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Pentax Optio W20 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 19/02/2007
Rating: Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 8th of August 2006, the Pentax Optio W20 is a compact waterproof digital camera and features a 7 megapixel sensor, and a 3x optical zoom lens. It features a 2.5" screen, and a new blur reduction mode using high ISO settings to avoid image blur. The 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 38 - 114mm on a 35mm camera. The Pentax Optio W20 is available from around £139 this makes it one of the cheapest waterproof digital cameras currently available. The camera is enclosed in a plastic waterproof and dustproof body and is available in silver. The camera has a 640x480 30fps video mode with sound recording and digital image stabilisation, the video mode also allows you to use the optical zoom (a fairly rare feature in digital cameras). The W20 measures: 107 x 55 x 23 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 135g excluding batteries and media.

Pentax have this to say about the camera:

"The Optio W series of cameras are waterproofed for underwater photography without requiring a waterproof case or other accessories. This model features a new Shake Reduction mode, which allows you take sharper photos without camera shake or subject blurring even of low-light scenes or fast-moving subjects, and an upgrade to a 7.0-effective-megapixel. All told, this camera boasts better image quality in a fun, easy-to-handle package."

You can find more information on the Pentax H20 website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Canon Digital IXUS I7 Zoom)


Front - Camera off - being wet.


Front view - the lens is non-protuding and dominates the front of the camera, you'll also find the flash and a red LED under the lens. There's a slightly raised hand-grip on the left.


Back - 2.5" screen, zoom control, "Green" button, Play, 4-way controller made with flash, self-timer, macro, and mode buttons with a central OK button (this doubles as a display button), and a Menu button at the bottom. On the right is a wrist strap loop.


Top: Speaker, Microphone, On/off, Shutter release.


Bottom - battery and SD memory compartment with lock. 3.7v 710mAh Lithium Ion battery. Plastic tripod mount.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the Canon Digital IXUS i7 Zoom.

Specifications / Features:

  • Waterproof and Dustproof
  • 7.0 effective megapixels
  • Blur reduction modes
  • Macro photography to 1cm
  • Clear 2.5" LCD screen, 115,000 pixels
  • Face Recognition AF & AE
  • 3x Optical & 4x digital zoom
  • SDHC memory card compattible
  • ISO: 64/100/ 200/ 400/ 800/ 1600
  • Video at VGA, 30fps with sound - optical zoom available, digital anti-shake
  • 22MB Built-in memory

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap
  • Battery - Lithium-Ion Rechargable
  • Battery Charger and Power cable
  • USB Cable
  • AV Cable
  • Software CD Rom
  • 203 page printed manual

Better than average box contents - the inclusion of a printed manual is a nice feature (and becoming rarer). There is a small amount of internal memory provided with the camera and you should invest in a much larger memory card. Some kind of case would be useful to help protect the camera, however, rubber cases are available from Pentax.

Battery usage: Battery life is average for an ultra-compact digital camera, rated at 240 shots according to CIPA standards, I managed only 125 videos and photos before the battery went flat. This is slightly disappointing but assuming you manage around 240 then this would be considered average (not brilliant, but not too bad either) for an ultra-compact but not as good as the excellent 580 shot battery life of the the Fujifilm FinePix F30.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe mode button on the back of the camera lets you switch between the main modes (including all the scene modes and video modes), with the play button switching between playback and video mode. The modes / scenes available are: Auto, Program, Night, Movie, Voice recording, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Underwater, Underwater movie, Blur reduction, Surf and Snow, Sport, Pet, Frame composite, Synchro sound record, Kids, Soft, Self-portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Museum, Natural Skin Tone, Report.

Photo mode/menu:

Photo mode Mode button - rollover for explanation

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above, left) The screen resolution of 115,000 pixels is average for a 2.5" screen however pictures look clear on it. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. The screen can seem a bit cluttered in use. A histogram is available in photo mode. Accessing some of the most popular options (such as Flash, Macro, Self-Timer etc) is easily done using the 4-way controller, and the "Green" button can be customised to select some of your favourite options (ISO, WB, etc).

Photo Menu - Rollover for Auto ISO Setup Menu

Photo menu options: Picture size, Quality / Compression options, White balance (including custom), AE Metering, Sensitivity (including AUTO ISO range), EV Compensation, AF Setting (Fast focus option), Movie options (640, 320, Quality, 30fps, 15fps, Colour mode (Colour, B&W, Sepia), Movie anti-shake, Optical zoom), Interval shoot, Digital zoom, Instant review, Memory, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast.

Setup menu options: Format, Sound, Date, Alarm, World Time, Language, Folder name, USB Connection, Video out, Brightness level, Power saving, Auto Power off, Quick Zoom, Green button, Guide display, Reset.

Optical / Electronic Viewfinder:  There is no optical viewfinder on this camera.

Playback (Review) mode/menu:

Playback view Playback menu - rollover for explanation

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. Zooming in is very quick and magnifies the image up to 8x. Zooming out shows 9 images at a time as thumbnails, as well as a calendar view. Further photo information (shown above, left) is available by pressing the display button. 

