Pentax Optio W20 Review
Pentax's Optio W20 continues in their line of digital waterproof cameras. With features including a 7-megapixel imager, JIS Class 8 waterproof and Class 5
dustproof ratings, a 3x optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch LCD, and 640x480 30fps movie mode with anti-shake technology plus the ability to take underwater
movies, makes this compact camera a little powerhouse. While the various pre-programmed scenes and Program AE mode will appeal to those who want to be a
bit more creative, the W20 is also usable by any member of your household or office, due to the fully automatic "Green" mode.
The ergonomics of the Optio W20 are good for a compact model. Its compact size allows for it to be carried anywhere, and by being waterproof , it can even go along for a dip in the pool or a walk in the rain. The camera controls are functional and well placed, and the Menu system is easy to navigate and use. The 2.5-inch LCD was easy to use when taking outdoor pictures, even in bright sunlight. We did, however, have some difficulty in low light conditions, since the display fails to "gain up."
When people first see the W20 (or any of the Optio "W" series models) one of the first questions asked is "how can it take pictures underwater?" With a quick flip of the battery/memory card door, you can see how this is accomplished. There's a rubber gasket inside the door that blocks out any precipitation. Just remember, even though this camera is capable of capturing images underwater, the JIS Class 8 waterproof rating has a limitation of 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) for no more than 30 minutes at a time. For even more protection, Pentax provides the Optio W20 Skin as an accessory. This silicon cover gives you an extra protective layer for your camera and is a nice accessory to add. I found it easy to install and did not hamper using the camera at all.
When it comes to shooting performance the W20 was good. From power up to first image captured measured about 4.1 seconds. The delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 5/10 of a second including autofocus time.The Optio W20 offers two continuous shooting modes: Continuous, which captured 5 images in about 3.7 seconds, while HS (High Speed) Continuous captured 5 images in about 1.2 seconds; note the image size is dropped to 3M (3-megapixels) when you enter High Speed mode. After shooting it takes 6-7 seconds to clear the buffer and then continue shooting. While in "Continuous Mode" the LCD viewfinder blanks during image capture, thus making it difficult to follow moving subjects. These timings were obtained using a Kingston Elite Pro 2GB SD memory card, Program AE mode, image size/quality set at 7M ***, flash off, with all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
In the 7-megapixel *** image quality mode, the W20 produced good images both indoors and out. In our samples the W20 showed good exposure when shooting outdoors, and color saturation and sharpness was good for a consumer model. With the Pentax 3x optical zoom lens, all of our shots were nice and sharp, with only slight edge softness present. The 38-114mm zoom range is on parr for a camera in this class, and offers a good deal of versatility in framing your photos. The W20 has a 4x digital zoom option that can extend the zoom range to 12x, however, image quality does drop drastically in this mode. Image noise was average for a 7-megapixel camera, and showed some traces at lower ISO settings.
When working in marginal lighting conditions the W20 has some limitations. Pentax claims the W20's built-in flash has a maximum coverage of 12 feet at wide angle with the ISO sensitivity set at Auto. For most indoor photos this will be adequate. The W20 does well with indoor portraits using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range, and the flash works very well when shooting within 4-6 feet of your subject(s). Because the flash unit is close to the lens we did have to work with some "red-eye" problems. The Flash on + red-eye mode does help with this.
Underwater photography is one of this camera's most important qualities. I was happy to find that the W20 performs very well underwater. Sample pictures were taken in a large aquarium, and the W20 captured very sharp images of the aquarium's bottom along with the fish inside. The flash also worked well to provide good exposure from .5 - 2 feet away. Winter weather did not permit testing the W20 in a lake or pool, but I would think it would perform well in these environments.
Movie mode captures QuickTime video at 640x480 or 320x240 including sound, with a selectable frame rate of 15 or 30fps. The length of a clip is limited by the amount of space left on your SD card or the internal memory. Movie quality was good and the camera performed well while indoors. The on board microphone picked up sounds with good clarity.
Power for the Optio W20 is supplied by a proprietary D-LI8 3.7 710mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery, that is charged out of camera in the included D-BC8 charger. Since you can charge one pack while using another, we recommend you purchase an extra pack so you can always be ready to capture that special moment. I found battery life was good, capturing over 100 shots and several short movie clips on a single charge. Pentax rates the W20 has the ability to capture 240 shots and a continuous playback time of about 360 minutes (using CIPA testing standards.) The actual number of shots you will be able to capture all depends on how often the flash is used, how long you spend navigating the menu system, etc.
Bottom line - With a street price of $250 or less, the Pentax Optio W20 is a very sporty digital package. With JIS Class 8 waterproof and Class 5 dustproof ratings, this model can be taken almost anywhere, without the need for extra protection against the elements. Image quality is great for a 7- megapixel model, and the anti-shake/anti-blur technology performs well in less than perfect lighting conditions. The W20 adds another great model to Pentax's waterproof digital line.
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