The prospect of a waterproof camera is certainly a draw for folks who spend a lot of time outdoors. The Pentax Optio WPi is a waterproof, dust-resistant camera that feels like it can handle a little abuse. The best part is that it also takes good pictures. Introduced in August 2005, the Optio WPi brought a 6 megapixel sensor to the game (vs. the 5 megapixel Pentax Optio WP).
Just recently, Pentax has started offering red and blue versions of the camera, but only through the www.h2ocamera.com website. While you're there, you can pick up a silicone skin that will protect your WPi (and the skins work on the previous Optio WP as well).
In the Box
Included in the box is the camera, wrist strap, CD-ROM of software, USB cable, AV cable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, battery charger, AC cord for the charger, and documentation.
The documentation includes a quick guide, user manual, a PC connection manual, and manual for using the ACDSee software that comes with the camera. Documentation was very good, with a 190 page user manual.
If you think that your camera will see some outdoor action, I would recommend getting a skin from Pentax ($19.95 at www.h20camera.com). The skin not only protects the camera from drops and scratches, but it also makes the camera a bit easier to hold while wet. All the buttons are still accessible with the skin on, but the shutter release becomes a bit more sensitive.
Features & Design
The main feature of the Pentax Optio WPi is that it's waterproof up to 5 feet deep for 30 minutes. Another benefit of a waterproof camera is that it also has a degree of "dustproofness". When you open the battery cover (which has a lock), you see the rubber gaskets used to keep moisture out of the battery/memory card compartment. The jack for the USB and AV cable also exists within the same compartment.
As far as camera hardware, the WPi is a 6 megapixel camera with a 2 inch LCD and 3x optical zoom lens. The lens doesn't protrude since it's covered by glass to keep the camera to be waterproof. Images can be stored on Secure Digital (SD) memory cards.
The camera is powered by a 710 mAh lithium ion battery. To charge, the AC cord must be attached to the charger and the battery must be inserted into the charger.
The 2 inch, 115,000 pixel LCD was clear and easy to see at a wide viewing angle. There is not optical viewfinder on the camera. You can choose the level of detail that you want to view on the LCD. At the most detailed level, you get a live histogram and flashing areas on the LCD that designate the highlights (flashing red) and lowlights (flashing green). The LCD gains up in lower light to assist framing.
Full detail screen - live histogram on lower right
To access the 22 shooting modes, you access the Mode Palette by clicking the down direction on the directional pad on the back. Unfortunately, and I'm not sure of the reasoning, the Mode Palette only shows 15 modes (of a possible 22). If you want to use one of the hidden seven modes, you need to replace one of the modes on the Palette. There is also a super simple mode called Green Mode that disables access to the Menu and limits the number of flash and focus options.
There are several ways to record audio. You can simply record an audio clip if you need to give yourself a reminder. You can record a voice memo and attach it to an existing image. Finally, you can do Synchro Sound Record, that lets you take 20 seconds worth of audio along with an image. When you turn on the Synchro Sound mode, the camera starts immediately capturing sound, but when you depress the shutter, it trims everything but the previous 10 seconds. Then after the image is captured, another 10 seconds of audio is recorded. This can be good to capture a crowd clapping at a particular sporting event.
If you use the Sport, Pet, or Kid shooting modes, you can utilize Continuous Auto Focus and Tracking Auto Focus. During Continuous mode, the camera constantly works to focus the image -- you will expend a lot of battery juice this way. The Tracking AF works to keep moving subjects in focus.
In addition to your standard shooting mode, you can shoot with a 2 or 10 second time. For continuous modes, you get two choices, the standard Continuous mode which takes an image at just under a second, but you can shoot as long as you have memory left. In my experience, however, the capture rate slowed way down when the buffer filled up. A High Speed Continuous mode lets you capture 1280x960 pictures at 3 frames per second until the buffer fills (I experienced 11-12 frames).
The last feature that I wanted to highlight is the Recovery Function. If you accidentally erase an image, you can use the Recovery mode to recover the images erased during that session with the camera. However, if you turn off the camera before you get a chance to recover, you're out of luck.
As far as build quality, the Pentax Optio WPi is top-notch. It's a solid, compact camera that feels like it can take a little bit of abuse. After taking it into the water, I felt like I could take it anywhere. One thing to be aware of is that since the camera is waterproof, the buttons are a little harder to push than most cameras and their operation is a lot louder (with a very audible click noise)
On the front of the camera, you'll see the styled aluminum front face with the lens, flash, and timer light (along with a "water ring design element").
The back of the camera has the 2 inch LCD, a Green mode/Delete button, zoom rocker switch, button to access playback mode and a Menu button. A 5-way directional pad provides access to often used settings (flash, auto focus, drive, and the Mode Palette).
On the top, you get the power button and shutter release.
The bottom of the camera has the battery/memory compartment door and a tripod mount. A lock on the battery compartment door prevents accidental opening when you're underwater.
Camera Performance and Image Quality
Overall, I was impressed with the image quality in the versatile Optio WPi. It performed well outside, underwater, and indoors. I was happy to see the good performance in the rugged-feeling waterproof and dustproof camera.
In general, color reproduction was ok. In my opinion, some bright colors, specifically reds, were a bit oversaturated. Skin tones had a slight reddish cast. Dialing down the color saturation in the menus handled this quite nicely. There is also a shooting mode for Natural Skin Tone.
The automatic white balance did a good job in a multitude of environments. The camera also handled some tricky lighting conditions very well. I've used cameras that have problems with low-angle sunlight filtering through tree branches or playground equipment, but the WPi handled these conditions well. The camera did suffer from a moderate level of chromatic aberration in high contrast areas. However, it won't be noticed in a normal sized print.
Noise was acceptable at ISO 80 and ISO 160. Once you get to ISO 250, noise starts to be noticeable when viewing at full size. Overall, I would say that the WPi was moderate to good with noise levels.
Auto focus lock was achieved quickly and shutter lag was acceptable when focus lock was achieved first (by holding the shutter down partway). When using the Auto Focus mode with a full depress of the shutter release, the shutter lag was a tad too long for my liking. You can switch focus modes (Pan Focus, Infinity, or Manual Focus) and this will decrease the shutter lag since the camera doesn't have to do as much work to focus. Macro Mode worked well and you can focus on subjects as close as 0.4 inches to the camera.
Underwater, the camera continued to work well. It was a little strange to think that I could take the camera underwater, but I took the plunge. Once you take it underwater and it survives, you get the feeling that it can handle other harsh conditions. Colors were good underwater (I used it in a pool and a fishbowl) and it was just really fun to be able to just take it underwater.
Zoom performance was also good. The camera moves through the optical zoom range quickly and easily, using the left/right rocker switch. Barrel distortion as the wide end of the zoom range was fairly significant (notice the curved edges in the image below).
Battery life was average. I captured around 200 images and captured several videos before I got the "empty" battery indicator.
Additional Sample Images
The Pentax Optio WPi is a great choice if you're looking for a waterproof camera (and don't need to go to great depths). The waterproof, dustproof body has a rugged feel, but a stylish look. The camera also takes good, 6 megapixel images in a variety of conditions. I experienced good exposures in tough lighting situations, and good, if a bit saturated, colors. Noise levels were acceptable and the flash was enough to illuminate dark, normal-sized rooms.
The Pentax Optio WPi is a great option for someone who thinks they'll need a camera in wet conditions. For example, I would love to take my Digital SLR fly fishing with me, but it's not going to happen. Having a waterproof Optio WPi would be great for capturing an image of the one that didn't get away and then videoing the release underwater.
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