I can’t quite believe that it’s been almost four years since I was introduced to the Optio 330, Pentax’s first point and shoot digital camera. Back then I was working for one of the UK IT rags, but I distinctly remember that I was impressed with the compact stainless steel metal body which felt very solid and durable. Fortunately, with the five megapixel Optio WP I have in my hands now, Pentax has stuck with that approach to solid design. Despite the fact that much of the casing is plastic, the WP is rigid and free from those unnerving creaking sounds that usually result when camera bodies built with cheaper, thinner, and more flexible plastics are handled.
There is a reason for this solidity. A reason requiring that the build quality meets certain standards. What am I taking about? Well, if you haven’t guessed from its name, the WP is waterproof and the standard it conforms to is the JIS (Japanese Industry Standard) Class 8, equivalent to the IEC’s (International Electrotechnical Commission) IEC 60529 IPX8 standard.
In both cases, the important figure is the number eight. This denotes the level to which the WP is protected from the ingress of water. Class 8 (IPX8) basically denotes that the product is tested to withstand the effects of continuous immersion in water for a specific time and depth as agreed by the standards agency and the company. In essence, the WP passes Class 7 (IPX7) in that it can be operated underwater to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes. However, thanks to the WP’s rubber sealed, double locking battery/memory card latch and another 50cm of depth during tests, this little camera hits Class 8.
So what does this mean to you and me? Well, a digital camera that can withstand real submersion should make it a hit with the outdoor types among us. Whether you’re on the beach, kayaking, jet skiing or snorkelling, the WP should be able to take the punishment. Of course, I had to put these waterproof claims to test, so what better way than dunking it in a fish tank.
At first, I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive. Unlike Pentax’s square-shaped, ruggedised, Class 7 Optio 43WR, the WP looks very much like a “normal” digital camera. Nothing about its design actually looks waterproof, but behind the slender and elegant two-tone body the buttons are fully sealed and the zoom lens is housed behind a watertight circular window that somewhat reminds me of a ship’s porthole.
Doubts aside, in it went, and it wasn’t long before my trepidation turned into full confidence. While it wasn’t easy capturing the shots displayed here, a combination of using the 10 second (or two second) self-timer and some luck, plus the Underwater mode and the rather nifty tracking AF function - part of the Sport and Pet modes - helped a lot. This is a sensory mode that monitors and follows changes in movement in order to keep the subject in focus, and in practice I found that it locked on pretty accurately. As for Pet mode, this is a delightful one that tweaks the WP’s exposure settings to take into account the colour of your pet’s coat, be it white, grey/mid-tone, or black. So as to not annoy dog or cat owners, Pentax has even used a specific icon for each animal. Cute, but where’s the icon for my Iguana?
More seriously, the WP coped very well under water and sub-aqua operation had no deleterious affects. The image quality was actually reasonably sharp and colours where reproduced well, despite the light bending watery environment. Detail is not quite up to that of the air breathing world, but it’s far better than the results I’ve obtained from those disposable underwater cameras. I’ll also add that the water in the fish tank was crystal clear and very still, and I’d imagine that taking pictures in our Worlds' not so clean seas could result in murkier results. That said, Pentax include an Underwater mode that brings out the blueness of the sea for that added bit of vibrancy. The other point I should make, if you haven't already noticed from my first picture, is the fact that the WP doesn’t float so be sure to keep that hand strap wrapped around your wrist before you wade in.