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Pentax Optio WG-1 Overview

Posted: 02/07/2011

The Pentax WG-1 (and its closely-related non-GPS sibling) mark the 12th generation of the company's line of go-anywhere cameras designed with the outdoors type in mind, and meets the highest levels of the Japanese JIS C 0920 and European IEC 529 specifications, meriting Class 6 dustproofing and Class 8 waterproofing ratings (also known as an IP68 rating). This means that it is considered to offer complete protection against ingress of dust, and allows immersion beyond one meter underwater in conditions defined by the manufacturer. In the case of the Pentax WG1, underwater use is said to be possible at up to a depth of 33 feet for as long as two hours, besting the previous W90 model by a further 13 feet. The WG-1 is also designed to withstand a drop from five feet onto 5cm-thick plywood, a full foot higher than the W90, earning it a MIL-Standard 810F Method 516.5 rating. In addition, it's now said to be crushproof, capable of withstanding a crush weight of up to 220 pounds. Winter sports enthusiasts will appreciate its ability to function in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius), identical to that of the previous model.

Inside this rugged body, the Pentax WG1 is based around a 1/2.3" RGB CCD image sensor with 14 effective megapixel resolution, capable of yielding uninterpolated images as large as 4,288 x 3,216 pixels with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Both 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratio options are also available. The Optio WG-1's imager sits behind a Pentax-branded 5x optical zoom lens that spans the range from a useful 28mm wide angle to a moderate 140mm telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from F3.5 to F5.5 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.

To help keep size and cost down, the Pentax WG-1 sadly doesn't offer a true optical or electronic viewfinder, with images and movies instead being framed and reviewed on a 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 dots of resolution, the same size and dot count as the W90's display. This equates to an approximate 320 x 240 pixel resolution, with each pixel comprising separate red, green, and blue colored dots. The 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 WG1, 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 deconvolution algorithms to analyze and attempt to correct for blurring caused by camera shake. This is coupled with what Pentax describes as "Digital SR", which raises ISO sensitivity (and with it, noise levels) so as to yield a faster shutter speed.

The Pentax WG-1 uses a 9-point contrast detection autofocus system, and includes improved face detection capability. As with the W90, the WG1's face detection can locate up to 32 individual faces in a scene within 0.03 seconds, and includes both Smile Capture and Blink Detection functions to ensure your portraits look their best. The face detection system also still recognizes dogs and cats, and can be pre-programmed to identify and prioritize up to three specific pets' faces, although the same functionality doesn't seem to be available for humans. Both focus and exposure systems are linked to the face detection functionality. A new feature of the face detection system is its clever Self-Portrait Assist mode, which blinks an LED lamp on the camera's front panel to let you know when your face is properly framed. 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. Like the W90, the WG-1 includes some LED lights around the lens which are used to provide illumination in Macro mode shooting, and allow the photographer to preview the distribution of light and shadows before their final exposure. With a total of five LED lamps, the WG-1 has two more than in the W90, and so should offer brighter, more uniform macro lighting. Of course, for photos that are beyond the limited reach of the macro lights, there's a traditional flash strobe as well, with a stated range of up to 13 feet at wide angle, or up to 8.2 feet at telephoto.

Exposure modes available in the Pentax WG-1 include Green (fully automatic), Program, Auto Picture, Night Scene, Underwater, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Surf & Snow, Kids, Pet, Sport, Fireworks, Candlelight, Night Scene Portrait, Text, and Food. Auto Picture mode automatically selects from a subset of the scene modes as required, with sixteen options available -- twice as many as in the W90. These include Landscape, Portrait, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Standard, Flower, Sport, Candlelight, Blue Sky, Sunset, Text, Group Photo, Pet, Portrait x Blue Sky, Portrait x Sunset, Portrait x Backlight. There are also six modes which shoot at reduced resolution, which include Digital Microscope (two megapixel), Digital Wide (five megapixel), Digital SR (ISO 3200 at five megapixel, or ISO 6400 at four megapixel), Digital Panorama (two megapixel per frame), Frame Composite (two or three megapixel), and Report (1.2 megapixel). Finally, there are two video and one audio modes: Movie, Underwater Movie, and Voice Recording. Videos are captured as Motion JPEG compressed AVI files with monaural PCM sound, and resolutions on offer include 720p (1,280 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 WG1 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, while ISO 6,400 equivalent is available at four megapixels, both either 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 2.0 EV of exposure compensation available in 1/3 EV steps. The Pentax WG1 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 WG-1 draws power from a D-LI92 Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, rather than the D-LI88 used in the W90. Images and movies are stored on SD, SDHC, or SDXC flash cards, or in 97MB of built-in memory -- almost four times as much as in the W90. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-Speed, as well as both high definition HDMI and standard definition composite NTSC / PAL video output. The battery is included along with a charger, USB cable, and standard-def video cable in the product bundle, while the HDMI cable is an optional extra. The WG-1 also offers Eye-Fi wireless SD card support which can be configured via the camera's own menu system, and is compatible with Pentax's optional waterproof infrared remote control WP.

The Pentax Optio WG-1 goes on sale from April 2011, with pricing set at about $350, some $20 more than the previous W90 model, and $50 less than the GPS-equipped version, the WG-1 GPS.