Like the previous Optio W models the W20 is designed for casual outdoor use in wet weather or for activities such as skiing or sailing, rather than for serious underwater use. It can survive immersion in water and even has special modes for shooting stills or video clips underwater, but there’s no point pretending that it is a real diving camera. If you want something to use while SCUBA diving, you would be much better off with a normal zoom compact fitted with an underwater case, which are usually waterproof to at least 40 metres and have larger controls. While the controls on the W20 are sensibly laid out and easy to use, they are slightly too small to be easily operated while wearing gloves.
The internal electronics seem to have been slightly improved for the new model, although to be honest there’s no dramatic improvement so it’s hard to tell. The camera starts up in about 1.5 seconds, which seems to be a little quicker than the previous model, but the AF system is still a bit slow when compared to many other current models. However, like the W10, despite lacking an AF illuminator the W20 has a remarkable ability to focus in very low light conditions. At one point last night someone turned the lights out for a laugh, but I was still able to take photos with little difficulty, apart from a side-to-side slight swaying motion, possibly caused by the notoriously rough seas of the Spanish Main. Fortunately the improved high-ISO capability helped to cope with this.
The W20 has two continuous shooting modes, a normal one that shoots at around one frame every two seconds, and another that fires off five frames in two seconds, but then has to pause and write them to the memory card. This is about average performance for a current compact. The movie mode is also up to current standards, offering VGA resolution at 30fps.
The W20 is, at heart, a simple compact snapshot camera, and it has a range of options to match. Its standard mode is Pentax’s useful Auto Picture mode, whereby the camera will attempt to select the best shooting mode automatically. Pressing the Mode option on the D-pad reveals a selection of 25 shooting options and scene modes, including the usual selection of program auto, landscape, portrait, sports, surf & snow, fireworks and flowers, as well as some Pentax favourites including Synchro Sound Recording (recording the ambient sound for a few seconds when a shot is taken) and the ever-amusing Frame Composite mode, which allows you to add one of three hilariously awful frames to your pictures.