Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS Review

Look and Feel

Pentax has gone out of their way to make the WG-1 look rugged. It has an unconventional shape, is lined with rubber, and even comes with a carabiner strap. As I mentioned, the camera is everything-proof, which includes:

  • Waterproof to 10 meters (33 feet) for up to two hours
  • Shockproof from 1.5 meters (5 feet)
  • Crushproof to 100 kg (220 lbs)
  • Dustproof
  • Freezeproof to +14° F (0° C)

While I didn't test most of those things, I did successfully snorkel with the camera back in May. When it came time to review the camera, I noticed that the lock for the battery/memory card compartment door had failed, which allowed it to open with ease. That's not what you want on a waterproof camera, and not exactly reassuring. Aside from that, build quality is generally solid.

Ergonomics are decent, with most of the controls kept on the right side of the LCD. These controls are tightly packed and on the small side (especially the zoom controller), and leave little room to rest your fingers (mine ended up on the four-way controller).

Images courtesy of Pentax

The Optio WG-1 GPS is available in three colors: green, orange, and gray. The non-GPS version of the camera comes in black and purple.

Now let's see how the WG-1 compares to other rugged cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot D10 4.1 x 2.6 x 1.9 in. 20.3 cu in. 190 g
Fujifilm FinePix XP30 3.9 x 2.7 x 0.9 in. 9.5 cu in. 148 g
Olympus TG-810 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.0 in. 9.8 cu in. 215 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.0 in. 10.3 cu in. 175 g
Pentax WG-1 GPS 4.5 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 11.4 cu in. 147 g
Ricoh PX 3.9 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.9 cu in. 136 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 3.9 x 2.3 x 0.7 in. 6.3 cu in. 118 g

As you can see, the WG-1 is one of the larger cameras in the group, though it's not as big as the whale-like PowerShot D10. It's small enough to go anywhere that you do. Just remember that the camera will sink when submerged in water, so be sure to buy a floating strap if that's a concern for you.

Let's start our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Pentax WG-1

The Optio WG-1 features an F3.5-5.5, 5X optical zoom lens. The focal length is 5 - 25 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 140 mm. Being a waterproof camera, it should come as no surprise that the lens elements are all internal. You probably know this already, but the WG-1 does not support conversion lenses or filters.

The WG-1 with macro stand installed and LED lamps on
Image courtesy of Pentax

The five LED lamps that surround the lens are used to light up subjects when shooting in macro mode. The camera has a "digital microscope" mode in which you place a special "macro stand" to the lens barrel. You then place the camera face down, on top of your subject. At this point you can take pictures with your illuminated subject just 1 cm away. The catch is that the resolution is set to 2 Megapixel. I'll have an example of this feature in action later in the review.

A feature found on most of the competition, but not the WG-1, is optical image stabilization. Instead, you get Pentax's electronic equivalent, known as Pixel Track SR. This feature isn't available in certain shooting modes, cannot be used with the flash, and will increase shot-to-shot times. Does it work? Let's take a look:

Pixel Shift SR off

Pixel Shift SR on

Both of the photos above were taken at a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. As you can see, the photo taken with Pixel Shift SR is sharper, though it took a few seconds for the camera to process the image and save it to the memory card, so it's certainly not for action photography. Regular IS systems have no such delay and are not going to have the noise produced by the Pixel Shift process, either. Pentax has an entirely different digital IS system for movies, and you can see it in action here. Notice that the portion of the video with digital IS turned on is zoomed in more -- that's a side effect of the electronic system.

Returning to the tour now, I want to next mention the WG-1's flash, located to the upper-right of the lens. Flash strength is about average for a compact camera: 0.3 - 3.9 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.5 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the WG-1.

Three final things to see on the front of the camera include the AF-assist lamp, remote control receiver, and microphone and speaker combo (which are immediately to the right of the lens).

Back of the Pentax Optio WG-1

The thing that'll probably catch your eye when you first see the back of the WG-1 is its widescreen LCD display. This screen is 2.7 inches in size (diagonally) and has a 16:9 aspect ratio. While that aspect ratio is great for movies, it's not so hot for still shooting, as you'll end up with a large black margin to the left of the photo you're composing. The LCD has 230,000 pixels, which is sharp enough for a screen this size. Outdoor visibility was pretty good, and it low light the screen "gains up" fairly well, so you can still see your subject.

Now let's go over all the buttons to the right of the LCD. First up is the zoom controller which, as I said, is rather small. It moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in a speedy 1.4 seconds. I counted just nine stops in the camera's 5X zoom range, which doesn't allow for much precision.

The WG-1 found four of the six faces in our test scene

Under that we have buttons for entering playback mode or the menu system, as well as for flipping through the camera's various face detection modes. The face detection modes include:

  • Standard face detection: finds up to 32 faces in the scene and makes sure they're properly exposed
  • Smile Capture: waits for someone in the frame to smile and then takes a photo
  • Self-portrait assist: uses the LED lamps on the front of the camera to indicate your position in the frame; works for up to two subjects
  • Self-portrait assist + smile capture: same as above but waits for a smile before taking a photo
  • Face detection off: when the camera is thinking that trees are faces

Kudos to Pentax for the clever use of those LED lamps on the front of the WG-1! The camera's face detection system works well, typically finding four or five of the six faces in our test scene.

