What We Like

  • Good photo quality, with respectable high ISO performance
  • Very rugged body
  • Lens has fast F2 maximum aperture at wide-angle
  • Decent GPS with compass and manometer (GPS model only)
  • Useful DR correction tools
  • 1080/30p movie mode with stereo sound, long recording times
  • LCD display on front of camera displays time, altitude, and barometric pressure (GPS model only)
  • Unique macro ring lights and stand for 1cm close-ups
  • Optional wide-angle conversion lens
  • Supports Qi wireless chargers (GPS model only)

What We Don't Like

  • Details are smudged at base ISO (though likely not an issue for target audience)
  • Chromatic aberrations and fringing can be strong
  • Underwater photos have blue color cast
  • Sluggish low light focusing
  • Weak flash, which is slow to recharge
  • Lens is easy to block with fingers; it's also a magnet for fingerprints
  • Image stabilization in movie mode is electronic only
  • Poor battery life

Conclusion

The WG-3 and WG-3 GPS are the fifteenth generation Pentax waterproof cameras, and quite a bit has changed over the years. The dull design of earlier models has been replaced by a curvier body with colors that stand out. Lenses have gone from slow to fast, GPS receivers have been added and, naturally, the megapixel count has continued to rise.

Design and Handling

The WG-3 has a curvy body that will certainly stand out in a crowd. While it's a bit more plasticky than some of its all-metal competitors, it still feels very solid. The camera doesn't have much of a grip, and the cluttered controls on the back don't leave much room for your thumb. The WG-3 is waterproof, shockproof, crushproof, dustproof, and freezeproof.

Apart from its ability to take some serious punishment, the highlight of this 16 megapixel camera is undoubtedly its F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equivalent lens, which it shares with the Olympus TG-2. At wide-angle, this lens lets in a lot more light than almost all of its peers, which allows the camera to keep the sensitivity down in low light situations. On the back of the camera you'll find a 3-inch LCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The screen has 460,000 dots and offers average outdoor and low light visibility. While a widescreen LCD is great for recording movies, it leaves margins on the sides of photos taken in the standard 4:3 format.

The flash on the WG-3 is, not surprisingly, very weak. It also takes 5 seconds to recharge between shots, which is longer than normal. The macro ring lights are exclusive to Pentax, and can be used to light up nearby subjects. With the included macro stand attached, you can take pictures with the camera literally on top of your subject.

The GPS model features a unique front-mounted, backlit LCD display that shows the time and current altitude or air pressure - even when the camera is powered off. Another feature exclusive to the GPS model is support for the Qi wireless charging system, which lets you recharge the battery without needing to plug it into the wall.

Features

The Pentax WG-3 has a good set of core features, plus a few interesting extras. If you want the camera to pick a scene mode for you, there's the aptly named Auto Picture mode. If you want a bit more control, there's a Programmed auto mode, which opens up all the menu items. Two of the more useful options you'll gain access to are DR correction, which can reduce highlight clipping and/or brightness shadows, and Handheld Night Snap, which combines several photos into one, reducing noise and blur in low light.

The camera has a pair of underwater shooting modes - one for stills and another for movies - though output has a bluish cast, which Pentax advertises as a feature. The WG-3 also offers a time-lapse mode, which can produce a bunch of stills or a video, a well as a panorama mode. Unfortunately, we had more misses than hits with the panorama feature.

Manual controls are fairly light, with the only available options being exposure compensation, custom white balance, and AE bracketing. We do appreciate the electronic level and live histogram, though.

If you buy the more expensive of the two WG-3's, you'll get a fairly good GPS system built-in, though it's a bit slow to locate itself. In addition to recording the location of where you took your photos, the camera can also figure out your altitude or depth, as well as the barometric pressure. If you want to display all of your shooting locations on Google Earth, you can use the logging feature, though it will put a strain on the WG-3's already poor battery life. One thing you won't find on the WG-3 GPS model is a database of landmarks.

No compact camera would be caught dead in 2013 without a Full HD movie mode and, sure enough, the WG-3 has one. You can record up to 25 minutes of 1080/30p video with stereo sound. If you want a faster frame rate, you can drop the resolution down to 720p and record at 60 fps. Video quality is decent, but the camera won't let you use the sensor-shift image stabilization in movie mode, which resulted in unusual 'shaking' in several of our sample movies.

Performance and Photo Quality

The Pentax WG-3 isn't the king of performance in the rugged camera arena. The startup time of 1.1 seconds is about average, as are its focus times in good light. Once light levels drop, the autofocus performance goes south, with 2 or 3 second focus delays very possible. Shot-to-shot speeds range from 1.4 seconds without the flash, to a whopping 5 seconds with it. The WG-3 can shoot an unlimited number of photos at 1.5 frames/second. The battery life on the WG-3 is rated at 240 shots per charge, which is below average for its class - and that's without the GPS turned on.

Photo quality isn't a whole lot different than what you'll find on other cameras in this class. Photos are appealing when downsized or printed, but don't look as nice when viewed at 100%. The WG-3 produces images with vivid colors and accurate exposure and like most of its peers will clip highlights at times (though the highlight correction feature can reduce that). When it comes to sharpness, the WG-3 handles edges and high contrast areas well, but it smudges the details with the best of them in low contrast areas (such as grass, shrubs, and hair). Both fringing and chromatic aberrations were strong at times, though you'll only notice that if you're pixel-peeping.

Final Thoughts

The Pentax WG-3 GPS offers a rugged design and a good set of core features - with a couple of extras compared to the non-GPS model. When it comes to taking photos above or below water, it does an admirable job. Unfortunately, lackluster battery life, weak and slow-to-charge flash, and relatively poor low light focusing keep it from earning an award.

Pentax WG-3 GPS
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Pentax WG-3 GPS offers a curvy, rugged design that can handle tough conditions with aplomb. Its lens is faster than most of its peers at its wide end, which allows for better low light photos. It also features a unique macro ring lamp, front-mounted LED clock/altimeter, and wireless battery charging support. Image quality is typical for a compact camera, meaning good, not great. Low light focusing is quite sluggish, and the flash is weak and slow to recharge. Battery life is below average.
Good for
Outdoorsy photographers who want good photo quality, a faster-than-average lens, and a solid GPS implementation.
Not so good for
People who take a lot of low light or flash photos, or who expect accurate color when shooting underwater.
72%
Overall score
Pentax WG-3
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Pentax WG-3 offers a curvy, rugged design that can handle tough conditions with aplomb. Its lens is noticeably faster than most of its peers at its wide end, which allows for better low light photos. Its unique macro ring light and stand allow for extreme close-ups. Image quality is typical for a compact camera, meaning good, but not great. Low light focusing is quite sluggish, and the flash is weak and slow to recharge. Battery life is below average.
Good for
Outdoorsy photographers who want good photo quality and a faster-than-average lens.
Not so good for
People who take a lot of low light or flash photos, or who expect accurate color when shooting underwater.
71%
Overall score

Samples

There are 29 images in the Pentax WG-3 GPS review samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

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Pentax WG-3 GPS Review Samples

29 images • Posted on Jul 19, 2013 • View album
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