Pentax Optio W90 Overview
by Greg Scoblete and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 06/28/2010
A go-anywhere camera that's perfect for the outdoors, the Pentax W90 can be operated not just in rain, but submerged to depths of up to 20 feet for as long as two hours -- complying with the JIS Class 8 waterproofing standard, and besting the previous W80 model by a further four feet. The Pentax W90 is also JIS Class 6 dustproof, and is designed to withstand a drop from four feet onto 5cm-thick plywood. That earns it a MIL-Standard 810F Method 516.5 rating. Winter sports enthusiasts will appreciate its ability to function in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius).
The Pentax W90 has a 12.1-megapixel sensor and a 5x optical zoom lens that spans the range from a healthy 28mm wide-angle to a 140mm telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/3.5 to f/5.5 across the zoom range, and as part of the shock and waterproofing the lens zoom mechanism is internal, meaning that nothing protrudes from the front of the camera. The internal lens zoom has the added benefit of meaning the camera is ready to slip back in your pocket or camera bag the moment you turn it off.
Shots are framed and reviewed on a 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots of resolution, just slightly larger than the W80's display. The Pentax W90's LCD has a wide viewing angle, and includes an anti-reflective coating -- two features that should help make it easier to view in difficult conditions. There's no true mechanical image stabilization offered in the Pentax Optio W90, likely due to the potential fragility of mechanical systems with their reliance on moving parts. Instead, Pentax has opted for what it calls "Pixel Track" Shake Reduction, which essentially uses software algorithms to analyze and attempt to correct for blurring caused by camera shake.
The Pentax W90 uses a 9-point contrast detection autofocus system, and includes face detection capability. The W90's face detection can recognize up to 32 individual faces in a scene within 0.03 seconds, and both Smile Capture and Blink Detection functions are included to ensure your portraits look their best. The upgraded face detection system now also recognizes dogs and cats, and can be pre-programmed with up to three pet faces. Both focus and exposure systems are linked to the face detection functionality. Focusing is possible to as close as just one centimeter in Super Macro mode, which locks the zoom towards the middle of the zoom range. In the standard Macro mode, focusing is possible down to four inches (10 centimeters) across the entire zoom range. The W90 includes three LED lights around the lens, used to provide illumination in Macro mode shooting.
Exposure modes in the Pentax W90 include Green (fully automatic), Program, Auto Picture, and a wide selection of scene modes. Auto Picture mode automatically selects from a subset of the scene modes as required -- either Standard, Landscape, Portrait, Night Scene Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Flower, or Candlelight. Finally, there are two video modes: either Movie or Underwater Movie. Videos are captured as Motion JPEG compressed AVI files with monaural sound, and resolutions on offer include 720p (1280 x 720 pixels), VGA (640 x 480 pixels) or QVGA (320 x 240 pixels). Movie-mode frame rates are either 15 or 30 frames per second in any of these resolutions.
The Optio W90 ordinarily offers ISO sensitivity equivalents from a minimum of ISO 80 to a maximum of ISO 1,600, controlled either automatically or manually. By dropping the resolution to five megapixels, this can be expanded to ISO 3,200 or ISO 6,400 equivalents under manual control, or in the automatic Digital SR mode. Shutter speeds on offer range from 1/1,500 to 1/4 second ordinarily, or as long as four seconds in Night Scene mode. Exposures are determined using TTL Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, or Spot metering, with 2.0EV of exposure compensation available in 1/3EV steps. The Pentax W90 has six white balance modes, including Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual. There's also a self-timer with two- or ten-second delay.
The Pentax W90 draws power from a D-LI88 lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is included along with a charger in the product bundle. Images and movies are stored on SD or SDHC flash cards, or in 26.7MB of built-in memory. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-Speed, as well as both high definition HDMI and standard definition composite NTSC / PAL video output. The Pentax W90 also offers Eye-Fi wireless SD card support which can be configured via the camera's own menu system, and is compatible with a new waterproof infrared remote control.
