Design and Key Features

if there's one truth about the Pentax WG-3's design, it's that it will stick out in a crowd. Its curvy shape is the polar opposite of the rectangular design of most of its peers. Pentax also has a knack for using some very bold colors, such as the purple model used in this review. Something else that separates the WG-3 from its peers is its use of composite materials, rather than metal. The vast majority of the body is plastic (of high quality), with only the front plate being metal.

The WG-3 doesn't have a right hand grip, but rather small ridges that makes the camera less slippery.

As with other compact rugged cameras, the WG-3's controls are very cramped. There's no room for your thumb, and these buttons don't have as much 'play' as we'd like.

Something to watch out for when holding the camera is to keep your fingers away from the lens, as it's very easy to end up with your finger in part of a photo.

The WG-3 (GPS model only) is currently the only camera in the world supporting the Qi wireless charging platform.

We tested it with the TYLT Vü shown here, and it worked as advertised. The camera always sits 'lens down' when using charging pads.

The WG-3 covers all the bases when it comes to protection. It's waterproof to 14 meters (46 feet), shockproof from 2 meters (6.6 feet), crushproof to 100 kg (220 lbs), freezeproof to -10C (+14F), and dustproof.

When using a camera underwater, you'd expect that there won't be any drops on the lens when you come to the surface. The WG-3 did a good job of moving water off of the lens, both in our 'dunk test', and in the real world. It is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, though.

The WG-3 has a single door, located on the bottom of the camera. It contains the USB+A/V, micro-HDMI, battery, and SD card slot. The door is protected by a dual locking mechanism. As with all weatherproof cameras, there's a rubber gasket that keeps water from getting inside the camera.

Pentax figures that rugged camera buyers are savvy enough to know to check the seals on their camera before taking it outside. That means that there aren't any warnings when you turn on the camera, unlike some of its peers.

The WG-3 has a 3-inch LCD with 460,000 dots. The aspect ratio is 16:9, which allows for full screen HD video recording. The downside is that there will be a black border around the still image you're composing, unless you're using the 16:9 aspect ratio. One of the unique features on the Pentax WG-series cameras is a built-in ring light, which is made up of six LEDs. See below to learn what it can do.

The LCD on the WG-3 is very much average when it comes to outdoor visibility. It's not as bad as some of its rugged camera peers, but we've seen better, especially on the Panasonic equivalent. Low light visibility is respectable.

The main feature of the WG-3's ring light is, of course, to illuminate subjects when shooting macros. The WG-3 lets you be as close to your subject as 1cm, and Pentax has included a 'macro stand' in the box which allows you to essentially have the camera sitting on top of your subject. The stand helps keep the camera steady, and it focuses the light from the LEDs on your subject. You can use it in regular 1 cm macro mode, or in a special 'Digital Microscope' mode, which lets you use the digital zoom to get even closer to your subject.

wg3 This close-up of a dime was taken in digital microscope mode using the macro stand and LED lights.

In digital microscope mode, photos are taken at 2.5MP, with a 16:9 aspect ratio. You can shoot at full resolution in Program mode.

In addition to serving as a ring light, those six LED lamps around the lens can also be used for self-portraits. The camera divides the scene into a 3x2 grid, with each lamp representing one area. When a face is detected in one of the grid squares, the lamp lights up. This feature is only available in Self-portrait Assist mode (with or without smile detection).

You can also activate the ring light by pressing the Green Button while the camera is powered off, turning the WG-3 into a rather pricey (not to mention dim) flashlight.

The built-in flash has a maximum range of 10.4m at wide-angle and 4.2m at telephoto, though that's calculated with Auto ISO.

To the left of the flash is the AF-assist lamp which, as its name implies, helps the camera focus in low light.

While the WG-3's flash numbers sound impressive, they don't reflect real-world usage, as they're calculated with the ISO sensitivity set to Auto. The maximum sensitivity in that mode is 1600, which will result in noisy photos. If you reduce the sensitivity to a more reasonable ISO 400, the flash range drops to 2.6m at wide-angle and 1.1m at telephoto. While that sounds bad, it's actually better than most of its peers.

By default, the 'Green Button' on the back of the WG-3 puts the camera into an 'easy mode'. However, it can also be set up to display a customizable shortcut menu, as shown above. The WG-3's menus aren't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but they're responsive and get the job done.

While the WG-3 doesn't have a shortcut menu like most of its peers, the ability to customize the Green Button lets you quickly adjust things like white balance, ISO sensitivity, and exposure compensation (which is annoyingly left off of the four-way controller) is a nice feature.

Shooting Modes

As with most compact cameras, the shooting experience on the Pentax WG-3 is largely point-and-shoot. Most folks will do just fine with the Auto Picture Mode, which selects the correct scene mode for the situation. If you want to try something else, press down on the four-way controller to open the Mode Menu, pictured below.

Pressing down on the four-way controller brings up the Mode Menu shown at left. There are numerous shooting modes, but not as many scene and special effects modes as we're used to seeing on most compact cameras. In the case of the WG-3, the special effects are available in playback mode.

