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Pentax Optio 43WR Digital Camera

 

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
7/26/2004
User Level
Novice to experienced amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 4.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Good prints to 8x10, with some cropping
Availability
May, 2004
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$349.95


 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
The Optio 43WR is one of the latest offerings from Pentax, an upgrade to the previous 33WR model, with a larger sensor and smattering of other enhancements. If you're not familiar with the earlier Optio 33WR, the key attribute of these cameras is their water resistance. (Hence, the "WR" in the model numbers.) While not intended for deep-sea diving, the Optio 33WR and 43WR are designed to be sufficiently waterproof to withstand heavy rain, spray from waves, and even an occasional shallow dunking. The peace of mind this brings when packing the cameras along on trips and outings can hardly be overstated: Not having to worry that the least splash of water might ruin your digicam makes for much more carefree use. (When it came time to select a camera to pack along on a recent kayak expedition, the Optio 43WR was the one I reached for, from among the dozens laying around the studio.) One of very few such cameras on the market, the Optio 43WR fills an important niche. - Read on for all the details!

 

Camera Overview

Able to withstand an accidental dunk in the pool or an unexpected rain shower, the Pentax Optio 43WR is a new addition to the Optio line, and has a water resistant rating equivalent to JIS Class 5 and 7. What this spec-speak means is that, although the camera is not intended for underwater use, it can survive being splashed, dropped into shallow water (but quickly retrieved), and washed lightly in a sink. Best of all, it means you don't have to worry about ruining the camera if you get stuck in the rain. (It's important to note that the camera is not waterproof, and if submerged, it should be removed fairly quickly.) The camera's square format fits into most average-sized pockets and purses, but is too large for smaller shirt pockets. A neck strap does accompany the camera though, making it easier to tote and keep at the ready. Rubbery shock guards on each corner of the body reduce impact if the camera is dropped, and provide a better grip when picking the camera up with wet fingers, provided you grab the rubbery parts directly. The 43WR features a similar point-and-shoot style to the rest of the Optio line, and has a 4.0-megapixel CCD for capturing high-resolution images. It sports a 2.8x optical zoom lens, plus a range of exposure options that go beyond typical point & shoot functionality.

The Optio 43WR has a 2.8x, 5.7-16mm lens, equivalent to a 37-104mm lens on a 35mm camera. A clear, plastic shield protects the lens at all times, so you don't have to worry about losing the lens cap, but the shield itself is exposed to fingerprints and scratches, so some attention to "camera hygiene" is required.. Unlike most digicams with optical zoom lenses, the 43WR's lens does not telescope out from the main body when the camera is powered on. Thus, the camera's front remains flat at all times, making it easy to quickly stow it back in your pocket after grabbing a shot.. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/3.9, depending on the zoom position. The lens focuses over a range of 11.8 inches (30 centimeters) to infinity in normal shooting mode, with a Macro option covering from 0.4 inches to 1.6 feet (1 to 50 centimeters). The Optio 43WR offers both manual and automatic focus (AF) control, with Spot and Multiple AF modes. Spot AF mode bases focus on the very center of the frame, while Multiple AF mode judges focus based on a larger area around the center of the frame. There's also an Infinity / Landscape fixed focus setting that locks focus at infinity for taking photographs of distant objects. In addition to the optical zoom, the Optio 43WR offers a maximum of 4x digital zoom, (although I always remind readers that using digital zoom decreases image quality, since it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image). For composing shots, the 43WR has a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a 1.6-inch, color TFT LCD monitor, complete with an optional histogram display in both record and playback modes.

Exposure is automatically controlled on the Optio 43WR, although the camera offers a range of preset shooting modes for tricky situations. An On/Off button on top of the camera controls the power, and a Mode menu (accessed via the Down arrow key) lets you select between Program, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Portrait, Surf and Snow, Flower, Sunset, Fireworks, Snap, Movie, and Panorama Assist modes. Most exposure options are controlled through the LCD's on-screen menu system, which offers very straightforward navigation. That said, you can control focus mode (auto, macro, landscape, or manual), the self-timer, drive mode, exposure compensation, and the flash mode externally. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds, and are reported on the LCD display when the Shutter button is halfway pressed (as is the aperture). In Program exposure mode, all of the camera's exposure options are available through the Record menu or the camera's external controls. Exposure Compensation is adjustable via the right and left arrow keys, and increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The 43WR's default metering mode is Multi-Segment, which examines points throughout the entire image area to determine exposure. Spot and Center-Weighted metering modes are also available, for those times when you need to base exposure on the central subject alone. The camera's White Balance setting features an Auto mode for most average lighting conditions, but also offers Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual options. A sensitivity setting offers an Auto option, as well as 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalent settings. The 43WR's built-in flash operates in Auto, Off, On, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, and On with Red-Eye Reduction modes.

