Out on the piste with the Pentax WG-2

Choose the right camera to suit your environment and active lifestyle

Having been asked to go skiing with my family, I needed a camera that would be able to handle the unexpected, harsh, cold environment that is the French Alps. Aside from choosing a camera to suit the harsh environment I was going to be in, this camera really stood out for me looks-wise, its quirky design has a slight 'Transformer' look about it which I rather like. I must confess, I am a long-term Canon user and so I would generally lean towards Canon for the familiarity but the challenge of trying out something new appealed to me and I wanted to see how easy it would be to take on a new feel, layout and design.

The WG-2's key features

The Pentax WG-2 GPS Digital Camera is Pentax’s 13th generation of waterproof, rugged camera and was released earlier this year and it's the next step up from the still current Pentax WG-1 GPS. For those of you who are not familiar with the Pentax WG-2 GPS camera, below are the key features:

  • GPS
  • Waterproof to 12m
  • Shockproof to 1.5m
  • Freezeproof to -10°C
  • Crushproof to 100kg
  • 16 MP
  • 5x wide-angle optical zoom (28-140mm)
  • Full 1080p HD video
  • A large 3" LCD screen
  • Max ISO 6400
  • 28 shooting modes
  • Six LED lights for Macro
  • Face Detection
  • Internal memory approx. 88.2 MB – 17 still images without SD Card
  • 12 Digital Filters
  • An HDMI port
  • Price: £279.00 (as of today 15/05/2012, subject to change)
  • Kit Contents: USB cable, AC cable, Li-ion battery (D-LI92), Battery charger, Carabiner strap, Strap, Macro stand and Software (Media Impression 3.5)

Build, layout and ease of use

Using the menu interface was rather confusing to work out at first, with lots of tabs, pages to scroll through and more options within those pages - it did take me a day or two to learn where each option was. The menu system is pretty retro and outdated-looking too, and completely different to what I’m used to with my previous compacts – fancy, colourful menus. This camera clearly isn’t like other point-and-shoot compacts and it isn’t designed for the faint hearted. The WG-2 is aimed at the adventurous types who aren’t worried about having a stylish menu with lots of options to tackle through. Like with any new camera, at first, getting to grips with the settings and the button layout can be a little confusing but once you’ve mastered all the tricks and shortcuts it almost becomes second nature.

Menu interface

Physically, the WG-2 is a lot longer in length and smaller in height to any other compact I’ve used before but nevertheless it feels just as comfortable to hold. The scattered grips, layered and uneven design of the WG-2 makes it an easy camera to hold when subject to large gloves, but unfortunately makes it a lot harder to slip into your pocket. With the buttons so close together on the directional pad, it proves rather difficult to select the correct option.

Situated at the back of the camera in each corner are four tiny plastic supports. The supports are designed to cushion the camera in the event of it being dropped as well as protect the LCD screen from getting scratched. On the back you are presented with the essential buttons Pentax believe you'll need to have quick access to at all times. On the main control pad are the following -Mode (Shooting modes), Menu (Settings), Flash On/Off, Macro mode, Self-timer and the OK button. Around the control pad is the Image Playback , Zoom, Multi-purpose Green & Trash button and Face Detection mode.

Shooting modes and fun digital effects

In total there are 28 shooting modes built into the camera: Auto, Program, Night Scene, Handheld Night Snap, Video, Underwater Camera, Underwater Movie, Digital Microscopic, Landscape, Flower/Macro, Portrait, Interval Shot - press OK to change the number of minutes & number of shots), Interval Movie (Interval: 1 min – 1hour, Total Time: 5hr / 59mins, Start delay: 24hr or 59mins), High Speed Movie - records a high-speed movie for slow motion playback, Digital SR (higher sensitivity reduces blur), Surf & Snow, Kids, Pet, Sport, Candle light, Fireworks, Night Scene Portrait, Text, Food, Digital Wide, Digital Panorama, Frame Composite, Report.

Below are some examples:

Digital Panorama Mode- Panoramic mode is easy to use, you simply take three photos and align the previous outline of each shot next to each other. The camera then automatically stitches the photos up to make one panoramic shot.

Frame Composite- The WG-2 provides you with the choice of three different frames to use.