Playback menu: Sildeshow, Resize, Trimming, Image / Sound copy, Image rotation, Digital filter, Brightness filter, Movie edit, Frame composite, Red-eye compensation, Voice memo, Protect, DPOF, Image recovery, Start up screen.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number will fit in the 22mb of built in memory provided:

Size
Number of Photos Stored / Quality
***
**
*
7mp (3072 x 2304)
6
12
18
5mp (2560 x 1920)
8
17
24
4mp (2304 x 1728)
11
22
31
3mp (2048 x 1536)
13
27
40
2mp (1600 x 1200)
22
36
54
1mp (1024 x 768)
43
73
93
VGA (640 x 480)
87
127
175

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. You can fit a limited number of 7mp Fine images on the built in memory, and you will definitely need to buy a larger memory card, unless you are willing to take smaller images of lower quality.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 512mb memory card, and preferably a 1gb (1000mb) memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Pentax Optio W20:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £6, 512mb: £7, 1gb (1000mb): £7, 2gb (2000mb): £17, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £47 (with USB reader)
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera's switch on time is average (although not as slow as some) and takes around 2 seconds to switch on - then another 1.3 seconds to take a photo. Focusing is quick at around 0.4 - 0.5 seconds - focusing speed can be increased by changing the focus mode to infinity or pan focus - shutter response is quick at around 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time is around 4 seconds (with review on and set to 1 second, with review off shot to shot time is around 3 seconds), with flash on this slows down to around 4 seconds between shots (with review off). Playback mode is quick, and its easy to zoom in on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is very quick but you can also get an overview of 9 shots at a time if you zoom out one more notch. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. Continuous shooting is slightly sluggish at slightly less than 1fps - flash is unavailable whilst in continuous shooting mode - there is a high speed continuous shooting mode that will take 5 photos at roughly 4fps at a resolution of 3 megapixels.

Ease of use: Using the camera is veryy straightforward, simply switch it on and start taking photos, and to change modes you simply press the mode button and select the mode you want. This is made easy to do thanks to the clear icons and explanation provided. To access some of the more advanced functions you simply press the menu button. The only slightly unexplained feature is the "Green mode" - this button can be customised to give quick access to ISO, Image size, White Balance etc, so that you don't have to enter the menu. I have lent this camera to other people, and they have been able to use it straight away without any explanation.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The camera feels fairly solid, with a robust plastic body. The design is quite cute. However there isn't much that your thumb can grip onto, and the front of the camera only has a small smooth grip. The zoom control is easy to use, and is positioned well for use with your thumb. The shutter release button feels quite good. The compact camera fits very easily into small pockets. The camera labels are fairly clear (apart from the green button, and the OK button that doubles as a display button). The buttons and controls are all positioned so that the camera can be operated with one hand. The only criticisms I have are that the power button is a bit small and slightly difficult to press, and the buttons could be a bit small for some, especially under water. The light weight of the camera makes it feel as though it wouldn't stand up to rough treatment, however it is waterproof and dust proof, so should survive wet and dusty conditions where others wouldn't. (For extreme conditions have a look at the Olympus Mju 720, 725, and 770)

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Pentax Optio W20 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower
Heather and Flower Group photo

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - although there is very noticable red-eye in the photo - thankfully there is very little redeye in the group photo. The colour is quite richly saturated and detail is quite good - saturation can be increased. It has a fairly decent flash, although it occassionally will struggle if the subject is too far away, and noise becomes more noticable the darker the scene. The camera copes fairly well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept fairly low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light.

ISO Noise Test: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, Fujifilm FinePix F30, (which is currently the benchmark compact camera for noise tests due to it's excellent high ISO performance), and 7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6mp) Pentax Optio W20 (7mp) Canon Digital IXUS 850 (7mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Fujifilm FinePix F30 on the left, Pentax Optio W20 in the middle, Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS on the right. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 (6mp) Pentax Optio W20 (7mp) Canon Digital IXUS 850 (7mp)
 
N/A ISO64 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels

The Pentax Optio W20 found our indoor lighting slightly too dark, as can be seen in these underexposed shots, where the slowest shutter speed the camera choose was 1/4 sec. The results from the Pentax Optio W20 are fairly typical - noise at the higher ISO settings - and less detail as the camera uses fairly heavy noise reduction. For noise free images it's best to stick with the lower ISO settings, and only use the higher ISO settings (or blur reduction mode) when it's absolutely necessary. The higher ISO settings may be useful it you want a quick photo, and aren't too concerned about quality, and may be useful if you only intend to print at 6 x 4 inches. The camera has a clever "AUTO ISO" mode that allows you to choose the ISO range, for example, if you only wanted the camera to use ISO settings 64 - 200, then you can set the AUTO ISO range to this - likewise if you never wanted the camera to use ISO800 or ISO1600 you simply set the ISO range to 64 - 400.

Image Stabilisation: The Pentax Optio W20 does not have hardware or optical image stabilisation but instead has a "Blur Reduction" mode - this uses high ISO settings (upto ISO 1600) to avoid image blur by increasing the ISO setting and increasing the shutter speed. This can be a useful feature but does introduce a lot of image noise when compared to true image stabilisation systems.

