shots, which makes tracking your subject fairly difficult (you may want to use the optical viewfinder instead).
The auto bracketing feature on the 750Z is quite impressive. You can bracket exposure, white balance, saturation, contrast, or sharpness. The camera will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure (or whatever you're bracketing). For exposure you can choose an interval of ±0.3EV to ±2.0EV in 1/3EV increments. For white balance it's ±1 to ±5 stops (one image will be normal, the next redder, and the last one bluer). Finally, for saturation, contrast, or sharpness, it's ±1.
Interval shooting will take up to 99 shots at a chosen interval. You can choose intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 99 minutes. You can also set the start time up to 24 hours ahead. The AC adapter is an unofficial requirement for this feature.
The multiple exposure feature allows you to superimpose an image on top of one you've already recorded. You can give priority to the brighter image, the darker image, or you can just average their exposures.
I'll discuss the macro options later in the review. Manual focus will let you use the zoom controller to choose a focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged so you can be sure that your subject is in focus, and a gauge on the LCD shows the current focus distance. The focusing area option lets you select one of eleven focus points in the frame.
Back to our tour now: the zoom controller (located at the top right of the photo) is well-placed, and it quickly moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.8 seconds. I counted 11 steps while moving through the 5X zoom range.
To the right of the LCD is the playback mode button, which does just what it sounds like. Below that is the Function button, which is totally customizable. You can assign any menu function to this button. Then you just hold it down and press the four-way controller in the desired direction. I always appreciate features like this. Below the Function button is the button for activating the menu system.
To the right of those buttons is the four-way controller, which is mainly used for navigating the menu system and adjusting manual settings. Pressing the center button is the "OK" button and also toggles what is shown on the LCD.
There's plenty more to see up on top of the 750Z. On the left side is the speaker, with the viewfinder's diopter correction slider below it. On the right side you'll find the power button, mode dial, and shutter release button. While it's hard to see here, around the mode dial is a lever which you'll use to adjust exposure compensation (±2EV in 1/3EV increments).
There are a ton of options on the mode dial, some of which won't be found on any other camera. Let's take a look:
I always like to see it when a camera lets you store your favorite settings to the mode dial, and all three compact 7MP models do it.
Digital exposure metering feature
The digital exposure metering feature is unlike anything I've seen on a digital camera before. You know those light meters used by professional photographers? With a turn of the mode dial you can use your Optio 750Z for the same purpose. Just point it at whatever you want to meter and the camera tells you the exposure value and recommend shutter speed and aperture. You can choose an ISO sensitivity ranging from ISO 6 to 6400. You can make multiple measurements if you'd like. The manual explains all of that better than I can, so have a look at that if you buy the camera.
The digital filter feature won't be found anywhere else on a consumer-level camera. There are eight color filters to choose from (black & white, sepia, red, pink, purple, blue, green, yellow) as well as a softening filter.
Nothing to see here. The lens is at the full wide-angle position.
Here's the other side of the 750Z, with the lens at full telephoto.
Under a rubber cover are the camera's I/O ports. They include USB + A/V (one port for both) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter).
We end the tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and plastic (boo!) tripod mount. The memory card / battery compartment is covered by a flimsy plastic door that could bust off if forced. Also, you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included battery and memory card are shown at right.
Using the Pentax Optio 750Z
The 750Z takes a sluggish 4 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. For the sake of comparison, the Canon S70 takes 2.8 seconds while the Olympus C-7000Z and Sony DSC-P150 both take just 1.2 seconds.
The 750Z's LCD shows a histogram as well as highlights (in red) and shadows (in yellow)
Autofocus speeds were average, with a typical delay of 0.6 - 0.8 seconds. When the camera had to hunt (especially near the telephoto end), delays over a second are possible. Despite having the dual focusing system, I was disappointed with the 750Z's low light focusing performance. I have a few darks in a dimly lit room that I test all my cameras on, and the 750Z did not do well -- and that's with the latest firmware revision, too.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed is good, with a delay of about 2 seconds, assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature. Things slow down considerably if you shoot in TIFF mode, with a lengthy 21 second delay before you can take another picture. That's using a standard speed SD card -- using an ultra high speed card knocked 10 seconds off the time. This is the only area in my testing in which I noticed that a faster card made a difference in terms of camera performance.
