With a body design like the WG-1, durability is definitely not questionable. Pentax has added a new ergonomic design over the more blockish shape of the W90. The pronounced indent across the top creates a space for your index finger to lay naturally in either landscape or portrait hold. Plus, this new shape will allow you to obtain a better grasp of the camera for one-handed shots. The rubberized sides further add to the nonslip grip, and give a feeling of robustness. If the metal "face" does not remind you of the camera's resiliency, there are also labels of its potentials on the "face" reassuring you of exactly how "Adventure Proof" it really is. According to Pentax, the WG-1's "underwater performance is increased by 40 percent", by having a waterproof rating for depths up to 33 feet (increased from W90's 20-feet), and 2 hours of continuous operation. While we did not test the camera at these depths, we did submerge it in a muddy stream with no operational failures. It is noteworthy to mention that some dirt debris did get underneath the battery and the HDMI seals, which did cause some concern. However, no moisture or dust was able to actually enter the compartments themselves.
The shockproofing for the WG-1 is up to 4.9-feet (4-feet on the W90) onto wooden surfaces, which was also put to the test and succeeded. Finally, the Optio WG-1 promises a crushproof rating up to 220 pounds. While it did well in our test, the control buttons on the back were unavoidably pressed, and scrolled through menus, settings, etc while putting pressure on the camera. This is not such a big deal, just make sure to recheck your camera settings if you would happen to put extensive pressure on the camera, as they might have been randomly changed. Like the W90, Pentax has included a heavily-stitched strap to connect the camera to a carabiner to easily and securely attach it to any piece of gear.
Unlike past lifeproof reviews, we really wanted to put the WG-1's cold and shockproof abilities to the test. We've been wanting to increase our rugged tests, and the WG-1 was the lucky camera to be the first to under go these new testing standards. We really pushed the limits and tested this camera to the extremes that Pentax has claimed. Thus, for our cold proofing test, we froze the camera in a block of ice, dropped it at approximately 4.9 feet to shatter the ice off of it, and then did a function test. In our first series of tests, we did break the LCD on the WG-1. This could have been either a mishap in our testing (pushing the camera beyond it's abilities), or we just got a defective unit to begin with; which is very plausible. The first test went without a hitch, however we found that water had frozen under the power button, therefore not allowing the button to be pressed to power on the camera. However, within 4 minutes the ice had thawed and the camera functioned flawlessly. We decided to repeat the experiment to test the ice freezing under the power button again. We found that the ice did in fact form under the power button again, and it had powered on and functioned soundly after the ice had thawed; only one problem remained, the LCD screen had been compromised. Even though the screen had been completely unusable, the rest of the camera functioned fine. Pentax was kind enough to overnight us another WG-1 to finish our testing, and again we put this new unit through the same test. It passed with flying colors, and for some reason this new unit did not experience the same power button freeze issue we saw on the first eval unit; yet another indication that we might have just got a defective camera to begin with. After these, and our other rugged tests, we feel the WG-1 is one tough cookie, which should stand up to the demands of the most rugged of users.
Control button layout has not changed from the previous models. The buttons are large, well-spaced, and give good feedback so you shouldn't have any difficulty when your fingers are cold and numb, wearing gloves, or when adrenaline decreases your dexterity. The labeling for the menu and playback buttons could be improved. I found that I repeatedly pressed the playback button instead of the menu button, because the labeling was confusing. Once the button layout was memorized, this was obviously no longer an issue. The optical zoom controls are the typical rocker design found on its predecessors, which is not a downfall; we just personally prefer the zoom controls around the shutter release in a rotatory design, like that found on the Canon Powershot ELPH 100 HS . One aspect of the controls we didn't quite like was the power button. It is recessed to the point where it takes slightly more effort to manipulate. This could possibly be an issue if you're at the edge of a Cliff side, or looking for that next wave, but instead your attention is focused towards turning the camera on.