In addition to still shooting, the 43WR offers a Movie exposure mode, for capturing moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available space. The amount of recording time appears in the LCD monitor, and movies are recorded at 640 x 480, 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels, and either 15 or 30 frames/second. (Note that a fast memory card is required for maximum recording times at the highest resolution and frame rate settings.) Fast Forward Movie mode captures movie files without sound at a delayed frame rate (2, 5, 10, 20, 50, or 100x normal), which makes playback appear to be sped up. The optical zoom and focus position are locked at the start of movie recording, and only the digital zoom functions whilst the movie is being recorded. The 43WR also features an audio recording mode, accessed by pressing the Voice Record Mode button on the rear panel. Recording time is limited only by memory card capacity, provided that the card you're using is fast enough to keep up. (You can also record sound captions for still images in Playback mode, the length of the audio clips being limited only by available flash card space.) A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between pressing the Shutter button and the camera actually taking the picture, allowing you to get into your own shots, or avoid camera shake on tripod-supported long exposures. For shooting fast action subjects, the 43WR's Continuous Shooting mode captures a continuous series of images rapidly, for as long as you hold down the Shutter button, much like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera. The space available on the memory card determines the maximum number of images the camera will capture in the series, and details like resolution, shutter speed, and the state of the camera's "buffer" memory determine the shooting interval. (Shot to shot intervals in Continuous mode range from 1.31 seconds for large/fine images to 0.88 seconds for small/basic ones. - See the Optio 43WR'sPicky Details page for more detailed information.) A Multi-Continuous Shooting mode captures four frames at a time, and saves them as one full-resolution image. (The four images are arrayed in a 2 x 2 matrix within the full frame.)

The 43WR's Panorama Assist mode lets you capture panoramic images, oriented in any direction. A translucent reproduction of the edge of the previous image remains on the LCD display to help you line up subsequent shots, and the included ACDSee software "stitches" images together into one panoramic frame. There's also an Interval shooting mode, which captures a series of images (from two to 99 in the series), at preset intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 99 minutes, in one-second increments. The starting time for the Interval sequence can be delayed by up to 23 hours and 59 minutes. The final effect is similar to time-lapse photography. Image contrast, saturation, and sharpness settings provide further creative options, and a Color mode (full color, black and white, and sepia tones) is available in Movie mode only. The 43WR also offers Pentax's versatile Color Filter option, though the effect is applied post-capture through the Playback menu rather than before. The Color Filter offers eight color filter settings (black and white, sepia, red, pink, violet, blue, green, and yellow), a Soft filter, and a Brightness filter adjustment.

The Optio 43WR stores images on SD/MMC memory cards, and comes with a 16-megabyte starter card. This is handy, but really doesn't give you enough space to take many photos at the camera's best quality setting. Plan on buying at least a 64-megabyte card at the same time as the camera. The camera uses either a single CR-V3 battery pack or two AA batteries for power (either alkaline, NiMH, or lithium - the bundled batteries being AA alkalines). With a worst-case run time of about an hour and a half on a standard set of 1600 mAh NiMH cells (and proportionately longer on modern cells with capacities of 2100 mAh or higher), the 43WR has roughly average battery life, but not bad for a camera powered by only two AA cells. As always though, I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, as well as for shooting in Interval mode, but for most usage, a couple of sets of rechargeable NiMH cells and a good charger are all you'll need. The 43WR connects to a computer via a USB interface, and comes with the necessary cable, as well as a software CD loaded with ACDSee interface software and a QuickTime viewer. Also included is an A/V cable, for viewing images on a television screen.

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD for image sizes as large as 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.
  • 1.6-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • 2.8x, 5.7-16mm lens, equivalent to a 37-104mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • 4x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, plus nine preset Scene modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to four seconds.
  • Maximum aperture range from f/2.8 to f/3.9, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • SD/MMC card storage (16-megabyte card included).
  • Power supplied by one CR-V3 lithium battery pack, two AA-type batteries, or optional AC adapter.
  • ACDSee software, QuickTime, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie and Fast Forward Movie (slow motion) recording modes (with sound).
  • Voice recording mode.
  • Continuous and Multi-Continuous Shooting modes.
  • Panoramic Assist and Interval capture modes.
  • Night Scene photography mode.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Three color modes for movie files.
  • Digital Filter setting for adjusting color tone, brightness and sharpness post-capture.
  • Macro (close-up) lens setting.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six modes, including a manual adjustment.
  • Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments.
  • Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with four ISO equivalents (50, 100, 200, and 400) and an Auto setting.
  • Multiple or Spot AF areas.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).