The Pentax Optio W90 began shipping from April 2010, with pricing set at about US$330.
Pentax Optio W90 User Report
by Greg Scoblete
The Optio W90 is Pentax's latest offering into the niche of waterproof cameras designed to take a beating and keep on shooting. The market for waterproof, durable digicams is a lot more crowded and competitive these days, but Pentax (and Olympus) can at least lay claim to the fact that they were manufacturing rugged digicams before they were cool. Indeed, the Optio W90 is, according to Pentax, the 11th generation model in the company's waterproof camera line.
The Pentax W90 is rated waterproof to a depth of 20 feet, can survive a drop from four feet, is capable of enduring sub-zero temperatures, and is sealed tightly against dust and dirt. The 12-megapixel camera boasts a 5x optical zoom lens (28mm-140mm, 35mm equivalent) along with 720p HD video recording.
Beneath its brawny exterior, the Pentax W90 has an impressive array of features -- numerous scene modes, focusing options and in-camera editing functions -- that will keep you busy long after you've finished whitewater rafting, bear wrestling, or whatever type of adventure you prefer.
Look and Feel: Given its usage model, the Pentax W90 is a self-consciously outdoorsy camera, with a lens ring that looks more like a diver's watch and a prominent metal bar on the right side to tether the W90 to its included carabiner. It's the camera you'd wear on your hip if you were modeling for an L.L. Bean catalog. Which is to say, it looks pretty snappy. It's available in all black and a "pistachio green" (which we tested) which frames the front of the Pentax W90 in green trim.
Given that the Pentax W90 is designed to take something of a pounding, it's surprisingly light at 5.7 ounces (161g) with battery and card. You'll feel the sturdy, reinforced edges that gird the camera against shock as you grip it, but the camera doesn't feel like a cumbersome brick. It measures in at 4.25 x 2.32 x 0.98 inches, so if you don't want to clip it to your backpack or belt, you can slip it unobtrusively into your pocket.
The Pentax W90 has a "candy bar" design -- long and rectangular -- which I find makes the camera easier to hold and shoot with than its boxier brethren, but the rectangular shape imposes a few downsides as well, which I'll cover in a moment. On the front of the Pentax W90, to the left of the lens is a raised rubber strip to help your fingers grip the camera and is especially helpful if you want to shoot one-handed. All in all, it feels and handles as good as it looks.
Controls: The top of the Pentax W90 features a power button that sits almost flush with the camera, so you'll have to give it a fairly determined push to turn it on. A larger (and raised) shutter button rounds out the top of the camera's controls.
To the right of the Pentax W90's 2.7-inch LCD display are smaller controls for zoom, Playback, Menu, and a dedicated button for turning on/off Face and Smile detection. Beneath those, a four-way controller lets you adjust the Flash, Self-timer, focusing mode or choose a shooting mode.
Below the Pentax W90's four-way controller is a green function button, which can be programmed in the camera to do three different tasks. By default, the green button switches the camera into an Easy mode, which simplifies your menu choices by deactivating some of the camera's features and providing explanatory text on the display as you navigate through the Pentax W90's various functions. The green button can also be programmed to activate voice recording.
Finally, and most usefully, you can program the green Function button to serve as a second, virtual four-way controller, allowing you to assign four additional functions (such as white balance, exposure, saturation control, etc.) to a virtual controller displayed on the LCD. Given the Pentax W90's generous assortment of functions, it's nice to have the option to bring more of the ones you want up front for swifter access.
The Pentax W90's buttons are bunched close together to accommodate the widescreen display. While they're raised and tactile enough, I suspect that a scuba diver (or snowboarder) with any kind of heavy gloves on would have a heck of a time trying to hit the right one (if they could even power the Pentax W90 on). Bare-handed, though, you won't have any trouble.
Lens: The camera's 5x optical zoom has a focal length of 28-140mm (35mm equivalent) with 11 elements in nine groups. At 28mm you'll enjoy wider-angle lens than what was found on the Pentax W90's predecessor, the W80. It's nice to see a growing assortment of cameras embrace wide-angle lenses. The maximum aperture of the Pentax W90's lens is f/3.5-5.5.
