Performance (speed)

The Pentax WG-3 gets a mixed review in the performance department. It starts up in 1.1 seconds, which is slightly longer than most of its peers. Autofocus speed is definitely not its forte. In good lighting, it'll lock focus in roughly 0.5 seconds at wide-angle, and over a second at full telephoto. Things are even worse in low light, where 2 second focus times are not uncommon.

Shot-to-shot delays range from 1.4 seconds with the flash on, to over 5 seconds with it. In case you're wondering, that's a slower-than-average flash recharge time.

The WG-3 has a pair of burst modes (accessible by pressing 'up' on the four-way controller), though only one is full resolution. In that continuous mode, you can keep taking photos at 1.5 fps until the memory card fills up. If you don't mind reducing the resolution to 5 megapixel and getting not-so-great-looking photos, then you can take thirty photos at a speedy 12.2 fps.

The WG-3 is powered by a 3.5Wh lithium-ion battery known as the D-LI92. The camera can take 240 shots per charge using the CIPA standard, which is below average for this class. The battery is charged internally (which some people don't care for) in about three hours. If you'd prefer an external charger, Pentax is happy to sell you one (the K-BC92), and you can also use the Qi wireless charging system that was covered earlier in the review (GPS model only).

Image Quality

One thing to point out right away is that the default image size setting on the camera is 12 megapixel, which has a 16:9 aspect ratio that will fill the LCD. If you want full resolution, 4:3 photos, be sure to change that manually in the record menu.

With that out of the way, we can tell you that the Pentax WG-3 produces photos with vivid color, accurate exposure, and less highlight clipping that your typical compact (especially with the highlight correction featured turned on). You'll find crisp edges on high contrast subjects and little corner blurring, but the WG-3 suffers from the same ailment as most compacts: detail smudging in areas of low contrast. Fringing can be strong at times, as well.

As we've been saying for some time, for the vast majority of uses, these issues will not be visible. If you are making large prints or viewing photos at 100% on a computer screen, then you may be bothered by it.

Bright Light, Low ISO
Colors are vivid and exposure is fairly good in this photo.

ISO 125, 1/500 sec, f/7.9
On closer inspection, you'll find that low contrast areas are soft and the sky is mottled.

While details on are the mushy side, the 16 megapixel sensor on the WG-3 is good enough to produce high ISO photos that you can share on social networking sites, or print at smaller sizes. As long as you're not expecting miracles at 100%, you can get away with using sensitivities as high as ISO 1600.

Low Light, High ISO
While you can't read the titles on all of the books in this scene, it's still good enough to be used for web sharing and smaller-sized prints. You'll find the ISO 1600 version of this photo in the WG-3 review samples gallery.

ISO 800, 1/30 sec, f/2.0

In our testing with the WG-3 we've found that underwater photos look pretty good, though they had the same bluish color cast that we've on nearly all of the waterproof cameras we've tested. The WG-3 has an underwater scene mode, which tended to use smaller apertures than we would've liked. According to Pentax, it also preserves the 'natural color' of the sea, which in practice leads to greenish-looking fish and coral.

We were able to catch this yellow tang in the act (presumably snacking) in Maui. Unfortunately, he's a little too blue-green.

ISO 125, 1/160 sec, f/6.0

By using one of the digital filters in playback mode (described below), we were able to get somewhat better color, though it still has a green tint to it.

For those who don't want to tinker with color in photo editing software, you can try this in-camera solution to reducing the greenish cast in underwater photos. Head to playback mode, select the photo you want, and then press 'down' on the four-way controller to open the playback menu. Choose 'Digital Filter' and scroll down to the 'Color' option. We used the red filter in our example above, though it's worth experimenting with the other options.

Video Quality

As we described on the previous page, the WG-3 can record up to 25 minutes of 1080/30p video, with stereo sound. The main drawback of its movie mode is that image stabilization is digital only. Here are two samples that show off what the camera can do.

Sample Video 1

This sample video illustrates a rather undesirable effect. As the seaplane turns and starts its takeoff run, you'll notice it start to get shaky. It's likely that this is caused by a mixture of the well-known 'jello effect' and the camera's digital shake reduction system.

1920 x 1080, 30p, 17.3 Mbps, 47.7 MB, 22 secs  Click here to download original video

Sample Video 2

The final video isn't a great example of underwater videography, as there was a shortage of fish at the time. It's a bit shaky (again, due to the lack of true image stabilization) and has the same blue cast found in still images.

1920 x 1080, 30p, 16.1 Mbps, 26.3 MB, 7 secs  Click here to download original video

Overall, the WG-3's video is good, but not great. It would earn a few more points if it let you use the sensor-shift image stabilizer, rather than digital IS.

Final Thoughts

The Pentax WG-3 is a camera that will certainly get noticed when it enters the room (or swimming pool). But don't let its unusual design fool you: it can take a beating, and Pentax has been in the rugged camera business for a long time.

The highlight of the WG-3 is its F2.0-4.9 lens, which it shares with the Olympus TG-2. This lens allows more light to hit the sensor at wide-angle, which means that you won't have to increase the sensitivity as often as on cameras with 'slower' lenses. Around the lens are six LED lamps, which you can use for brightening close-up subjects. On the GPS model, you'll also find a backlit LCD that displays the time and air pressure. The higher end WG-3 features a decent GPS implementation, with a compass and pressure meter to record altitude or depth. Like most of its rugged peers, photo quality isn't wondrous, though it's good enough for everyday use.

So what makes the WG-3 not-so-hot? For one, fine details and low contrast areas of a photo are smudged or mottled, and underwater photos have a green/blue cast to them (all of this is common to underwater cameras). Low light focusing is very slow, and the built-in flash is very weak. The lens is easy to block with your fingers, and is also a magnet for fingerprints. To top it off, battery life is poor.

While there's a lot to like about the Pentax WG-3, its shortcomings keep it from rising to the top of the rugged camera pack.

Click here to read the full conclusion from our Pentax WG-3 review