By Josh Fate
Unlike some waterproof digicams, the Optio W80 does not have any odd or bulky shapes. It's compact body is stylish and incredibly durable which you will notice the very first time you pick it up. Shooting with the camera is very easy both in and out of the water. The shutter release and zoom controls can be operated either with one hand or with two hands via the "pinch" technique. Pentax has made better use of the back with larger buttons, compared to the W60, making them easier to press. Framing and viewing your images is done on the 2.5-inch LCD screen. Featuring 230,000 dots, an anti-reflective coating and a 170° angle of view, this screen makes the W80 easy to use in almost any situation.
Performance from the Optio W80 is good overall for a camera in its class. It takes 2.1 seconds for the camera to capture its first image after being powered up. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and between 3/10 and 8/10 of a second when allowing the camera to auto-focus depending, on distance and available light, which is very good. The shot-to-shot delay is just over 2 seconds between shots when shooting without the flash and 2.65 seconds between shots with the flash. If this is not fast enough for you, there are two continuous burst modes offered. Normal continuous is able to capture 8 images at 1.36 fps. (8 images in 5.9 seconds). High speed continuous offers more speed but a smaller image, capturing 8, 5-Megapixel images at 3.33 fps (8 images in 2.4 seconds). In both continuous modes the buffer was full after the 8 shots and the camera stops shooting until it is cleared. All of our tests were completed using a Lexar Pro 133x, 2GB SD memory card, Program mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall quality of our outdoor images is good. Our samples are sharp throughout the image, while showing excellent exposures and vivid colors. One noticeable problem, especially if you plan on making large prints, is the amount of noise that can be seen in all of our samples. Shooting at ISO 64 on a bright, sunny day, we should not be able to see any noise in our sample images, which was not the case with the W80.
Accurate framing is possible thanks to a 5x, internal, optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of 28-140mm. This allows you to capture vast landscapes with the wide end of the zoom, however you will see some barrel distortion. While the telephoto end will not get you incredibly close to your distant subjects, it is a great tool for framing your images and enables you to single out individuals from a group. Throughout the zoom range there are some slight aberrations in high contrast areas.
Our indoor samples showed similar results as above. Even at the lowest ISO, there is a noticeable amount of noise present. Another issue we had shooting indoors without a flash is the minimum shutter speed of ¼ second. At lower ISO settings, this did not allow enough light to be captured for a proper exposure. Assisting in your indoor and low-light shots is a built-in flash with a range of up to 13-feet (w) at ISO auto. At lower ISO settings, this range is much shorter. The flash was not near powerful enough in our sample shot taken from 6-feet away, mid-telephoto, at ISO 64. The flash is controlled pretty well when shooting in macro mode, but do not expect to be able to use it when shooting with the 1cm mode, as only a small portion of your image will benefit.
Shooting portraits with the Optio W80 is very easy, as the camera does a descent job of finding and tracking faces. The first face is found very fast, while any others after that take a little longer. Once a face is detected, the camera adjusts the exposure, white balance, focus etc. to produce the best possible exposures for the detected faces. When a face is detected, the flash automatically uses the red-eye reduction flash (if the flash mode is auto), which did not work in any of our sample portraits. Our sample shows red-eye in both of our subjects despite the pre-flash. Using the in-camera red-eye removal tool easily fixed this problem.
Shooting underwater is easy using the preset "Underwater" scene mode for either still images or movies. These settings have been adjusted to produce correct colors for most underwater situations. In order to get a clear shot indoors, in deep water or even on a cloudy day, you will almost always need to use the flash. As light does not travel as far underwater, so you will want to keep your subjects as close to the camera as possible.
Movie mode allows you to capture videos with sound at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 and 720p HD (1280x720), at 15 or 30fps. This is an excellent feature, especially for a waterproof model. Both of our samples, in and out of the water, have smooth playback and good color but some noise, which is not surprising with the noise we saw in our stills. The AF system did a good job of keeping the subjects in focus, as long as they are not too close to the camera. The built-in mic is very sensitive and will not only pick up the noises in front of you, but also any background noises as well. These sounds will seem much louder when the video is played back. To avoid this, be careful where you position yourself while you shoot. Noises under the water can be more difficult to stay away from as you can even hear water moving around the camera.
Powering the Optio W80 is a 3.7v, 680mAh, Li-Ion rechargeable battery. This is one of the smaller batteries that we have seen for a digicam lately and only allowed 50 images and a couple videos before the battery indicator warned of low power. During our tests, capturing just under 150 images and 10 videos, the went through almost two full charges. This falls considerably short of the 170 images that Pentax claims can be captured on a single charge. With this camera you will definitely want to have a second battery and the charger on hand, because it does not take long to run out of juice.
Bottom Line - The Pentax Optio W80 is an incredibly versatile compact digicam, with the ability to go and operate in conditions that only a few other cameras can. Featuring a 12-Megapixel imaging sensor, 5x optical zoom lens, and 720p HD movie mode, this camera comes loaded with great features. Performance is very good, while image quality suffers a bit due to the amount of noise present in our photos. This is something to consider, especially if you plan on making large prints. With a MSRP of US $299.95, this is one of a few waterproof models available in this price range. You can also check out the Canon PowerShot D10 or the Olympus Tough 8000.
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