Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS
14MP | 28-140mm (5X) ZOOM | $301/£228

Considering that the Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS is the 12th generation of rugged compact cameras from Pentax, we have fairly high expectations of this - the company's latest offering. Released earlier this year, the WG-1 GPS has received a complete makeover compared to its predecessor, the Pentax Optio W90. The WG-1 GPS's rugged spec sheet now includes built-in GPS capabilities (its sister model, the WG-1, offers the same specification minus GPS) as well as a 'crushproof' rating up to 100 kilograms. Its waterproofing has been improved to a rating of 10m (33 ft) from 6m (20 ft), and it is now shockproof to 1.5m (5 ft) from 1.2m (4 ft). It has also received an increase in pixels from 12.1 to 14 megapixels.

Some specs have stayed the same as the the W90, notably a 230k-dot, 2.7 inch LCD, 720p HD video recording at 30 fps, and freezeproofing to -10 °C (14 °F). The WG-1 GPS does not stand out from the pack in any area of its feature set, but it is competitively priced at less $300.

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Design / Key Features

Available in a variety of colors (orange, purple, green, and black) the WG-1 GPS's plethora of protrusions, bulges and obvious engineering touches give it a unique, purposeful look. Thanks to its rounded edges and hourglass shape, the WG-1 GPS is a really easy camera to grip, and feels very secure in the hand.

 Surrounding the WG-1 GPS's lens on the front of the body are 5 LED lights that serve the purpose of macro lights. They automatically turn on in the WG-1 GPS's macro mode, but can also be turned on in manually in other shooting modes through the menu system.

The WG-1 GPS features two macro modes - 'Digital Microscope' and '1cm macro' , both of which enable macro focusing as close as 1cm.

'Digital Microscope' mode captures video stills at only 1920x1080 resolution (left image above), while essentially the same frame can be captured at full resolution in 4:3 format by zooming the WG-1 GPS's lens optically in full (right image above). According to Pentax, the benefit of the digital microscope is convenience, but we're inclined to dismiss it as a gimmick, of limited usefulness. In terms of image quality during these modes, there is good sharpness and detail at the center of the frame, but as we'd expect the quality falls off significantly towards the edges and corners.

The WG-1 GPS comes equipped with 24 shooting modes accessed by the 4-way control button which cover just about every shooting situation you can probably think of. While there are a lot of shooting modes to scroll through, in the worst case you only have to go one menu deeper than the initial set of shooting modes displayed. Also, the WG-1 GPS has a function button (the now-standard Pentax 'green button'), which can be used to access a second set of settings.

The WG-1 GPS's panorama mode is not fully automatic, and requires three exposures to be made in sequence. Alignment is aided by a slightly translucent area of the previous shot. After 3 shots are taken the camera automatically stitches the images for you. In our experience,this is a labor-intensive process, and not one that is guaranteed to end in success. The first example above shows one of our successful panoramas with very little evidence of stitching. The second shows an obvious stitching error in the left third of the picture.

As well as in-camera shooting effects, the WG-1 GPS also offers several post-capture editing options. Alongside common tools like image rotation, resizing, cropping etc., Pentax has also included 'Small-face Filter' - feature discussed in our recent review of the Optio RZ10. If you have any interest in taking timelapse photos of a sunset or starry night, the WG-1 GPS also offers a built-in intervalometer - unique amongst the other cameras in this group. The WG-1 GPS may not have the highest resolution LCD screen or the best video mode, but when you factor in some of the unique features Pentax has put into the camera, it definitely carves out its own niche and at under $300 it is undoubtedly very good value for money.

  • 14 effective Megapixels
  • 28-140mm equiv lens with digital image stabilization
  • 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution, HDMI port
  • 720p 30fps HD video
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600, (expandable to 6400 at 5mp)
  • Waterproof to 10m (33 ft)
  • Freezeproof to -10 °C (14 °F)
  • Shockproof to 1.5m (5 ft)
  • Digital Shake Reduction
  • 1cm macro focusing with built-in LED lights
  • Built-in intervalometer
  • Extended macro lighting
  • 42 scene modes

Performance and image quality

The Pentax WG-1 GPS powers up in around 3 seconds, and the shutter can be fired within another 1-2 seconds, subject matter permitting. In bright conditions the WG-1 GPS's autofocus is quick, achieving focus lock in roughly a half-second. When it gets darker and the focus-assist lamp is necessary, the autofocus speed is still respectable, locking on a subject in about 2.5 seconds. Unlike every other camera in the group test, the WG-1 GPS lacks a dedicated movie record button. Instead, the user must access the shooting mode menu, and scroll to the video recording mode. Once the shutter is pressed in this mode, recording starts in about 2.5 seconds, the second fastest record time in our group test.

