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Review: Pentax WG3 Tough Cam

by Chris Gampat on 05/09/2013

Pentax-WG3-product-image

Ever wanted to just beat the living crap out of your camera sometimes? Me neither! But some cameras are essentially designed for you to do just that. And that is where the Pentax WG3 may mostly appeal to the adventurer type of personality. With an F2 lens at the wide angle, a digital compass, and even a clock on it, it seems like not only a cool camera but also an essential multi-functional device.

But is that enough to make you spend the money?

Pros and Cons

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Pros

– F2 wide angle lens

– Clock that can be illuminated on the outside

– Cool Carabiner on the exterior

– Really nice ergonomics

– Macro light

– Big LCD screen

– High speed movie shooting is pretty awesome

Cons

– It’s about time that someone makes a tough compact that shoots RAW photos

– Battery life is a bit weak, but does well in colder weather

– A bottle opener would have been a nice addition ;)

– An HD timelapse feature would be better than the standard definition that they feature

– Loads of compression on the high speed video

Gear Used

We used the Pentax WG3 with the Joby Gorillapod.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the camera

  • 16MP Backlit CMOS Image Sensor
  • 3″ Widescreen TFT LCD with AR Coating
  • 4.5-18mm (35mm Equiv: 25-100mm) f/2 Lens
  • Sensor-Shift/Digital Image Stabilization
  • Waterproof to 45.9′, Shockproof to 6.5′
  • Crushproof against 220 LBF
  • Dustproof, Freezeproof to 14°F
  • Capture Full HD 1080p Video
  • GPS Records Data onto Images
  • ISO 6400

Ergonomics

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Pentax’s WG3 comes in a whole assortment of colors, and we chose green. The camera’s front is characterized by a lens smack dab in the middle with macro lights around it. To the right of this is a clock, which can be set to glow when the camera is off and the shutter button is pressed. There is also random grippy material all around the front.

The side of the camera also doesn’t have a traditional strap, but instead a small one with a carabiner.

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Look at the top of the camera and you’ll spot some interesting ergonomics. First off, the on/off switch will glow a certain color for different reasons. Then next to that is the shutter release. That’s really all there is to the top, except for some extra grippy material–which basically surrounds the entire camera to ensure that you have a good hold on it at all times.

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The back of the camera is where all the business gets controlled. Besides the super large LCD screen, you’ve got the zoom functions, playback button, record button, four way control dial with different functions, menu button and the custom function button as well.

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And that brings us to the bottom. Besides the tripod socket, you’ve got the battery and SD card ports. This compartment is protected by two latches that need to be unlocked in order to pop it open.

Build Quality

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Being marketed as a tough camera, the WG3 is undoubtedly a tough cookie. But we put it through some extra paces during the teting period. The camera is marketed as being:

  • Waterproof to 45.9′, Shockproof to 6.5′
  • Crushproof against 220 LBF
  • Dustproof, Freezeproof to 14°F

Besides the obvious torture test that shocked those around us when we were using the camera, the WG3 overall is built incredibly solidly. It feels excellent in the hand and nothing about it would make you think that this is a cheap point and shoot.

Waterproofing

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I was able to capture this image–albiet out of focus but it still captures what happened to the camera. The waves of the East River crashed onto the camera and it kept on clicking.

Dropping

Instead of testing a drop from six feet, we tested a much more practical 4 and a half. The WG3 kept working. In all honesty, we don’t see anyone dropping this camera to the ground from six feet up. It might fall off of a backpack or your hip, and the distance measured is much more practical.

Dustproofing

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As you can see, we put the camera in the sand and rubbed it all around. We made sure that lots of that sandy stuff got onto the camera. Then when we were done messing around, we put it into the East River to wash it off. The camera kept functioning.

Freezeproofing

During our testing phase we chose not to put the camera in the freezer for a while. However, we took it out in some extremely cold weather and there was no real effect on the battery life.

