Pentax – Optio W90 review

Rugged, waterproof compact digital camera
Photo of Pentax – Optio W90

Every digital camera manufacturer worth its salt wants a waterproof model in its range, and true to this spirit Pentax has released its Optio W90. Not only does it allow you to take still and moving pictures underwater to a depth of six metres, it’s also a pretty tough customer.

Complete makeover
Those who remember the W90′s predecessor, the W80, will notice that the outside has been given a complete makeover. Gone are flat, smooth and sleek surfaces with neatly squared off corners. In comes the curvy, chunky look in funky shades of black, orange and green, with a lens dial resembling a backpacker’s adventure watch.

There’s been a significant change round the back as well, because the former 4:3 format 2.5in, 230,000-pixel LCD has been replaced by a 16:9 widescreen 2.7in LCD, albeit with the same number of pixels. The controls alongside the LCD remain the same, though, with a zoom rocker at the top, separate buttons for playback, menu, face recognition and Green/delete, plus a D-pad for flash, timer, macro and shooting modes.

There’s a solid, slightly rough-cast shutter button next to the counter-sunk power button and the tough rubberised sides and base conceal outputs for Micro-HDMI and PC/AV as well as the battery and SD card slots. Unfortunately, no effort appears to have been made to move the tripod mount to the centre of the base – but as we suspect this camera is targeted more for the extreme sports crowd, they won’t be stopping long enough to catch a slowly sinking sunset.

Tougher than ever
As well as increasing the camera’s waterproof depth from five to six metres, its shockproof height has also extended from one to 1.2 metres, while the cold-resistant level remains unchanged at -10°C. We took our review copy for a swim with the fish and were impressed with the waterproofing of the case, although we did find that the movie images were grainier than we might have expected, even though we were shooting HD (1280×720 pixels) at 30fps.

The 5x optical zoom never extends beyond the fortified glass cover over the lens and while this is vital for protection, you’ll find yourself cleaning the glass frequently. As a consequence, shots at the end of the zoom generally lack the sharpness and clarity of mid-range images, even at the camera’s maximum 12.1-megapixel resolution.

The camera’s built-in anti-blur system relies on a combination of the Pixel Track SR of its predecessor and boosting the ISO levels in low light, which generally means that anything over ISO 400 suffers marked noise. In daylight conditions, as you’d expect, picture quality and colour contrast are generally impressive – although we would have welcomed a larger grip on the front of the camera (especially for downhill skiers and scuba divers?).

Added value
The W90 does boast a number of impressive extras, the best of which is the ‘Digital Microscope’ mode which makes use of three extra lights surrounding the lens to capture very fine close-ups at just one centimetre away. This works extremely well. Other attractive features include programmable face recognition for cats and dogs (we tried it on Tabitha, and she now has her own gallery!), Eye-Fi compatibility for easier upload, a new Ink Rubbing filter for high-contrast mono images and a Subscreen Input function that lets you display a captured image in the top left of the LCD.

Company: Pentax

Contact: 0870 7368299

If you're willing to pay that bit extra (although we've seen online prices as low as £194) for waterproofing and shockproofing as well as improved macro and face recognition technology, then the Optio W90 is an ideal outdoor activity camera.