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Underwater cameras test 2011

1 August 2011
Szymon Starczewski

5. Pentax Optio WG-1

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

Pentax have been producing underwater compact cameras for almost 10 years. All of them have the letter “W” and, overall, we’ve seen more than a dozen of such models throughout the years. The last one is the Optio WG-1 and its twin brother, equipped with a GPS module, the WG-1 GPS. If you compare them to the W90 model, tested last year, you see that the producer didn’t change the technical specifications much. The most important difference certainly consists of using a new 13.6 Mpix sensor  and strengthening the casing so now you can descend with this camera up to a depth of 10 meters. The WG-1 can survive a 1.5 meters fall and it will work in temperatures ranging from –10 to 45 degrees Centigrade. The Pentax WG-1 is powered by a new D-LI92 lithium- ion battery with the efficiency of about 260 photos and its housing became a bit bigger than that of the W-90 because now the camera’s dimensions are 115.5 × 59 × 28.5 mm. The weight changed just slightly because the new model are a mere 2 grams heavier.

In the new Optio you can find a lens with the equivalent of the focal length ranging from 28 to 140 mm and the aperture in the f/3.5-5.5 range so exactly the same parameters as those of the older model. The LCD screen hasn’t changed either – its diameter amounts to 2.7 inches and it comes with 230K dots resolution.

Design and build quality


Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

The body of the Optio WG-1 is very solid. On the front panel there is a plate made of brushed aluminum and the rest was made of high quality porous plastic; these features, combined with a slender shape, made this camera very comfortable to hold. Nothing creaks in the casing, which is appropriately stiff, and all elements fit seamlessly.

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As usual we were a bit worried by a soft LCD protective window, which deals badly with the water pressure at greater depths. It bent inwards, distinctly pressing the monitor surface.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
At a depth of 10 m the pressure of the water column is twice as much as the pressure of air on the surface. It pushes the LCD protective window so it bends inwards.

There are no blockades on the covers protecting the memory card, battery and contacts but the producer decided to use a two-way opening system. We must move the lever which releases the cover in the vertical plane and only afterwards we might pull it out horizontally which also allows tilting it. Such a solution didn’t create any serious problems and with big gaskets, it was enough to make the device waterproof and dustproof.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

The layout of buttons was copied accurately from older models. On the upper side we see just the power button and the shutter release. At the back of the casing, on the right from the LCD screen, are positioned the zoom buttons and the playback key right below them. Beneath we get the MENU button and a key which allows us to switch on the smile detection mode or face priority mode. Further on we see the OK button for approving chosen options, which also is used to change information displayed on the LCD screen and is surrounded by directional keys which allow us to navigate the menu and to access thematic modes, flash settings, self timer settings and the macro.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

At the very bottom there is a green button you can configure on your own which gives you the access the additional quick menu. You can freely tweak it according to your needs and it allows you a fast access to the chosen settings using directional buttons. The user can attribute one of more than a dozen options to every button, like e.g. image definition, quality of pictures, AF field selection, ISO speed, exposure compensation, exposure measurement. Additionally, in the playback mode the green button deletes the selected pictures and it might also serve as a quick start button of voice recording or video recording.

At the end we should mention a tripod thread which is situated on the very edge of the bottom panel – certainly not the best location possible.

Use, cleaning, wear and tear


Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

Cleaning of the WG-1 is not an easy task. The camera has plenty of grooves and hollows where dirt can cumulate. As a result you must always remember to rinse it in fresh water after getting out of the sea because otherwise you will have to spend a lot of time removing salt from the casing.

We can’t praise the LCD protective window either because, as we already mentioned, it is quite soft and very scratch-prone. Very soon it is covered by a lot of small scratch lines.

In the case of the W90 model we complained about the front panel because the inscriptions on it started to wear away very quickly. The new Optio doesn’t have this problem anymore – even though it was obvious the specimen we’ve been lent had been already tested by other editorial office staff.

Despite quite intensive usage the only flaw we managed to find on the casing was a small scratch on the front panel.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

If it wasn’t for the scratched LCD screen, the Optio WG-1 would br praised in this category.