If 28mm isn't wide enough for you, you can go wider still with the Pentax W90's Digital Wide mode which replicates the view from a 21mm lens by stitching two vertical shots together into a single, 5-megapixel image (you can technically take horizontal ones too but it's meant to be used vertically). After snapping your first shot, the Pentax W90 will provide a ghostly transparent overlay of the scene which you use to align your second photo. Indoors, it's easy to align the two photos together. Outdoors in the sun, it's practically impossible to see the detail in the overlay, so lining up that second photo is far too difficult and the Pentax W90 doesn't give you much margin for error when it processes the photos. Still, when it works, it's a pretty neat feature.
The Pentax W90 certainly distinguishes itself with ample focusing options including Nine-point AF, Spot AF, Auto tracking AF, Infinity, Pan focus, and even a Manual focus option. There is also a pair of macro modes. The first offers focusing from 0.33 to 1.97-inches while the second offers a very impressive 1cm macro mode for some extraordinarily tight close-ups, although the image resolution scales down to 2.1-megapixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
If the focusing is impressive, the nomenclature is a bit confusing. If you want to adjust your focus settings using the Pentax W90's Four-way controller, the 1cm Macro is represented as just that -- "1cm Macro." Enter into the Scene mode selector, however, and it's called "Digital Microscope." Confusion aside, it can produce some really striking macro shots.
To augment your macro photography, three small LEDs are embedded into the Pentax W90's lens ring and can be turned on or off in the menu. Against a totally white background I found they can look a bit like halos, so it's not the perfect illumination option, but it's certainly better than nothing. While the Pentax W90 refers to them as "Macro lights" you don't have to be in Macro mode to switch them on (and they won't automatically switch off when you exit macro) but they're not powerful enough to provide illumination for anything but super close-ups.
On the downside, there's no optical image stabilizer for the Pentax W90's lens. Instead you'll rely on Pentax's Pixel Tracking Shake Reduction (which can be turned off), which applies digital processing to the images to smooth out the jitters. There's also a high-sensitivity anti-shake mode, which simply bumps up the shutter speed and ISO while giving you a 5-megapixel photo. Neither is optimal but there wasn't much visible camera shake at maximum telephoto when standing still. There's a digital stabilizer for movies as well.
Modes: This Optio does not want for scene modes; there are 21 of them, with 24 capture modes total including Auto, Program, and Movie. Among them are a pair of underwater modes -- one for stills and the other for video. In brief tests underwater in a tank with florescent lighting, I found the Pentax W90's dedicated underwater modes offered more vibrant, saturated colors. In video mode in particular there's a noticeable difference between the color saturation in the underwater mode vs. filming in standard movie mode.
Your land-based Scene modes are more numerous. While some modes (Landscape, Portrait, etc.) offer routine functionality, others are more fun. There's a frame composite mode which offers a somewhat overwhelming array of 45 frames which can rim your photo, although the Pentax W90 will drop the resolution of those shots down to 3-megapixels or 2.1-megapixels depending on your choice. These frames can also be applied to images after the fact, in the Playback menu, although it's a bit harder to align them properly doing it that way.
If you don't know which Scene mode to choose, you can set the Pentax W90 to Auto Picture and let it automatically choose from one of eight Scene modes based on your shooting conditions.
Face & Smile Detection: The Pentax W90 boasts of the ability to optimize focus and exposure on up to 32 faces in a frame. It seems a tad overkill, but such is the state of technological one-upmanship.
Pentax also offers two other common variants of face detection on the W90: smile and pet detection. Smile detection will automatically release the shutter when a person smiles. You'll need to be fairly close to your subject to get the shutter to release but it does work as advertised (I believe it even caught a few smirks as well).
