Pentax Optio W10 Overview
By: Dan Havlik
Review Date: 09/22/2006
Shooting underwater images with a compact digital camera always seemed self-defeating to me. On the one hand, the beauty of a compact camera is that you can take it anywhere. On the other hand, if you want to take pictures near, in, or under the water and not ruin the advanced circuitry of your little technological marvel, you'd need to purchase a pricey and cumbersome underwater camera housing that you're bound to forget the next time you go to the pool. Digital cameras also seem to have this uncanny ability to get caught in rain when that perfect blue sky you're photographing on vacation suddenly fills up with storm clouds and unleashes a downpour. Instead of having to clutch your camera to your chest underneath your windbreaker when the rain starts falling, wouldn't it be nice to have a waterproof camera that can stand a dousing even better than you?
Waterproof digital cameras have existed for a few years now, but the tradeoff for being waterproof has always been image quality. The recent Olympus Stylus 720 SW is a perfect example -- wonderful, stylish, shockproof/waterproof body; somewhat compromised image quality. That's why I approached the Pentax Optio W10 with some trepidation. Sure this compact, 6-megapixel, 3x optical camera is rated as "JIS Class 8 Waterproof" which means you can take pictures continuously for 30 minutes at up to five feet (1.5m) underwater, but how are the pictures? Furthermore, the camera is rated as "JIS Class 5 dustproof" but what will a little bit of dust protection matter if the images I take at high ISOs are full of noise?
Like a lot of compact cameras from Pentax though, the W10 is full of surprises, both good and bad. It offers unexpected picture-taking quality underwater and on land in daylight settings, but it suffers from some serious deficiencies in low-light. Read on to find out the full details.
Pentax Optio W10 User ReportSimple and Seaworthy
Looking at the Pentax Optio W10, you would have no idea there is anything out of the ordinary about it -- and that's a good thing. Though it has a Class 8 Waterproof rating (submersible for up to five feet for a maximum of 30 minutes of continuous use), the W10 resembles most other compact digital cameras on the market. While it's slightly thicker than competing non-waterproof models, the camera's overall dimensions make it just the right size for a travel camera -- 4.2 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches (107 x 55 x 23mm).
Considering that the camera is also certified as JIS Class 5 dustproof, which is the second highest-possible rating, the Pentax Optio W10's relatively svelte construction and smooth, rounded contours are doubly impressive. A Class 5 dustproof rating means that while it's possible for some dust to enter the camera, it will not be enough to interfere with your pictures.
Though it's built solid to withstand water and dust damage, the W10 weighs just 5.5 ounces with the battery and card which is impressive. The exterior of the camera is relatively smooth and featureless, but it's slightly longer than average, and slightly off balance, with the weight of the battery on the far left rather than under the grip area. Still, it's light enough overall to hold steady with one hand. There's a slender metal finger-grip on the front of the camera and a small bone-shaped zoom rocker on the back that serves as a decent thumb grip. Maybe it's the power of suggestion, but the waterproof Optio W10 has a vaguely nautical feel to its design -- simple yet seaworthy.
The back of the camera is dominated by the Pentax Optio W10's 2.5-inch LCD. There's no room left for an optical viewfinder, but plenty of room on the right side of the camera for buttons. Despite the room, Pentax has followed the trend of most manufacturers and made the buttons quite tiny. Along with the bone-shaped zoom rocker, there's a tiny trash button, a small playback button and a very small four-way controller; and the menu button is pretty small too. I'm not sure if smaller buttons help with waterproofing, but they're difficult to use with average to large fingers.
Large LCD, Mediocre Resolution
While the large LCD is great, the resolution is only 115,000 pixels, which renders captured images in playback slightly soft. The screen seemed to have a particular problem with straight lines. They suffered from a bad case of the jaggies, aka "aliasing artifacts." Many shots I thought were of poor quality when viewed on the Pentax W10's LCD were perfectly fine after transferring them to my computer. I'm glad I didn't delete them! Scrolling through images in playback was a breeze, though, with shots taking only a split second to pop up on the screen during review. This is the benefit of having a lower resolution screen, one that isn't often realized due to other cost cuts in the processor, cuts that thankfully weren't made with the Optio W10.
In live preview, things were only marginally better. The Optio W10's screen employs a fairly effective anti-reflective coating that helps cut down on glare from sunlight. However, viewing the screen indoors under bright lights -- or under natural window light -- left the images hazy and ghost-like, while dark areas were muddy. Even though having a 2.5-inch LCD would seem to be a big plus, with the allotted resolution I would have preferred a smaller screen.
