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Pentax Optio W80
12.1MP | 28-140mm (5.0X) ZOOM | Waterproof 5m/16ft | $300/£190

In June 2009 Pentax updated the W60 with a 12.1 MP sensor and increased HD video frame rate to produce the W80. The design is very similar but adds rubber bumpers to the corners - the camera also feels a little less plasticky. It is now shockproof, dust proof, cold proof and can be taken 1m/3ft deeper underwater than the W60. The 720p (1280x720) video is now available at 30fps making it a more usable feature than its predecessor's 15fps. The control layout and compact dimensions have been retained from the W60, as has the versatile 5x wide-angle zoom lens (unfortunately still lacking image stabilization).

  • 12.1 effective Megapixels
  • 28-140mm equiv lens with 5.0x optical zoom and up to 5.7x Digital Zoom
  • Waterproof to 5m / 16ft
  • Shockproof from 1m / 3.3ft, dust proof, cold proof to -10°C
  • 720p (1280x720) Video at 30 fps, AVI format
  • 2.5-inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • ISO sensitivity from 50 to 1600 with 3200 and 6400 at a reduced resolution of 5 MP
  • Auto ISO with selectable upper ISO setting
  • 22 Scene modes
  • In-camera Image Retouching
  • Panorama assist mode and a digital wide mode
  • Battery life 170 shots (CIPA standard)

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Overview

Pentax has used essentially the same body from the W60 in the W80, meaning it too is one of the most compact cameras in this group. Pentax has added rubber bumpers to the corners of the W60 design while the addition of a slightly raised hand grip on the right side and a brushed front plate make it more secure to hold. The W80 is waterproof to 1m / 3ft greater depth than the W60 - it's also shockproof so, despite using what seem like the same materials, it feels like a more solid camera in the hand.

Specification-wise the W80 is right up there with the TS1 with 720p video at 30 fps (though not in the more cleverly compressed AVCHD lite format), and offers the widest zoom range in this group (equal with the W60). The 12.1 MP sensor sees the Pentax join the Canon D10, Panasonic TS1 and Olympus Tough 8000 in the high resolution camp within this test. ISO sensitivity levels range from 50 to 1600 with 3200 and 6400 available as reduced resolution options. The W80 retains the user-selectable upper limit for Auto ISO from the W60, along with the impressive array of 22 scene modes.

In updating the W60 Pentax had an opportunity to correct some of the shortcomings of the W60, and while the change from 15 fps to 30 fps for HD video recording means that it is now much more usable, the thing we really would have liked to have seen addressed is the lack of any kind of optical image stabilization. An increase in resolution in a small sensor can introduce greater noise at higher ISO settings, and built-in IS would have allowed ISO setting to be kept as low as possible in low light situations. The other major flaw that hasn't been addressed is the limited battery capacity and, with improved HD video recording making videography more likely, this is could be even more of a problem than it was on the W60. One failing that seemed to be improved upon with the W80 was the battery indicator, which seemed more accurate than the one on the W60.

Operationally the W80 (like the W60) is fairly straightforward. It is not the quickest camera in the group but it is by no means the slowest. Like all of the other cameras in this test, the W80 features a Program mode which allows the user to set some of the parameters on the camera, and it retains the ability to set to green button to a function menu button, allowing you to change up to four of the shooting parameters without digging through the menu. The Pentax menu system overall seems quite clunky compared to the clearer Canon and Panasonic systems or the icon driven Olympus systems.

Key Features

The W80 is very boxy in design. Pentax has added a small hand grip on the front and, along with the new finish on the front plate, making the camera easier to hold one-handed than the W60. It remains one of the lightest cameras in the group.
All the controls on the back of the W80 are clustered on the right side. To the top is the zoom rocker, underneath which is the playback button. On the next row down is the menu button and the smile capture / face detect toggle button. The multi controller allows you to control self timer, flash mode, macro mode, and shooting mode. The green button at the bottom right is used as a function button. The LCD screen is joint smallest in this group at 2.5 inches.
The top of the camera contains only the power button and the shutter release. The shutter half press is well-defined, with full release requiring a firm press.
There are no controls on either side of the W80, and you can see from this image that the camera is on par (thickness-wise) with all but the fatter Canon D10 in this group. You can also see that there are no protrusions to stop you comfortably putting this camera in your jacket pocket.
Behind a rubber gasketted door are the battery and card slots. Pentax has retained the smallest battery in this group test at only 2.5 Wh (680 mAh at 7.3V). The W80 can take both SD and SDHC cards (now reaching 32 GB). The USB/AV port is also hidden behind this door.