Pet detection lets you register up to three animal faces which the Pentax W90 will subsequently recognize and optimize focus for. Lacking a pet (well fish, but they don't count, do they?) I wandered over to the neighbors only to discover that for Pet Detection to work, you need to be close and the animal in question needs to hold their head fairly still. One or both of those conditions can present problems for registration purposes. After several failed attempts with the neighbor's hyperactive boxer, I gave up, but I suspect that less excitable pets could be found with a little patience.
HD Video Recording: The Pentax W90 delivers 1,280 x 720p HD video recording at either 30 or 15 frames per second in the AVI format. At 720p/30fps the Pentax W90 delivers video on par with your run-of-the-mill pocket video camera -- plenty of noise and pixilation, especially indoors. On the whole, it's not particularly impressive. On top of that, you can't use the zoom lens during recording, which limits the utility of the Pentax W90's video mode still further.
Nevertheless, Pentax did include an HDMI output (but not the cable) for viewing your movies in all their HD glory. If you want to pass on high definition, the Pentax W90 can also record VGA movies at 30 or 15fps and (for some reason) QVGA movies at 30 or 15fps. I'd skip them entirely and stick with the 720p/30fps.
On the editing front, the Pentax W90 allows you to isolate individual still images from your movies, select title images and divide single movies in two films. It's not the most extensive menu of video editing functions, but it's better than nothing.
Drive Modes: In Auto mode, the Pentax W90 limits your drive mode options to self timer (which you can choose between 10 and two seconds) or an IR remote drive mode for use with an optional remote control. Shoot in Program and your options expand to continuous shooting (1fps) and high speed burst (2.7fps up to six 5-megapixel frames). There's also an interval shot, with which you can program both the number of shots, the time between them, and, a bit exotically, when you want the camera to start taking them, which might be really great for capturing clouds at night, or watching your garden grow without worrying about the rain. Finally, you'll find exposure bracketing as well, which takes three photos at different exposure settings so you can select the best one.
Having to bounce between Auto and Program to access the drive mode you want can be a bit tedious, but if you're not frequently switching to burst or bracketing it's less of an issue.
No Manual Control: Given the variety of capabilities piled onto the Pentax W90 it's somewhat surprising not to find manual controls or aperture and shutter priority. I mean, you can choose from one of four sounds for the camera's start-up and shutter or record your own (!) but you can't adjust the aperture.
Menu: For a camera that's well stocked with features and options, the Pentax W90's menu is fairly easy to navigate. Scene modes are represented by icons in a grid with a short description of what each one does in the lower portion of the display.
To make more fine-tuned adjustments, you'll enter the Pentax W90's on-screen menu. It's sub-divided pretty neatly into shooting settings, such as saturation and contrast adjustment, and basic camera settings, such as the aforementioned blizzard of audio choices. It's a pretty straightforward menu system to master.
Storage and Battery: The Pentax W90 comes with 26MB of internal memory so an SD/SDHC card is obviously a must. The W90 does not support the higher capacity SDXC memory card. The camera is Eye-Fi-enabled, so owners of the wireless memory card can enjoy a few extra features: the Pentax W90 will stay powered on until all wireless image transfers are complete, overriding the camera's automatic shut-off. You also have the option of turning off the Eye Fi card's wireless radio when you're not in range of your network (which conserves battery life).
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery (D-LI88) is rated for approximately 205 images or 250 minutes worth of movie recording, which is a little lower than average, so consider buying a spare for long outings.
As you'd expect, the Pentax W90's battery and output compartments are sealed against the elements, so you'll have to unlock them to gain access. The lock mechanism is a bit on the small side so you'll have to wedge a fingernail into the locking mechanism to spring and slide the hatch. A few times I found myself taking a few passes at opening the memory card bay before it sprung open.
Shooting: The Pentax W90 is certainly fun to use. Given the number of Scene modes it's hard to keep the camera on Auto for very long, but it sufficed for a swing through the zoo. It was a sunny day, and the Pentax W90 performed as you'd expect a mid-range digital camera to perform, capturing crisp and color-accurate snapshots. Hit a patch of overcast or enter the shade though, and it can be a different story -- some images took on the cast of the dominant color in the scene - particularly blues and greens.