The Optio W10 is not a very nimble performer, powering on slowly and taking almost three seconds to get to the first shot. Since it does not have a retracting lens -- the W10 uses folded optics to keep the lens flush with the body so it's protected for underwater shooting -- the camera powers down at a quick 0.9 seconds. Getting from startup to first shot capture, the Pentax W10 is slower than average at 1.3 seconds, while the camera displays images after capture at an about average speed of four seconds. The W10 displays images already recorded on the SD card at a very quick 0.3 seconds, however.
The camera displayed some noticeable lag time, taking almost a second to take a picture when fully pressing the shutter button at its widest autofocus setting (38mm in 35mm format) and at its full telephoto autofocus setting (114mm in 35mm format). When the camera was pre-focused, however, it was an entirely different story with shutter lag dropping to 0.12 second when you half-press and hold the shutter button. Though pre-focusing has become second nature for me, it's amazing how many people aren't aware of how much it cuts down on shutter lag. With the Optio W10, pre-focusing is essential if you don't want to miss your shot.
Shot to shot the camera was sluggish as well, taking 2.51 seconds per shot, according to our findings, when in Large Fine JPEG mode. In Continuous mode, the Pentax W10 takes about 0.94 seconds per shot, or 1.06 frames per second for six frames total.
The camera's 3x Pentax zoom lens (38-114mm in 35mm format) also produced surprisingly good sharpness in natural light. My experience with folded optics has been a mixed bag, at best, so the Pentax W10 surprised me in being able to maintain sharpness almost all the way to the edges. When it was zoomed out fully, shots showed some softness, but less than I'd expected.
The Pentax W10 also has a great macro mode with the camera able to focus as close as one centimeter. Thanks to the punchy color, I got some nice close-ups of flowers during a recent stroll through the city.
While things were fine when the Optio W10 was set to ISO 64 in good light, in low light at ISO 200 and above, quality degraded significantly. Though ISO 200 was passable, shots taken at ISO 400 had serious noise speckling and shots at ISO 800 were a disaster. The W10's flash was also underpowered and unable to give some basic fill to the shadows in shots I took of a carousel in New York City's Bryant Park.
Like a lot of camera reviewers -- and consumers, I presume -- I'm pleased that the megapixel wars are being replaced by discussions of other aspects important to picture-taking: things like lenses, processors, and image stabilization. It's too bad though that camera manufacturers seem to be willing to slap on a high ISO rating on their digital camera knowing full well that consumers will be disappointed with the results. This will only further turn-off picture-takers already burned by 10 megapixel compact cameras that produce noisy images.
Taking the Plunge
Though the Pentax W10 has an ISO 800 setting, low-light shooting is not its main purpose. The real purpose is to enhance its waterproof capability and in this area, I'm happy to say the Optio W10 delivered the goods.
After shooting some nice shots on dry land, I brought the Pentax W10 to a friend's lake house in the Poconos to put it to the test. Since there are a lot of sunfish that swim up to the local dock looking for food, I simply dunked the camera into the water and started clicking away. Though shots were hit or miss, that was mostly due to the skittish nature of the sunfish, not to the camera's underwater ability, which was decent.
After my experience dipping the W10 in the water, I decided to take the full plunge. I jumped into the waters of Lake Log Tavern with the camera lashed tightly to my wrist. It was a strangely disconcerting experience to jump into a lake with a digital camera. I've accidently soaked a lot of electronic equipment in my day and there's nothing that can send terror into a techno geek's heart more than getting liquids on expensive gear. The W10 fired up unfazed, though, and I breathed a sigh of relief (figuratively speaking, since I still haven't mastered breathing underwater without scuba gear). Obeying that 5-foot underwater max rule with the W10 was easy. For the most part, average consumers aren't going to be doing any deep-sea diving with their digital camera, just some splashing around in a pool, lake, or ocean. Since Lake Log Tavern is fed by an aquifer -- an underground spring -- the water is unusually clear, and great for taking pictures. Along with making sure the camera is always tied around your wrist in the water -- remember, it doesn't float! -- don't forget to switch to the Underwater Mode, which will pump up the blues in your images.
Though all this underwater stuff might seem like a gimmick to some, I was surprised by how much enjoyment I got out shooting with the Optio W10 in and around water. Many of the images I took at Lake Log Tavern were definitely keepers and without the Pentax W10, I wouldn't have them.
