Pentax Optio WG-1 review

Adventure-grade compact with rugged reputation
Photo of Pentax Optio WG-1
£220

The Pentax WG-1 is one tough cookie of a compact. Its long, flat design and unusually shaped 59x116x29mm hull makes it a tad easier to carry around in a pocket than most so-called travel cameras. The latest in a long line of drop-proof cameras from Pentax, it’s made for adventure.

The WG-1 is graced by a bar on one side that can be used to tie it to you, mountaineer style – and that’s exactly who the sort of person this camera is aimed at, though there was no metal karabiner or heavy-duty strap in the box of our review sample. Other accessories include an overpriced O-ST81 Sport Strap (£28) and an O-RC1 waterproof remote control (£22), the latter of which works across the Pentax range of cameras.

The WG-1 isn’t exclusively for high-altitude types, though; it’s also fully waterproof itself, so it can be used on dives and snorkels – though only to a maximum depth of 10m. And if those dropping it in water have no worries, nor do landlubbers. The rubber-covered WG-1 is drop-proof from a maximum height of 1.5m, dust-proof, and even copes with freezing temperatures – though only to -10°C.

Wannabe?
That’s all very good, but even these specs don’t seem quite enough for the average mountaineer… is Pentax trying to appeal to wannabe outdoor types, rather than the real thing? We suspect so. Another example of what WG-1 model Pentax sent us didn’t support (rather surprisingly) was GPS-driven geo-tagging, though a variant is available that does exactly that. The WG-1 GPS costs an extra £30 or so.

We also wonder why the WG-1 doesn’t offer proper image stabilisation – already a standard feature on most cheap compacts, users whipping out a camera in high winds on the summit of a mountain are surely not going to be the surest of foot. On that score, the tripod socket is situated on the far right of the WG-1′s undercarriage (trekkers might like to consider a trekking pole-cum monopod).

Design flourish
The single most important design flourish in terms of the WG-1 staying in one piece is the lack of a protruding zoom lens, though the 28-140mm equivalent zoom (which sits permanently behind a glass cover in the centre of the product) is cleverly designed to still manage a respectable 5x optical zoom.

Behind those flashy traveller extra features lies a thoroughly decent digital camera with enough to please specs checkers. A 2.7in LCD screen adorns the back, while the WG-1 offers a resolution of 14 megapixels, has an internal memory of 97MB, and is compatible with Eye-Fi memory cards.

Video is also on the agenda, and the Motion JPEG files it produces – in an AVI container – can be shot in 720p (HD), VGA or QVGA quality, and sent to a HDTV via a mini-HDMI output. Sound is recorded as mono WAV. Zoom isn’t possible while filming, and quality is best described as average.

Once loaded up with battery and SD card, the WG-1 weighs 163g, though it can withstand being buried underneath 100kg – the presumed maximum weight of a stumbling trekker, we suppose – without breaking. All variants of the WG-1 are designed primarily with hard rubber bodies in black, though you get a choice of the front alloy fascia in purple, orange, green and grey.

Myrid shooting modes aside, the WG-1 offers preset Scenes aplenty – including underwater – as well as a useful panorama setting that presents an echo of the previous image to help you line up the next shot), face and smile detection options, and a host of editing options that go beyond most compacts’ offerings. For our tests we used Program mode, which is best if you want simplicity with some easy-access tinkering. Shutter speed and aperture were set by the camera, but it’s possible to change exposure, ISO, white balance and more.

Close encounters
One unusual feature is a 1cm macro ‘microscope’ mode which, when activated, light-up five LED lights surrounding the lens. That might be a tad gimmicky, but overall this feature works well; we snapped a few insects and the results were sharp and well focused. The WG-1 can also be manually focussed – another rarity on a compact camera.

The downside? The WG-1 is slow. Slow to record images and ready itself for the next, slow replenish its flash, even slow to zoom in on a subject – though we were happy with the images we took on our hike. After being dropped and rained on, the WG-1 delivered sharp, well-focused images with slightly muted colours and lots of contrast.

We did have a few issues with blurred movement, though, which the Pixel Track Shake Reduction circuitry (toggle it on and off in the onscreen menus) didn’t solve. Nor did using the digital shake reduction mode (which merely ups the shutter speed – and with it the digital noise in pictures) help much, though the problem isn’t endemic. It’s only in largely in low-light conditions that the WG-1 regularly disappoints, with noise-ridden shots. Battery life wasn’t great. We managed just 275 pictures before the WG-1′s battery drained.

Company: Pentax

Website: http://www.pentax.co.uk/

Contact: Pentax on 01753 792 721

Positives
  • Worry-free design, easy to use, 1cm macro mode.
Negative
  • Low light pictures, inadequate digital shake reduction.

Verdict

With Olympus, Panasonic and others all offering compact cameras made from tough stuff, the adventure imaging market is getting more and more competitive.

This elongated shooter's £220 is a high price for any compact camera, even one with knobs on, and though it's not perfect indoors, it excels in bright light and is easy to travel and trek with. As such, we'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind paying slightly over the odds for a reasonably capable camera that can be slung in a pocket or backpack and not worried about.