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Pentax Optio WG-2 review: Pentax Optio WG-2

Pentax Optio WG-2

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

One look at the Pentax Optio WG-2 and you know this isn't your average point-and-shoot. It's the camera maker's 13th-generation rugged compact, waterproof down to 40 feet, shockproof to 5 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It's also crushproof, able to handle up to 220 pounds of force.

pentax-optio-wg-2-digital-camera-compact-16-0-mpix-5-10-optical-zoom-88-2-mb-black.jpg
7.6

Pentax Optio WG-2

The Good

The Pentax Optio WG-2 is a lightweight, but extremely rugged compact camera with some extra features and functions you won't find in competing models.

The Bad

The WG-2's shooting performance isn't particularly fast and it only has digital image stabilization.

The Bottom Line

The Pentax Optio WG-2 is a very good rugged camera with few trade-offs for its durability.

Its aggressive design backs up the extreme durability claims, but also helps you grip the camera with wet or gloved hands. There are nice extras like the included carabiner strap and the ring of bright LEDs around the lens that's for improving close-up macro shots as well as a light source and self-timer indicator. It's available with or without GPS built in, too; I reviewed the non-GPS model, which cuts the price by about $50 to $300.

When it comes to rugged cameras, though, much of the price you pay goes for the protection and not photo quality or shooting performance. If you're considering the WG-2 as a primary camera, you may want to consider just how much you need the durable construction.

Overall, the WG-2's photo quality and performance are good for its class, but a nonrugged model with a shockproof/waterproof case might be a better fit if you infrequently need its enhanced durability. This one is really best suited for adventurers wanting a well-appointed point-and-shoot that they don't have to worry about knocking around or getting wet.

Key specs Pentax Optio WG-2
Price (MSRP) $349.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.8x2.4x1.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f3.5-5.5, 28–140mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 260 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software ArcSoft MediaImpression 3.5, 2.1 (Windows, Mac)

Again, the WG-2's photo quality is generally good for a compact rugged camera. If you look at the photos at full size, you'll see noise even at ISO 125, and details like hair or fur are smeared. Noise doesn't really increase as ISO goes up, but the photos get softer, details get more smeared, and color quality drops off. When photos are viewed at small sizes, however, there's still perceived detail at the highest sensitivities. If your photos are going straight from the camera to the Web and you're not looking to make poster-size prints, the WG-2 is fine, except at its highest ISOs where, again, color quality isn't great. Still, this is a camera designed for outdoor use, and the WG-2 does very well when it has a lot of light.

Colors weren't accurate from the WG-2 in our lab tests with the exception of neutrals. The default color mode is Bright, and it definitely churned out more pleasing results than the Natural option, which tended to look flat. If you want to get more involved with the results, there are settings for sharpness, contrast, and saturation.

Pentax Optio WG-2 sample photos

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Much like the photo quality, the WG-2's 1080p HD video quality is good, but soft with a high level of noise in low-light conditions. It's on par with an average HD pocket video camera or smartphone, though with this you'll be able to shoot in inclement weather or underwater without worrying about it. Unfortunately, the zoom doesn't work while recording, which is odd; most internal-zoom-lens cameras allow that feature. You do get digital image stabilization, though. Other movie options include interval and slow-motion movies as well as 720p HD at 30 or 60fps.

General shooting options Pentax Optio WG-2
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual
Recording modes Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Handheld Night Snap, Movie, Underwater, Underwater movie, Digital Microscope (2 megapixels), Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Interval Shot, Interval Movie, High Speed Movie, Digital SR, Surf & Snow, Kids, Pet, Sport, Candlelight, Fireworks, Night Scene Portrait, Text, Food, Digital Wide, Digital Panorama (2-megapixels per frame), Frame Composite, Report, Green
Focus modes 9-point AF, Spot AF, Auto Tracking AF, Macro, Super Macro, Infinity Landscape, Pan Focus, Manual Focus
Macro 3.9 inches to 2 feet (0.4 inch in Digital Microscope mode)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Bright, Natural, Monochrome; Color and Contrast controls
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The WG-2's shooting modes are geared for point-and-shoot users. You will not find any direct control over apertures or shutter speed with the exception of the Night Scene mode that uses up to a 4-second shutter speed. In fact, Pentax doesn't even bother sectioning off all its scene modes into a separate menu; they're simply lumped in with Pentax's scene-recognition Auto Picture mode and Program Auto. Program Auto gives you the most control over results with settings for white balance, focus, metering, and ISO. You can choose to shoot in three different color modes, but in playback you can apply several filters, including Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Color Extract, High Contrast, Soft, and Fisheye.

If you like to take a lot of close-ups, the WG-2's macro settings allow you to shoot as near as 0.4 of an inch from the camera and captures plenty of fine detail. One of the hyped features on this model is the Digital Microscope mode, which uses the six LEDs around the lens to brighten tiny subjects for macro shooting. The benefit of this mode over the regular macro options is that you can use the zoom lens to enlarge the subject before you shoot. The downside is the images are only 2 megapixels.