Changes from the Optio 33WR
Readers familiar with Pentax's previous Optio 33WR model may be interested in the areas in which the 43WR has improved on its predecessor. Here's a brief list of changes I'm aware of:

Feature Optio 43WR Optio 33WR
Megapixels 4.0 3.2
Maximum Movie Resolution 640 x 480 320 x 240
Fast Forward Movie Mode options 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100x 2, 5x only
Scene Modes Separate Surf and Snow modes,
No Sunset mode
Combined Surf/Snow mode,
Sunset mode
Macro Performance 1.26 x 0.95 in.
(32 x 24 mm)
1.59 x 1.19 in.
(40 x 30 mm)
Setup Mode Options Display mode removed from setup menu -
Quick Startup Mode Quickly start up and snap a photo by pressing the shutter button. n/a
PictBridge printer support Yes No



Recommendation
The Optio 43WR offers good picture quality in a compact, well-designed package, with a nice complement of features. Its image quality isn't quite up to that of the best four-megapixel models (but not far off, either), but its size, portability, and rich feature set will tip the scales in its favor for many users. Its water-resistant case is its biggest feature though, as it means that you can blithely drop it in your pocket and bring it along on all but the most extreme outings. The camera can easily withstand being splashed in the surf or even briefly dunked in a shallow pool. (In my own experience, it easily survived being dunked in the ocean, to a depth of 3 feet or so, for several minutes.) Full automatic exposure control will set novices at ease, but there are enough creative features and exposure options to satisfy even fairly sophisticated users. A full range of preset scene modes and a host of color options make the camera a flexible choice for any experience level. If you're looking for a truly worry-free travel companion, the Optio 43WR is uniquely suited as a carefree "vacation camera."

 

Design

Compact and light weight with its square body design, the Optio 43WR is handy and portable. Water resistant, though not waterproof, the 43WR can withstand being splashed, rained on, or even briefly submerged (be sure to quickly retrieve it, however). (One little design note here is that it might have been nice to design a type of float device on the camera, so it would float for a bit if dropped overboard, rather than sink.) In my own unintended "testing," the Optio 43WR shrugged off a several-minute immersion in the Pacific, to a depth of about 3 feet, after a particularly vigorous breaker upended the kayak I was riding. Stowed in my pants pocket, the 43WR showed not the slightest ill effect from the experience. I should note that the depth and duration of this immersion is quite a bit beyond what Pentax recommends for the camera, but it's comforting to know that it can handle this sort of abuse if called upon to do so.)

The four corners of the camera body have a rubbery texture that lets them serve both as slight shock absorbers and good grips for wet fingers grasping the camera. (Although they only help as finger grips if you grab them directly when picking the camera up. In normal usage, they don't actually contribute to your grip, at least not in any position that I was likely to hold it in.) Because the lens does not telescope out from the camera body, the front panel remains flat while shooting. In fact, most of the camera's panels are fairly flat, making the 43WR quite pocket friendly despite its somewhat thick profile. Measuring 3.2 x 3.0 x 1.2 inches (82 x 76 x 31 millimeters), the Optio 43WR should fit into most average shirt pockets and purses, though it might be a bit of a squeeze for smaller shirt pockets. The Optio 43WR is nice and light as well, weighing just 7.7 ounces (218 grams) including the battery and SD memory card.

The reasonably smooth front panel of the camera features the lens, flash, optical viewfinder window, self-timer lamp, and a tiny microphone. A clear, plastic shield protects the lens at all times, so there's no lens cap to worry about losing. Note though, that this also means that you can easily smudge the lens front with a finger, so keep that in mind when holding the camera. (I found a soft lens-cleaning cloth to be an invaluable accessory, and carried one pretty much all the time when I was using the camera.) The 43WR doesn't have any type of finger grip, so be sure to keep the wrist strap securely fastened when shooting. (As noted, the rubbery corners are handy for picking the camera up, but in my view aren't much help in keeping it from slipping out of your hand.)

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) holds the eyelet for attaching the neck strap, as well as the combined SD card and battery compartment. A sliding, plastic door with a rubber seal protects the compartment, and flips up to reveal the slots.

On the opposite side of the camera is the connector compartment, covered by a plastic door with a rubber seal that slides toward the rear panel before opening. Inside the compartment are the USB/Video and DC In jacks.

Like the rest of the camera, the Optio 43WR's top panel is fairly smooth, featuring only the Shutter and Power buttons.

Most of the camera's controls are on the rear panel, along with the 1.6-inch color LCD monitor and optical viewfinder. The viewfinder eyepiece has two LEDs next to it, which report the status of various camera functions, including whether or not the AF system has locked onto the subject, or the flash is charging. The camera's speaker is just to the left of the eyepiece, and plays back recorded audio as well as camera sounds. Lining the top of the LCD monitor are the Voice Record, Flash/Protect, and Focus/Erase, buttons. A two-way zoom rocker button is in the top right corner, with the Playback button, Four-Way Arrow pad with central OK button, and Menu button below it.

The bottom panel of the Optio 43WR is distinguished only by the plastic threaded tripod mount. I almost always prefer metal tripod sockets, but the small size and light weight of the 43WR (not to mention the camera's portable nature) mean the plastic socket should hold up fine. The location of the tripod mount so close to the edge of the camera, coupled with the rounded corners of the camera body, could cause problems with stably mounting the camera on a tripod, however. Also note that the tripod mount, while relatively close to it, is not exactly under the center of the lens - which will cause parallax problems when panning on a tripod to create a panorama (this can easily be rectified with a small bracket, however).