Notice the blue and red areas of the image to the left above, two colors that can sometimes be oversaturated to a fault in some compact cameras, but which appear rich and accurate in this example. The image on the right was shot at ISO 1600, and although very noisy, it exhibits accurate colors and more than acceptable levels of detail for this class of cameras.

In bright daylight, the WG-1 GPS's auto white balance is consistently accurate. As conditions get darker, and in artificial lighting, the WG-1 GPS continues to do a good job, giving mostly neutral color rendition. Color saturation is pleasant as well, and subject exposure is accurate.

The WG-1 GPS performs well underwater, producing pleasing color and sharpness in a variety of lighting conditions. In the left image above, there was ample sunlight at roughly 3 ft underwater, and the subjects matter looks detailed evenly exposed as we'd expect. The image to the right however had virtually no available light, and the WG-1 GPS's flash and metering ability exposed the scene correctly, and at ISO 400, there is not much visible noise.

Both in our studio testing and in our real-world shooting, images from the WG-1 GPS display good sharpness and detail, with consistent performance across the frame and only a slight decrease in sharpness at the extreme edges. In terms of metering, the WG-1 GPS broadly matches our experience of its cousin the RZ10, and tends to err on the side of underexposure when there are sizable areas of bright subject matter in a scene. Significant noise is visible even at ISO 100, but the WG-1 GPS's noise reduction isn't too hard on detail, putting the it neck and neck with the Panasonic DMC-TS3 and Sony TX10 for detail up to ISO 800 in our studio comparison. ISO 1600 is usable for web sharing and viewing, but finer details look a bit blotchy.

Video Samples

Video quality from the Pentax WG-1 GPS is average at best. Amongst the issues we observed are magenta banding when bright points of light are in the frame (caused by sensor blooming - not uncommon in video footage from compact cameras but unusually severe here, and occasionally visible in daylight conditions) and high levels of noise/grain even in bright daylight. In the first sample below, which is a well lit scene, vertical magenta banding is visible at several points throughout the video, and overall the image quality is quite low. On the positive side, the WG-1 GPS does relatively well underwater. In the second sample there is virtually no available light and yet the scene is exposed fairly evenly (albeit with muted colors).

1280 x 720 30 fps, .AVI file, 27 sec. 82 MB Click here to download original .AVI file

1280 x 720 30 fps, .AVI file, 30 sec. 90 MB Click here to download original .AVI file


Compared to the other cameras tested here, the WG-1 GPS measures up well in most key categories aside from video and low light shooting (which the Panasonic DMC-TS3 and Sony TX10 have taken the lead on). In daylight conditions, the WG-1 GPS's image quality is pleasantly sharp and detailed, and as the lighting becomes darker, image quality is still competitive for this group test through ISO 800.

After spending some time with the Pentax WG-1 GPS, we became more and more enamored with its unique design and feature set (the inclusion of such features as an intervalometer is a nice touch). We would have liked to see a larger screen, higher video resolution, and a dedicated record button, but ultimately this review is about rugged cameras that can go anywhere and still deliver quality photographs - two things the WG-1 GPS is very capable of.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Pentax Optio WG-1 GPS
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
The Pentax WG-1 GPS has a competitive feature set for the 'rugged' compact camera class, including a few bells and whistles like its intervalometer. Image quality and performance is also competitive, but the WG-1 GPS fails to deliver in low light and its video is relatively poor. Overall it is good value, but is bested in quality and features by a few competitors at similar price points.
Good for
All-purpose go anywhere photography in good lighting.
Not so good for
Low light still photography and video in any lighting.
Overall score