Underwater, it's easy enough to read the Pentax W90'a LCD, but when the camera comes out you'll have to swipe the lens clean, as water can bead up on it a bit.
As mentioned above, the Pentax W90 is candy-bar shaped and offers a widescreen display at 2.7-inches. Since you're shooting stills in 4:3, you're not using the whole display to frame your photo. Instead, a black bar runs along the left hand side of the LCD. While it's a necessity, I found it a bit distracting. Pentax does use the empty space to display some camera status icons but the eye does tend to wander to the blank space instead of the scene in frame. You can switch to 16:9 mode and capture a 9-megapixel cropped image if you plan to display images on a widescreen TV, and then you'll also be using the entire LCD.
The Pentax W90 is very responsive -- our tests showed a full-autofocus shutter lag of 0.26 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.27 at telephoto, which is down in the range of semi-pro SLRs, much faster than most point & shoots. If you prefocus, the shutter lag is a blazing 0.004 second: Exactly what you need in a sports camera. Startup time is a little slow for a sports camera at 2.1 seconds, but it's not uncommon. Shot-to-shot time is a little slow in use, measuring about 1.85 seconds between shots. When you're trying to get several samples of an image, as we do when shooting Gallery images, this can seem like a long time.
Playback: Pentax certainly didn't scrimp on Playback and in-camera editing options. During playback, you can either hit the "mode" button or the down arrow on the four-way controller to access the playback functions. For simple playback, you can customize a slideshow by setting the interval time, screen effects such as wipe, checker, or fade, and adding a sound effect (think: cheesy magic wand music that kicks on as images transition). All of this is accomplished through a simple menu interface.
On the editing front, you can crop, add voice notes, remove red-eye, resize images, and apply filters such as Small face (which, as you might guess, down-sizes the face for what the camera determines is a better proportioned portrait shot, especially useful when a face was too close to the lens at 28mm, or else too close to the edge), ink rubbing, and multiple color filter options. There's probably more options in there than your typical consumer could want or use, but it's always nice to have the opportunity to experiment and tinker if the mood strikes. As with the shooting menu, all your options are laid out with easy-to-understand icons with descriptive text beneath to helpfully explain the functionality.
Finally, a note about the manual, which is 316 pages long. It's detailed and reasonably well written, and we haven't seen a manual this thick since the Nikon D300, an expensive digital SLR. And yes, it's all in English, not multiple languages, so we can say that the Pentax Optio W90 is very well documented.
See our image analysis and conclusion below.
Pentax Optio W90 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft at lower right
Tele: Sharp in center
Tele: Slightly soft in upper right
Sharpness: The Pentax Optio W90 maintains sharpness pretty well from corner to corner at both zoom settings, with only mild blurring visible in some corners, which doesn't extend very far into the main image area.
Wide: No visible distortion
Tele: Only a trace amount of pincushion
Geometric Distortion: There is no visible distortion at the Optio W90's wide-angle setting, and almost no perceptible pincushion distortion (<0.1%) at telephoto. No doubt, the camera's clever processing is at work here.
Also fairly low
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderately low, with only a small outline of bluish pixels outside of the target lines. At telephoto, the distortion is slightly more noticeable, but still fairly low.
Macro with Flash
1cm with LED
Macro: The Optio W90's Macro mode captures a sharp image with a lot of strong detail, though some slight blurring is present in the corners and along the edges of the frame (still much less than average). Minimum coverage area is a very respectable 1.11 x 0.83 inches (28 x 21mm). Flash performance is very good here.
The camera's 1cm or Super Macro mode gets even closer, though flash illumination becomes a problem. The LED alternative results in an uneven exposure, though would serve some function in a pinch.
A special Scene mode called Digital Microscope (not pictured) gets a little closer, at least on the screen, by switching to 16:9 mode, and recording a 2.1-megapixel image. This mode still uses 1cm AF mode.