Next up we have the four-way controller, used for menu navigation and reviewing photos, as well as:

  • Up - Drive (Off, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, continuous, high-speed continuous, 0 or 3 sec remote control, interval shooting, auto bracketing)
  • Down - Mode (see below)
  • Left - Flash setting (Auto, flash off, flash on, auto + redeye reduction, flash on + redeye reduction)
  • Right - Focus mode (AF, macro, 1 cm macro, pan focus, infinity, manual focus)
  • Center - OK + change info on LCD

Lots to talk about before we can continue. First, the drive options. There are two continuous shooting modes on the WG-1: regular and high-speed. The regular mode will keep taking full resolution photos, though at a dog slow rate of 0.7 frames/second. The high speed mode shoots faster (2.2 frames/sec) but 1) the resolution is 5 Megapixel and 2) the LCD is blacked out the whole time, which makes tracking a moving subject impossible.

Two other drive modes worth mentioning are interval shooting and auto bracketing. Interval (time-lapse) shooting allows you to shoot a set number of photos at a chosen interval (10 sec - 99 mins). You can even choose when the whole thing starts, up to 24 hours in advance. The optional AC adapter is strongly recommended for use with this feature. The auto bracketing mode is quite simple: the camera takes three photos in a row (rather slowly), each with a different exposure setting (-1EV, as shot, +1EV). That interval is pretty large -- it would be nice to be able to choose it yourself, as you can on most cameras.

Manual focus

Those focus modes should be fairly self-explanatory, and I'll talk about macro shooting later, but I want to quickly mention pan and manual focus. Pan focus shoots at a focus distance that keeps everything in focus when subjects are a reasonable distance away from the camera. In manual focus mode you can set that distance yourself, with a range guide and center-frame enlargement to assist you.

Mode menu

That brings us to the mode menu, which is accessed by pressing "down" on the four-way controller. This opens up a virtual mode dial of sorts, which includes these options:

Mode Function
Auto Picture mode Point-and-shoot, with auto scene selection. Some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access.
Night scene For long exposures
Underwater Chooses the best settings for underwater stills
Underwater movie Same thing but for movies
Digital microscope Turns on the LED lights for 1 cm macros. Use of macro stand is recommended. More on this later.
Landscape More scene modes
Digital wide Helps you line up two photos taken vertically into one image, which gives creates a single image that simulates having a 21mm lens.
Digital SR Boosts the ISO to reduces camera blur. Not recommended due to drop in image quality.
Surf & Snow Yet more scene modes
Night scene portrait
Digital panorama Helps you align photos side-by-side and then stitches them into a single panoramic image.
Frame composite Put a virtual picture frame around your subject
Report Takes photos of "reports" at 1280 x 960. That's about all Pentax says!

If you want the camera to do all the work for you, just use Auto Picture mode. It'll select one of fifteen scene modes for you, and detect any faces that may appear. If you want more control over camera settings, then switch over to Program mode, which allows you to adjust everything yourself. The WP-1 offers no manual exposure controls.

Some of the other notable shooting modes include digital wide, which has you line up two vertical photos, which are then stitched together into a single image with a 21mm field-of-view. A related feature is digital panorama, which helps you combine two or three photos into a wide panoramic image.

Returning to our tour, the last item on the back of the WP-1 is the "Green Button", which puts the camera into a super-easy mode. If you'd prefer, you can turn the Green Button into a shortcut button, which gives you easy access to four other camera options. This button is also used to delete photos while in playback mode.

Top of the Pentax WG-1

Since you can see its "hump" here, I suppose that it's time to talk about the WG-1's built-in GPS receiver. To be blunt, I was not impressed. The GPS almost never located enough satellites to determine my location, and when it does, it takes upward of three minutes to do it. Cameras usually struggle when you're in the middle of a big city, but the WG-1 was lousy out in the suburbs, as well.

The WG-1 GPS doesn't have maps or a database of landmarks -- it simply records your longitude and latitude. You can have it keep a log of your location (which you can import into Google Earth), though this will put a major strain on the battery.

The only other items on the top of the camera include the power and shutter release buttons.

Side of the Pentax WG-1

On this side of the Optio WG-1 you'll find ports for USB + A/V out as well as HDMI. As you can see, Pentax is using the micro-HDMI interface here. As with all of the doors on the camera, the one here has numerous gaskets and a locking mechanism.

Side of the Pentax WG-1

The only thing to see on the opposite side of the camera is its strap mount.

Bottom of the Pentax WG-1

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a plastic tripod mount (which my tripod had a lot of trouble attaching to) as well as the battery/memory card compartment. Normally the plastic door locks up tight, but as I mentioned earlier, the lock failed on my camera after a few months (and no, I didn't drop it). While I didn't see other stories of the lock failing, many people have reported that the door has a lot of "play". You should be able to access the memory card or battery while the camera is on a tripod.

The included D-LI92 battery can be seen at right.