The Pentax menu system is the least pretty of all the cameras in this group test and, because it's overlaid on the screen preview, it can get a little hard to read at times. Having exposure compensation buried on the second page of the main menu seems like a questionable design decision.

Taking a page from its DSLR cameras Pentax has added three 'Image Tone' settings to the W80 (shown here).

Like all the other cameras in this group, the W80 features some simple editing in playback mode such as cropping and resizing. There's also a slide show function and you can trim movies you have shot in the camera.

Image quality and performance

With the W80 Pentax has managed to improve performance in some areas while losing speed in others, resulting in a middle-of-the-pack overall result. It was one of the slowest focusing cameras in this group, taking 1.3 seconds to achieve focus lock (only the Olympus Tough 6000 was slower). The W80 managed to zoom from the widest setting to the most telephoto in 1.4 seconds (a slight improvement on the W60 using the same lens). An improved start up time of 1.3 seconds is getting close to the best-in-group Canon D10. The W80 took slightly longer than its predecessor to save an image to card (1.4 seconds), which is not surprising considering the increase in resolution.

What do you get when you take a small sensor set behind a wide-range zoom lens and increase the resolution? The answer in this case appears to be that you take a camera that produced quite good image quality and turn it into one of the worst in this group test. The higher resolution sensor W80 struggled to retain fine detail and keep noise down. There is also a dramatic increase in the amount of CA in the image at the wide end of the zoom range (though it's not as bad at the telephoto end), despite the use of the same lens, which suggests the image processing isn't as sophisticated as its forebear. The image quality of the W80 sits some way behind the W60, roughly on par with the Tough 6000.

The color reproduction, white balance and exposure of the W80 is very similar to the W60, and although we did notice that in some situations it would drift towards the warmer end of the spectrum, this was not a common enough problem to be of real concern in daily use. There is a live histogram available by pressing the ok button to cycle through available view options in record mode. The Program (P) mode allows you to have some manual control of the camera, and like the and you can set your most used functions to the function menu assigned to the green button. Auto focus performance was acceptably consistent and accurate, though the focus speed was relatively slow.

The flash test results of the W80 was also very similar to that of the W60, and while sharpness and detail were good, it used a little too much flash power and produced a result that did not retain as much ambient light as the D10; it was also equal worst performer in terms of red eye. At high ISO settings the W80 retaining image saturation but with both visible noise and noise reduction artifacts. With the increase in resolution has come increased noise levels, the overall results from the W80 were not as successful as the W60. There are ISO 3200 and 6400 settings, but with the increase in high ISO noise they are even less useful than on the W60.

The W80 performed much like the W60 in the water where it was not the best but certainly not the worst performer in terms of image quality, with the sometimes clunky menu system proving to be an obstacle to efficient picture taking.

The W80 produced some pretty good images and, while not as good as the W60 in terms of sharpness and detail, it was not the worst in the group. Color reproduction, white balance and exposure were all generally good, but both chromatic aberration and purple fringing have become an issue, which they weren't on the W60.

Summary

When trying to update the W60 Pentax improved the HD video frame rate to 30 fps, and increased the resolution of the sensor. While the first makes the video mode more usable, the second has introduced more noise especially at high ISO settings. If you find the wide 5x zoom lens, and feature set of the Pentax an attractive proposition, then the W60 is a better choice than the W80 despite the slower HD video frame rate.

  • We like: Compact design, good colors and exposure, versatile with wide zoom range, 720p HD video recording with 30 fps, wide ISO range.

  • We don't like: Image quality not as good as the W60 which it replaces, no built in image stabilization, user interface not the best in the group, small battery
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