Field Test: Jump Right In with the Pentax Optio W30!

Pentax's newest waterproof digicam loves to go swimming and doubles the depth-rating of its predecessor.

Field-Test-Jump-Right-In-with-the-Pentax-Optio-W30!

Field-Test-Jump-Right-In-with-the-Pentax-Optio-W30!

The Pentax Optio W30 is an update to Pentax's popular Optio W20 underwater-capable camera.

This 7.1-megapixel compact (street: $265) features a 3X optical zoom (38-114mm 35mm equivalent), 24 picture modes, movie recording at 640x480 pixels and 30fps with sound, and greatly improved underwater abilities over its predecessor.

Where the Pentax Optio W20 was rated to 1.5 meters (approx. 5 ft.) for 30 minutes underwater, the W30 can go down to 3 meters (approx. 10 ft.) for up to 2 hours. The extended underwater time and depth greatly improve the camera's usefulness for snorkeling and diving. Another improvement over the W20 is that all of the camera's watertight access covers lock automatically on closing, so there's less to check and forget before heading into the water.

The compact (4.2 x 2.1 x .93 inchs/107.5mm x 54mm x 23.5mm) body easily fits in a shirt pocket, and feels rugged without a lot of weight (160g with battery and SD card, 5.6oz.). The brushed-silver finish is attractive, but can be a bit slippery underwater - a rubberized, raised handgrip would be a welcome addition. The camera sinks if let go underwater, so it's a good idea to use the included wrist strap when swimming with it.

In real-world use, the camera is just plain fun - as soon as you get over the feeling that you're doing something wrong taking a camera with you into the water! Control buttons are big enough to use easily, and the 2.5" LCD screen is visible underwater in anything but the brightest direct sunlight (goggles or a mask help a lot!). Underwater images came out sharp and satisfying in Auto or Program picture mode, with good color balance, but the dedicated underwater mode simply adds a blue appearance to the image and otherwise acts as Program mode. I found the color to be too blue in this mode, and much preferred the normal color balance underwater (though underwater mode does have its artistic uses - see the gallery!).

Movies shot with the camera were smooth and sharp, and the camera's zoom can be used in movie mode. Just as with still shots, underwater movies looked better in normal movie mode than in the special underwater movie mode, which gave the same too-blue result.

Images out of the water were simple to shoot and gave pleasing results. There's a shooting mode for just about any situation, though the sheer number available can be confusing at times. Some of the mode-specific image changes are very subtle. For example, "Flower" mode just bumps the saturation setting up a notch, so for most situations the Auto or Program modes work just fine. The camera produced pleasing shots of everything from sunsets to macro in Program mode, and the face-recognition AF mode (which focuses on a face in the shot even if it's off-center) worked well and made quick people snaps easy. While the ISO ranges from 64-3200, noise is an issue above ISO 800, so stay low if the light allows it.

Overall, there's little not to like about this camera. It's similar to many other shirt-pocket compacts on the market, with the added bonus of going with you into the pool or ocean instead of sitting behind on the beach. So go ahead, jump right in - the Optio W30 will happily go along with you.

7.1-megapixel (3072x2304 pixels)
3X Optical Zoom (38-114mm 35mm equivalent)
4X Digital Zoom
Aperture Range: f/3.3-4.0
Shutter Speeds: 1/2000 to 4 seconds (no "Bulb")
ISO Range: 64 to 3200 (all ISO settings work at full 7.1-megapixel resolution)
Close focusing (macro mode) to 1cm (2.54 inches)

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