Additional functions

The list of additional functions, offered by the Pentax WG-1, is quite modes because it consists of just one position. We think here about the possibility of taking panoramic photos. The panoramas are combined from 3 photos you must take manually and the camera only helps us to crop them by displaying a fragment of the previous picture. The whole process is rather time-consuming and the result can be seen below.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Click to enlarge.

Here in fact we can end the description of additional functions of the Pentax. It’s worth adding at the end that the producer also offers a model equipped with a GPS receiver. However, you must pay about 50-100 PLN more for the WG-1 GPS.

Underwater usage


Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

The underwater usage of the WG-1 is very similar to that of the W90 – we get an identical layout of buttons, the same menu and similar profile of the casing. The camera is comfortable to hold and the porous structure of the plastics ensures you a good grip even if your hands are wet. Unfortunately we won’t find such facilities as a mode selection wheel, a dedicated video mode button or even a clasp on the strap. The central position of the lens should be praised, though – it is impossible to cover it accidentally with your finger during picture taking. After pressing the MODE button we have access to the thematic mode selection menu. Among options available there we find “Underwater Photos” and “Underwater Movie”. These two icons are positioned close to each other so we can change between them very quickly. However, it is not as comfortable as in the case of a dedicated video button which could have been added instead of a quite redundant face or smile detection key.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

Unfortunately each time we change the mode we must press the MODE button as well and then use directional keys to select the right icon. It is the same procedure as in the case of older underwater Pentax compacts. The fact, that after getting out of water, when you want to take a dry land picture you won’t have to rummage around in the menu can be some consolation – the Optio WG-1 will choose the right white balance in the underwater mode automatically.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Dry land photo taken in the underwater mode

The producer facilitated some things for us compared to the previous version because now we can define the green button in such a way that it starts the video recording mode. Unfortunately after pressing it you must also press the shutter release in order to start the recording for good and the camera still gets to an overall video not underwater video mode.

Although the diameter of the screen amounts to 2.7 inches because of the 16:9 proportions, during cropping the photos (which are in 4:3 format) not all its surface is used. As a result you get the image diameter of about 5.5 cm so 2.16 inches. Compared to the Olympus TG-810, where an image is 3 inches in diameter, the difference is enormous. Cropping is not the nicest thing to do with the tested Pentax because the images are simply too small. When you add to it the fact that against the strong sunlight the image loses contrast and its resolution is only 230K points you can find plenty of reasons to complaint.

Fortunately we don’t have any reservations when it comes to the speed of work. Immediately after switching the camera on you can take photos; also the menu navigations is performed without any delays, the autofocus is swift and the camera saves photos and videos almost immediately. The accuracy of the autofocus is not so good, though – if you dive near the surface and the sea is rough you must take into consideration the fact that most photos will be blurred. The situation is even made worse because of lack of image stabilization – the Pentax is the only tested device without that feature – so the number of blurry photos is even increased by the number of moved ones.

At the end one small remark about the endurance of this camera at greater depths. During our tests by small oversight we dived with this camera as deep as about 13 m. Despite that the WG-1 dealt with the situation splendidly and worked without a hitch – we didn’t manage to find any leaks.

Underwater photos and videos quality


Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

One year ago we were enraptured by the colouring of underwater photos taken with the Pentax W90. In the case of the WG-1 the photos are also very nice when it comes to colours but, unfortunately, not equally so and it is not easy to get the right effect anyway. The camera must be used in good lighting conditions so the sunlight must be at the right angle. Otherwise the images become noticeably paler and lose a part of their vividness.

Apart of that the final effect is often spoilt by the aforementioned not very accurate autofocus which sometimes makes photos fuzzy. Even if the autofocus doesn’t miss still the image is rich in details only in the frame centre and as soon as we go to the corners the quality decreases sharply. We encountered that problem testing the older model and it might be a result of weak optics used in the camera.