Built-in Digital effects – Fisheye, HDR, Ink Rubbing Filter, Collage, Frame Composite, Slideshow, and 12 Digital Filters which include B&W/Sepia, Toy Camera, Retro, Colour, Extract Colour, Colour Emphasis, High Contrast, Starburst, Soft, Fish-eye, Brightness & Miniature.

Clockwise from top left: HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, Retro mode, Fisheye, High Contrast, Ink Rubbing Filter & Sepia

The Carabina - Un-clip it, shoot it!

As with all cameras, an included strap comes as standard but what I like most about the WG-2 is, not only do you get an ordinary hand strap, but you also get a clip-on carabiner strap. The carabiner is a great, practical accessory that I’ve not seen included before by other manufacturers and it’s only when you’re using it whilst you’re on the move that you realise how convenient it actually is. It’s extremely light, yet strong and easy to clip on and off, even with large ski gloves. Remember to always check it is fully locked into place as I found sometimes it didn’t always do this and so with a little more force the clip will close fully. To be on the safe side I decided to attach both straps to the camera, being subject to rather large gloves and high altitudes I didn’t want to risk dropping it at any point, either whilst skiing or browsing through the settings. As time went on and as I became more confident with the camera I found that I was using the hand strap less and less, being on the move every day, all that was needed was to unclip, push the shutter, and clip it back on again.

Whilst the WG-2 has been specially designed for the adventurous, outdoor types meaning for most the carabiner strap will be the ultimate choice, it’s nice to have the option to change back to the hand strap. This is especially the case if you’re using the camera intermittently for general use, such as nights out with friends - you don’t want it dangling in the way!

Have a little faith...

The one feature I was excited (but a little hesitant on testing) was its underwater capabilities. Dropping any camera underwater feels rather unnatural to me especially as I've never owned a waterproof camera or had any experience with one. I have to admit before testing it I did swap the memory card with an empty one just to be on the safe side as the risk of losing all my photos I’d taken during the week was not an option. I soon found out that I was worrying unnecessarily, the water glides smoothly off the camera. I used the camera underwater on three separate occasions and left the camera to dry for 30mins or so afterwards. On my return I checked all compartments (memory card, battery & HDMI) and to my relief and amazement both were as dry as the Sahara. The WG-2 is able to take photos underwater with or without the flash.

Its a thumbs-up from me!

Shockingly good

While secretly recording my dad at dinner after he’d had a few too many drinks the camera was accidentally knocked off the table and fell to a height of about 1 metre. The camera survived no problem and continued to work fine afterwards, unfortunately the rather long recording I took was not stored to the camera.

F... F... F... Freezeproof

The WG-2 was based at 1800m most days as this was the resort altitude but in some parts of the Alps we got as high as 2600m with some temperatures going as low as -7 degrees. I used the camera constantly each day in mixed weather conditions, I didn’t experience any problems and there was no dramatic effect on the battery life.

How to use GPS mode (Global Positioning System)

Click onto the Menu mode, press the right arrow button, scroll across until you reach Setting mode, there are 1/4 pages, scroll right down to page 4 until you see GPS, Press OK, and you will see a title called GPS On/Off press OK to turn GPS to On. Once GPS is set to On, scroll down to GPS Logging, select Record Log, you then have the option to change the Logging Interval time from 15sec, 30sec or 1min and the Logging Duration of 1hour right up to 24 hours. Make sure the GPS Time Sync is set to On. Once all of the above has been selected you can hit Start. Once the log has reached the set amount of time, go back into GPS mode, and remember to click Save Log Data.

Using the Photo Impression Software (included) you can upload your images and view the GPS data on Google Maps, with the option to view it in Hybrid, Terrain, Map or Satellite form. You'll be presented with the following information - the time, date, file size, resolution, ISO, F number, Exposure time, Flash On/Off, Focal length, latitude, longitude, and altitude (m).

Google maps: Terrain View GPS

The GPS data (latitude, longitude and altitude) is buried into the file and the information can be viewed in the camera or by using the software.

Latitude: 45degrees 38’46 degrees N / Longitude: 6degrees 51’40 degrees E / Altitude: 2323.2 metres (Height from sea level).

GPS signals to look out for in the camera

Red – If the GPS icon is red it means the information cannot be received – EG when inside a building.
Black – Information has been received
White – Information is being received
Yellow – An error has occurred. Turn Off. Remove Battery. Re-insert.