You can delete a photo right after it is taken by pressing the delete photo button on the back of the camera.
Let's move on to the 750Z's image quality options now with a look at our usual chart. Pentax uses a "star system" for compression, where three stars is "best", two is "better", and one is "good". Now, here's the chart:
Two things to mention here. First, you can choose between 4:3 and 3:2 aspect ratios for all those resolutions. If you're printing your photos at 4 x 6 inches, using the 3:2 ratio is a good idea.
The TIFF option records in -- get this -- TIFF format. TIFF files are large, uncompressed images that use an industry standard format that all image viewing software can open. I was disappointed to see that the 750Z doesn't offer a RAW image mode (the S70 and C-7000Z both do).
As far as file numbering goes, the camera names files as IMGP####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the card.
The Optio 750Z has the same menu system as its predecessor. It's pretty basic in terms of appearance, but it gets the job done. The options in the record menu include:
I hope I explained everything up there!
In addition to the record menu, there's also a setup menu. The options in this menu include:
I must admit that being able to customize the record mode display is something I wouldn't have thought of...
Well, enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The 750Z did a superb job with our usual macro test subject. Mickey is "tack sharp" as they say, and colors are very saturated.
There are two macro modes on the Optio. In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 15 cm to your subject. To get even closer, you can use super macro mode, which lowers that distance to just 2 cm, which is excellent. You can then fill the frame with a subject just 34 x 25 mm in size. Do note that the lens is fixed at the wide-angle position while in super macro mode.
The 750Z did a very nice job with the night shot as well. Everything is again very sharp, and thanks to the manual control over shutter speed, the camera took in plenty of light. I did spy a tiny amount of purple fringing, but it's really nothing to be concerned about. Noise levels are nice and low.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:
The Optio 750Z does quite well all the way through ISO 200. Even at ISO 400 noise levels are still low enough for the image to be usable, in my opinion.
There's just mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the 750Z's lens. In the corners of the chart you will see some vignetting (dark spots) as well as blurriness. While I saw a bit of blurriness in the corners of my real world photos from the 750Z, I did not find vignetting to be a major problem. It was noticeable in some flash shots (white wall, wide-angle), but that was about it.
Redeye isn't too bad, to my surprise. Sure, there's some red, but it's not demonic like on some other cameras I've seen lately. You can clean this up pretty well in software.
Since I had both the C-7000Z and Optio 750Z at the same time, I decided to break out my new comparison scene. You can click on the links above to see the original (and unrotated) images from the C-7000Z and Optio 750Z, or you can just look at my crops below. Photos were taken with 600W quartz studio lamps at F4.5/F4.6 on both cameras.
You can compare these to the Canon PowerShot G6 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3, as well. Do note that they were taken at a different time, but the conditions should be the same.
C-7000Z at ISO 80
Optio 750Z at ISO 80
C-7000Z at ISO 400
Optio 750Z at ISO 400
Results were quite similar from each of the cameras, with the main differences being slightly sharper images and more saturated color from the Optio 750Z.
Overall I was very pleased with the photos that I took with the Optio 750Z. Photos were well-exposed and colors were accurate. Noise levels were a bit higher than the other 7MP cameras I've tested, though that tends to blend away as you downsize and print your photos. I did see a small amount of blurriness in the corners of a couple of images. Purple fringing was not a major problem.
As I always say, don't just take my word for all this. View our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the Optio 750Z's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Optio 750Z has an excellent movie mode. You can record at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. That doesn't take long with the included 32MB memory card (which holds just 25 seconds of video), so a larger memory card is needed for longer movies. Pentax doesn't mention any requirements for memory card speed, and my "slow" Kingston SD card worked just fine.