Pentax Optio W90 Image Quality
Color: Color is oversaturated in many respects, especially bright reds, blues and greens. (Many consumer digital cameras push these tones in an attempt to appeal to consumers who prefer brighter-than-life color.) Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow and cyan. Dark skintones are a little more saturated and quite warm, while lighter tones are closer to accurate.
Tele: Also bright
The Optio W90's auto flash mode produced a somewhat dim but usable image of our indoor portrait scene. The camera used a 1/100 second shutter speed which should avoid any issues with motion blur, though it raised ISO to 400.
Warm and reddish
Incandescent: The Optio W90's Incandescent white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than Auto and Manual modes, though it is a bit cool and magenta.
(2,592 x 1,944)
(2,592 x 1,944)
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is well-defined at ISO 80 up to about 200, with a noticeable shift in sharpness at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is pretty well controlled at the lower ISOs, but begins to shift color balance at 800. From ISO 800 on up, detail becomes increasingly smudged, thanks to noise and noise suppression. Despite the size limitation on the highest settings, the effects of noise and noise suppression are still too strong. See Printed results below for more on how this affects printed images.
Printed: Among digital cameras, waterproof designs tend to produce softer images than a company's landlubber models, and the Pentax W90 is no exception; yet, its image quality is better than most, and that shows in its prints. The quality decays more quickly than most, but the largest print size starts high for the category.
ISO 80 shots are good printed at 13x19 inches, with good color and only slight softening in the reds.
ISO 100 shots are noticeably softer than ISO 80, which is unusual, but they're still quite good printed at 13x19.
ISO 200 shots are too soft for printing at 13x19, but look pretty good at 11x14, with the exception of some reds, which tend to get soft.
ISO 400 images are better at 8x10 inches, though still soft here and there. Red areas are especially soft.
ISO 800 images make a usable 5x7, but are really better at 4x6.
ISO 1,600 images are slightly soft but still usable at 4x6.
ISO 3,200 images are actually reduced resolution images that make a sharper 4x6 than ISO 1,600 can make, the first time we've seen that happen using the "pixel-binning" strategy.
ISO 6,400, however, is pretty soft -- really, downright blurry -- at 4x6, so is probably better avoided.
Overall, softer images are expected of a waterproof camera, but compared to most other cameras in the category, the Pentax W90 does quite well.
Pentax Optio W90 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is impressive, at 0.23 second at wide-angle and 0.27 second at full telephoto -- very fast! Prefocus shutter lag is 0.004 second, which is exceptional.
Cycle time: Cycle time is fair, capturing a frame every 1.85 seconds in single-shot mode. Pentax rates the W90's full resolution continuous mode at a sluggish 1.03 frames-per-second, but we didn't test that. The camera also has some faster burst modes at lower resolutions or high ISOs (2.7fps at 5 or 3.8MP; up to 5fps at ISO 3,200-6,400 and 5 or 3.8MP).
Flash Recycle: The Optio W90's flash recycles in a moderate 5.8 seconds after a full-power discharge.
In the BoxThe Pentax W90 retail package contains the following items:
- Pentax Optio W90 camera
- Battery charger D-BC88
- Lithium-ion battery D-LI88
- AC Plug cord D-CO24
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Carabiner and strap
- Wrist strap
- Software CD-ROM
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SD/SDHC memory card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Pentax Optio W90 Conclusion
The Optio W90 is a versatile camera in every sense of the word, pairing a rugged, take-anywhere exterior with a wealth of functionality. A wide-angle lens helps capture more of that mountain vista, while underwater still and video modes boost your photography below the waves. The camera is missing some pieces, such as optical image stabilization, and it's HD video recording leaves a lot to be desired. Still, the camera does not want for features, leaving you plenty to play with when you're done subjecting it to nature's wrath. Better yet, the image quality's pretty good for a rugged camera, earning it a Dave's Pick in the Underwater/Tough, Macro and Travel categories.