Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS Review

How Does it Compare?

The Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS has a lot to offer, but it's ultimately a rugged camera that's average (or a bit below) in most respects. The camera has plenty of features, including an everything-proof body, tons of point-and-shoot features, 720p video recording, and useful dynamic range tools. The WG-1 loses points for its mediocre photo and video quality, lack of image stabilization, and poor GPS reception. I'm also a bit concerned about how durable this rugged camera really is, after the lock failed on the battery/memory card door on my review camera. While I haven't tested the latest models from the competition, from what I've read elsewhere, I think you'll do better considering another camera in this class.

The Optio WG-1 is a fairly compact camera with an unusual shape. The camera would not look out of place in your Subaru, or attached to your belt with its carabiner strap. The body is everything-proof, which means waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof from 5 feet, crushproof to 220 lbs, freezeproof to 14F, and dustproof (it kind of has to be). While that all sounds good, I was disturbed to see that the lock that's supposed to keep the door over the battery and memory card slot shut had failed on my camera, for no apparent reason. Combine that with reports of "too much play" from the same door (Google it), it makes me wonder how durable the WG-1 really is. My only other real design concern is that all the camera's buttons are cluttered together on the right side of the LCD, and some of them are quite small. The WG-1 features a 5X, 28 - 140 mm lens that is sharp from one end of the frame to the other. The camera does not have real image stabilization, instead substituting it for a digital system that slows down camera performance and slightly degrades image quality. On the back of the WG-1 you'll find a 2.7" LCD display with good outdoor and low light visibility.

The big feature on the Optio WG-1 GPS is, strangely enough, its built-in GPS receiver. Unfortunately, I rarely got a chance to use it, as it almost never got a signal. Even standing in an open field with no obstructions, it took the camera over 3 minutes to locate itself. The camera can log your location as you move from place-to-place, though it'll eat through your battery in no time flat. The WG-1 is a pure point-and-shoot camera, with the only manual controls being for white balance and focus. There's an Auto Picture Mode which will select a scene mode for you, and if you really want to keep it simple, press the green button to go into a super-easy mode. This same green button can be redefined to handle other functions, including serving as a shortcut button for common camera settings. There are plenty of special effects available on the WG-1, in both record and playback mode. One unique feature on the WG-1 is its built-in macro ring light, which can be used to illuminate subjects as close as 1 cm away. I didn't find that feature terribly useful, but there you go. One feature I did find useful was the dynamic range function, which can reduce highlight clipping, brighten shadows, or both. The only downsize is an increase in noise levels. The camera can record up to 10 minutes of 720p video (30 fps), whether you're on land or taking a swim. You can't use the zoom lens while recording, which is surprising on a camera with an internal lens, and video quality is sub-par.

Camera performance is a mixed bag. The camera starts up in a little over a second, which isn't too bad. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the GPS takes an eternity to find satellites, if it does at all. Autofocus performance at wide-angle (and good light) is quite good, though things slow down when you're shooting at telephoto or in low light. Shutter lag was not an issue at faster shutter speeds, though I noticed a bit of it at slower speeds, at which point you'll probably want to turn on the flash. Shot-to-shot speeds were slower than average, typically hovering around 2.5 seconds (regardless of the flash setting). The WG-1 has two continuous shooting modes, neither of which impressed me. The full resolution version shoots at a sluggish 0.7 frames/second, while the high-speed one fires away at 2.2 frames/sec, but the LCD is blacked out the entire time, making it impossible to track a moving subject. The WG-1's battery life is slightly above average, but once you turn the GPS on, the battery will drain quickly.

Ultimately, the most important feature on a camera is its photo quality. While the WG-1 has accurate exposure and pleasing color, photos are noisy and fine details are smudged -- even at the base ISO of 80. Those of you making small prints (or downsizing photos for web viewing) should be able to use sensitivities up to ISO 400, but you'll want to pass on everything above that. Highlight clipping and purple fringing can both be problems at times, though you can use the aforementioned D-Range tool to reduce the former. Redeye was also an issue on this compact camera, though there's a tool in playback mode that does a good job at removing this annoyance.

Two last things to mention before I wrap up this review. First, kudos to Pentax for including a thick, printed manual with the camera. Other manufacturers, take note! Now, the complaint: a metal tripod mount would've been nice on this rugged camera.

Despite it's fun features and unique design, I was let down by the Optio WG-1's mediocre photo and video quality, almost useless GPS, and lack of image stabilization. In a sea of rugged cameras, this one definitely doesn't float to the top in my opinion (pun intended). While I haven't tried out recent models from the competition, the folks at Digital Photography Review did, and you can see how the WG-1 fared in their detailed comparison (short version: they agreed that there are better alternatives).

What I liked:

  • Accurate color and exposure; lens is sharp across the frame
  • Rugged, uniquely styled body is water, dust, shock, crush, and freezeproof (though see my concern below)
  • 2.7" LCD display has good outdoor, low light visibility
  • Auto Picture mode features automatic scene selection
  • Built-in macro ring light and macro stand let you take photos literally on top of your subject
  • Clever use of ring light and face detection system for composing self-portraits
  • D-Range feature brightens shadows, reduces highlight clipping, or both
  • Time-lapse photo/movie feature
  • Tons of special effects
  • HD (720p) movie mode
  • HDMI output
  • Detailed, printed manual included

What I didn't care for:

  • Photos are noisy and have lots of detail smudging, even at ISO 80
  • Some highlight clipping and purple fringing at times (use the D-Range tool for the former)
  • Redeye a problem, though removal tool in playback mode works well
  • No optical image stabilization
  • GPS takes minutes to locate itself, if it does at all
  • Movie mode issues: optical zoom cannot be used, mediocre quality
  • Sluggish burst mode at full resolution; LCD blacks out during high-speed mode, which pretty much defeats the purpose
  • Small, cluttered button layout on back of camera
  • Lock failure (and reports of "lots of play") on battery compartment door makes me wonder how durable camera really is
  • Dated menu system
  • Plastic tripod mount

Some other everything-proof cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot D10, Fuji FinePix XP30, Olympus TG-810, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3, Ricoh PX, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Optio WG-1 GPS and its competitors before you buy.

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.