DigitalCameraReview.com
Pentax Optio W30 Digital Camera Full Review
by J. Keenan -  4/4/2007

With apologies to Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean: "dead cameras take no pictures". Nothing can stop an aquatic photo opportunity quicker than an ill-timed intrusion of water or spray into your camera’s innards. For years, photographers have used plastic bags, underwater housings and purpose-built underwater cameras to permit them to shoot in, around and under the water. To the list of purpose-built cameras comes the Pentax Optio W30, a waterproof point and shoot that could have its owners singing "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, digital water shots for me".

pentax optio w30
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The W30 is an improved version of the Pentax Optio W20, with the primary changes being increased depth and duration limits (up to about 10 feet and 2 hours from about 5 feet and 30 minutes in the earlier camera) and an increased maximum ISO sensitivity of 3200 (up from 1600 that was only available in a couple of modes in the W20). The camera features an aluminum body with 2.5 inch LCD monitor, 7.1 mega pixel sensor, and a 3X Pentax optical zoom lens that provides a 35mm film equivalent focal length range of 38 to 114 mm. As one would expect from a camera designed for even limited underwater work, fit and finish appear to be first-rate.

A CLOSER LOOK 

The Pentax Optio W30 has few manual controls and as such should appeal to folks who wish to minimize their involvement with capturing images. While this camera is perfectly suitable for someone who never ventures near a water body, the waterproof feature is undeniably the one which highlights it in the P&S pack, and it offers water enthusiasts a means to take an easily portable camera into wet environments that might spell doom for most other P&Ss.

Pentax provides USB and AV cables, rechargeable battery, charger and AC plug cord, camera strap and software with each camera.

The W30 has 21.9 Mb of internal memory and also accepts SD or SDHC memory cards. The internal memory space is large enough to provide a limited backup capability in the event you forget to install or your memory card(s) fail.

Camera dimensions are about 4.2 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches with a shooting weight (battery and SD memory card installed) of about 5.6 ounces.

The W30 will capture JPEG still images in 640, 1024, 2 Mb, 3 Mb, 4 Mb, 5Mb or 7 Mb sizes; 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 movies may be captured at either 15 or 30 frames per second.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The front of the camera houses the built-in flash, lens, and self-timer lamp. To aid in waterproofing, the W30’s lens features internal zoom and focus functions – the lens does not protrude from the camera body during use as with many P&Ss.

pentax optio w30
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The camera back features the 2.5” LCD monitor, along with the zoom, playback, four-way controller, OK/Display, green and menu buttons.

pentax optio w30
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The shutter release button, power switch/power indicator, microphone and speaker are found on the top of the body.

pentax optio w30
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The bottom of the camera has a threaded tripod socket and the PC/AV and DC IN terminal cover.

 pentax optio w30
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The left side of the W30 is made up of the battery/memory card cover; a strap lug is found on the opposite side.

pentax optio w30
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SHOOTING WITH THE W30 

Auto Mode 

The W30 comes out of the box set for a 7 megapixel “better” quality JPEG still capture. Auto white balance, multi-segment metering and auto ISO ranging from 64 to 400 ISO are also default settings. I set the “good/better/best” quality level to “best” for all shots in this review. The W30 produced good quality images and color rendition for a variety of lighting conditions in “auto” mode, but at times would somewhat overexpose highlights in high contrast situations.

pentax optio s30 sample image
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pentax optio s30 sample image
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Additional Shooting Modes 

Besides “auto”, the W30 shooter can select from 24 other shooting modes: Program, Night Scene, Movie, Voice Recording, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Underwater, Underwater Movie, Digital SR (Blur Reduction), Surf and Snow, Sport, Pet, Frame Composite, Synchro Sound Record, Kids, Soft, Self-portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Museum, Natural Skin Tone and Report.

Here are a Night Scene shot and three Underwater shots of a pool cleaner and pool toys.

pentax optio s30 sample image
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pentax optio s30 sample image
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pentax optio s30 sample image
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pentax optio s30 sample image
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A word here about the underwater capability of the W30: while scuba divers are unlikely to embrace the camera due to the limited operating depth of ten feet, the W30 can still provide snorkelers and other folks who play on or in shallow water with a versatile image capturing device under the right conditions.

One of the best underwater shooting days I ever experienced came years ago on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. My wife and I came upon a tabletop reef at low tide where great portions of the reef were in three feet of water or less. We left our tanks on the beach and using snorkel only, discovered great numbers of anemones and clown fish within easy arms reach of our underwater film camera.  The W30 would have been perfect under the same conditions, and I wouldn’t have had to haul out of the water every 36 shots to load another roll of film. 

Exposure Compensation 

The W30 permits +/- 2 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 EV increments. In the photos that follow, the W30 tended to overexpose some white water portions of the wave in “Surf and Snow” mode, but dialing in -.7 EV of exposure compensation produced a photo with highlights intact.

pentax optio w30 sample image
EV 0 (view medium image) (view large image)
pentax optio w30 sample image
EV -0.7 (view medium image) (view large image)

Light Metering 

Multi-segment metering is the default setting for the W30, but center-weighted or spot AE options may be selected.

Focus/Macro Focus 

Autofocus is the standard setting for the W30, but Macro, Infinity, Pan or Manual focus may also be selected. In practice, I had difficulty using the manual focus – the four-way controller button is used to adjust the focus and did not lend itself to small adjustments. In good lighting conditions autofocus was quicker. The W30 does not have a focus-assist lamp and acquiring autofocus in low light conditions was problematic. Perhaps this is why the W30 has that manual focus mode – if you know the approximate distance to your subject you can always try to focus the old fashioned way.

