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Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pentax Optio WG1-GPS Camera - a review.

After taking very few photos to record the more “exciting” parts of this year’s TGO Challenge owing to the wet and windy conditions, I was intrigued to be offered the chance to test and review an “adventure proof” compact camera from Pentax – the Optio WG-1 GPS.

The key features for the dedicated outdoors man or woman are found in the hardened design that makes it able to withstand conditions that would wreck a standard camera. It is waterproof to a depth of 10 metres, coldproof to -10°C, and shockproof when dropped from heights of up to 1.5m. It's also crushproof to 100kg, so no worries about sitting on it or it being at the bottom of that pile of rucksacks.
picture of Pentax WG1 camera

It certainly looks tough with a chunky rubber and metal outer shell. Once you get past that outer armour, you will find a fairly standard compact, with a 14 megapixel sensor and 5x zoom lens (the 35mm equivalent of 28 to 140mm). This limited range is, I suppose, the price paid for keeping the lens inside the waterproof case, but a digital zoom extends the range to almost 1000mm, although at that range the ISO is pushed to 1600 to reduce shake and noise starts to become quite evident.

underwater picture of pond snails
Taken under water! - water snails in our pond
The camera has a 2.7-inch LCD monitor, 720p HD video, digital shake reduction, face detection, smile capture (I haven’t a clue how that works) and various other software driven features that I haven’t explored. For those who like to take close ups of the odd wee beastie or tiny flowers, a digital microscope feature that includes 5 LED lights arrayed around the lens to assist with lighting extreme close ups. So close can you go that there is a little 10mm high stand included to help with extreme close ups - and yes, you can still zoom in. Whether this has much use outdoors, I can't say.

If taking a group photo those same LEDs light up to show the number of people in shot (I think a lot of features are there “because we can” rather than “because its useful”). Included with the kit are USB and AV cables, a rechargeable Li-Ion battery and charger, neck/wrist strap and a carabiner with a thick webbing strap for clipping to a rucksack, harness, lifejacket or snorkel. Oh, and for the gramme conscious, it weighs around 150gms.
picture of sunflower
Sunflower in garden

So, it’s tough, you can drop it, crush it, freeze it and dunk it in 33ft of water – but how is it at taking pictures?

Controls

Controls are simple and all on the camera back, except for the shutter release and power button which are in the usual place on the top of the body.

I found that the auto mode, which is the default mode, worked really well in selecting the best mode and settings in most conditions – even selecting macro for extreme close ups and switching on those LEDs. After playing with other settings, I was content to let the camera do the thinking for most shots, but for the record there are specific modes for under water, sport, pets, kids, microscope, fireworks, candlelight, food (I know a few people who do actually photograph food!) portrait and so on – I won’t bore you with the rest.

For the more advanced among us, there is a programmable green button. Pressing this button makes the camera default to the pre-selected settings, overriding  any automatic or previously selected setting.

The WG-1's 2.7-inch LCD screen is adjustable for 7 levels of brightness. I found the brightness and contrast rather low for an outdoor camera and sometimes difficult to use in bright conditions.

The pictures

The lens is pretty good for a compact especially with restricted space for movement behind the fixed waterproof cover. There is little distortion, even at full zoom and overall the pictures are sharp, any softness only becoming evident at the edges. Colour reproduction is good, and selecting the correct mode subtly enhances landscapes and portraits, flattering the photographer’s abilities.

mason bees nests close up
Close-up of Mason Bees' handiwork in bamboo bee house

The pictures below were deliberately taken on a humid, slightly murky day to see how the lens and sensor coped with zooming in low contrast conditions. They were hand held to represent how the camera would usually be used.

full zoom picture
33.3 x digital zoom

picture with no zoom
No zoom
five times optical zoom picture
5 x zoom


As can be seen, the equivalent of a 1000mm lens with full digital zoom in low light stretches the camera's capabilities and the image is quite noisy. However for a hand held shot at that distance, not too bad. However, with 14 megapixels on the sensor, cropping might be the way to go for best results.

Trial videos were crisp, bright and the sound passable.

Geotagging

This camera, the WG-1 GPS has the additional feature of being able to record the position of every shot via a built in GPS receiver. Unfortunately this cannot be programmed to record in any grid other than Lat Long, so is a bit disappointing for us Brits wanting OS grid references. Although you could use a phone app or online website to convert to Ordance Survey GRs, I certainly wouldn’t want the faff so for me the WG1 (without the gps) would be fine. On the other hand, it doesn't cost much so ...

Conclusions

Robustness is the WG-1's key feature. The camera also produces very acceptable images, not the absolute best in class, maybe, but given that it’s “raison d’etre” is to be able to carry on taking pictures when other cameras are carefully stowed out of harms way it’s more than good enough. In fact it equals most compacts in image quality, and is better than average all round.

Battery life of the WG-1 is rated for about 260 still shots or 120 minutes of video capture. Obviously with prolonged use of the monitor or flash this will drop considerably, so for long (i.e over a week) trips away from civilisation, I would invest in a spare battery.

It’s not the only ‘outdoors-proof’ compact on the market, but I reckon that the Pentax WG-1 is worth considering for walkers, climbers, canoeists or snorkelling - or for anyone as clumsy as me with cameras (I did drop it, and it still worked).

A minor gripe is that the GPS isn’t that useful in the UK, but it usually only costs an extra £20. The one real criticism is the screen (there is no optical viewfinder) which is difficult to see in bright conditions.

Prices

From around £215 from on line retailers (it's never sold at the SRP of £299).

Bottom line - a well designed camera for outdoor use with good performance and, most importantly, useable in all weather conditions. And considering its capabilities, good value.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Phreerunner said...

Nice one, Phil. Hope you didn't have to hand it back!

August 26, 2011 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Ah, sadly they do want it back. Shame as I'm off to North Wales next month and no doubt a waterproof camera will be very handy.

Of course, if you've got no more reviewers lined up, Maddie, I'll gladly save you the return courier cost ;-)

August 26, 2011 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Phreerunner said...

Oh dear, that's a bit frustrating! I'm glad I don't have to give my 'Flight Jacket' back! It looked a very nice product, especially for a trip to Wales. Much better than the cheap Ixus I keep in a plastic bag for wet days....
Have fun
Martin

August 26, 2011 at 6:08 PM  
OpenID peewiglet said...

That looks very useful and interesting. Thanks for the excellent review.

I thought the mason bees' homes were a pile of marrow bones, incidentally, before I read the text :)

August 26, 2011 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

"I thought the mason bees' homes were a pile of marrow bones"

OK, Piglet, now I know it's you doing these comments.

August 26, 2011 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Andrew W said...

So Mr Lambert, how can I get one to test?

August 27, 2011 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger MB said...

Very nice review! I am thinking of getting a new waterproof point and shoot camera and I am thinking of getting one of the top rated cameras in the market today for the waterproof category, this Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS Digital Camera. But I am still trying to look for good models. I will definitely consider your review and I hope I won't regret my purchase! Thanks! ;)

November 15, 2011 at 10:45 AM  

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