Pentax Optio W30 Review

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Pentax Optio W30

Steve's Conclusion

Pentax has added another waterproof model to the ranks of their "W" series line of compact digicams for 2007. The Optio W30 includes all of the features found on the Optio W20 from last year, like 7-megapixels, JIS Class 8 waterproof and Class 5 dustproof ratings, an internal 3x optical zoom lens, Face Recognition AF & AE technology, 2.5-inch LCD, and 640x480 30fps movie mode with anti- shake technology. While the W20 allowed you to take underwater photos at depths up to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes, the new W30 raises the bar, allowing you to shoot at depths of 3m for up to 2 hours! Other new options include a broader ISO range (up to ISO 3200), and the addition of Digital SR mode, formally known as Blur Reduction mode on past models, plus the ability to take underwater movies. While the various pre- programmed scenes and Program AE mode will appeal to those who want to be a bit more creative, the W30 is also usable by any member of your household or office, due to the fully automatic "Green" mode.

Ergonomics are good. At about the size of a large candy bar, it can be tucked away almost anywhere, and being waterproof , it can even go with you for a dip in the pool or a walk out in the rain. The various controls are well placed on the body, and I found the Menu system was easy to navigate. The 2.5-inch LCD worked ok in most lighting environments. Outdoors it would benefit from a non-reflective coating, and shooting in marginal lighting (like underwater) the display only gains up slightly, and it seems to do this slowly. You can also adjust the brightness of the LCD via the Setup menu.

When one sees the Optio W30 (or any of the "W" series models for that matter) 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 3 meters (about 10 feet) for no more than 2 hours at a time. As mention above, the W30 allows you to dive twice as deep and keep shooting for 4 times longer than previous models!

Our shooting performance results were good for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured about 2.6 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter release and capturing the image, was 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 5/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting a sequence of images in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.4 seconds between shots without the flash, slowing to between 3 - 4 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. The Optio W30 offers two continuous shooting modes: Continuous, captured 5 images in about 3.2 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. After shooting it takes 5-6 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 Patriot 2GB SD memory card, in Program 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.

The overall image quality of our samples was good for a 7-megapxiel consumer model. Outdoors, our images were sharp, showed nice exposure and good color saturation. Like many of the Pentax models we have reviewed recently, I did notice a bit of edge softness on many of our photos. We normally use the best quality settings available, but with this model we did capture many images in both the ** (good) and *** (best) quality modes. The difference is over 1MB in file size, which is due to the *** images being less compressed, meaning they will show more detail. Its Pentax 3x optical zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of 38 - 114mm. This is typical for this type of camera, and will be sufficient for various shooting situations. Just don't expect it to bring distance subject up close. As usual, I saw noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle as well as several traces of CA (chromatic aberrations, aka purple fringing) around subjects with high contrast.

Noise is a issue we must cover with almost every camera we test with manually selectable ISO settings. You can choose from ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, or even 3200. Check out our samples page, ISO 200 and below show average amounts of noise while ISO 400 and above start to show a lot of noise. We found it best is to leave the ISO set to Auto, as it does well at keeping the sensitivity as low as possible. If not used properly the ISOs of 1600 and 3200 can create quite a bit of noise.

Most camera manufacturers these days offer some time of blur reduction caused for any number of reasons such as low light, photographer movement, subject movement, movie panning. Pentax's answer to this problem is the W30's Digital SR (Shake Reduction) mode. This mode helps you capture better handheld images in lower lighting (without the flash), where slow shutter speeds will constantly produce "camera shake" or "motion blur" in your photos. I was able to capture a portrait using only the ambient light coming in from a window, at 1/50 of a second. While the image is not tack sharp, it is still quite usable for a 4x6-inch print. However, because the camera selected an ISO speed of 800, there's plenty of noise present.

Indoors, you'll have to work within the limits of the tiny flash. Pentax claims the W30's built-in flash has a maximum coverage of 11.8 feet at wide angle with the ISO sensitivity set at Auto. I found it was sufficient for most interior shooting of either individuals or small groups. We captured our people photos using the dedicated Portrait mode. This is the only mode which utilizes the new Face Recognition AF & AE technology. Overall, it helped produce nice close-up portraits when shooting from about 6 to 7 feet away. When doing so, our portrait images showed good flash exposure, sharp facial detail and natural skin tones. Redeye was a bit of an issue in many of our people shots, however the camera does feature a redeye reduction flash as well as a redeye "Touch Up" option in the playback menu.

The W30's underwater capabilities are one of this camera's most important qualities. As mentioned above you can now take the W30 to a depth of 3m, for up to 2 hours. This adds tremendous versatility to this model, and overall, our underwater tests were good. The samples we took were in a small fish tank, as the winter weather season has just passed and the pools are not quite opened up yet. Using the underwater scene mode, I achieved good results when using the flash. Without it, you need to make sure there is plenty of ambient light, otherwise your images will be blurry. I feel you should be able to get some nicer photos in a large pool or in some very clear water (like the Caribbean) on your next vacation.

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 only Ok. While the AF system does well with moving subjects, there's a noticeable amount of compression noise preset in our samples.

Pentax supplied the W30 with a D-LI63 3.7 740mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery pack, which is charged out of camera in the included AC 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 70 shots and several short movie clips on a single charge. Pentax rates the W30 has the ability to capture 210 shots and a continuous playback time of about 240 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 changing settings/navigating the menu system, etc.

Bottom line - the Pentax Optio W30 is yet another "Cool" underwater model. It can produce nice photos along with good shooting performance, loads of exposure modes, and lets not forget the added versatility of being able to take pictures underwater! At about $US250 or less, I feel the Optio W30 offers a great value for a camera in this category, and is sure to be a very popular digicam this year.

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