Macro focus with the W30 ranges from .4 inch out to 24 inches. Two macro shots follow.

pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
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Monitor 

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor on the W30 is good-sized, but its 115,000 dot composition is about half that of some monitors in similar sized cameras. Images displayed on the monitor may appear grainier than those on similar sized monitors with higher dot compositions, but in practice the monitor was more than adequate for picture composition or editing in good lighting conditions. I would be leery of using the camera monitor to edit shots that may seem marginal from a sharpness standpoint – the monitor may give a false impression of picture quality that might not be borne out when the same image is viewed on your computer’s larger screen.

The monitor is adjustable for brightness, but photo composition or review in bright sunlight, particularly with images lacking contrast, is difficult. There is no optical viewfinder.

Flash 

Pentax claims a flash range of about 12 feet at wide angle, and about 10 feet at telephoto, figures which seem to be born out by my experience. Color rendition was good.

The W30 has flash with red eye reduction, and there is a manual red eye correction feature built into the camera as well. 

Color 

When recording movies, the W30 may be set to black and white or sepia in addition to full color. Still images are captured in color only, but Pentax has a trick up their sleeve to manipulate still image color.

While some P&S cameras offer the ability to capture images in color or other tones, the W30 has a “Digital Filter” feature that allows you to post process selected images. There are “color filter”, “color extraction filter”, “soft filter” and “fisheye filter” components in the menu. Color, Digital Filter B&W and Digital Filter Sepia images follow.

pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
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Image sharpness, saturation, and contrast may be individually increased from the default setting via camera menu. There is not a significant difference between the default and maximum settings.

pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
"maximum" settings (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 

The W30 permits the selection of six ranges of automatically selected ISO sensitivity (64 to 100, 64 to 200, 64 to 400, 64 to 800, 64 to 1600, or 64 to 3200) as well as individual ISO values from 64 to 3200.

In everyday shots that included a portion of sky, shots at 64, 100 and 200 ISO were all quite similar; 400 ISO had some noise becoming apparent in the sky; noise was more pronounced at 800 ISO and easily apparent at 1600 and 3200 values.

White Balance 

The W30 provides for “auto” white balance as well as daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent and manual (custom) settings. “Auto” was used for the shots in this review, and color rendition over a variety of lighting conditions was generally good.

Battery Performance 

Pentax claims a 210 shot capability for the W30 battery, but I managed only about 160, although there was quite a bit of scrolling through menus and other assorted power drains inherent with learning a new camera. The W30 is equipped with a battery level indicator that proved quite accurate – not long after the indicator declared the battery to be exhausted, a “Battery Depleted” warning shut the camera down and only a battery recharge got it going again.

The W30 can’t accept alternate batteries such as AA or AAA, so shooters would be well advised to carry one or two spares to insure an adequate power supply in the field.

Shutter Performance 

Pentax credits the W30 with a .05 second shutter lag, and in practice the shutter fired quickly once focus was acquired. Time to acquire focus and shoot a single frame in good lighting conditions ran about 1.5 seconds. The shutter can provide speeds from 4 seconds down to 1/2000th of a second.

The W30 features a “high speed continuous” shutter setting that shoots about 3 frames per second until the camera buffer is filled, which proved to be five shots. The W30 defaults to a 3 megapixel image when this feature is chosen, but it does give the camera a limited ability to shoot sequence shots.

Lens Performance 

The 3x optical zoom lens has an aperture range of f3.3 to f4. The lens seemed reasonably sharp across the frame at both the wide and telephoto ends, but there is barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward center of image) at the wide and telephoto ends, respectively. There is also chromatic aberration (purple fringing) present in some high contrast boundary areas, but this becomes readily apparent only under great magnification. For normal users the fringing won’t be a problem, but somewhat eagle-eyed viewers may notice some straight lines that are “bent” in certain shots.

The 38 to 114 mm effective focal length of the lens is a decent combination for a camera with an underwater capability. The 38mm end of the spectrum will allow the shooter to get closer to underwater subjects, particularly larger ones, and still keep the subject in the frame. Closer means less water to shoot through, and in this case, less is more. For terrestrial use, the lens covers the 85 to 105mm focal lengths many photographers prefer for portraits, although it lacks the long focal length necessary to bring in distant objects.

MISCELLANEOUS 

The Pentax Optio W30 does not feature mechanical “shake reduction” (the Pentax term for “vibration reduction” or “image stabilization”), but offers a “Digital SR” mode that allows the camera to vary the ISO up to 3200 in order to provide a fast shutter speed as a means to try to keep images sharper. The downside to this arrangement is the increasing noise levels that come with increased ISO.

There is a 4x digital zoom, and the W30 also has a “green button” feature that allows the shooter to assign various camera functions (recorded pixels, quality level, white balance, AE metering, sensitivity, EV compensation, focusing area, sharpness, saturation or contrast) as four menu items that can be readily accessed via green button and four-way controller.

The camera is PictBridge compliant, and can print via a PictBridge supportive printer without need to connect to a computer; it also features Face Recognition technology to recognize and makes faces the point of focus during image captures.

pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
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pentax optio w30 sample image
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CONCLUSION 

The Pentax Optio W30 offers water enthusiasts a limited underwater digital camera capability and terrestrial users a camera they won’t need to worry about if the environment suddenly turns wet. While the camera does a good job of image capturing when conditions are optimal, its foul-weather capability makes the W30 a viable choice for anyone who needs a compact digital that can shoot in places and conditions that would pose a risk to more typical cameras of this class.

PROS 

CONS