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This camera was featured in our Waterproof Camera Shootout 2012. To find out how it compares head-to-head with five other rugged, element-defying compact digital cameras, click here!


Pentax Optio WG-2 Review

by Daniel Grotta, and Shawn Barnett, with
Review posted: November 9, 2012

With the Optio WG-2, Pentax introduced its thirteenth generation of rugged digital cameras, one with GPS and one without. Its sculpted appearance of body armor gives the Pentax WG-2 a look that's more rugged than ever. Specs improve over the last generation, now including a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor and support for Full HD movie recording. The Pentax WG-2 GPS also includes a GPS radio, naturally, this one optimized for faster GPS acquisition and longer battery life.

Now waterproof to a depth of 40 feet, the Pentax WG-2 can go a little deeper than its predecessor's max 33-foot tolerance. The Pentax WG-2 can also withstand a 5-foot drop, crushing weight of up to 220 pound-force, and it'll keep on working down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C). Dustproofing also saves the WG-2 from another common form of camera damage: dirt, dust and sand.

Its 5x lens gives the Pentax WG-2 a good 28-140mm equivalent focal range, great for most outdoor photography, and its 3-inch LCD offers good detail with 460,000 dots of resolution. An anti-reflective coating makes shooting outdoors a little easier, which is important given the lack of an optical viewfinder.

The Pentax WG-2's 16-megapixel sensor is a backlit CMOS said to improve performance in low-light settings, with less noise than past models, according to Pentax. It also enables Full HD, also known as 1080p video recording at 30 fps, using H.264 compression.

Pentax's waterproof cameras also include a unique Digital Microscope mode that includes a ring of six LEDs to allow capture of very fine detail from a distance of only one centimeter.

A Micro (Type D) HDMI port lets the WG-2 output its images and videos to an HDTV, while a composite AV port is combined with USB 2.0 connectivity.

The Optio WG-2 derives its power from a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack rated at 260 shots per charge, and an optional AC adapter is available. Images are stored on SD cards including newer SDHC and SDXC types, and there's also about 88MB of internal memory available for storage.

The Pentax WG-2 also includes Shake Reduction technology (Pixel Track SR, not sensor-shift), Fast Face Detection with Smile Capture and Blink Detection, a Handheld Night Snap mode that composites four shots for one sharp image, and an infrared remote control receiver for use with an optional remote control.


Pentax WG2 Shooter's Report

by Daniel Grotta and Shawn Barnett

Design. Pentax threw away the traditional point-and-shoot look with the Pentax WG-2 and created a striking-looking, from-the-ground-up camera that screams adventure. It's longer and bristles with indents and overlapping plastic ridges, and its centered zoom lens is surrounded by six white LEDs (for even illumination for macro shots and videos). On one side of the Pentax WG-2 is an oversized nickel post, allowing the provided carabiner strap to hang sideways from a belt. The side and bottom doors on the Pentax WG-2 both have double safety locks.

Features, functions and modes. The Pentax WG-2 is a mixed bag of functionality. It offers a good array of well-implemented standard features and modes, as well as a few neat tricks, such as bracketing, time lapse photography, and Extended (High) Dynamic Range. But Pentax's killer app mode is Digital Microscope, which employs 6 built-in LEDs surrounding the lens to evenly illuminate and capture extreme close ups of small flat items, such as leaves, stamps, shell surfaces, etc. On the other hand, there are a couple silly modes on the Pentax WG-2, such as Frame Composite, a library of frames to decorate the borders of your pictures. It's also the only camera in our shootout without optical or sensor-shift image stabilization meaning you might have trouble getting sharp, steady shots at telephoto and in low light. The Pentax WG-2's controls aren't as well-thought-out as the rest of the camera. The Menu button is positioned too closely above the Discard button, and its identifying label in between the two caused us often to press the wrong button.

Display and menus. The Pentax WG-2's stretch 460K LCD viewfinder nicely displays accurate, realistic colors, with good highlights and shadows -- even in bright sunlight. Screen refresh isn't particularly fast, however. We had some trouble framing images underwater, particularly videos. Menus are clear, logically organized, easy to read and navigate, plus icons are very colorful and fun to look at. And for those of us with older eyes, we can opt for large type on the Pentax WG-2's displays. Instead of a dedicated video button, there's a programmable button that can be used for that purpose or other functions. It's inconveniently positioned just below the Pentax WG-2's Menu button, and because of confusing labeling, we often pressed the wrong button.