Beyond full auto, the WG-2 has some nice extras like interval shooting for photos and video and a digital microscope mode for close-ups. Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance, for me, is the weakest part of the WG-2; it's just not a very fast camera. From off to first shot takes 1.3 seconds, but after that it slows down to 2.8 seconds from shot to shot; it's about the same when using the flash, though, which is good. Combine that with its 0.7-second shutter lag (the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing) in bright conditions and 0.9 second in dim lighting, and it can be difficult to hit a fast-moving subject. The camera just feels slow, too. Slow-moving or stationary subjects like landscapes and portraits shouldn't be much of an issue, however, so if that's what you'll be shooting, this might not be a deal breaker.

Like its past couple predecessors, the WG-2 is constructed from reinforced polycarbonate plastic with metal accents. The plastic could easily give the impression that it's a cheaply made camera, and it does make it feel slightly less rugged than the full-metal bodies of other rugged cameras. However, after testing, there is little doubt that the WG-2 can take the abuse Pentax claims, and the plastic keeps it very lightweight compared with metal-body models, so you won't be adding significant weight to your pocket or pack.

A nice bonus is the included carabiner strap for quickly securing the camera to a bag or belt loop, and if you're afraid of dropping it while in the water, Pentax makes a floating strap for it as well. As with all rugged and waterproof cameras, there are handling precautions you need to take to keep water and dust out of the camera. These are clearly detailed in the front of the full, printed user manual that comes with the WG-2. (By the way, Pentax is one of the few manufacturers that still includes a full, printed manual with its cameras.)

In front is a 5x f3.5-5.5 28-140mm-equivalent lens protected by glass and surrounded by six LEDs that can be used to help brighten macro photos or as an impromptu flashlight. As with all rugged cameras, the lens is completely internal, but it's designed differently than typical internal lenses, allowing it to be positioned lower and more centered. This means the chances of getting fingers in your shots is far less likely to happen than on other internal-lens cameras. On back is a reasonably bright 3-inch LCD. It has an antireflective coating, but you'll probably still struggle to see it in direct light.

The WG-2's controls are easy to use in and out of the water. Sarah Tew/CNET

Controls are easy to press with bare, gloved, or wet hands. They're fairly large considering the size of the camera's control panel. They're slightly raised from the body and well-spaced, so, again, pressing them isn't a problem. On top is the shutter release and power button, and the back has a zoom rocker; Play, Menu, and Face Detection buttons; a four-way directional pad with an OK button for selecting things; and Pentax's Green mode button.

The Face Detection options include a smile-activated shutter release setting, and the OK button doubles as a display button that cycles you through three information options as well as shutting the LCD entirely off, though I'm not sure how much use that is without an optical viewfinder. The directional pad navigates menus and photos and changes settings for the flash, focus, self-timer, and shooting modes. Lastly, the Green mode is Pentax's fully automatic you'll-get-no-control-over-anything-and-like-it shooting mode. What's great is that if you don't need that mode, Pentax lets you use it as a user-selectable shortcut button for accessing up to four settings such as exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, and metering or as a one-touch movie record button.

The seals keeping water out of the battery and port compartments seem good, but I wish the doors had better locks. Sarah Tew/CNET

The only real feature disappointment is the lack of optical or mechanical image stabilization. The camera instead has two electronic stabilization options. One is the traditional use of high ISOs and reduced resolution to keep shutter speed as fast as possible. It's effective to a point but really hurts image quality. The other option is Pentax's Pixel Track SR, which tracks motion blur at the pixel level, determining in real time the amount of blur. Once you've taken a shot, it filters the effect motion has on each pixel to sharpen them and remove blur (all of this takes a couple seconds after the photo is captured). In my tests it works better than boosting ISO and shutter speed, as Pixel Track doesn't introduce more noise. It's not perfect, but it would be worth turning on if camera shake is unavoidable or if you're using the zoom lens.

The battery and memory card slots are behind a locking door in the bottom of the camera. The battery life is CIPA-rated for 260 shots, but using the LEDs, the zoom lens, shooting movies, etc., will bring that number down. If you're planning to take the WG-2 on a trip away from power outlets, you'll want to consider buying one or two extra batteries. Plus, the batteries aren't charged in the camera, so you'll need to take a charger with you, too. Under a locking door on the right side are Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB/AV ports. A $29.95 waterproof infrared remote control is available for those who want to shoot from a distance or reduce camera shake.

Our take
For the most part with rugged cameras, photo quality and shooting performance take a back seat to making the camera durable. The Pentax Optio WG-2 offers a lot of protection without having to sacrifice much on either of those things.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
2.2 
1 
0.7 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
3.3 
1.5 
0.7 
0.4 
Pentax Optio WG-2
2.9 
2.8 
0.9 
0.7 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Pentax Optio WG-2
1.2 

pentax-optio-wg-2-digital-camera-compact-16-0-mpix-5-10-optical-zoom-88-2-mb-black.jpg
7.6

Pentax Optio WG-2

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 6Image quality 7
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