The WG-1 keeps the same 2.7-inch LCD monitor found on the W90. With 230,000 dots, the display provides easy to read menus and a nice live image. We were surprised that the camera doesn't boast a large display, like your typical 3.0-inch LCDs found on most current consumer models. But, Pentax was focused on the ruggedness of this camera, and the 2.7-inch display does work just fine. There are plenty of preprogrammed exposure settings that are effortlessly identified not only by the short descriptions of each one, but also by the logical cartoons associated with them. It was thoughtful to provide the operator with so many preprogrammed modes as this camera will most likely be in extreme environments, with little time to be manually adjusting settings. Such of these unique modes include surf/snow, underwater image/video, and digital microscope. It is worth mentioning that when in digital microscope mode, the resolution of your pictures will be reduced. To maintain full resolution for your images, you must manually put the camera in Marco AF or 1cm Marco AF mode, and also manually turn on the LED lights via the menu. It is unsure why Pentax would reduce the resolution on the preprogrammed microscope mode, knowing it is the easier to simply put the camera in Macro AF to take close up shots. The backlight on the LCD does a great job allowing you to easily see the LCD in direct sunlight. The monitor was actually more easily viewed outdoors when compared to a higher end camera's monitor. Moreover, the monitor can be viewed up to 170° both indoors and out. On another note, Pentax claims the LCD is anti-reflective, but we found this to be not entirely true, especially if the screen is covered in fingerprints (which it collected quite easily).
The tiny LED lamp lights around the lens for taking very close shots, first introduced by the older W90, are back and redesigned for the WG-1. Realizing the shortcomings of only having 3 LED lights for the enhancement of close shots, Pentax has added two more making a total of 5 LED lamp lights. Although, it is nice that the additional two lights were added, the WG-1 LEDs still do not illuminate as well as we had thought. That being said, the LED lights do provide supplementary assistance in illuminating macro subjects. The Enhanced Digital Microscope mode automatically employs these lights to capture images down to 1cm. This, combined with the handy detachable macro stand for steadier shots, produced very crisp photos. We found the macro stand to be a simple attachment that helps steady the camera for macro photos, but we also realized that, realistically, this plastic stand could be easily lost or misplaced. It was decided that it is not practical to keep on the camera, or an essential packing item. It is however, a nice supplement if your excursion is based solely to capture macro shots where you can set the camera close to the subject.
If your goal is to capture further images, the WG-1 offers a 5x optical zoom that covers a zoom range of 28-140mm. Like in the W90, this is good range for a compact camera by giving you multiple framing capabilities. The rocker style zoom control offered a smooth, continuous operation that made framing objects simple. The wide range would make for great landscape shots while you're out on your hike and come across a hidden canyon; or suppose you happen across an Indonesian Green Tree Python, the telephoto end of the zoom will help you perfectly frame it. Just don't expect to zoom across the baseball field, and you'll be fine.
It is both interesting and intriguing that this adventure camera offers such an exceptional auto face detection feature. Not only does the WG-1 detect faces in photos, but it also detects them up to 170° around, to almost a profile shot. Keeping up with the social networking train, Pentax offers a smile capture mode and anti-blink detection, making the WG-1 perfect for self-portraits. Even more rad is that the WG-1 is Eye-Fi compatible, which will allow you to transfer photos and videos from your camera to your favorite social networking site as long as you have a usable Wi-Fi connection available, or your mobile phone with the newer Mobile X2 Eye-Fi cards.
Pentax has bumped up resolution on the WG-1 to 14-megapixels, compared to the W90's 12-megapixels. Image quality is pretty good for a 14M point-n-shoot camera. The WG-1 performs best outdoors, and like most consumer models the Intelligent Auto mode produces the most pleasing photos. Exposures are good, and images are rather sharp. Like past models we did see a good amount of image noise present, even at the lowest ISO settings. However, this is really only seen when critically inspecting images at 100% (aka pixel peeping). The intelligent Auto Picture mode seems to produce colors that are more vivid or saturated, which many will find pleasing. You can see the differences in color reproduction on our sample page, where we have examples of the same subject captured using Auto and Program mode.
