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DSLRs are nice, but sometimes--okay, a lot of the time--we just can’t be bothered to schlep around a giant camera. Enter the compact camera. At 4.2 ounces and 3.8 x 2.1 x 0.8 inches, the Pentax Optio P80 is a solid choice for nights on the town or other casual situations where it’s more important to capture the moment than the most technically perfect frame.
The P80 is a 12.1 megapixel point-and-shoot with an aluminum body in black, mint, or pearl. It’s a sleek little device that easily slips into a pocket, ready for use at any time--we clocked the start-up time at 1.5 seconds, so it’s perfect for grabbing a spontaneous shot. It also features a 28mm wide-angle lens that’s ideal for traveling and for taking pictures of groups, while the bright 2.7-inch LCD makes it easy to view shots and navigate system menus. The buttons on the back are large enough to manipulate easily, but small enough that they don’t take over the back of the camera.
Face-recognition mode works well, prioritizing focus on the people you’re trying to capture--even in low-light situations, faces were always in focus. When multiple people enter the frame, the P80 easily distinguishes between faces and background objects--up to 32 mugs at a time.
It's sleek, shoots at 720p, and takes decent-looking stills, but without image stabilization, video quality can suffer.
The P80 shoots HD video and has a ton of scene modes to help beginning shutterbugs.
The 26 scene modes provide plenty of settings for shooting everything from text to food to fireworks and digital panoramas. A vertical snap mode allows you to use the center button of the D-pad on the back, instead of the traditional shutter button, to take a photo, which comes in handy when you’ve tilted the camera into portrait orientation.
Image quality clocks in as decent. We weren’t blown away, but considering the camera’s size and other features, we’d feel comfortable bringing it along on family trips or recommending it to casual shooters. The 4X optical zoom allows for a little more flexibility when composing shots, but anything larger would necessitate a bigger form factor, and Pentax chose wisely.
The P80 also features digital filters and in-camera editing, which allow you to tweak images before they ever hit your Mac. It’s not for heavy-duty edits, but it’s useful for quick adjustments on the go. The image-recovery feature is also great, allowing you to find that photo of Mom you accidentally deleted. And in low light, the P80 can shoot all the way up to ISO 6400. You’ll be able to capture subjects in dark settings, but the resulting images are much noisier. Unfortunately, the P80 doesn’t offer image stabilization, which would allow for longer exposures at lower ISOs for better low-light performance.
Movie mode worked as well as one would expect from a point-and-shoot. Without image stabilization, though, the camera was too light to keep it from shaking when shooting handheld footage. Fortunately, the P80 camera chooses the ISO that it needs to get a clear image in video mode, making it a breeze to operate. We also dug the 16:9 aspect ratio and the ability to shoot at 720p in such a compact package. But most importantly for a pocket camera, the battery’s got your back. Pentax claims 200 shots or 200 minutes of video per battery charge. We saw about 190 shots with a little video shooting mixed in, which is respectable.