Ease of Use

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It’s very easy for someone to leave this camera in auto all day (or program) and not explore everything that it can offer. The reason for this is because of the very small mode button on the four way control settings. Perhaps Pentax purposely did this to make it easier for the user, but in a way they’re also hiding the true potential of the camera. And once you decide to get in there and explore, you’ll realize just how sweet the camera really is. Sadly, we’re not sure how many people will do that except for the experienced and advanced user club.

Otherwise, someone is just clicking the shutter away and turning in on and off. However, it can do so much more. When the camera is off and one presses the shutter release, it will illuminate the front clock. Keep pressing te OK button when the camera is on and it will cycle between viewing modes–including the camera’s built in digital compass.

Autofocusing

Focusing in good lighting is fast–as it should be for a point and shoot. The higher contrast the subject is, the better the focusing will be. However, it begins to suffer a bit in low light situations.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (10 of 24)ISO 2001-45 sec at f - 3.1

The sensor of the WG3 is really quite good, but where it could improve is in the optics. When in Macro mode, the user can actually achieve some really beautiful bokeh that can rival that of a DSLR, but the lens suffered from lots of purple and color fringing. This is something that many manufacturers generally neglect while they spend time and marketing dollars promoting the sensor inside of the camera.

As most advanced users know though, it’s nothing without good glass. More sample images are later on–but note that the camera can hold its own quite well up to ISO 1600, and from then on it is noisy city.

Video Quality

You could have been a contender, Pentax. You really could have been.

When I started playing with the camera, I purposely asked Pentax for a bit of an extension on the loaner period to see if this camera really had what it takes to be a video contender. Think about it: people use GoPros a lot–so why can’t these tough cams be its competition.

Unfortunately, we found loads of compression in lots of the video footage that we shot as shown in the video above, and some of it is spliced into it particularly in the kite flying scene. Artifacts are everywhere. Then again though, this is a point and shoot–and so DSLR users might be a bit spoiled.

For what it’s worth, the camera also has a timelapse mode that will stitch together a 640×480 standard definition timelapse video. However, we really wish that it did at least 720.

Extra Sample Images

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (1 of 24)ISO 1251-200 sec at f - 7.9

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (2 of 24)ISO 1251-250 sec at f - 7.9

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (3 of 24)ISO 2501-800 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (4 of 24)ISO 2501-400 sec at f - 7.9

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (5 of 24)ISO 1251-400 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (6 of 24)ISO 1601-45 sec at f - 3.1

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (7 of 24)ISO 1251-400 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (8 of 24)ISO 1251-80 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (9 of 24)ISO 1251-50 sec at f - 3.1

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (11 of 24)ISO 3201-45 sec at f - 3.1

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (12 of 24)ISO 1601-125 sec at f - 4.9

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (13 of 24)ISO 10001-125 sec at f - 4.9

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (14 of 24)ISO 1251-80 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (15 of 24)ISO 1251-100 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (16 of 24)ISO 2501-250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (17 of 24)ISO 1251-400 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (18 of 24)ISO 2501-250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (19 of 24)ISO 2501-250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (20 of 24)ISO 1251-100 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (21 of 24)ISO 1251-160 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (22 of 24)ISO 2501-250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (23 of 24)ISO 10001-125 sec at f - 4.9

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax WG3 review images for the site (24 of 24)ISO 2501-60 sec at f - 2.8

Conclusions

We genuinely enjoyed our time with the Pentax WG3. It’s a neat, feature packed, fun little camera that begged to be taken anywhere. It can take a beating and continue to deliver. However, we really wish that it was able to perform a bit more. Pentax should consider a revamp of the lens elements and also work on the video compression issues.

When it came to taking stills, we generally had nary a complaint. The sensor is really good–but we once again feel that the lens in front of it needs to be better. The levels of color that this point and shoot can capture is really very amazing–it’s bound to outdo your iPhone!

If you’re not looking for the best video quality in a compact, then we totally recommend this camera for you.

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