While most camera companies were designing cameras with sliding lens covers to mimic Sony's T-series cameras, Pentax didn't jump on that bandwagon. But, now that sliding covers have become a regular part of the digital camera design aesthetic, Pentax has its own spin on the slide. Behind that cover, the Optio Z10 has a 7x optical zoom lens that covers an equivalent range of 38mm-to266mm and f/3.5-to-f/5.4. That should provide a long reach for a pocketable camera, though you may yearn for a wider lens when shooting group portraits. Most of the camera's other features aren't exceptional, though at this price, you can't expect the world.
You don't often see a black Pentax compact camera, but the Z10 definitely represents a different direction for the company. Still, though, it feels like a Pentax, sporting a reserved, classy look, instead of trying to appear slick as so many compact cameras do. The button layout is happily simple and even eschews a power button. Instead, the sliding cover turns the camera on and off. Other than the shutter button, the rest of the buttons sit to the right of the camera's 2.5-inch LCD screen. In addition to the usual four directional buttons that double as flash, macro, self-timer, and shooting mode controls, there's also a small green button that serves as the trash button in playback mode and can be customized to activate exposure compensation, image size or quality, or white balance. The button's default activates the fully automatic green shooting mode.
Pentax didn't include optical or sensor-shift image stabilization in the Z10, instead relying on ISO boosting digital image stabilization to combat blur cause by shaky hands. Of course, there aren't many cameras with optical image stabilization in this price range, and none of them include 7x optical zoom lenses. While Pentax includes face detection in the Z10 (they refer to it as face recognition) you might get confused when trying to activate it. The manual doesn't include the term "face recognition" in the index, so you'd have to hunt through the manual to discover that face detection is only active in either the Natural Skin Tone or Portrait scene modes. This makes sense, since the idea of face detection is to help with portraits and these are both portrait scene modes. However, I wish they'd include in the index any of the terms they use to describe the camera's key features.
While the Optio Z10 did well in our shutter lag test, it proved sluggish waking up and in between shots. The camera took 2.2 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG. Thereafter, it took 3 seconds between images with the flash turned off. With the flash turned on, the camera took 3.2 seconds between images. Shutter lag was very impressive, measuring 0.4 second in our high contrast test and 0.9 second in our low contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. In continuous shooting mode, we were able to capture an average of 1.6 frames per second. You can't call that exceptional, but it's not bad for a camera in this price range.
Images from the Optio Z10 are nice, especially at lower ISOs. Colors look accurate and while not quite as saturated as some cameras, they're not overly washed out, either. Images are slightly softer than I'd like to see from an 8-megapixel camera, but they're still on par with, if not sharper than, a lot of budget cameras. The Z10's automatic white balance did a great job of neutralizing colors under incandescent lighting, but under fluorescent lighting, the auto white balance yielded a greenish cast. If shooting under fluorescent lighting, you're better off using the camera's fluorescent preset or setting a manual white balance.