Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS Review

Using the Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS

Record Mode

You'll wait for just over one second for the WG-1 to prepare to shooting.

A live histogram is available on the Optio WG-1, though the camera will also highlight clipping shadows and highlights at the same time, which is distracting

Autofocus performance was above average at the wide end of the lens (in good light), and average in other scenarios. In the best cases (wide-angle/good light), the WG-1 locked focus in 0.3 - 0.5 seconds. Telephoto focus times were double that: around 0.6 - 1.0 seconds. Low light focusing was accurate most of the time, with focus delays of one second or slightly longer.

While shutter lag wasn't noticeable at faster shutter speeds, I did notice a slight amount of it at slower speeds, though you should really be using a tripod or the flash in those situations anyway.

The camera's shot-to-shot performance was a bit sluggish. Expect a wait of 2.5 seconds before you can take another photo, regardless of the flash setting. Do note that if you're using the Pixel Shift shake reduction feature that these delays will increase even further.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter playback mode first.

The Optio WG-1 has a plethora of image size and quality settings available. There are twelve resolutions to choose from, in three different aspect ratios. Image quality is rated by stars, from basic (*) to normal (**) to high quality (***). Here's the full list:

Resolution Quality # images on 97MB onboard memory # images on 2GB card (optional)
4288 x 3216
*** 19 394
** 39 778
* 61 1205
10M (1:1 ratio)
3216 x 3216
*** 24 487
** 49 975
* 70 1397
10M (16:9 ratio)
4224 x 2376
*** 24 487
** 49 975
* 70 1397
3072 x 2304
*** 33 653
** 61 1205
* 81 1617
5M (16:9 ratio)
3072 x 1728
*** 39 778
** 75 1499
* 109 2119
2592 x1944
*** 39 778
* 75 1499
* 109 2119
4M (16:9 ratio)
2592 x 1464
*** 49 975
** 98 1921
* 151 2927
2048 x 1536
*** 61 1205
** 121 2364
* 177 3415
2M (16:9 ratio)
1920 x 1080
*** 90 1756
** 177 3415
* 238 4728
1280 x 960 *** 141 2794
** 258 5122
* 365 6830

1024 x 768

*** 214 4098
** 365 6830
* 477 8782
640 x 480 *** 443 8782
** 690 12294
* 776 15368

That's quite a list! The Optio WG-1 does not support the RAW format, nor would I expect it to.

Like several other cameras these days, the WG-1 can increase the amount of zoom power without reducing image quality -- if you're willing to lower the resolution. Pentax calls this feature Intelligent Zoom. Lower the resolution to 7 Megapixel and your total zoom power goes from 5X to 7X. If you're willing to drop to 3 Megapixel (which is enough for small prints) then you get 10.5X worth of zoom power.

The menus on the Optio WG-1 could've been pulled from a Pentax camera ten years ago -- they haven't changed in at least that long. You get a simple interface without any graphics (or help screens), though it's responsive and fairly easy to navigate. It's divided into two tabs, covering recording and setup options. Keeping in mind that you might not have access to all of these in every shooting mode, here's the full list of menu options:

Shooting Menu

  • Image tone (Bright, natural, monochrome)
  • Recorded pixels (see above chart)
  • Quality level (***, **, *)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual) - that last option lets you use a white or gray card, for accurate color in unusual lighting
  • AF setting
    • Focusing area (Multiple, spot, automatic tracking) - the last option will track a moving subject around the frame
    • Auto macro (on/off) - whether camera focuses on close-up subjects even when AF mode is set to standard
    • Focus assist (on/off) - AF-assist lamp
  • AE metering
  • (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Sensitivity (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400)
  • Auto ISO range (80-100, 80-200, 80-400, 80-800, 80-1600) - choose the ISO range used when sensitivity is set to Auto
  • EV compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) - this option is buried on the second page!
  • Movie
    • Recorded pixels
    • Movie SR (on/off) - digital shake reduction for movies
    • Interval shooting - combines photos taken at a set interval into a movie
  • D-Range setting - see below
    • Highlight correction (on/off)
    • Shadow correction (on/off)
  • Pixel track SR (on/off) - digital shake reduction for stills
  • Interval shoot - for the time-lapse feature described earlier
    • Interval (10 sec - 99 mins)
    • Number of shots (2 shots - card capacity)
    • Start delay (0 mins - 24 hours)
  • Blink detection (on/off) - warns you if a detected face had their eyes closed
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - this is best kept off
  • Instant review (on/off)
  • Memory - choose which settings are saved when the camera is turned off
  • Green button (Green Mode, voice recording, movie recording, function setting) - choose what this button does; the default option activates a "super easy mode"
    • Function setting (Exposure compensation, recorded pixels, quality level, white balance, sensitivity, focusing area, auto macro, AE metering, highlight correction, shadow correction, sharpness, saturation, contrast) - choose a menu option to assign to the green button
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, sharp)
  • Saturation (Low, normal, high) - you'll be adjusting the tone if shooting monochrome
  • Contrast (Low, normal, high)
  • Date imprint (Off, time, date & time, date)
  • IQ enhancer (on/off) - Pentax doesn't really explain what this does, other than to say that it produces clearer details
  • Macro light (on/off) - turn on the LED macro lights manually