Handling and operation. Because of (or despite) its unique design, shooting the Pentax WG-2 was a pleasure. It felt light and well-balanced, and its extensive no-slip surfaces made it sure and comfortable to hold, especially one-handed. The screen is bright and text easy to read (especially when enlarged), with good colors, contrast and negligible blur. In fact, white text is superimposed over the subject, so you won't miss a shot while navigating through Menu options. However, we found it difficult to view underwater, which made framing stills and videos challenging. And because of the Menu label, we often mistakenly pressed the nearby programmable Green button. The Pentax WG-2's Mode icons are colorful and well organized, but we had to wade through 28 of them to select the one we wanted. We sorely missed having a dedicated video button. While the Pentax WG-2 is no speed demon, its bootup and recycle times, as well as shutter delay, didn't seem excessive. What did cramp our shooting style was its lack of a full-resolution burst mode — it fires at the rate of one shot per second, though it can capture 5-megapixel images at up to 10fps.

Performance and image quality. Our Pentax WG-2 underwater shots were fairly accurate, with good, pleasing colors. We rate the Pentax's underwater images as Very Good.

The WG-2 produces nice underwater shots with very good color rendition


Video. Not so easy to frame video with the WG-2's LCD

Alas, not being able to see the Pentax WG-2's LCD clearly, our videos weren't well framed. Still, video was sharp, well-exposed and had good color. Audio recording was loud and clear. We rate the Pentax's underwater video as Good.


Wide Angle
Telephoto

Lakeside shots look good, perhaps a bit dark in the wide-angle shot, but with good color in the trees. We rate the Pentax's landscape images Good.

Above water
Terrestrial

Among the six cameras we tested in our shootout, the Pentax WG-2 did better than all but the Canon D20 above water, which helped earn it second place overall.

 

Pentax Optio WG-2 Lens Quality

The Pentax Optio WG-2 features a 5x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 28-140mm zoom on a 35mm camera.


Wide: Slightly soft at center
Wide: Softer at upper right
Tele: Soft at center
Tele: Slightly more blurring, upper left

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Pentax Optio WG-2's zoom shows mild blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, which is already a little soft. At telephoto, performance is similar, with results in the corners only a small bit softer than the center of the frame. Default sharpening is a bit conservative, though, as can be seen by the lack of obvious sharpening halos. And the camera does have a 3-step sharpness setting you can adjust.


Wide: No visible distortion
Tele: Slight asymmetrical distortion, barely noticeable

Geometric Distortion: The Pentax Optio WG-2 does a good job controlling distortion at wide-angle, as we couldn't find a full pixel of barrel or pincushion here. At telephoto, a small amount of pincushion (~0.1%) is present on the top edge while a similar amount of barrel distortion is present on the bottom, which really isn't troublesome.


Wide:
Low
Tele: Moderate,
but dull

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is low in terms of pixel count, and pixels aren't very bright at all. Telephoto, however, shows a higher number of visible pixels, though with fairly faint coloration.


Macro
Macro with Flash
 
Macro - Micro

Macro: The Pentax Optio WG-2's Macro mode captures a fairly sharp image with good detail, though blurring and chromatic aberration are visible around the corners and edges of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 0.80 x 0.60 inches (20 x 15mm), which is much smaller than average. The camera's flash also performs better than expected, with a reasonably bright exposure, though with a reddish tint especially in the top-left corner. A Micro option gets even closer in, though it produced a much smaller 1,920 x 1,080 image with a dim exposure.


 

Pentax Optio WG-2 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Pentax Optio WG-2's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is excellent.


 

Pentax Optio WG-2 Image Quality


Color: Generally vibrant color, with slightly higher than average saturation, particularly in blues, purples and some reds. Hue shifts are noticeable in yellows, oranges, cyans and some purples, though overall hue accuracy is about average. Dark skintones are fairly accurate, with a small nudge toward orange, and lighter skin tones show a tiny shift toward magenta. Still, good color overall, producing pleasing images in daylight.


Auto WB:
Warm and reddish
Incandescent WB:
Cool and magenta
 
Manual WB:
Best, though a hint cool

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, though results are a tad cool on the skin tones. Auto produced a warm, reddish color balance, while Incandescent resulted in a much stronger cool, magenta tint.


Horizontal: 1,800 lines
Vertical: 1,700 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed slightly soft but distinct line patterns down to about 1,800 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,700 lines vertically. Extinction occurred a little past 2,400 lines.


Wide: Dim
Tele: Bright
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows a dim flash target at the wide-angle rated distance of 18 feet despite using spot metering, though with a ISO jump to 800. The telephoto test came out bright at a distance of 11 feet, though with a big ISO increase to 1,600.

