Pentax WG-3 Preview
by Mike Tomkins
The Pentax WG-3 GPS digital camera offers a pretty cool new feature -- wireless inductive charging -- but what if you don't like to be quite so far on the bleeding edge of technology? If you're the kind of person who would prefer to stay inside your comfort zone with standard charging, the Pentax WG-3 (non-GPS version) is made for you. You'll save a little money, save a bit of battery life by removing the GPS and altimeter functionality, and your battery will probably recharge faster too, once you're done fiddling with the charger. As an added bonus, your camera will be a third of an ounce lighter. That might not sound like much, but for some sports, every little counts. If you aren't planning on using those features, why carry them around with you?
Like its sibling, the Pentax WG-3 is even more durable than past efforts from the company, besting its predecessors' waterproofing by some five feet. You can now shoot with the WG-3 at depths of up to 45 feet (13.7m), which is well beyond the abilities of most snorkelers. In fact, it's getting close to the 60 foot (18m) boundary that defines deep-diving territory, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors -- so it's likely plenty for many recreational scuba diving trips as well. And even if you don't plan on going further than pool or beach, there's shockproofing that should see the camera survive a 6.6 foot (2m) drop, crushproofing to 220 pounds (100kgf), freezeproofing to 14F (-10C), and dustproofing (to IPX6 / JIS 6 standards.) In other words, this is a camera you'll not be concerned to take almost anywhere, and to let anybody use -- even the kids.
The heart of the Pentax WG-3 is a 1/2.3-inch, backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor with an effective resolution of 16 megapixels. Total resolution is 16.79 megapixels, and the chip provides a sensitivity range of ISO 125 to 6,400 equivalents under automatic or manual control. We're currently awaiting information as to the full-resolution burst shooting rate, but at a reduced resolution of five megapixels, you can capture as many as 30 shots at a rate of 10 frames per second.
The Pentax WG-3's sensor sits behind a 4x optical zoom lens whose design includes nine elements in seven groups, four of them aspheric. There's also a protective cover with a Pentax SP coating. The lens offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from 25 to 100mm, everything from a generous wide angle to a modest telephoto. Actual focal lengths range from 4.5 to 18mm. Maximum aperture is a bright f/2.0 at wide angle, falling to f/4.9 by the telephoto position. And as well as the relatively bright aperture for its class, the Pentax WG-3 also includes true sensor-shift mechanical image stabilization. (This is supplemented with 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.)
As you'd expect, Pentax has opted for 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, making the bread-and-butter of social networking fans simpler to obtain. Focusing modes include both 9-point and spot, and there's an automatic tracking function, as well. Ordinarily, the WG-3 will focus as close as 1.3 feet (40cm), 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-3 retains the company's "digital microscope" mode. This uses an array of six 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, and the resolution dips to just two megapixels with a fixed 16:9 aspect ratio. 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-3 is a 3.0-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 has a 16:9 aspect ratio, and a resolution of around 460,000 dots, equating to around 153,000 pixels. Pentax has included an anti-reflective coating, helping to make the most of the display's wide 170-degree horizontal and vertical viewing angles. Since there's no GPS, compass, or altimeter in the standard WG-3, it drops the small, secondary monochrome status display that's found on the front panel of its sibling.
As well as the LEDs that make up the digital microscope macro light, the Pentax WG-3 also includes a built-in five mode flash strobe. This includes red-eye reduction capability, and when using Auto ISO sensitivity, has an effective range of 34 feet (10.4m) at wide angle, or 14 feet (4.3m) at telephoto.
Although it doesn't offer priority or manual-mode shooting, the Pentax WG-3 does provide both green and program modes, plus a healthy selection of scene and special effect modes. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 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. A variety of multi-shot modes include HDR (captures multiple images, then combines them into a single image with expanded dynamic range), handheld night snap (shoots four images with greater sensitivity / shutter speed, then averages them to reduce noise), digital wide (stitches two shots to create a five megapixel image roughly equivalent to a 19mm wide angle), and the relatively commonplace panorama function. There are also 12 digital filter effects, and a dual-axis electronic level that helps prevent tilted horizons and converging verticals.
And the Pentax WG-3 allows more than just stills, as well. You can capture high-definition movies, too, using MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, and including stereo PCM WAV audio. The highest-resolution mode provides a Full HD (1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) video at a rate of 30 frames per second. If you trade off resolution, you can achieve a rate as high as 120fps, for a 1/4 speed slow-motion effect when played back at 30 fps, but the movie will be captured at just 640 x 360 pixels. There's also a time-lapse movie function. 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 thoughtfully included two infrared remote control receivers, one each on the front and rear of the camera body, letting you trip the shutter remotely whether you're behind the camera or in front of it.
Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. There's also a somewhat generous 70MB of built-in memory, enough to save the day with a handful 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 240 shots on a charge, and to help keep the elements out and prevent you accidentally opening the compartment when you're underwater, the design features a double-locking battery door.
Pentax includes ArcSoft's MediaImpression 3.6.2LE 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. There's also a carabiner strap in the product bundle, so you can clip the camera to a backpack, belt loop, or anywhere else that will keep it safe. Optional accessories include an O-LA135 lens adapter through which you can mount the DW-5 Ricoh Wide Conversion Lens, taking wide-angle coverage out to 20mm-equivalent, plus a SportMount chest harness for hands-free capture.
Available from March 2013, the Pentax WG-3 is priced at around US$300. Available body colors include black and orange.