When we descent with the camera to a depth of 5-10 m our problems with focusing disappear. Under water the wave doesn’t toss you so much so the distance to a photographed object doesn’t change so dynamically. Unluckily we lose saturation very quickly as well and, at 7 meters, we are left with just blue and yellow. As a proof we present here the photo of clown fishes from the previous chapter. It can be clearly seen their colour is different than that presented by the Panasonic FT3.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

The Pentax WG-1 can record videos with the maximum resolution of HD1280×720 pixels and at 15 fps or 30 fps. It also uses the Motion JPEG AVI format and a single channel voice recorder. You have to admit that, next to the autofocus, the video mode is the weakest side of the tested camera. Although the colouring can still be called correct the final result is spoilt by the lossy compression which makes the images devoid of any details. Instead of admiring detailed coral reefs we see a mosaic of multi-coloured patches. As if it wasn’t enough the WG-1 doesn’t makes zooming possible during the recording. If you take into account the fact that the rivals already offer perfect videos in Full HD, you must admit the Pentax has a lot to make up for.

If you dive with this camera in green waters of Polish lakes, you will get photos distincly dominated by green colour - the example below shows it very well.

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Click to enlarge.

Summary

Traditionally first the pros and cons list:

    Pros:
    • good position of the lens,
    • supports Eye-Fi cards,
    • comfortable to use, well-profiled buttons,
    • comfortable to hold,
    • porous plastic makes the device easier to grip in wet hands,
    • green button with the possibility of creating your own quick menu,
    • good rendering of the sea depth’s colour,
    • decent rendering of the coral reef’s colouring,
    • acceptable colouring of photos taken on dry land in the underwater mode.

    Cons:
    • lack of stabilization,
    • scratch-prone LCD screen,
    • too soft LCD screen protective window,
    • taking into account 16:9 proportions the LCD screen could have been bigger,
    • very inaccurate autofocus,
    • no possibility of quick switching between the video mode and the photo mode,
    • no possibility of changing the focal length in the video mode,
    • very weak quality of movies,
    • very weak quality of photos on the edge of the frame,
    • weak colouring of photos taken at great depths,
    • weak colouring of photos taken in green waters,
    • difficult to clean,
    • modest list of additional functions,
    • tripod socket on the edge of the casing.

The Pentax WG-1 can be bought for only about 1,000 PLN. Price-wise it is placed somewhere in the middle of the whole group. The same situation we had in the previous test of the W90 model but one year passed and the producer, apart from increasing the durability of the casing, didn’t improve anything; the bigger resolution of the sensor didn’t make the camera rendering details better.

Certainly the fact that the autofocus is so inaccurate and the producer didn’t enhance the optics quality, the video mode or didn’t use any image stabilization is something to be worried about. No progress is visible and the price remained on the same level as that of the older model.

Sample underwater videos

Motion JPEG, 1280×720 pix, 30 fps, 17 s, 52.6 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Motion JPEG, 1280×720 pix, 30 fps, 15 s, 46.5 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Motion JPEG, 1280×720 pix, 30 fps, 10 s, 32.1 MB, the depth of about 6 m
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Motion JPEG, 1280×720 pix, 30 fps, 21 s, 63.2 MB, the depth of about 6 m
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1

Sample underwater shots

Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/60 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.49 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 6 mm, f/3.8, exp. 1/50 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.23 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 6 mm, f/3.8, exp. 1/50 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.52 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 6 mm, f/3.8, exp. 1/50 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.33 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/160 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.12 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/125 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.51 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/200 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.29 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/100 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.27 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/125 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.06 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/125 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.12 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/100 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.15 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/80 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.24 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/125 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.51 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/100 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.41 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/160 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.43 MB
Photos taken at the depth of 5–10 m
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/160 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.17 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/250 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.15 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/320 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.23 MB
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Underwater cameras test 2011 - Pentax Optio WG-1
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/160 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.51 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/4.2, exp. 1/160 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.09 MB
Camera: Pentax Optio WG-1
Parameters: 5 mm, f/3.5, exp. 1/160 s, ISO 80
File: JPEG, 4288×3216 pix, 4.15 MB