The Mode Menu contains a lot of shooting and scene modes, but is surprisingly light on special effects for a compact camera in 2013. Some of the notable features found here include HDR (which didn't seem to have much of an effect in our tests), Handheld Night Snap (see below), time-lapse (for stills and movies), and the aforementioned digital microscope mode.

In order to obtain a sharp photo in its conventional Program mode, the WG-3 had to crank the ISO all the way to 2500. The Handheld Night Snap produced a photo with that's soft and mushy, but with less of a grainy appearance.

As the example above shows, the Handheld Night Snap mode does reduce the grainy appearance of in the ISO 2500 sample, but you're exchanging that for a soft and muddy photo, instead. The upside is that it looks a little better at low magnifications such as web display and small prints.

There are just a few manual controls on the WG-3. They include exposure compensation, custom white balance, and the always-helpful exposure bracketing.

One nice surprise on the WG-3 is an electronic level and live histogram, neither of which are common features on compact cameras.

The only two underwater-related modes on the camera are scene modes for both stills and movies, which are designed to 'capture the blue colors of the sea'.

Dynamic Range Correction

It's no secret that compact cameras don't do a great job of capturing the full contrast range in a photo. You'll struggled to get highlight and shadow detail at the same time, and generally you'll lose highlight data more easily than with a larger-sensor camera (such as Sony's RX100). Pentax has put two features into the WG-3 that attempt to brighten shadows and restore highlight tone. This feature, called 'D-Range Setting' in the menu, features both highlight and shadow correction tools, which can work together or separately. By default, both are set to 'auto'.

All off
HL auto
HL on
Shadow auto
Shadow on
All auto

Looking at the 'all off' option above, you'll find a lot of highlight clipping (notice how some buildings in the background disappear into the sky) and dark shadows. Both of the highlight correction modes bring back those missing buildings, while the shadow correction is more subtle. Do note that highlight correction will boost the minimum ISO to 250, so there may be an increase in noise, though you'll only notice when viewing the photos at 100%. The sensitivity does not need to be increased when using shadow correction.

The best option, in our opinion, is to leave both highlight and shadow correction set to 'auto', which is the default setting. Just be sure that you're set to Auto ISO (with a limit of 400) in order to take advantage of highlight correction.

Panorama shooting

Unlike most of its peers, the WG-3 lacks a 'sweep panorama' feature. Instead, you take a photo and pan the camera in the desired direction, and attempt to line up a translucent section of the previous image with the next section. Once you've taken two or three photos, the camera will stitch them together into a single image.

We had a lot of trouble getting panoramas to look good on the WG-3. The shot above is the best one, but there are still a few places where objects aren't properly aligned.

ISO 125, 1/320 sec, f/11

If you were expecting to be able to take panoramas at full resolution, here's some bad news: the image size is roughly 3.7 megapixels. A similar feature is called 'Digital Wide'. In those mode, you shoot two vertically oriented photos, using the same method as for panoramas. The two pictures are stitched together to create an image with an effective 'focal length' of 19mm. Photos are saved at 5MP.

GPS

The GPS system on the Pentax WG-3 offers more features than, say, the Canon PowerShot D20, which only displays longitude and latitude. The WG-3 also provides your altitude/depth, barometric pressure, and direction. What you won't find are maps and a database of landmarks. And for most people, that's probably okay.

In playback mode you can see the altitude, barometric pressure, direction, and longitude/latitude for each picture. Pressing the display button a few times in playback mode brings up the screen shown above, which shows all relevant GPS info.

The WG-3's GPS can also track the path you're taking, saving the data into a KML file. This file can be imported into Google Earth (among other places). Do note that this feature will put an extra strain on the battery.

The WG-3 won't win any awards for how quickly the GPS can locate enough satellites to figure out where you are. On the relatively unobstructed terrace at DPReview headquarters, it took the camera around eighty seconds to acquire a GPS signal. Unlike many of its peers, there's no way to download Assisted GPS data onto the camera, which would greatly speed up this process.

Movies

The movie mode on the Pentax WG-3 is pretty standard for a compact camera, with one exception. You can record video at 1080/30p with stereo sound for up to twenty-five minutes. If you'd like a faster frame rate, a 720/60p mode is also available.

You can use the optical zoom to your heart's content while recording movies (though you need to turn on this capability in the menu first). Continuous autofocus is also available. Something that you can't use in movie mode is the sensor-shift image stabilizer - you're stuck with electronic shake reduction.

The only manual control in movie mode is a wind cut filter. Movies can be 'divided' in playback mode, which allows you to remove unwanted footage. It's also worth mentioning that GPS data can be embedded in a movie. The WG-3 also has the ability to record high speed movies at 720/60p. When played back at 30 frames per second, everything appears to move in slow motion. There's also a 1cm macro movie mode, for when you need to take close-up videos of ants.

You'll find a few sample videos on the following page.

Playback mode

Pentax offers a large set of features in its playback menu, including special effects and filters that are usually found in record mode.

It's worth mentioning a few things about playback mode on the WG-3. It's here that you'll find all of the camera's special effects which include 'small face', ink rubbing, digital color filters, and a faux HDR mode. As you'll see on the following page, one of the digital filters comes in quite handy for improving underwater photos.