Auto flash produced fairly dim results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining a hint of the ambient light at 1/50 second, ISO 200. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


125
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
6,400

ISO: Noise and Detail: The Pentax Optio WG-2 performs reasonably well at ISO 125 with good if somewhat soft detail, partially due to conservative sharpening. Luminance noise is visible, but it's fairly fine-grained. Some minor chroma noise is also visible, mostly in the shadows. Additional softening due to stronger noise reduction is visible at ISO 200, but detail remains fairly strong to ISO 400. Noise and the blurring effects of noise reduction become progressively stronger at higher ISOs, leading to much softer images that have a stippled look at ISOs 3,200 and 6,400. See Printed section below for how this affects printed images.


Print Quality: ISO 125 images are a little too soft for printing at 13 x 19 inches, looking better at 11 x 14. There's still a strange haze over the image that keeps us from calling it sharp, but it's good enough.

ISO 200 shots are usable at 11 x 14, but are soft enough that we prefer the 8 x 10-inch prints.

ISO 400 shots also look good at 8 x 10 inches.

ISO 800 images are soft at 8 x 10, but not bad at 5 x 7.

ISO 1,600 prints are better at 4 x 6.

ISO 3,200/6,400 do not yield good prints and are best avoided.

Overall, the Pentax WG-2's prints are a little disappointing, at least compared to most compact cameras of similar resolution. Starting at 11 x 14 seems like the new norm for some waterproof cameras, but the WG-2's prints also slide in quality too quickly as ISO rises. If you're only making small prints, though, the WG-2 will deliver decent quality up to ISO 1,600.


 

Pentax Optio WG-2 Performance


Startup Time: The Pentax Optio WG-2 takes about 2.3 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's on the slower side of average.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is fair, at 0.44 second at wide angle and 0.36 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.048 second, not the fastest out there, but still quick.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is a bit slow, capturing a frame every 1.86 seconds in single-shot mode. The Pentax WG-2's full-resolution continuous mode is rated at about one frame per second, which is quite slow. A 10fps burst mode is available, but it captures 5-megapixel images.


Flash Recycle: The Pentax Optio WG-2's flash recycles in about 4.9 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is about average.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF-assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Optio WG-2's download speeds are fast. We measured 9,693 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Optio WG-2's battery life has a CIPA rating of 260 shots per charge, which is close to average for a waterproof subcompact.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Pentax Optio WG-2 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Aggressive, attractive sculpted body design that's light, well-balanced and easy to grip, even underwater
  • 5x optical zoom lens provides 28-140mm equivalent coverage
  • Waterproof to 40 feet
  • Doors have double safety locks
  • Good underwater and terrestrial image quality
  • Large and bright LCD screen that's easy to read and navigate in bright sunlight
  • LEDs around lens for macro and video illumination
  • Digital microscope mode for extreme close-ups
  • No-slip surfaces made the camera easy to hold
  • Pleasing colors
  • Full HD (1080p) video recording at 30 fps
  • Good array of features and modes, including bracketing, time lapse photography, and IR remote support
  • Extended (High) Dynamic Range
  • Handheld Night Snap mode
  • Fast transfer speeds
  • GPS version costs $50 more
  • Menu button is too close to the Delete button
  • No dedicated video button
  • No optical or sensor-shift image stabilization (uses digital "Pixel Track" shake reduction)
  • Conservative default sharpening can lead to slightly soft images even at base ISO, though you can increase sharpening
  • Modes include some silly options, such as Frame Composite
  • No full-resolution burst mode; only shoots at a rate of one shot per second
  • Incandescent shots are too warm in Auto white balance mode
  • Auto flash shots were dim
  • Trouble framing videos below the waterline
  • Slow startup time
  • Slow cycle time

 

With its aggressive Transformers-like design, the Pentax WG-2 rose above its competition in our Waterproof Shootout primarily thanks to its superior image quality in the situations we imagine people will use it: Underwater and in outdoor sun. The Pentax WG-2 just turned out better shots more often. Timing factors, like startup and shutter lag, were slower than others, but not by much. If you want a little faster AF, look elsewhere, but we're talking a tenth of a second difference, so it's not a big issue. Our reviewer also had trouble with the buttons, and had a hard time viewing the LCD underwater, as our sample video demonstrates, so take note if those issues will be a problem for you. While we love the look, feel and overall quality of the Pentax WG-2, its shortcomings cause it to fall just short of meriting a Dave's Pick.