Pentax WG-10 Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Want a rugged digital camera with a decent zoom range, but don't want to break the bank to afford it? The brand-new Pentax WG-10 is significantly more affordable than the company's flagship rugged models, the WG-3 and WG-3 GPS, yet it boasts a more far-reaching 5x optical zoom lens. Have some other features been pared off to achieve the price? Sure, but there's a good chance you don't actually need them all. Compared to its simultaneously-announced siblings, the WG-10 isn't waterproofed and shockproofed to quite the same degree, offers rather slower performance, has a less-bright lens, lacks mechanical stabilization, and has a slightly smaller LCD monitor. And of course, it lacks the inductive charging and location-awareness features of the more expensive models. But that's hardly surprising -- the Pentax WG-10 costs barely half as much as those cameras.
The Pentax WG-10 can be used at depths of up to 33 feet (10m), which is plenty for snorkeling and even some casual scuba diving, so long as you pay attention to your depth. And of course, it's more than enough for pool or beach, where the WG-10 is likely to be spending more of its time. There's also shockproofing good for a 4.9 foot (1.5m) drop, crushproofing to 220 pounds (100kgf), freezeproofing to 14F (-10C), and dustproofing (to IPX6 / JIS 6 standards). Together, this adds up to a camera that should be lifeproof enough to go anywhere you do, and its affordable pricetag means you won't be scared to test the theory.
The heart of the Pentax WG-10 is a 1/2.3-inch, CCD image sensor with an effective resolution of 14 megapixels. Total resolution is 14.48 megapixels, and the chip provides a sensitivity range of ISO 80 to 6,400 equivalents under automatic or manual control. The full-resolution burst shooting rate of 0.68 frames per second is rather anaemic, but at a reduced resolution of five megapixels, you can capture as many as 19 shots at a somewhat more useful rate of 2.27 frames per second. With an ISO sensitivity of 3,200 to 6,400 equivalents, that climbs to a worthwhile 5.26 frames per second.
The Pentax WG-10's sensor sits behind a 5x optical zoom lens whose design includes 11 elements in nine groups, five of them aspheric. There's also a protective cover with a Pentax SP coating. The lens offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from 28 to 140mm, everything from a handy wide angle to a moderate telephoto. Actual focal lengths range from 5 to 25mm. At wide angle, there's a two step aperture offering either f/3.5 or f/4.2. At telephoto, the choices are a rather dim f/5.5 or f/6.6. And in a concession to cost-saving, the Pentax WG-10 lacks true mechanical image stabilization. Instead, there's only "pixel track SR" that aims to correct blurring post-capture, "digital SR" that simply raises ISO sensitivity and hence shutter speeds, and movie SR which functions by moving the capture area window around the surface of the image sensor to counter shake.
The WG-10 uses a contrast detection autofocus system. There's an AF assist lamp to help with focusing on nearby subjects in low light, and the system can also locate and take account of up to 32 faces within the image frame. The face detection functionality is also used to provide a self-portrait assist mode, helping social networking fans to share their lives with friends and family. Focusing modes include both 9-point and spot, and there's an automatic tracking function, as well. Ordinarily, the WG-10 will focus as close as 1.64 feet (50cm), and in macro mode this is reduced to as little as 0.3 feet (10cm).
That's not all, though. Like its recent predecessors, the Pentax WG-10 retains the company's "digital microscope" mode. This uses an array of five LED lights to provide even illumination of your subject, reducing shadows. In this mode, the camera can focus as close as just 0.4 inches (1cm), although the lens is fixed at the middle of the zoom range. A macro stand is included in the product bundle, to help you position the camera appropriately and keep it still during the final shot.
On the rear panel of the Pentax WG-10 is a 2.7-inch, TFT LCD panel through which images are framed and reviewed. (Like most cameras these days, there's no optical or electronic viewfinder.) The display is a little smaller than is typical of modern digital cameras, but its resolution of around 230,000 dots -- equating to around 320 x 240 pixels -- is about par for the course. Pentax has included an anti-reflective coating.
As well as the LEDs that make up the digital microscope macro light, the Pentax WG-10 also includes a built-in four mode flash strobe. This includes red-eye reduction capability, and when using Auto ISO sensitivity, has a rather limited effective range of 13 feet (4m) at wide angle, or 8.2 feet (2.5m) at telephoto.
Although it doesn't offer priority or manual-mode shooting, the Pentax WG-10 does provide both green and program modes, plus a fair selection of scene and special effect modes. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to 1/4 second in most modes, although the night scene mode allows shutter speeds as slow as four seconds. There's also an auto picture mode, which analyzes your subject, then selects one of 16 different scene modes automatically. Multi-shot modes include digital wide (stitches two shots to create a five megapixel image roughly equivalent to a 21mm wide angle), and the relatively commonplace panorama function. There are also 12 digital filter effects.
And the Pentax WG-10 can shoot more than just stills. You can capture high-definition movies, too, albeit with the older, less-efficient Motion JPEG compression. These include monaural PCM WAV audio. The highest-resolution mode provides an HD (720p; 1,280 x 720 pixel) video at a rate of 30 frames per second. Interestingly, in-camera movie editing extends beyond the typical functions to extract a single frame as a still image, and to trim the start and end of the clip. You can also add titles to the start or end of the clip in-camera.
Connectivity includes a combined USB 2.0 High Speed data and NTSC/PAL composite video output port, and a Type-D Micro HDMI terminal. Pentax has also included an infrared remote control receiver, letting you get yourself into your photos.
Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. There's also a fairly generous 97MB of built-in memory, enough to save the day with a good few of the most critical shots if you accidentally leave your flash card at home. And Eye-Fi Secure Digital cards are supported, if you want to banish the USB cable and transfer your images via Wi-Fi. Power comes courtesy of a D-LI92 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, rated as good for 260 shots on a charge.
Pentax includes ArcSoft's MediaImpression 3.6.1LE software in the product bundle for Windows users, and the app supports Windows 8. If you're on a Mac, you'll find a copy of ArcSoft MediaImpression 2.2LE, which supports up to OS X 10.8. Optional accessories include the O-ST1352 floating strap, to help make sure you don't lose your camera when splashing around at the seaside, lake, or pool.
Available from mid-April 2013, the Pentax WG-10 is affordably priced at around US$180. The only available body color in the US market is red.