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Pentax Optio WG-1 Review

Verdict

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Pros

  • Tough as old boots
  • Waterproof to 10m/33ft
  • Post-processing options
  • No sensor-shift shake-reduction
  • Shock-proof to 4.9ft

Cons

  • Fiddly zoom controls
  • Program mode a bit flat

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £250.00
  • 14-megapixel sensor
  • 5x optical zoom (28mm-140mm)
  • 1280 x 720 HD movies at 30fps
  • Waterproof to 10m/33ft
  • Shock-proof to 4.9ft

The ruggedised compact market has grown considerably in the past few years from being something of a niche genre dominated primarily by the Olympus ‘Tough’ and Pentax ‘W’ range, to something all of the major camera manufacturers now have a stake in.

Pentax isn’t exactly a newcomer to the world of ruggedised compacts. Indeed, alongside Olympus and its ‘mju’ range, Pentax has contributed more than its fair share towards establishing the market for tough compacts, starting with the launch of its waterproof Optio WPi model back in 2006.   

Since then, the WPi has morphed into the ‘W’ range of increasingly waterproof, shock-proof, freeze-proof and even crush-proof compacts. Earlier this year, the WB-1 became the latest Pentax compact to take on tough duties, effectively superseding the W90 that came out in 2010.

With a protective outer casing made from a combination of hard-wearing plastic and toughened glass, the WB-1 takes the extreme sports styling of the W90 to its logical conclusion with more pronounced curves and faux industrial facia mouldings.

Waterproof to 10 metres, shock-proof to 1.5 metres, freeze-proof to -10°C, and crush-proof to 100kg the WB-1 is every bit as tough as it looks. Rather than a flimsy wrist-tie, it even comes with a metal karabiner and weight-bearing strap which can be used to attach the camera to a belt or rucksack.
Pentax WG-1 2
Internally, the WG-1 employs a 14-megapixel sensor and the latest generation, albeit unnamed, Pentax image processor. Zoom capabilities are handled by a 5x optical zoom that’s equivalent to 28-140mm in 35mm terms. Unusually for a camera of its type, the lens is housed in the centre of the camera rather than on the shoulder. Nonetheless it still uses a folded-optics design that keeps all of the lens elements within the camera body and behind a protective glass covering.

Images can be recorded at a maximum 14MP in the camera’s default 4:3 aspect, with 7MP, 5MP and 3MP options also available. You can also record in 1:1 and 16:9 aspect ratios should you wish, albeit at reduced resolutions as these effectively just take a crop from the 4:3 sensor. There are three levels of JPEG compression available, allowing you to prioritise for either the quality or quantity of images.  

Shooting modes are kept fairly simple with a choice of Program, Auto Picture and 21 individual Scene modes. The range of Scene modes on offer is fairly comprehensive, with specific options for underwater movies and still images among more standard scene mode fare like Portrait, Landscape and Night Scene.
Pentax WG-1 5
Macro enthusiasts are especially well catered for with a unique Digital Microscope mode that enables you to focus as close as 1cm away from your subject while using the five LEDs that are set in a circle around the WG-1’s lens to light up your subject – great for closeups of all those seabed creatures.

At the other extreme the WG-1 also offers a Panoramic mode that uses a ghost image to help you line up two images before stitching them together in-camera. Results aren’t bad, but nowhere near the quality of Sony’s Sweep Panorama technology.

The WG-1 also offers a good range of post-capture editing options. Basic editing tools include crop, resize and red-eye removal, with more advanced options including a Small Face filter and Ink Rubbing filter. Should you want to add some fun effects to images you’ve already shot then the WB-1 duly obliges with a choice of digital filters including: Toy Camera, Retro, High Contrast, Starburst, and Miniature among others.

The back of the WG-1 is adorned with a 2.7in, 230k-dot LCD monitor. While it’s far from being the sharpest available it’s just about adequate for composing and reviewing your images on. The toughened glass has been treated with an anti-glare coating to minimise unwanted reflections in bright sunlight and in use we found this to work very well. In addition, we also found the viewing angle to be fairly generous.
Pentax WG-1 6
As with the W90 and other Pentax compacts, there’s a dedicated Face Detection button on the back of the camera, which can be set to work alongside Smile Assist and even the camera’s self-timer, offering you plenty of flexibility when shooting portraits.

While there’s no dedicated quick menu button, it is possible to set the bottom Green button to act as a Function (Fn) button and then assign popular shooting settings – such as ISO and EV compensation – to each direction of the D-pad. Alternatively, the Green button can also be set as an ‘instant record’ movie button, or even to record voice memos with.

Speaking of movies, it’s possible to record video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720 HD at 30fps. There’s a mini HDMI port (alongside a PC/AV port) tucked away behind a sealed compartment on the side of the camera that allows instant playback on a high definition TV. If you don’t require high definition quality then you can also set the camera to record movies in VGA or QVGA quality. Sound is recorded in mono.

The WG-1’s zoom is controlled by a rocker switch on the rear shoulder of the camera. While the zoom does extend through its range fairly quickly and smoothly when held constantly, feathering the rocker to try and make small individual corrections proves difficult as the individual jumps are quite large. This does make precise framing of subjects with the WG-1 quite fiddly.
Pentax WG-1 4
We found the WG-1’s autofocus to be perfectly fast for general photography needs. There’s even a Manual focus option, which is somewhat unusual for a camera of this type, although it can be a bit fiddly in practice and really requires that the camera be used on a tripod to be in any way effective.   