 

Camera Operation

The Optio 43WR's user interface is very straightforward, with only a few external controls and a fairly concise (though multi-page) LCD menu system. For standard point-and-shoot operation, the most basic features such as flash, focus mode, and zoom are all adjusted via external controls. The Mode setting of the Four-Way Arrow pad lets you quickly select a capture or scene mode, displaying a virtual dial on the LCD monitor that the arrow keys scroll through. (The virtual mode dial is show in the screen shot above right.) When it is necessary to enter the LCD menu system, you'll find it simple to navigate. The arrow keys of the Four-Way Arrow pad scroll through each selection, and the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. It shouldn't take much more then a half-hour or so to become familiar with the camera setup, as it's fairly intuitive.


Record-Mode Display
The 43WR's LCD displays basic camera mode information, as well as battery status, the date and time, number of available images, and a set of focus brackets. A half-press of the Shutter button displays the aperture and shutter speed settings, so you have an idea of what the exposure will be, even though you can't control the values directly. Pressing the OK button cycles through three different information displays - "No Info" (just the focus brackets - other settings are shown briefly when you switch to the mode, or after releasing the shutter button), "Normal" (full information), or "Histogram" (a small live / record-mode histogram underneath a display showing image size and quality, white balance, metering and ISO settings). The LCD can be turned off through the setup menu.


Playback-Mode Display
In Playback mode, the 43WR's display shows the file number and date and time of image capture. The camera's zoom rocker button activates an index display mode when pressed toward the wide angle end, and enlarges captured images when pressed toward the telephoto end. Images can be magnified as much as 8x, and once enlarged, the arrow keys let you pan the view. As with Record mode, the Setup menu provides a histogram display, as well as an option to turn off the information display.


 

External Controls


Power Button
: Located unobtrusively on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off. An orange LED in its center illuminates when the camera is turned on.


Shutter Button
: Next to the Power button on top of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Zoom Toggle
: Positioned in the top right corner of the back panel, this button controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, pressing the telephoto (right) side of this button lets you zoom in on captured images, to check focus or precise framing. Pressing the wide-angle (left) side of the button in Playback mode activates the nine-image thumbnail index display mode.


Voice Record Mode Button
: Directly above the top left corner of the LCD monitor, this button enables voice recording. (Pressing it brings up a voice-recording screen. - Recording is started and stopped by pressing the shutter button.) You can record for as long as the memory card has available space, and the amount of available recording time appears on the LCD display. In Playback mode, pressing this button records an audio clip to accompany the captured image, again limited only by available space.


Flash / Protect Button
: To the right of the Voice Record Mode button, this button controls the camera's flash mode in any Record mode. Flash modes include Auto, On, Off, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, and On with Red-Eye Reduction. In Playback mode, this button lets you mark the currently-displayed image as write-protected, which prevents it from being accidentally erased (except via card formatting). You can also opt to protect or unprotect all images on the card.


Focus / Erase Button
: On the right side of the Flash/Protect button, this button cycles through the available focus modes: Autofocus (no icon), Macro mode (flower symbol), Infinity / Landscape focus mode (mountain symbol), and Manual Focus mode ("MF"). In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently-displayed file, or all unprotected files from the SD/MMC card.


Playback Button
: Below the zoom rocker button and next to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button activates Playback mode when in any Record mode. Pressing the button a second time returns to Record mode.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: Below and to the right of the Playback button, this four-way multi-controller navigates through settings menus.

In Record mode, the up key accesses the camera's drive settings, cycling through Continuous Shooting, Multi-Continuous Shooting, and Self-Timer modes. The left and right keys adjust the exposure compensation, from -2 to + 2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The down arrow accesses the camera's Mode menu, with the following options, the current selection indicated by a rotating "virtual dial" display on the LCD:

  • Program: All exposure options are under user control, with the exception of shutter speed and aperture.
  • Landscape: Sets focus to infinity and increases the depth of field for better detail in landscape scenes.
  • Night-Scene: Optimizes the camera for capturing images in dim lighting, enabling longer exposure times without the flash. (The specs claim up to four seconds, but all my eval unit would do was 2 seconds.)
  • Night-Scene Portrait: Operates in a similar manner to Night-Scene mode, but combines the flash with the longer exposure. Thus, you get a good exposure on the subject without the background fading to black.
  • Portrait: This mode utilizes a larger lens aperture, which decreases the depth of field. The result is a sharply-focused subject in front of a slightly blurred background, which keeps the emphasis on the subject.
  • Surf: Enhances images captured against very bright backgrounds, like beach scenes.
  • Snow: Enhances images captured against highly reflective backgrounds, like snowy mountain scenes.
  • Flower: This mode enhances color and saturation for good-looking photos of flowers and other vegetation.
  • Fireworks: Captures fireworks shots with good color.
  • Snap Mode: For taking snapshots, the flash is enabled by default (which you can override) and uses a smaller aperture to increase depth of field.
  • Movie: Captures moving images with sound, for as long as the memory card has available space.
  • Panorama Assist Mode: After the first shot, provides a translucent overlay of the previous image at the edge of the LCD to assist in lining up the next shot, with the sequence of exposures proceeding in any direction (left or right, up or down). Images are "stitched" together on a computer later.