Setup Menu

  • Sound
    • Operation volume (0 - 5)
    • Playback volume (0 - 5)
    • Startup sound (Off, 1-4, user)
    • Shutter sound (Off, 1-4, user)
    • Operation sound (Off, 1-4, user)
    • Self-timer sound (Off, 1-4, user)
  • Date adjustment
  • Alarm - turns your camera into an alarm clock
  • World time - set the time for your hometown as well as a travel destination
  • Text size (Standard, large)
  • Language
  • Folder name (Date, PENTX, _USER) - last option lets you choose your own folder name
  • USB connection
  • (MSC, PTP)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • HDMI out (Auto, 1080i, 720p, 480p)
  • Eye-Fi (on/off) - enable or disable an Eye-Fi card that's inserted
  • Brightness level (1 - 7) - for the LCD
  • Power saving (Off, 5, 15, 30 secs, 1, 2 mins) - time until the LCD dims
  • Auto power off (Off, 3, 5 mins)
  • Quick Zoom (on/off) - whether playback zoom automatically jumps to 10X
  • Guide display (on/off) - whether descriptions are shown when Mode menu is viewed
  • Reset
  • Delete all
  • Pixel mapping - removes dead pixels from your photos
  • Format
  • GPS
    • GPS setting (on/off)
    • Logging (Off, 15, 30 sec, 1 min) - whether camera tracks your location, even when it's off; puts a major drain on your battery
    • Auto time sync (on/off) - use the GPS system to set the camera's clock

The only feature I need to tell you about are the two D-Range settings. You can reduce clipped highlights, brighten shadows, or both! The catch is that the camera increases the ISO to pull off this trick, which will increase noise levels in your photo. Here's an example (and you'll really need to view the full size images to see all the details):

DR enhancement off
View Full Size Image
Highlights only
View Full Size Image
Shadows only
View Full Size Image
Highlights & Shadows
View Full Size Image

As you can see, the highlight retrieval feature works fairly well. If you look at the floor and lamp on the left side of the photo, you'll see that details that were lost in the original photo return somewhat. The shadow boost feature is more subtle, but it works. As I said, you can use both at the same time, getting roughly the same results, though noise levels are higher at this setting than when you use only alone.

Let's move onto photo tests now!

Our macro test subject looks pretty good from a distance, but upon closer inspection you'll find that the figurine has a very "fuzzy" appearance to it. That's too bad, because the colors look good and the image is pretty sharp.

There are two macro modes on the WG-1. The standard one (which can be activated automatically when you're close to your subject) has a minimum distance of 10 cm at the wide end of the lens. For ultra-closeups, you can use the 1 cm mode which, as its name implies, lets you be just 1 cm away from your subject. The lens will be locked in the middle of the zoom range in this mode.

If you put the camera into digital microscope mode, you can attach the included ring around the lens, and literally place the camera on top of your subject, which is around 1 cm away. It works pretty well, though the reflection of the LED lights may end up in your photos, and the resolution is fixed at 2 Megapixel.