5x Optical Zoom Lens (28-140mm)

The images below show the optical and digital zoom at its maximum point, considering they were both taken hand held I think the image quality is pretty darn good.

Focal length: 140mm, ISO 125/ No Flash

Macro mode and stand

I generally like to test the macro out with new compacts and it’s a must have feature that I tend to look for. The WG-2 has an impressive minimum focusing distance of 1cm and comes with a macro stand which allows you to balance and steady the camera on any surface to avoid camera shake. The macro stand simply clips into two groves situated around the lens and can be removed with a quick tug.

Lighten up your shots...

The Pentax WG-2 comes with six LED's to enhance your macro shots when light isn't on your side.

Sid the slug

Shooting handheld with no flash

Apart from the fact it doesn’t react too well in artificial light, the Pentax WG-2 performs better than I thought it would in low light conditions. As you can see there is barely any noise and not masses of blur.

Testing the handheld night shots on band - Keep it Secret

Full HD 1080p video at 30fps

The Pentax WG-2 lets you record movies at 720p and Full HD 1080p, whereas on the WG-1 you only had the option of recording in 720p. Using the Video Impression software that comes with the camera you can add text, music and frames (9 to choose from) to your videos. The video below uses the frame 'Old Photo' and is a short snippet of Interval Movie mode, in this mode you can tell the camera to take images automatically at a set interval whilst it's recording. I apologise for the jerky movements in this video!

Waterproof compartments

The WG-2 features large weather sealed compartments to protect the HDMI port, dual AV/PC terminal, battery and SD memory card slots. In order to open the compartments you need to hold down the button and slide down in the direction the arrow is pointing.

Sample images

ISO 125, Focal length: 28mm, No flash, 1/4000 sec
ISO 125, Focal length: 28mm, f/4.2, 1/4000 sec, No flash
ISO 250, Focal length: 140mm, No flash, F/6.6, 1/1250 sec
ISO 125, f/4.2, Focal length: 28mm, 1/2000 sec, no flash
ISO 125, f/4.2, Focal length: 28mm, 1/4000 sec, no flash
Helpful tip: Don't forget to wipe the lens after it has been snowing!

ISO 125, f/5.5, Focal length: 140mm, 1/125 sec, no flash

You can view more images on the Wex Flickr page :)

The transformer and all-in-one performer!

So, is there such a thing as the perfect all-in-one compact camera? From looking over at previous reviews a lot of these rugged-type cameras tend to either lack in image quality or the price tends to be too steep - with the Pentax WG-2 you really get the best of both worlds. Ok, so the menus are a little outdated and it might not be streamlined enough to slip in your pocket, but for me this isn’t an issue thanks to the addition of the carabiner. Whether I’m climbing in the Lake District or skiing in the Alps, I would prefer to have the WG-2 clipped by my side for quick access at all times so I don’t miss a moment. There are a handful of fun filters to play with, the battery life is extremely good and if you love macro then you certainly won’t be disappointed but most importantly the camera doesn’t fail on you when you need it most, in fact it didn’t fail on me at all. All in all I would definitely recommend the WG-2 and out of all the tough camera's I've played with this tops the lot, in terms of practicality, price and image quality!

The Pentax WG-2 range!

With GPS
Pentax Optio WG-2 GPS White Digital Camera - £279*
Pentax Optio WG-2 GPS Orange Digital Camera - £279*
Without GPS
Pentax Optio WG-2 Red Digital Camera - £239*
Pentax Optio WG-2 Black Digital Camera - £239*
* Prices as of today 17/05/2012, are subject to change

Voted best rugged compact camera in the TIPA awards!

The newest model of the proven PENTAX WG-series is available with or without the GPS feature (geotagging). Made for rugged use, the camera is protected against drop damage up to 1.5 metres (5 feet) and withstands weights up to 100 kilograms (220 LBF). It is well prepared for use underwater, for depths up to 12 metres (40 feet), and in dusty climates as well as cold conditions, down to -10° C (14° F). The lens offers a 5x optical 28-140mm (35mm equivalent) zoom. The back illuminated 16 MP CMOS sensor enables high-resolution still photography as well as Full HD movie recording (1920 x 1080 pixels) at 30 frames per second with high quality H.264 compression. The TIPA jury enjoyed the LED-lights supported digital microscope for subjects as close as 1 centimetre.