In Playback mode, the left and right keys scroll through captured images on the memory card. The up arrow key activates the DPOF settings menu, allowing you to mark individual or all images for printing, as well as establish the number of print copies, crop the image, and activate a time and date stamp. The down arrow key begins playback of movies, or a sound clip attached to an image (if available)

OK Button: Nestled in the center of the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button confirms menu selections in any mode.


Menu Button
: Below the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In Record mode, the camera can capture still images or movie files. The Mode menu, activated by pressing the down arrow key, selects between a range of exposure modes (described above), which provide varying levels of control over the exposure. Pressing the Menu button provides access to all three menus, including Record, Playback, and Setup.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. Here, you also have access to the Digital Filter setting, which lets you adjust the color tone, softness, or overall brightness. A press of the Menu button provides access to all three of the camera's menus.

Record Menu

  • Recorded Pixels: Sets the image resolution to 2,288 x 1,712; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 pixels.
  • Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Good, Better, or Best (three stars being Best and one star being Good).
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Manual. (Manual white balance lets you use a white object to set the camera's color balance to match the scene lighting exactly.)
  • Focusing Area: Designates the area of the frame that the camera determines focus from, either Spot or Multiple. Spot AF bases focus on the very center of the frame, while the Multiple setting judges focus from a larger area in the center of the frame.
  • AE Metering: Chooses how the camera determines exposure, choices are Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Segment.
  • Sensitivity: Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity, options are Auto, or 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Digital Zoom: Turns the 4x digital zoom on and off. When enabled, the digital zoom kicks in after you've zoomed the optical lens all the way to its telephoto position.
  • Interval Shoot: Designates the parameters of interval shooting mode, such as the number of frames, the interval length, and the start time for the series. (Secondary screen)
  • Movie: Offers the following Movie mode options: (Secondary screen)
    • Recorded Pixels: Sets the Movie resolution to 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.
    • Color Mode: Records movie files in Full Color, Black and White, or Sepia tones.
    • Fast Forward Movie: Turns Fast Forward Movie mode on or off. If on, the camera captures movies at a slower frame rate, which gives the effect of sped-up motion.
  • Memory: Specifies which Record mode settings are saved when the camera is turned off. Options are Flash, White Balance, EV Compensation, Digital Zoom, AE Metering, Sensitivity, Focus Mode, Zoom Position, Manual Focus, and File Numbering.
  • Sharpness: Adjusts the overall image sharpness in three steps, from high to low.
  • Saturation: Controls the level of color saturation in three steps.
  • Contrast: Adjusts overall image contrast in three steps.

 

Playback Menu

  • Playback Message: Records a short voice message to accompany the captured image.
  • Digital Filter: Applies a digital filter to the image, either Black and White, Sepia, Red, Pink, Purple, Blue, Green, Yellow, Soft, or Brightness. (The Brightness filter lets you brighten or darken the overall image.) The existing image can be overwritten, or you can save the changes to a new image.
  • Resize: Changes the image size to a lower resolution or lowers the quality setting. The existing image can be overwritten, or you can save the changes to a new image.
  • Trimming: Crops the selected image to the zoom area shown on the LCD screen. The original image cannot be overwritten, the cropped image is written as a new image.
  • Alarm: Lets you set the camera as you would an alarm clock, specifying a time for a beep alarm to sound.
  • Slideshow: Plays back images in an automatic slide show, with shot-to-shot intervals from three to 20 seconds.

 

Setup

  • Format: Formats the SD/MMC card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
  • Sound: Sets the volume (three levels, or disabled) and type of sound for camera operations.
  • Date Adjust: Sets the camera's internal date and time, with an option for different display formats.
  • World Time: Allows you to set the time in another city, so that you can display the time in London, for example, on the LCD monitor. A full list of cities is in the manual.
  • Language: Changes the menu descriptions to one of nine languages.
  • USB Connection: Selects between PC-connection mode and PictBridge mode, for connection to a PictBridge-supporting printer.
  • Screen Setting: Designates the LCD startup screen and background color/pattern.
  • Video Out: Sets the video output format to NTSC or PAL.
  • Quick Delete: Enables the Quick Delete feature, which pre-selects the "Delete" or "All Images" options of the delete menu. (If off, the "Cancel" option is automatically pre-selected.)
  • Quick Zoom: If enabled, this function plays back images at the maximum zoom size when the zoom rocker button is pressed only once at the telephoto end.
  • Quick Start-up: Quick Start-up mode lets you turn on the camera and snap a picture using "Snap" mode, simply by pressing the shutter button.
  • Auto Power Off: Turns this feature off, or sets the camera to shut off after three or five minutes of inactivity.
  • Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.