Outside:

Liverpool shops Super Lamb Banana
Liverpool shops Super Lamb Banana

Outside: The camera has vibrant, saturated and pleasing colour with good contrast and good detail. Saturation, sharpness and contrast can be increased / reduced in camera. Noise was low in ISO64 photos. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the 3x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Optical and Digital Zoom

Exposure The photos of the clock tower seem well exposed, with good detail in the dark areas, some blown out highlights in the wide-angle shot. This can be altered using exposure compensation.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes some noise in operation, however it is very quiet, and only noticable when using the optical zoom whilst recording videos. There are eight steps between wide and telephoto zoom, this gives you good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was noticable in some photos, and can be seen in the macro photo below and in the wide-angle clock tower photo, however this shouldn't cause problems in the majority of photos unless there is a lot of contrast in the photo (another example can be viewed here). I didn't notice any corner softness in photos.

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO400)

The macro mode allows you to be roughly 1 cm away from the subject - this gets excellent close up shots, and detail appears good, however some noise is visible. Custom white balance helps get better colours, and automatic white balance was generally good.

Video mode: The camera features a good video mode - it records VGA videos at 30fps with sound as MOV files. The camera gives you a lot of options - more than most digital cameras - such as three different compression options, anti-shake (digital), and recording with optical zoom and sound.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality was generally good - the camera has quite good detail and good colour. Images have good saturation and contrast, with fairly low noise at the lower ISO settings. The higher ISO settings of ISO800 and ISO1600 are best avoided. Indoors photos were acceptable, however noise was noticable in low light group photos, and red-eye was occassionally a problem. Purple fringing and colour fringing was noticed in some of the shots, but wasn't a problem in the majority of shots. The camera was quite good at focusing indoors despite the lack of a focus assist lamp. I did not notice any vignetting, barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and compression options, however there were no options regarding aspect ratio. Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be very good. The camera gives you good control over image quality with custom white balance, sharpness, contrast, saturation options. The "blur reduction" mode could be useful for small prints, but isn't as useful as true optical image stabilisation due to the excessive noise found in the images. The video mode is very good with high resolution, high frame rate. The macro mode is excellent allowing you to get very close to the subject. (7.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is stylish with a smooth silver body. The camera has a good 2.5" screen. The camera feels sturdy and is comfortable to hold. The camera is very easy to use, thanks to the modes and explanation. There is a fairly good layout of buttons and controls, although some may find them a little bit small, especially if using the camera under-water. Performance of the camera, is respectable, not overly slow, but not as quick as some other digital cameras. The camera's biggest selling point is that the camera is waterproof up to 1.5 metres - yet isn't much more expensive than other ultra compact digital cameras - however for those looking to take a camera deeper, you would have to look elsewhere. The camera has a large range of user friendly features, such as video with zoom and digital anti-shake, manual focus, custom white balance, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, etc. Battery life is fairly good for an ultra compact. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Pentax Optio W20 is available from around £139, this makes it excellent value for money for an ultra compact, waterproof, 7 megapixel digital camera. There is a very small number of waterproof digital cameras and this is one of the cheapest available. Similar cameras from Olympus are the W20s main competition, the Olympus models go one step further and feature shock protection, so if you're likely to take your camera to dangerous places or simply want to know that the camera will survive if you accidentally drop it, then you should have a look at the the Olympus Mju / Stylus 720SW (£199), 725SW (£205) and 770SW (£262). (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

SummaryThe Pentax Optio W20 is one of the cheapest completely waterproof digital cameras available - available from only £139 you'd be tempted to think that Pentax have made compromises in order to get the price so low - thankfully this isn't the case. Pentax have done an excellent job making a compact and easy to use digital camera full of features. Some you wouldn't expect to see on a compact point and shoot, such as manual focus, custom white balance, video recording with optical zoom and digital anti-shake. The camera doesn't compromise on image quality either, with good results available, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors or taking macro photos. The only weakness was the camera's higher than average noise when taking photos indoors. If you're looking for a compact, waterproof, 7 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens, and a 2.5" screen, then the Pentax Optio W20 is an excellent choice.

Pentax Optio W20 Rating: Recommended (8.5/10)
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What I like:

  • Excellent value for money waterproof digital camera
  • Snow and dust proof
  • Good image quality - excellent colour
  • Good 2.5" screen
  • Good video mode - VGA, 30fps, Sound, Optical zoom, Digital Anti-shake
  • Built in image recovery for images that were accidentally deleted
  • AUTO ISO Range setting
  • Lots of control over image quality (contrast, sharpness, saturation etc)
  • Custom White Balance, Manual Focus etc
  • Excellent 1cm macro mode
  • Very easy to use

What I don't like:

  • Some colour fringing / purple fringing
  • No lens cap - easy to get finger prints on the lens etc
  • Noise noticable in indoor group photos

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Pentax Optio W20 Sample Photo Gallery.

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