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Pentax Optio MX4 review

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Our Verdict

A whole that doesn't quite add up to the sum of its mis-matching parts


  • Good VGA movies

    Low price


  • Average still images

    Weird ergonomics

    Too many folding bits

We might not know much about engineering, but we've seen enough episodes of Scrapheap Challenge to know that it's always the steam-powered cars and home-made hovercraft with hinges that collapse before the chequered flag.

So we approached the new Pentax tape-free camcorder with kid gloves. Not only does it have a rotating grip, a folding screen and a pop-up flash, but it also looks like a product of the scrapheap itself: bits of a camcorder here, a fragment of digital camera there, and maybe even part of a Star Trek tricorder.

The best way to hold the hybrid MX4 is in a pistol grip, with the zoom and shutter under your right index finger and the movie button under your thumb. If you don't fold the LCD screen down, it obscures the menu pad and mode dial. There's no optical alternative to the 1.8-inch display, so it's lucky that it's clear and colourful even in bright sunshine. However, it's a tad slow to respond to changing light conditions.

There's plenty of room in the MX4's horizontal plastic case for a big 10x lens. The optics are quiet, but not especially fast or smooth when zooming, lending movies a hesitant, amateur look. Although clips are recorded in memory-efficient MPEG-4 files, you'll only fit about a minute of full-quality footage on the 32MB Secure Digital card supplied, so we'd recommend you splash out another £75 on a 1GB card to make serious use of the video features.

The VGA movies are very smooth (thanks to a fast, 30fps frame rate) and have good exposure but slightly grainy colours. Mono sound is muffled indoors and ruined by even the slightest puff of wind outside. There's also no video light or night mode for low-light shooting.

On the camera side, there are plenty of aperture, shutter and exposure settings for keen photographers to fiddle with. More importantly, the four-megapixel still images are natural and colourful, especially when you bring the powerful flash into play.

However, the model does struggle when trying to focus in low-light conditions, and can suffer at times from ugly fringing effects and a lack of fine detail. Shutter delay, processing time and continuous shooting (a miserable two frames in one second) are all surprisingly slow for a convergence product.

There's no doubting that Pentax deserves credit for managing to pull together a four-megapixel camera-corder at such a competitive price, but like most Scrapheap Challenges, the MX4 is more about entertainment than real-life practicality.