 

In the Box

The following items are packaged with the Optio 43WR:

  • Two AA alkaline batteries.
  • USB cable.
  • A/V cable.
  • Neck strap.
  • 16-megabyte SD card.
  • Software CD.
  • Operating manual and registration card.

Recommended Accessories

  • (I'd recommend 64 megabytes as a minimum.)
  • Rechargeable AA batteries and charger.
  • AC adapter.
  • Small camera case.


Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

About Batteries
Over the years, I've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that I now insert a standard notice in my reviews of AA-powered cameras: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. Buy two sets of batteries too, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Check out my Battery Shootout page for the latest in actual, measured performance of various AA batteries. - Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite.

 

 

Specifications

See the specifications sheet for the Optio 43WR here.

 

Picky Details

Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my standard test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Optio 43WR, we've assembled a "gallery" of more pictorial images shot with the Optio 43WR.

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Optio 43WR's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Optio 43WR's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Optio 43WR with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Good color overall, manual white balance option handles incandescent lighting well. The Optio 43WR produced pleasing color in most of my tests, although it tended to produce either slightly warm or slightly cool color balance, depending on the white balance setting. Skin tones were a bit overly pink in the outdoor and indoor portraits, but not too bad, and the blue flowers of the bouquet were a bit more purple than in real life, but again were within what I'd consider to be acceptable bounds. On the Indoor Portrait (without flash), the Incandescent white balance setting produced a slight warm cast (compared to the very strong cast of the Auto setting), but the slightly cool-looking result with the Manual white balance option looked better to my eye. Overall, I'd rate the 43WR's hue accuracy and color saturation as being pretty good. (That is, not outstanding, but better than average.)

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, average amounts of exposure compensation required. High contrast, but a somewhat effective contrast adjustment. The Optio 43WR exposed most of my test shots pretty well, requiring fairly typical amounts of positive exposure compensation with the high-key test subjects. Its default tone curve is rather contrasty, but there's a low-contrast option that helps somewhat with harshly lit subjects. (Although I'd really like to see the contrast adjustment extend further in the "low" direction.) My biggest complaint in the exposure arena was that the 43WR's flash is badly underpowered, though the Davebox target came out a bit bright. Still, the camera managed to distinguish the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target there pretty well. The high-key lighting of the Outdoor Portrait resulted in slightly high contrast, but midtone detail was pretty good despite hot highlights. (The camera's default tone curve is a little contrasty, but its low-contrast option helps somewhat, even though I ended up not using it on the Outdoor Portrait shot.) Indoors, the camera required an average amount of positive exposure compensation (+1.0 EV on the Indoor Portrait without flash) to get a good exposure. Still, I'd rate exposure accuracy as good overall, since the amounts of adjustment it required with high-key subjects was very much in line with the behavior of most other cameras I've tested.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,100 lines of "strong detail." Slightly softer images than from the best full-sized four-megapixel cameras. The Optio 43WR performed quite well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800-900 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,100 lines horizontally, and about 1,050 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,400 lines. This is a good performance for a 4-megapixel camera, better than I expected, given that I felt that the 43WR's more pictorial images were noticeably softer than those from the best full-sized 4MP models.

  • Image Noise: Somewhat higher than average image noise. The Optio 43WR showed higher than average image noise across the board, but its noise levels will be unnoticeable to most users at ISO 50 and 100. Images at ISO 200 are visibly noisy but usable, but I don't consider the camera to be usable at ISO 400. (In common with many other consumer-level cameras these days.)
  • Closeups: Excellent macro performance: A tiny macro area with great detail and good flash operation. The Optio 43WR performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.26 x 0.95 inches (32 x 24 millimeters). Resolution is very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill. (The coins and brooch are soft due to the shallow depth of field that comes with the very short shooting distance - not the camera's fault.) There was quite a bit of softness in the corners, a common failing of digicam macro modes. The Optio 43WR's flash had trouble with the macro area, and overexposed the shot. - Plan on using external illumination for your closest macro shooting.

