A camera that has dinky little dials and buttons is all very well for James Bond, but what about the rest of us who have stubby chipolata-sized digits?
Well, the Pentax Optio T30 offers a solution in the form of a touchscreen that actually works rather well. What's more, the massive, 3-inch screen is great for composing and viewing shots, as well as changing settings by pointing at pop-up icons. Apart from an on/off switch, a zoom lever, a menu and a return button there are no other dials, buttons, navipads or switches on the T30 to get in the way.
As well as being a great gadget to show off at the pub, the T30 does have some serious advantages for those who have limited use of their fingers. Sufferers from arthritis will love the way they can stab at settings without having to bend fingers at the knuckle. Equally as important, all the controls are represented by icons that are large enough to see, even for those of us of a certain age who require the use of reading glasses.
Apart from the screen, the rest of the T30 is standard fare. The zoom range is 37.5-112.5mm, there's an SD slot, face-detection mode and the full-slew of scene modes we've come to expect in this sort of compact. At 135g, it's slim and light, slipping easily into a shirt pocket or handbag. The battery that powers that big screen is a tiny little thing and therefore you can't expect more than 200 shots between charges.
Quick and easy?
Starting up is a little bit sluggish at 1.5 seconds but the T30 is never going to be bought as an action camera, so that need not concern us too much. The large screen has a good viewing angle, although it can be a little overwhelmed in bright sunlight, and the absence of a conventional optical viewfinder means that this is something you should bear in mind if using the camera in very bright conditions.
Using the touchscreen to alter settings such as macro, flash and ISO sensitivity is very easy and it all becomes a lot of fun just pointing and poking those icons. When you're reviewing shots, you can zoom in and then use your finger to drag the enlarged portion of the image around the screen - it's great fun. It's certainly fast to use.
That aside, the camera is a bit lacklustre in the optical department. The lens is average and the zoom is jerky; it's hard to wring more than five separate discernable steps from it. Otherwise, picture quality is fairly good although the compression seems a bit on the high side. This may have something to do with the fact that the T30 has a paltry 20MB of internal memory, and in order to get at least five high-quality shots on board, the JPEG compression needs to be fairly severe.
Colours are excellent, although they do look a bit yellow on screen. However, once you've loaded your pictures up to a PC or printed them out on a PictBridge-compatible printer, they're fine. Our main gripe is reserved for the macro, which offers a measly 15cm minimum focus. The other big omission is the lack of any form of image stabilisation other than a clumsy boost to the ISO rating - it's a major oversight on this sort of camera.
The build quality of the T30 is perhaps another weak point that counts against it. Compared with other compacts in this price bracket, the battery door feels fiddly and fragile while the general finish can soon turn scruffy after a bit of use. This sort of camera really ought to come with a slipcase. It's hard to understand why manufacturers don't include these - even Apple gives its customers a little case when they buy an iPod!
Criticisms aside, the T30 is well worth trying out if for no other reason than its touchscreen controls. Not only can it be a revelation for those who find conventional controls baffling or difficult, but it can also save you a lot of time and fiddling with menus when all you really want to do is point and shoot.