Pentax Optio E70

The Pentax Optio E70 is a compact, intuitive, and fun camera that is a cinch to use. It fits easily in your pocket, and it has enough modes to handle whatever lighting or subjects you encounter. While chock-full of features, this streamlined model is also great for beginning photographers who just want an inexpensive camera (as little as $120 as of 5/19/09) for snapping reasonably good digital photos.

The Optio E70 has 18 shooting modes, but that impressive number should not scare off beginners. Big, easily-recognizable icons depict each mode on the menu screen. For instance, little moon and a building represents the "night scene" mode, while a dog icon represents the "pet" function--allowing the user to match the animal's hue during movement and take a picture without fear of motion blur. You can select a mode or allow the Auto Picture mode to select one for you.

For the more technically savvy photographer, a "program" mode lets the user adjust settings for flash, focus mode (standard, macro, pan, and infinity), recorded pixels, focusing area, sensitivity (64-800), blink detection, and exposure.

By clicking on the "AUTO PICT" icon, the camera will cycle through seven shooting modes to deal with any given situation. Although this saves amateurs a lot of menu scrolling, its selections may not always be what you would expect. I found that Auto Picture would stick to "portrait" or "landscape" modes when handling most subjects, but curiously, it switched to "sport" mode when I was shooting an office plant and remained in portrait mode when I tackled active subjects in motion.

Pentax touts the camera's abilities to take portraits. The Face Recognition feature automatically detects up to 32 faces in the frame and sets the focus while adjusting the exposure. When you press the focus button down half-way, a yellow face-recognition frame lets you know it detects a face in the picture. If it recognizes multiple faces, it frames the main portrait in yellow and the others in white. In my experience, however, it was easy to get one face recognized by the camera, but harder to get other faces in the screen framed except in ideal outdoor lighting. On the whole, the Pentax E70 produced decent images. In particular, the camera seemed to shine with outdoor lighting but to overcompensate for poor lighting indoors by producing photos with unnaturally rosy skin tones.

The ACDSee software that comes bundled with the camera is great if you don't have any photo software installed on your computer. But if you have a good program like iPhoto (for Macs), don't bother installing the comparatively weaker ACDSee.