  • Night Shots: Somewhat limited low-light performance, but capable of capturing good images under average city street lighting at night. The Optio 43WR produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level, though only at the 400 ISO setting. At ISO 200, images were bright only as far as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux), and at ISOs 50 and 100, images were bright only at one foot-candle (11 lux), corresponding to typical city street lighting at night. Color was warm with the Auto white balance option, the warm cast increasing somewhat as the light level dropped. Given that I found the 43WR's images to be somewhat noisier than average under daylight shooting conditions, I was surprised that its low light shots were average to better than average in the noise department. Noise was quite low at the lower ISO settings, and even at ISO 400, the noise level was higher, but still not terrible. The camera's autofocus worked reliably down to about 1/4 foot-candle, not a bad performance.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Poor accuracy with the optical viewfinder, but an accurate LCD monitor. The Optio 43WR's optical viewfinder is very tight, with a large variance in accuracy between zoom settings. The viewfinder showed only about 73 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 85 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor fared much better, though the bottom measurement lines were cut off in the final frame. Still, results were pretty good. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Optio 43WR's LCD monitor is close to ideal, but I'd really like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel distortion, but moderate pincushion, low chromatic aberration, good corner sharpness. Geometric distortion on the Optio 43WR is high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared better, as I measured approximately 0.4 percent pincushion distortion there. Both numbers are just on the outside of average levels I've found among the digicams I've tested, but it bears noting that I feel that the "average" levels are too high to begin with. Chromatic aberration is low, showing only about three or four pixels of faint coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The image is also much sharper than average in the corners. Overall, the 43WR's lens seems to be of surprisingly high quality.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Shooting speed on the slow side of average. With shutter lag times ranging from 0.92 to 1.14 seconds in full autofocus mode, the Optio 43WR is a bit slower than average. (And for the record, I think that the current average among digicams is way slower than consumers need/deserve.) Prefocus shutter delay is a respectable 0.22 seconds though, and the camera's 1.14 frame/second continuous-shooting mode can be some help when shooting action. Overall though, clearly not a first choice for fast-paced action photography.
  • Battery Life: Pretty good battery life for a 2-cell camera, but relatively little savings from using the optical viewfinder. With a worst-case run time of 93 minutes on "standard" 1600 mAh NiMH cells, the Optio 43WR doesn't do too badly for a two-cell camera. But note that using the optical viewfinder only saves a little battery power, boosting record-mode run time only to 104 minutes. Note that actual run times using the latest high-capacity NiMH cells with true capacities of 2100 mAh and higher will be proportionately longer As always, I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH cells and a good charger. Check out my Battery Shootout page for the latest in actual, measured performance of various AA batteries. Read. - Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite

A Brief "Shooter's Report"

It happened that a family vacation (to the Costa Rican rain forest, highly recommended) coincided with my testing of the Optio 43WR. Since the trip would involve a fair bit of travel by kayak, not to mention the weather that gives the rain forest its name, the 43WR seemed like a natural travel companion. - Clearly, given my general ineptitude around any body of water larger than a bathtub, and my specific clumsiness in kayaks, I wasn't about to bring my Nikon D70 SLR along on the boats. Figuring that I had little to lose by packing along the pocket-sized Optio 43WR, I brought it along for the trip, albeit with pretty modest expectations.

As it turned out, the trip was a true acid test for the camera, both environmentally and photographically. While there was clearly no competition between the D70 and 43WR in terms of image quality, I ended up being surprised by how well the 43WR held up under some extraordinarily tough conditions, and was very pleased with the dozens of snapshots it helped me bring back as mementos of a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The big story with the Optio 43WR is clearly its water resistant design. Pentax bills it as "water resistant" rather than "waterproof", as it isn't intended for prolonged submersion, or for use as a diving camera. It turns out though, that the JIS Class 7 water resistance rating covers more than just idle splashes: The test for Class 7 water resistance involves submersion to a depth of 1 meter for a full 30 minutes. That's more severe than anything I subjected the 43WR to on my trip, but I actually came pretty close: I was carrying the Optio in my pants pocket during a sea-kayaking trip when a particularly nasty breaker upended our kayak, spilling Marti, me, and the Optio into the briny depths. Being a bit over 6 feet tall, my pants pocket with the 43WR in it was a good 3 feet below the surface, and remained so for at least 5-6 minutes, until we finally managed to scramble back onboard the kayak, in between waves. While it didn't come up to the 30 minute time limit of the JIS Class 7 test, it should be pointed out that the camera was subjected to some pretty vigorous agitation throughout the episode, what with wave action, my not-very-coordinated swimming as I chased after errant water bottles and kayak paddles, and the beached-whale thrashing required to get myself back onto the kayak. When returned to the beach, an hour or so later, I took the precaution of rinsing the camera fairly thoroughly with fresh water, which may not even have been necessary. (Probably a good idea though.) When I opened the battery and connector compartments, I found not a hint of moisture in the camera's innards. The Optio 43WR thus passed the "Imaging Resource water test" with flying colors. Less severe but nonetheless significant, it also got thoroughly soaked in the torrential downpours that make the Costa Rican rain forest what it is, and never missed a lick.

This of course, is exactly the sort of situation the Optio 43WR is designed to withstand, and just the usage that the Pentax engineers and marketing people hoped it would be put to. I'd never for a moment have considered bringing a conventional digicam along on some of the expeditions I used the 43WR for, but with the Optio, I didn't give it a second thought. (While I could certainly have put my D70 into a dry bag to protect it while traveling, the issue would then have become whether I'd ever be willing to take it back out of the dry bag to shoot any pictures.)