One area where the WG-1 excels is macro photography. Like we've already mentioned, the WG-1 boasts some impressive macro focus options, along with some handy LED macro lamps. While they won't totally illuminate your subject, they do add some addition illumination; which is always good when you have the camera so close to the subject, where blocking ambient light is common. These superb Macro options enhance the WG-1's appeal to outdoorsmen and women, as they often find themselves snapping photos of insects and other small objects while on hikes through the wilderness.
When shooting people type photos, the camera's Face detection AF system was able to quickly find and lock onto faces within the frame. While the images it produced look pretty much in line with most 14-megapixel point-n-shoots, I was surprised to see that it captured blurry photos quite often when outdoors. Many cameras have problems capturing kids running around, buy I expected the WG-1 to perform a bit better when shooting outdoors, where there's plenty of ambient light. Indoors you'll have to work within the limits of the tiny built-in flash, when the camera chooses to use it; when the flash is set to Auto. I found that the Auto Picture mode seemed to choose not to use the flash quite often, which can lead to increased noise levels, along with blurry photos. Noise levels are acceptable for mid sized prints on up to ISO 400, however from 800 on up you see a great deal of fine detail loss and heavy speckling from both Luminous and Chroma noise. You can see out typical M&M man ISO series to judge imager noise for yourself, but we we feel that the WG-1 produces more noise than we'd like to see at even the lower sensitivity settings.
Like we mentioned earlier, we really put the WG-1 through some tough tests, some of which we've never attempted with other models. Using the camera around the water was a blast. We attempted to take the WG-1 for a swim in a brisk pond to test it's underwater capabilities. Pentax includes two underwater exposure modes, one for still images and one for videos. We tested both, and were pleased with the results. Using the macro and underwater abilities together allowed us to snap some cool underwater shots of some tadpoles which have almost infested this pond. Photos such as these would not be possible with 95% of the cameras on the market, unless using an optional underwater housing. The WG-1 really shines with video. We've uploaded a couple of our underwater video tests to our YouTube channel, which shows us taking the WG-1 for a dip in the cool water. Overall it was extremely fun, thanks mostly to the WG-1.
Video quality was decent for a point-n-shoot, whether you're recording outdoors, indoors, or underwater. While not up to par with a digital camcorder, you'll be able to capture pleasing 720p HD, VGA, or QVGA video. You can choose a frame rate of either 15 or 30fps, with the latter producing the smoothest, best quality video. The camera also has an option to include Movie SR (Shake Reduction), which will help you capture steadier movies. Overall, you'll see an average amount of compression noise in video capture by the WG-1, along with a slight softness; or lack of fine detail. We also noted some vertical banding from extremely bright or reflective objects when shooting outdoors in strong sunlight. Like we mention in most of our reviews, the built-in microphones are very sensitive, picking up any and all noise around the camera. When videos are played back, you'll notice a good amount of background noise, which you may not have noticed while recording.
Another upgrade on the WG-1 when compared to the W90 is the battery. Pentax has bumped up battery life, with a new claim of approx. 260 photos using CIPA Standard testing methods (flash used 50% of the time). This is accomplished with a more powerful 925mAh battery pack, compared to the 740mAh pack found in the W90. We captured over 450 photos, along with 25 to 30 short video clips on two charge cycles, which included extensive use of the menu and playback systems while doing menu captures. Even with this extended battery life, we still recommend picking up a spare pack if your budget allows; about $35 US. This is especially a good idea if you have a vacation coming up.
Bottom Line - Pentax continues to improve their hardcore Optio line, with the WG-1 being the best model they've produced yet. This unit offers various improvements over past cameras, with good overall image quality, speedy shooting performance, and various useful exposure options. We truly enjoyed pushing this camera to the limits, and are thankful Pentax was kind enough to send us a second model to test after we broke the LCD on the first eval unit. With a MSRP of $349.95 US, the WG-1 is competitively priced in a growing market of "lifeproof" digicams.