Pentax Optio W10 Review

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Pentax Optio W10

Steve's Conclusion

Pentax's Optio W10 is the next generation in their waterproof digital line (as of May 2005.) This simple to use point-n-shoot offers many of the features that are found on other models, like the Optio WPi, including a 6-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. Usable by any member of your household or office, its fully automatic "Green" mode will allow the most inexperienced user to capture great shots, and the various pre-programmed scenes and Program AE mode will appeal to those who want to be a bit more creative.

Ergonomics are good for a compact model. The size allows it to be carried just about anywhere, and thanks to the waterproof rating, you can even take it for a dip in the pool. The various controls on the back of the camera are well placed and functional, and the Menu system was very easy to navigate. The large 2.5-inch LCD worked well when shooting outdoors, even in the bright sunlight. However, the display fails to "gain up" which did make it difficult to use in marginal lighting. Like the Optio WPi, the backlight of the LCD turns off until you depress the shutter release, depending on the time delay set for the Power saving feature (5 seconds is the factory default.) This determines how long you have until the display goes darker. While it wasn't that big of a deal indoors, it was very aggravating when shooting out in the bright sunlight. A word of advice, be sure to go in to the Setup menu and change the Power Saving option to at least 1 minute.

When people first see the W10 (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 limits it to 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) for no more than 30 minutes at a time.

The W10's shooting performance was good. From power up to first image captured measured about 3.4 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay averaged about 2 seconds without the use of the flash and about 2.1 to 3 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. The Optio W10 offers two continuous shooting modes: Continuous, which captured 5 images in about 3.5 seconds, while HS (High Speed) Continuous captured 5 images in about 1.1 seconds; note the image size is dropped to 3M (3-megapixels) when you enter High Speed mode. It then takes about 6 - 7 seconds to clear its buffer and continue shooting. When using either of these modes, the LCD viewfinder blanks during image capture so following moving subjects will be difficult. These timings were obtained using a Sandisk Ultra II (Plus USB) 1GB SD memory card, Program AE mode, image size/quality set at 6M ***, flash off, with all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

When using the 6-megapixel *** image quality mode, the W10 produced nice images both indoors and out. Our samples showed good overall exposure when shooting outdoors, and color saturation was good for a consumer model. Thanks in part to its Pentax 3x optical zoom lens, the majority of our shots were nice and sharp, with only slight edge softness present. The 38-114mm zoom range is typical for a camera in this class, yet still offers a good deal of versatility in framing your photos. The wide angle extreme will allow you to produce nice landscape shots as well as group portraits, while the telephoto end is great for filling the frame with your subject. There's also a 4x digital zoom option that can extend the zoom range to 12x, however, we urge you to use this sparingly as image quality does suffer. Image noise was average for a 6-megapixel model, showing small traces present at the lower ISO speeds, becoming more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased; which is a very common issue among this class.

As with most all compact digital cameras, when shooting in marginal lighting conditions, like your typical tungsten illuminated living room, you will have to work within the very limited flash range. Pentax claims the W10's built-in flash has a maximum coverage of 12 feet at wide angle with the ISO sensitivity set at Auto. While it does not have the power to illuminate open rooms, it did produce pleasing portraits when shooting from about 4 - 6 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. You can see by taking a look at our indoor portrait sample that flash exposure is good and skin tones are natural.

One of the most important aspects of image quality for this specific camera, is its underwater results. I was very surprised at how well it captured images in the water. Shooting samples in our bathtub of some toy frogs showed the W10 can capture sharp images, with good flash exposure as long as the subject is about 1.5 - 2 feet away. When you get closer, however, the flash is a bit too intense. When shooting underwater, the flash is a necessity, although you can turn it off if desired. Although I was not able to test it in a swimming pool, I think this would be the best environment for this model.

Movie mode captures QuickTime video at 640x480 or 320x240 with 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. I'm glad to see that Pentax finally increased movie resolution to 640x480 on the W10, past models could only record up to 320x240. Movie quality was average, showing the usual amounts of compression noise. The AF system did well at keeping up with moving subjects, and we had no issues with the microphone picking up small breezes.

Power 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 and extra pack so you can always be ready to capture that special moment. I found battery life was good, capturing over 90 shots and several short movie clips on a single charge. Pentax rates the W10 can capture 180 shots and a continuous playback time of about 230 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 $299 or less, the Pentax Optio W10 is a very appealing digital package. Especially if you're an active user who wants the versatility of a waterproof model. Even if your family vacation doesn't lead to the pool or beach, the W10 is a capable 6-megapixel model that offers great image quality and performance, all at an affordable price. If you'd like more resolution and the ability to dive a bit deeper in the water, check out our review of Olympus' 7-megapxiel Stylus 720 SW that can be had for about $100 more.

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