If you want to take longer movies, you have a few options. You can reduce the movie size to 320 x 240, or you can change the frame rate to 15 frames/second, which results in choppier video.
The 750Z also has a "time-lapse movie" feature which I described in the previous section. You can choose in color, black and white, or sepia, as well.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a pretty boring sample movie for you, recorded at the highest quality setting:
Click to play movie (16.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Optio has a pretty nice movie mode too. Basic features such as slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll are all here. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The "zoom and scroll" feature lets you enlarge your image by as much as 10 times, and then move around in it. This is a great way to check focus. This feature wasn't as responsive as I would've liked. If you want to jump right to a certain zoom ratio, you can set the "Quick Zoom" option in the playback menu to 2X, 4X, or 10X.
The Optio lets you easily resize, trim (crop), and rotate images. You can also apply any of those "digital filters" that I discussed earlier to an image you've already taken.
By default the camera doesn't show any useful exposure information about the image you're viewing. But press the "OK" button in the four-way controller and you'll get the screen above, which includes a histogram.
The 750Z won't win any awards for its playback speeds. It takes almost two seconds to move from one photo to the next.
How Does it Compare?
While it's not perfect, I do like the Pentax Optio 750Z quite a bit, and it earns my recommendation. It has a stylish, fairly-compact body with a handy flip-out LCD display. Build quality is very good for the most part, save for the cover over the battery/memory card compartment. Despite its size, the Optio packs a 5X zoom lens -- great for telephoto lovers who don't want to carry around a bulky ultra zoom camera. Photo quality is very good, though a bit noisier than the other 7MP cameras I've tested. Images were well-exposed, colorful, and very sharp, all with a minimum of purple fringing. You may encounter some blurry corners or vignetting in flash shots while using the 750Z.
The camera has a full suite of manual controls, and then some. You can bracket for things like saturation and sharpness that you can't do on most cameras. Heck, the camera can even double as a light meter. Something bothering you on the LCD while you're taking pictures? You can customize that screen to your heart's content. The Optio offers very good battery life, second only to the Sony DSC-P150 in the compact 7MP class. In addition, the macro and movie modes are first rate.
Probably the most annoying issues I encountered on the 750Z are performance-related. The camera is slow to startup, TIFF write times are long, and playing back photos takes too long for a modern camera. Despite having both an AF-assist lamp and an external focus sensor, I found focus times to be average at best, and low light focusing was poor. Along those lines, I found the LCD nearly unusable in low light conditions since it barely "gains up". The 750Z's 1 frame/second continuous shooting mode isn't worth writing home about, either. The 750Z is one of only two cameras in the 7MP class to not support the RAW image format, as well.
With all this in mind, I'd say the 750Z is great for most everyone, save for people taking a lot of shots in dimly lit rooms, or if camera responsiveness is of the utmost importance. For vacation shots and people pictures, the 750Z seems like a great choice to me.
Here's some advice if you're trying to choose between the four compact 7MP cameras. Take a lot of indoor or wide-angle shots? Go directly to the Canon PowerShot S70. Want lots of zoom? Choose the Optio 750Z or the Olympus C-7000Z. If photo quality is the most important criteria, the Pentax seems to do the best right out of the box, though I haven't reviewed the Sony DSC-P150 yet, so things may change. If you like a rotating LCD, then choose Pentax. For support of the RAW image format or extra manual controls, Canon or Olympus. For an ultra-compact camera without a lot of manual controls, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150 seems to be the winner. And for the small percentage of people who buy a camera for its movie mode, the Pentax or Sony cameras appear to be the best. In terms of design and usability -- well, that one's up to you. As you can see, I didn't come right out and pick the best one, but hopefully I dropped a few hints. By all means, try the cameras in person and decide which you like best!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot S70, Olympus C-7000Z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150. For a more expandable (and thus larger) camera, the Canon PowerShot G6, Casio Exilim EX-P700, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 are worth a look.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Optio 750Z and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read more reviews at Steve's Digicams and Digital Photography Review.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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