Night shots usually come out the best when I can manually adjust the camera's shutter speed. Since that's not available on the Optio WG-1, I had to resort to one of the scene modes. Unfortunately, things came out very dark, and the image has a fair amount of noise and detail loss, too. On the bright side (no pun intended), there's no purple fringing to be found. Bottom line: the WG-1 is not a great camera for low light (no-flash) shooting.

Since I can't control the ISO and shutter speed at the same time, I can't produce the usual low light ISO test here. Look for the normal studio ISO test below.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the Optio WG-1's 28 - 140 mm lens. The lens is surprisingly sharp in the corners, and vignetting (dark corners) wasn't a problem in the real world, despite its appearance in the test chart.

Flash w/redeye reduction

After redeye removal in playback mode

The Optio WG-1 fires its onboard flash a few times before a photo is taken, in order to shrink your subject's pupils. While in theory this should reduce redeye, that's rarely the case on compact cameras like this. Thankfully, Pentax put a digital removal tool in playback mode which, as you can see above, got rid of most of the red.

Now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since this test is performed under the same lighting every time, you can compare the results with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Below you'll find crops of the scene, from ISO 80 to 6400. Since those crops only show a small portion of the total image, be sure to view the full-size images too! And with that, let's see how the WG-1 performed across its ISO range:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

The ISO 80 and 100 crops look pretty clean, with a slight increase in noise at ISO 200. You will see some detail loss at ISO 400, so this is as high as I'd let the camera go (thankfully, the Auto ISO setting lets you limit how high the camera will go). Noise and detail loss are quite noticeable at ISO 800, and things go downhill rapidly after that. Photos taken at ISO 3200 and 6400 are saved at 5 Megapixel, and image quality is poor, with rather nasty highlight clipping at the highest sensitivity.

The Optio WG-1 is certainly not going to win any awards for its image quality. The biggest problems are noise and detail smudging -- both of which you'll find at the base ISO of 80 (here's one example). That's too bad, because the camera has pleasing colors, and decent sharpness on things that aren't been wiped away the camera's noise reduction system. Highlight clipping can be an issue, though you can turn on the dynamic range feature (described earlier) to mitigate that. Purple fringing can be an issue, as well. That said, if you're sticking to 4 x 6 inch prints or downsizing photos for the web, then you probably won't notice most of these things (assuming that you're keeping the ISO low). If you make large prints or like to inspect your photos at full size, then you'll probably notice the WG-1's flaws.

Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery -- which includes three underwater photos -- and decide for yourself if the WG-1's image quality is acceptable.

Movie Mode

The Optio WG-1 has the ability to record HD video at 1280 x 720 (30 frames/second) with monaural sound. You an record until the file size reaches 2GB, which takes about 10 minutes at the highest quality setting. Movies can be recorded above and below sea level.

Movies can also be recorded at 640 x 480, and 320 x 240. For all three of the available resolutions, you can choose from 15 or 30 frame/second frame rates, though I have no idea why you'd want to use the former.

You cannot use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie -- only the digital zoom is available. There is an electronic shake reduction system available, though keep in mind that it slightly reduces the field-of-view. As you might expect, there are no manual controls available in the WG-1's movie mode.

Remember the interval shooting function I told you about earlier? The WG-1 can assemble the stills into a silent movie that really shows off the time-lapse effect.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the Motion-JPEG codec.

Here are two sample movies, taken on land and (slightly) underwater, at the 720p30 setting. The quality is certainly nothing to write home about. Be warned, these are large downloads!

Click to play movie (40.1 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, AVI format)

Click to play movie (44.0 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, AVI format)

Playback Mode

The Optio WG-1 has a nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (with transitions), DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and playback zoom (up to 10X).

There are several editing tools available, such as image rotation, resizing, and cropping, plus a handy redeye removal tool. There are also plenty of special effects at your disposal, including:

  • Small face filter: reduces the size of faces in the image (really?)
  • Ink rubbing filter
  • Collage creation
  • Digital filters (B&W, sepia, toy camera, retro, selective color, soft focus, fisheye, and more)
  • Frame composite: put a virtual frame around a picture

The only video editing feature is a useful one -- a trimming tool to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.

By default, you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. Press the "OK" button on the four-way controller and you'll see more, including a histogram and a display of clipped highlights and shadows.

The Optio WG-1 moves from one photo to another without delay.