Keeping with the consumer-friendly nature of the camera, the menu system on the Pentax Optio W10 was a joy to use, with very clear labels in a readable font. Kudos also to Pentax for its choice of iconography and navigation in its shooting modes. Though the color cartoon icons might be a little cutesy for some, it's very easy to figure out what each one represents. Being able to see large groups of them clearly displayed on each screen makes them easy to select quickly, even though there are 25 modes to choose from. (Don't forget to keep scrolling after the first page though, there are two more rows of icons further down.)
Other than that, though, navigation on the Optio W10 was simple, attractive, and efficient. It's amazing how some competing manufacturers forget these basic tenets.
Battery life on the Optio W10 is about average. Its proprietary Lithium Ion rechargeable battery can record 240 images, according to CIPA standards. Two areas where Pentax skimped a bit are in the camera's modest internal memory -- only 10.5MB RAM, good for three full-resolution images; and its slow USB 1.1 connectivity, which is far slower than the USB 2.0 found on most cameras these days. With the W10, make sure you buy a large SD Card -- 256MB as a minimum -- and a card reader with a USB 2.0 connection.
The Bottom Line
Though it's not the best all-around performer, the Pentax W10's main selling point is its sturdy yet attractive waterproof and dustproof design. And while shots captured at high ISOs may be disappointing, the Optio W10 takes reasonably good pictures on dry land under adequate lighting. Still, it is truly fun to use -- in, around, and under the water. If you're looking for a light and pocketable camera to splash around with, the W10 won't leave you high and dry.
- 6.0-megapixel (effective) CCD captures images as high as 2816 x 1920 pixels
- 2.5-inch color TFT LCD with 115,000 pixels of resolution
- 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom
- Green (Basic) and Program exposure modes
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds
- Aperture range from f/3.3 to f/4, depending on zoom position
- Built-in flash with six modes
- SD/MMC card storage slot plus 10.5MB built-in memory
- Power supplied by one proprietary, rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- USB 1.1 computer connection
- ACDSee software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms
- JIS Class 8 Waterproof designation (allows shooting for up to 30 minutes at up to five feet underwater)
- JIS Class 5 dustproof designation (prevents dust from effecting basic operation of camera)
- Movie mode (maximum 640x480 resolution) with sound
- Anti-shake movie function
- Synchro Sound mode captures an image plus ten seconds of audio on either side of the image
- Normal and High Speed Continuous modes
- 25 preset "scene" photography modes
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release
- Macros (close-up) setting allows focusing up to 1cm
- ISO settings of 64, 100, 200, 400, and 800 ISO equivalents (not recommend above ISO 200)
- Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments
- White balance (color) adjustment with six options, including a manual setting
- Wide and Spot AF area modes, as well as infinity, pan, and manual focus modes
- Multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering
- Digital Filter mode with eight color filters for special effects, one Soft filter, and a post-capture Brightness filter
- Automatic exposure compensation with manual adjustment at +/-2 EV in 1/3rd steps
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Pentax Optio W10 digital camera
- D-LI8 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
- Battery charger with AC plug cord
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CD
- Operating manual and registration card
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card, 256MB as minimum
- Card reader with USB 2.0 connectivity
- Camera case
- Additional battery pack
Though the Pentax Optio W10 has liabilities as an all-around compact digital camera, to judge this waterproof/dustproof model fairly, it must be rated on a curve. Sure the W10's low-light ability isn't up to snuff with the camera producing noisy images at ISO 200 and 400, and downright disastrous pictures at ISO 800. And sure the camera is a bit on the sluggish side, with below average startup, focusing and shot-to-shot speed, not to mention its weak and uneven flash. While poor marks in these fields alone would be enough to negate a recommendation, the Optio W10 is able to do things most of its competitors can't. This is a camera that's built to take a splashing, and in this area, it rises above its rivals.
After spending a day with the Pentax W10 at a lake in the Poconos, I grew enamored with this model and what it was capable of doing underwater without the weight of a cumbersome housing. Pictures I shot at the lake were some of my favorites of the summer, offering good color and sharpness in shots taken on dry land, while bobbing up and down on a raft, and below the surface. We're still waiting for a waterproof digital camera without so many compromises, but until that day comes, the Optio W10 is a good choice. Digital photography is about fun, and while the pros and cons are about even, if you're looking to take the plunge with a waterproof camera, the Pentax Optio W10 will serve. Its marginal print quality just keeps it from earning a Dave's Pick, however, given the very soft output even at the lowest ISO settings.