Start-up time is fairly standard for a compact of this type and price, with the WG-1 taking a fraction under two seconds from being first switched on to being ready to shoot. Processing times between individual images varies depending on how many of the WG-1’s post-processing settings have been switched on, but generally takes between a second and two seconds.  

In terms of image quality, the WG-1 is able to produce pleasing results, especially when used in good, even light conditions. While we generally prefer shooting in Program mode so that we can retain some degree of control, we did find that the WG- generally produced better results while used in Auto Picture mode.

While the camera claims to offer three different types of anti-shake protection, none of them are of the superior sensor-shift type, with the camera either processing the blurred areas of images after the image has been captured – a process Pentax calls ‘Pixel Track Shake Reduction’ – or by raising the sensitivity.

As is usually the case with compacts fitted with small, high pixel-count sensors, raising the sensitivity does lead to some problems with image noise, and with the WG-1 the threshold whereby this becomes especially noticeable is at IS0 800. While sensitivity settings of ISO 400 and below do deliver fairly good results, going above ISO 800 images soon become very noisy indeed, with the top settings really for emergency use only.

Metering proves quite accurate in most flat-light situations, although the WG-1 generally opts to retain mid-tone and shadow detail at the expense of highlights when faced with a high-contrast scene beyond its dynamic range. The WG-1 does offer a couple of D-Range options that can be called upon to automatically apply Highlight or Shadow Correction, but some care needs to be taken, otherwise images can all too easily take on an unnatural or washed-out appearance.  
Pentax WG-1 1
Colour varies quite a bit between the various shooting modes, with images shot in Program mode often coming out a little flat compared to Auto Picture mode or, for example, the Landscape scene mode option. We also found the Auto Picture and individual scene modes to deliver images with more contrast than Program mode. The only real issue we did find with Auto Picture was that it occasionally chose to apply an inaccurate (overly warm) white balance setting, thereby throwing any kind of colour accuracy out of the window.  

Edge sharpness and detail are two areas where the Pentax scores quite highly, with the folded-lens and processing engine able to deliver sharp edges and good detail.

”’Verdict”’

With its moulded facia and in-your-face extreme sports styling, the WG-1 certainly manages to stand out from the tough compact crowd. Image quality isn’t bad either, especially when used on Auto Picture mode. And while the zoom control can prove a bit fiddly and imprecise, it remains a fairly simple camera to operate overall. Perhaps most importantly, in terms of overall build quality, the WB-1 is one of the toughest ‘tough’ cameras currently on the market. If that’s your primary consideration then the WG-1 deserves to be at, or at least near, the top of your short-list.

Pentax WG-1
The ISO test scene in full

Pentax WG-1 iso 80
At ISO 80 there is actually a touch more noise than there is at ISO 100

Pentax WG-1 iso 100
At ISO 100 the image looks clean and sharp at 100%

Pentax WG-1 iso 200
While at ISO 200 there is little noticeable difference

Pentax WG-1 iso 400
By ISO 400, however, there is some noise creeping into the image

Pentax WG-1 iso 800
By ISO 800 noise has become more pronounced with a sharp drop in detail

Pentax WG-1 iso 1600#
By ISO 1600 the image is fuzzy and soft

Pentax WG-1 iso 3200
ISO 3200 is an expanded 5MP setting that yields fairly poor results

Pentax WG-1 iso 6400
ISO 6400 – use it only if you really must…

Pentax WG-1 5
At 28mm the WG-1 covers a wide field of view
1/400sec @ f/4.2, 28mm, ISO 80, AWB

Pentax WG-1
At full telephoto the WG-1 lens reaches 140mm
1/250sec @ f/5.5, 140mm, ISO 160, AWB

Pentax WG-1
It’s possible to use the centre AF-point to choose a point of focus – here it’s the purple flower
1/500sec @ f/4.2, 28mm, ISO 80, AWB

Pentax WG-1 3
The WG-1 scores highly for its macro capabilities
1/250sec @ f/4.6, 28mm, ISO 80, AWB

Pentax WG-1
Colour can be quite punchy in Program mode
1/400sec @ f/3.5, 37mm, ISO 80, AWB

Pentax WG-1 5
But the WG-1 tends to offer more punch when used in Auto Picture mode
1/800sec @ f/4.2, 28mm, ISO 100, AWB

Pentax WG-1 3
Detail is well resolved – for a tough compact with a folded lens design
1/800sec @ f/5.8, 72mm, ISO 100, AWB

Pentax WG-1
And the WG-1 is capable of producing sharp edges too
1/640sec @ f/4.2, 28mm, ISO 80, AWB

Trusted Score

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Score in detail

  • Value 8
  • Design & Features 7
  • Image Quality 8
  • Build Quality 9

Features

Camera type Digital Compact
Megapixels (Megapixel) Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 5 Xx
Image Sensor CCD
Image Stabilisation Electronic
LCD Monitor 2.7 in
Flash modes Auto Flash, Flash ON, Flash OFF, Red-eye Reduction
Video (max res/format) 1280 x 720

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