I was also surprised by how rugged the Optio 43WR's case ended up being. I certainly didn't go out of my way to abuse it, but most of the time it was stowed in a low-slung pants pocket, actually down my thigh a ways, as the velcro-secured pocket was below the normal one on the pants I was wearing. As a result, it ended up being knocked against branches and brush a fair bit, and whacked against the side of the kayak more than I'd normally allow. By the end of the trip though, it showed no sign of wear or tear, for all the abuse it received.

On the design front, I initially didn't like the 43WR's boxy outline and smooth sides, feeling that it would be too hard to keep a grip on when my hands were wet. The rubber corners on the case give some purchase, but they're not where your fingers would naturally end up when shooting. In practice though, I didn't find this much of a problem, as I never felt that my grip on my camera was dangerously insecure. The rubber corners did come in handy though, when extracting the camera from my pocket. I pretty quickly learned to grab it by the edges when pulling it from the pocket, as holding it front to back invariably resulted in fingerprints on the lens cover. Tugging it out sidewise would have been a little difficult to manage otherwise, but the rubber corners made it easy to get ahold of.

That flat cover glass on the front of the camera over the lens did require some attention though. If it was clean, water generally seemed to bead up and roll off of it pretty well, but the least smudge would draw and hold the water, and mud naturally stuck and obscured the view Fortunately, I had a microfiber lens cloth along with me most of the time, and a quick swipe with it would bring the window back to ship-shape condition. (Note though, that you need to be extremely careful when wiping this window, so you don't drag a speck of grit across it and scratch it. Take particular care in this regard on the beach, or if the camera has been splashed with mud. - It's a good idea to use a little of your drinking water to wash off the lens window from time to time.)

Photographically, the camera did pretty well. As noted, its images quite naturally came off a poor second when compared to those from the D70, but they were more than good enough for the snapshot-type photos that I was mainly interested in capturing with it. The color from the 43WR was good, if slightly undersaturated, and image sharpness was OK, but didn't look to me to be up to the level I'd expect from a higher-end four-megapixel digicam. The most serious optical problem I encountered was some pretty nasty "purple fringe" on a few shots, where tree branches were outlined against the sky. Surprisingly though, the purple fringe problem only appeared in a few of my images.

Largely as a result of the shooting conditions I had to deal with, image noise was an issue in a lot of my shots with the Optio 43WR. That said, it didn't bother me as much as I expected it to, based on what I had seen in the laboratory, before I took off. In the best of times, the rain forest canopy cuts out a lot of light, and we had to deal with consistently overcast conditions on top of that. As a result, light levels were often very low, forcing me to shoot at ISO 400 a lot of the time, a level at which I don't normally consider the camera to be usable. Faced with either noise pictures or no pictures at all though (or very blurred ones at best), I winced mentally, cranked the ISO up, and shot away. The results were definitely noisy, but also eminently usable for the snapshot-type photos I was shooting.

- And that's probably the best characterization I can give of the 43WR: This isn't a camera for the Ansel Adams types, those prone to agonizing over the least hint of noise in the blue channel, or shooters seeking the ultimate in photographic control. But then it isn't meant to be. It's a snapshot camera, the kind you just drop in your pocket and take anywhere (including swimming ;-), so you'll never be without a camera. As such, it'll be fine for most casual snapshooters, and equally fine as the "second" (third?) camera for the enthusiast. -- The camera you blithely bring along no matter where you're going, when you can't be bothered pampering a finicky, delicate digicam.

Despite my modest expectations for the Optio 43WR, by the end of the trip, I was very glad that I'd decided to bring it along. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a 43WR on my own dime, to carry as my "take anywhere" digicam. (As I write this, the unit I had on vacation with me is sadly on its way back to Pentax.) While I wouldn't choose it as my only camera, I just as surely wouldn't want to be without it on any outings involving quantities of water, dust, or mud. If you're into almost any form of "adventure sports," the Optio 43WR is a camera you need to own.

 

Conclusion

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It's sadly often the case that the vacation moments you most want to preserve in photos are the very moments when you leave your camera home, fearing the digicam-deadly effects of water, mud, or dust. The Pentax Optio 43WR breaks free of conventional digicam limitations though, with a rugged, resilient case and water resistance to a depth of 1 meter. That's more than enough to withstand vigorous splashing and even shallow dunking of the sort that tends to happen whenever people, water, and/or boats intersect, and even a torrential downpour while hiking is no big deal. While its images aren't quite up to the quality levels of the best full-sized 4-megapixel models on the market, they're not bad, with decent color, plenty of detail, and a surprising collection of features that can handle a range of shooting conditions. If you need a camera that can "take a licking and keep on clicking", the Optio 43WR belongs in your travel bag. A "Dave's Pick," thanks to its unique combination of features and water resistance.

 

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