I'm a big fan of the compact megazoom (or travel zoom) category of digital cameras and I often recommend them as all-purpose point-and-shooters to folks whose budget will accommodate them. I usually preface the recommendation with something along the lines of "if you don't need a really compact camera..." or "if you don't mind a slightly bulkier camera..."
Well, the newly announcedPentax Optio RZ18 is about as trim a camera as you can get with an 18x zoom lens. It's not the smallest camera in the world but I actually prefer to shoot with a camera with a little substance to it, and at 4.3x2.4x1.4 inches and just 6.7 oz (with battery and memory card), it's eminently pocketable. In fact, it's smaller than the Nikon Coolpix S9100 and Olympus SZ-10, and lighter than the recently announced Samsung WB750, all of which are compact 18x zooms.
Looking at the specs, I like the wide angle of the Pentax's 25-450mm (f/3.2-5.9) zoom lens, but I question Pentax's choice of cramming 16 megapixels onto a 1/2.33-inch sensor. I don't have high hopes for the low-light image quality, especially compared to competitors like the Nikon and Samsung which stuck closer to 12 megapixels on similarly small sensors and use backside-illuminated CMOS sensors (vs. the Pentax's CCD) to further enhance low-light performance.
Still, the Optio RZ18 does offer a nice feature set, including:
Dual image stabilization (both sensor-shift and Pixel Track shake reduction)
3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD
720p HD video recording at 30fps
Font magnification option for menu readability
Automatic scene mode selection (16 scene modes)
Blink and smile detection
Face detection (up to 32 faces) with pet recognition mode
Special effects filters (e.g., miniature, toy camera)
Optional wireless remote
Digital Panorama mode
Black, pearl white, or metallic orange body color options
The Pentax Option RZ18 will start shipping in October for $299.95.