2014-15 Waterproof Camera Roundup
Ricoh WG-4 GPS ($380/£330/€330)
- 16MP BSI-CMOS sensor
- F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equiv. lens
- 3" LCD w/460k dots
- Waterproof to 15m
- Shutter priority mode
- GPS with pressure gauge and compass
- 1080/30p video
- Built-in LED ring light
Ricoh (formerly Pentax) has a very long history of making rugged cameras. Their latest models, the WG-4 and WG-4 GPS may not have significant improvements, but its predecessors were pretty complete packages already. The major new features include shutter priority and user setting modes, as well as support for new mounting accessories. One cool feature from the WG-3 GPS that apparently didn't catch on was wireless charging, which is gone on its replacement.
The standard WG-4 (non-GPS) model sells for about $30/£35/€40 less.
Note: Since this review was published Ricoh released its WG-5 GPS, which has slightly increased shock resistance (2.1 vs 2m), an improved interval timer and a new 'Mermaid' video mode. Image quality has not changed since the WG-4.
The design of the WG-4 is unchanged since the WG-3, which means that it stands out in a crowd, but not in a bad way. The body is made of 'reinforced polycarbonate plastic', but you'd never know it. While the WG-4 is a good 'one hand' camera, your right thumb sits on pretty much all the controls, which can lead to trouble. You also need to watch where you grasp the front of the camera, as fingers can easily end up in your photos.
The LCD on the rear of the camera is 3 inches in size, but at a 16:9 ratio. While that's fine for movie recording, black bars appear on both sides of the frame when composing stills, which reduces the usable area of the display. One nice touch is a secondary, backlit LCD on the front of the camera (GPS model only), which displays the time, depth/altitude, and pressure, even while the camera is off.
|The WG-4 has a single sealed door, which contains the battery, memory card slot, and a pair of I/O ports.|
The WG-4 shares the same F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equiv. lens as the Olympus TG-3, which allows you to keep the ISO down when shooting in low light at full wide-angle. Sensor-shift image stabilization helps smooth out your still photos, but when recording movies it's electronic IS only. The camera's rugged credentials are good. It's waterproof to 14m/56ft, drop proof from 2m/6.6ft, and freezeproof to -10C/+14F. All of the WG-4's ports and slots are on the bottom of the camera, behind a sealed door with two locks. Unlike some of its peers, there's no 'tap control' on the WG-4.
If there's one thing that hasn't changed over the years, it's the menu system that has been on Pentax-branded cameras for an eternity. It's a bit clunky, and its design brings back memories of the early 2000s. At default settings there's no shortcut menu and exposure composition is difficult to adjust. However, if you redefine the function of the 'green button', you can set what setting each of the directional buttons adjusts.
There's no shortage of bells and whistles on the WG-4. Before we get to those, there are a pair of new features that many will find useful. The first is shutter priority mode, which offers a range of 1/2000 - 4 sec. A 'user' mode lets you store your favorite settings for easy retrieval later. There are a pair of dynamic range settings - one for highlights and another for shadows - which offer a slight improvement in high contrast situations.
"The WG-4 GPS has a good set of features for showing your location, altitude or depth, air pressure, and direction."
If you'd prefer to keep the camera as automatic as possible, the Auto Picture mode will select the right scene for you. While the camera has a lot special effects like miniature, they are only available after a photo has been taken. An HDR mode is also available, as well as numerous interval (time-lapse) functions. Another feature worth mentioning is the WG-4's built-in LED macro ring light, which brightens up macro subjects as close as 1cm. An included macro stand helps keep the camera steady when shooting those close-ups.
The WG-4 (GPS model only) has a good set of features for showing your location, altitude or depth, air pressure, and direction. There's no landmark database or maps, but that's a feature we think most photographers won't miss. One thing that is particularly useful is an information display that has a compass and current GPS data, which you access by pressing the 'OK' button several times.
Video recording is pretty standard by compact cameras today. The WG-4 records 1080/30p video with stereo sound for up to twenty-five minutes. There are also high-speed, time-lapse, and underwater modes available. As mentioned earlier, only digital shake reduction is available in movie mode.
The WG-4 lacks a panorama mode and, perhaps more importantly, Wi-Fi.
The WG-4 can be rather finicky about starting up. If you've just shut it off, it won't let you turn it back on for about ten seconds. When the power button does respond, the camera is ready to shoot in about a second. Focus speeds are the slowest of the four cameras in this group in both good light and bad, which can make capturing a moving subject frustrating. Shot-to-shot speeds hover around the 1.5 second mark.
Ricoh claims a burst rate of 1.5fps at full resolution and up to 14fps at smaller sizes. In our tests the WG-4 hit the advertised frame rate, and can keep on shooting until the memory card fills up.
With a CIPA rating of 240 shots (without GPS), the WG-4's battery life is the worst in the group. In the real world, the 'red battery' icon came up quickly, especially with the GPS on. The battery is charged using a AC-to-USB adapter or when connected to your computer.
|Sit on rainbow by frapeace|
|Icelandic landscape by BoDrey|
from Best Landscape of the Week 1