Pentax Optio W80
Gritty contender for watersports enthusiasts
Review There are some things you should never mix with water, such as a fine malt or electricity. Another is your digital camera, unless you happen to be the proud owner of a Pentax Optio W80.
Waterproof and grit resistant: Pentax's Optio W80
This novel-looking camera is designed to be used underwater. It has a JIS waterproof grade eight spec, which means it can operate down to a depth of five metres for up to two hours. It can operate in temperatures as low as -10°C. No need for any fancy and expensive underwater housing accessories with this baby: just take the plunge and snap away, well, at least until the battery runs out.
And that’s not all. The Optio W80 also has a JIS dust proofing grade six rating, so it’s going to keep out tiny grains of sand and other minute particles that might gum up the works. It’s tough too, with Pentax claiming it can withstand a drop of one metre onto thick plywood. Despite this, we would strongly recommend treating the Optio W80 with a little care, not least because dropping the camera could damage the waterproof housing. So there you have it: a camera that is waterproof, dustproof, and has graduated from the school of hard knocks. But is it any good?
The general control layout is fairly typcal, but you can’t miss the protective rubberised edging. The Optio W80’s look reminds us of a miniature flight case and Pentax clearly aspires to create an impression of robustness. The camera has a 2.5in LCD screen composed of 230,000 dots and uses a lithium-ion battery and SD/SDHC cards. You even get 33.7MB of internal memory. Protection includes a tough metal and rubber camera body, toughened LCD screen and lens cover and, of course, a non-telescopic zoom.
The battery and card slot cover uses a small locking lever, which has to be pushed, before the cover slides open. The inside of the cover has a layer of rubber, which forms a watertight seal over battery and card when closed. And having used the Optio W80 underwater, we can attest that this arrangement works well.
Sealed shooter: no bulky waterproof cover required
The Optio W80 has a 1/2.3in CCD with 12.1 effective megapixels, a resolution range of 4000 x 3000 down to VGA and an electrically driven 5-25mm F/3.5-5.5 optical zoom – equivalent to 28-140mm on a 35mm camera. It has average shutter speed choices of 1/1500-1/4sec and extended to 4 seconds in Night Scene mode.
Further to my previous comments, I would note another reviewer's comment about kayaking and using a camera mount. I have done this many times (one picture per minute for a whole-day trip... is a lot of pictures, thank goodness for 16GB SDHC) and I use this wonderful mount, which was something like £40 from an Amazon Marketplace seller:
Cullmann 1003 suction monopod: http://www.digitalstreet.nl/images/Cullmann_CN1003.jpg
It's great for mounting at the very front (pointing backwards) or very back (pointing forwards) of a kayak, and we've also mounted it at the front of a kayak for use in a swimming pool, and recorded video of us practicing various eskimo roll and rescue techniques. The transition from above-water to underwater goes smoothly on the video, and it's clear and easy to see things throughout. I would, however, agree that it's an annoyance that it doesn't have positive buoyancy - make sure it's always tied to something solid! Program mode is excellent and very flexible.
Are you my doppelganger?
The only thing is they're not neutral buoyancy...
I bought half a dozen of the original Optio WPi cameras for all-weather use and was very impressed with the overall feature-set. However, that model only had (IIRC) IP57, so was rated for 30 mins at 2m or so - fine for pond work and suchlike, but not much more than a spot of reef snorkelling. Comments from one guy who took his out into deeper waters were that he had to fix a float/bladder to the lanyard following a time when it slipped from his grasp and sank to about 5-6m. He retrieved it sharpish and commented that at depth the shutter button was pushed in with the pressure but when he got it back to the surface it was fine.
If they continue to improve the IP rating then I'll have no qualms about buying one - the image quality on the older spec units was always good, which is about right considering that the optical zoom is held enclosed within a body that's about 20mm deep - the quality of the optics have to be so much better than cheaper cameras with the protruding zoom system. That's more the reason why this unit is relatively expensive compared to other compacts (the WPi was around £200 in 2006, so it's not gone up by much) - the optics on the WPi are bigger than the average pinhole job squinting at the world through plastic lenses...
Oh, and the Green Button is programmable, so you can set up the 'underwater mode', or 'snowboarding mode', or whatever you like - pressing the green button toggles between whatever mode the camera is in (usually Program) and the custom settings stored for instant use... just needs a bit of planning ahead.
IMHO most of us don't realise just how water/dust resistant our ordinary cameras are. Far from "they don't make things like they used to" I think compact cameras are a good example of modern products that are very resilient. I still use a three year old IXUS that has been through the wars, and apart from a spot of dust on the sensor (I tried taking it apart, the lens and sensor are a sealed unit) which becomes visible when you zoom in it works perfectly, I'm especially impressed by the continuing battery life. My girlfriend's IXUS recently got very wet with sea water (she swears it was my fault), and funnily enough it seems to have caused a slight mechanical problem rather than electronic or optical, but nothing catastrophic. Similarly my Nikon DX0s and lenses have all lasted very well despite my maltreatment.