2013 Waterproof Camera Roundup
Pentax WG-3 GPS
16MP | 25-100mm (4X) Zoom | $347/£264/€311
Prices above are for the WG-3 GPS camera. The non-GPS model is priced at $297/£234/€267.
>> Click here to read full review
Pentax has a long history of making rugged cameras. Its WG-3 series - which comes in standard and GPS flavors - is Pentax's fifteenth generation waterproof model. The WG-3 may have a unusual, almost playful design, but there's no doubt that it's as rugged as anything else on the market.
The WG-3 and WG-3 GPS are almost identical cameras, with three major differences. As you might have guessed, one has a GPS and the other doesn't, but the more expensive of the two also supports wireless battery charging. The GPS and non-GPS models both come in their own color schemes - purple or green for the GPS model, and orange or black for the standard WG-3. In this review we're looking at the WG-3 GPS, but obviously, comments on everything bar GPS and wireless charging refer equally to both models. Except where explicitly noted, we'll refer to both cameras as 'WG-3' throughout this review.
- 16.0 effective megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor
- F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equivalent zoom lens (4X)
- Sensor-shift image stabilization
- Waterproof to 14m, shockproof from 2m, crushproof to 100 kgf, freezeproof to -10C
- 3-inch, widescreen LCD with 460,000 dots
- Built-in GPS with compass, manometer, and tracking (GPS model only)
- Backlit clock and altitude/pressure indicator on front of camera (GPS model only)
- LED macro ring light
- 1080/30p movie mode with stereo sound
- Wireless battery charging (GPS model only)
The WG-3 GPS doesn't have quite as many headline features as some of its rugged peers - such as maps, a database of landmarks, or 60p video recording, but it's no slouch, either.
|If this lens looks familiar, it should. This F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equivalent lens is the same one that you'll find on the Olympus TG-2. The F2.0 maximum aperture at wide-angle is a full stop 'faster' than what you'll find on other rugged cameras (save for the TG-2).
At the telephoto end of the lens, the maximum aperture rises to a more conventional F4.9.
If the 25mm starting point on the WG-3's lens isn't wide enough for you, then you can attach the optional DW-5 wide conversion lens. This 0.8x converter brings the wide end of the lens down to just 20mm.
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.|
The LCD on the WG-3 sports 460k dots and has a 16:9 aspect ratio. The downside is this aspect ratio is that there will be a black border around the still image you're composing (unless you're using the 16:9 aspect ratio, of course). The LCD is about 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 DMC-TS5. Low light visibility is respectable.
|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.
|As with all weatherproof cameras, there's a rubber gasket that keeps water from getting inside the camera.|
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 kgf (220 lbf), freezeproof to -10C (+14F), and dustproof.
|One of the unique features on the Pentax WG-series cameras is a built-in ring light, which is made up of six LEDs. Read the full review of the WG-3 to find out what you can do with it.|
Two other unique features on the WG-3 GPS model are a front-mounted LCD screen, which displays the time and altitude (even when the camera is off), and support for wireless charging (using Qi-compatible charging pads). You can read a bit more about both of those in the full WG-3 review.
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 (illustrated in our full review), time-lapse (for stills and movies), and the aforementioned digital microscope mode.
|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.|
There are just a few manual controls on the WG-3. They include exposure compensation, custom white balance, and the always-helpful exposure bracketing.
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'.
You'll find two Dynamic Range correction tools on the Pentax WG-3: one for shadows and the other for highlights. You can find examples - guess where - in our full review of the WG-3.
The GPS system on the Pentax WG-3 GPS not only displays longitude and latitude, but 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.
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.
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