The new WP's pretty and compact design makes it a camera designed to live in a handbag, engineered to operated underwater and contains enough digital wizardry to challenge the most creative of minds, but does it take good pictures? Our man Charlie Brewer puts it to the test.
The WP is the latest Optio release and joins the ranks of the other 10 cameras in Pentax's digital compact range. This latest WP replaces the 43WP and even though both cameras repel the elements, their designs couldn't be further apart. The original 43WP looked like the exterior was designed as an afterthought, the black body resembling something issued to the special forces and the reinforced corners looking as though overworked roadies might be lugging it around a late night ‘get-out'. The latest version seems to have combined the hardiness of its bulkier brother combined with a design overhaul by an Italian car manufacturer.
The slim line brushed-silver body measures only 102mmW x 51mmH x 22mmD, scaling it for easy concealment in pockets or bags. The front of the camera reveals a cover-less 3x optical zoom lens, with a 4x digital booster. On the reverse, there's an enlarged, daylight bright 2inch viewing screen, for operations, playback and composing shots.
The WP shoots at a maximum resolution of 5 effective megapixels, going down as low as 640pixels, to maximize on space. The camera stores the images and movies on SD cards, a strange feature of Pentax cameras, since the largest SD card available is only 1Gb. There is also an internal flash memory of 10.5 Mb, which acts as an auxiliary if the card is full, but also a image buffer during rapid shooting. The start up speed is admirable, with 0.6 seconds between power-on to shot ready. Although the shutter release is fractionally slower than it should be, it's nothing to worry about.
What leaps out is the sheer level of complexity that Pentax have crammed into this camera. Its main selling point should have been the fact that it's operationally sealed to a functional depth of 1.5 meters (JIS Class 8-equivalent certified). Pentax even advocate underwater operation and give up to 30 minutes of safe aquatic usage before any threat to the water tight seals might occur. Examination of the diversity of shooting and playback modes lets you know that there is more here than you will readily need. The user is presented with 20 pre-set image modes with all the standard settings you'd expect and a couple of bewildering additions such as, food, skin tone and pet mode (this specially sets the camera colour balance to best match your pet's fur). In fact there are so many options that the last 5 modes are concealed and you have to rearrange the icons to the main menu if you wish to use them.
If the shooting modes are detailed, then this level of attention has been meticulously carried through to the playback menus as well. Another fifteen options are available to allow you to manipulate images and movie shots with out ever having to take the content off-camera. Options include digital filters, red-eye reduction and splicing your movies, all controlled via the 5-way menu pad and the viewing screen. Even if this is all too much for some people it's nice to have the option.
If everything gets too much, Pentax have included ‘green' mode. This ‘panic' button will reset the shooting mode to its simplest form on the first touch and then allows the photographer to toggle through a fast selection of the most wanted presets throughout the numerous menus. Activating ‘green mode' for the first time will be like handling a Fisher Price toy rather than an advanced digicam and numerous functions such as advanced flash setting and activation of various displays are locked out. Perfect for when children or parent want to ‘have a go' with your new toy.
Gripes, well a few. For such a well-designed camera it really could do with an AF-assist system in low light conditions. Shoot in close quarters and the macro will go down to 1cm. In these conditions with a group of friends the camera simply refused to lock focus although the images came out surprisingly clear, so it this might have been my misreading the settings rather than the camera failing to function. The lack of a lens cap lens itself well to the overall smooth aesthetics of the cameras purse-filling lines, but once the hardened-glass sheet covering the lends aperture gets scratched, and scratched it will, by the nature of the environment that Pentax are challenging the cameras users to take it to, you're stuffed. The last point is one that seems so obvious that I feel a little embarrassed to point it out, if you don't want people to put the camera battery in the wrong way round, it should only fit in the slot one way!
Overall, the Pentax Optio WP is the perfect all rounder. Light, small. Impeccably well dressed, yet hard as nails and a resilient as a cockroach at ground zero. In camera terms this is the sort of camera that photographers should keep tucked in their sock, a ‘back-up' as they would say on NYPD Blue- well they said it when the show was still on, anyway.