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Pentax W60 Gordon Laing, December 2008
   
 

Pentax Optio W60 verdict

The Optio W60 is a return to form for Pentax and its range of underwater cameras. Rather than relying on the unique selling point of waterproofing alone, the W60 sensibly upgrades almost every aspect of its predecessor including the optical zoom range, sensor resolution and screen detail, while throwing in features like smile detection and actually improving the underwater specification.

While most underwater cameras have been restricted to zoom ranges of around 3x, often with no wide angle facilities, the W60 breaks the mould with a 5x range equivalent to 28-140mm. This equips it with decent wide angle to respectable telephoto coverage that many terrestrial compacts would be envious of. It also zooms both wider and longer than the 38-114mm of its underwater rival, the Olympus 1050SW.










The highlight of the W60 of course remains its waterproofing, which allows the camera to be completely submerged down to 4m for up to two hours. It really is quite liberating to use a camera around water without any concerns, and it’s surprising how many times you might want to do this. The obvious places are capturing your baby’s first swimming lessons, a fun day a pool, or snorkelling reefs on holiday, with which the W60 has no problems. We took it underwater in a public pool and beneath the surface of Queenstown’s chilly Lake Wakatipu and it performed admirably.

But waterproofing also makes the W60 ideal for resisting splashes or accidental submersions, allowing you to confidently take shots while kayaking, jet-skiing, or simply hiking in heavy rain. It’ll also resist dust, sand and snow, making it equally at home on the beach or ski slopes. Indeed when you think about the number of times and places you’d shy away from using a camera or fear for its safety, it’s amazing the opportunities a waterproof model can open up.

Looking at the specifications, the W60 looks like a perfect all-rounder, with its waterproof capabilities, 5x optical range, wide angle coverage, compact size and competitive price, but it isn’t without its faults. For starters there’s no optical or sensor-shift stabilisation, which means the W60 relies on increasing its sensitivity alone to combat camera shake. This of course comes at the cost of greatly reduced image quality as you can see in our results and on the first page of our review. So if you’re into shooting static subjects in low light, it’s not ideal.

Secondly, in the past, dedicated underwater cameras have often struggled to match the image quality of the best terrestrial compacts. Looking at our results and gallery pages, the Optio W60 actually does a pretty good job, but if you’re judging image quality alone there are better models out there (albeit without waterproofing). The image quality is lacking the ultimate detail and crispness of the best compacts at this price point, and there was also a worrying lack of contrast in some of our test shots, most notably seen throughout our high ISO results page.

The video mode was also nothing particularly special, delivering a soft, over-processed image with visible graininess, and the HD option was jerky at 15fps. On the upside though, you can optically zoom the lens while filming, but you will hear the motor.

There’s also concerns over the protective lens cover. On the upside, there’s no moving parts to clog with dust or sand, but while it seems pretty scratchproof, what happens if you do manage to mark it? It’s certainly susceptible to fingerprints, and these could have been partly responsible for the reduced contrast seen in some images.

So before our final wrap-up, how does the Optio W60 compare to its biggest underwater rival, along with one of the best terrestrial compacts in a similar price bracket?

Compared to Olympus Stylus 1050SW / mju 1050SW

 
 
 
 
In terms of pricing, the Olympus 1050SW is the biggest rival to the Optio W60. Both cameras can be completely submerged underwater, although the Olympus has a slightly lower specification, rated to depths of 3m for one hour. While the W60 beats this with 4m for up to two hours, there’s few who’d actually remain constantly underwater at this kind of depth in reality, so unless you’ve dropped it at the bottom of a deep pool and forgotten about it for a few hours, we’ll call the underwater specifications a draw. We also found both cameras equally easy to use and compose underwater.

Staying on the physical side of things though, the Olympus makes additional claims over toughness, being freeze-proof to minus 10 degrees and shock-proof to 1.5m. This may appear to give the Olympus the physical edge, but during testing the W60 certainly survived some rough handling, while our 1050SW actually cracked its screen cover.

The biggest difference in normal camera specifications is the optical zoom range, where the W60 easily wins with its wider and longer 28-140mm coverage to the 1050SW’s 38-114mm. Sadly neither camera has optical or sensor shift stabilisation though. The Olympus does have a slightly larger 2.7in screen and unique tap-controls, but the camera itself is comfortably taller. In terms of image quality, the Olympus edged ahead in some respects, but not sufficiently for a decisive win.

Ultimately while the Olympus 1050SW is clearly a very capable underwater camera, the W60 out-features it with a wider and longer lens while also coming in slightly cheaper. As such it gets our vote if you’re shopping for an underwater camera, although as always you’d be advised to try both in person to see which looks and feels better. If you like the Olympus styling, you may also want to consider the older but higher-end Stylus 1030SW (USA price / UK price) which is waterproof to an impressive 10m and boasts 28mm wide angle coverage. Look out for our review of the 1050SW coming soon.

 

Compared to Canon IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS

 
 
 
Canon’s IXUS 870IS / PowerShot SD880 IS is one of the classiest compacts around right now. It may not have underwater capabilities as standard, but the overall handling and quality are hard to beat. Both it and the Pentax may share a similar specification sensor, but as you can see in our results pages, the Canon’s image quality is superior with crisper, fine details and lower visible noise without obvious smearing.

The W60 zooms longer to 140mm compared to the Canon’s 112mm, but both cameras share decent 28mm wide angle coverage, while the Canon additionally features optical stabilisation and a brighter focal ratio. The slightly longer reach of the Pentax is nice, but we’d trade it for the Canon’s stabilisation any day, which with its brighter focal ratio makes it much more practical in low light.

The Canon’s screen is half an inch bigger, and features much better quality – it’s one of the best at this price point. The movie mode, while only standard definition, is also much better quality, and the face detection more effective even though it doesn’t have the W60’s smile detection.

Of course the big advantage the Pentax has is waterproofing without additional accessories. Canon does however offer the WP-DC26 housing for the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS, which impressively allows the camera to operate at depths down to 40m – ten times deeper than the W60 – but the housing costs almost as much as the W60 alone and of course makes the camera much bulkier. It may be a viable option though if you need to dive deep.

Ultimately if you don’t want or need a compact that’s waterproofed as standard, the Canon IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS is one of the best we’ve tested and comes Highly Recommended. See our Canon IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS review for more details.

 

Pentax Optio W60 final verdict

There was a time if you wanted a waterproof compact, Pentax was the only name to consider. Over recent generations though, Olympus has grabbed much of the attention with its SW range, but now with the Optio W60, Pentax is back with one of the most compelling models around.

The waterproof capabilities of these cameras have been pretty good from day-one. So long as you stay within the specified depths and times, and realise the AF may be relatively slow, the screen sometimes tricky to see and the flash only illuminate a short distance, then you’ll be fine. Indeed the sheer novelty of shooting underwater will outweigh any technical limitations, and as discussed above, you’ll find yourself grabbing photos at times you never considered using a camera before.

The big issue traditionally facing underwater cameras though is how well they perform above the water compared to normal compacts. Pentax has put in considerable effort here with the W60, equipping it with a 5x optical zoom range with decent wide angle coverage. There’s also neat gadgetry in the form of smile detection and interval shooting, along with controls for the contrast, saturation and sharpness.

It’s a step forward for an underwater camera, and the image quality is also pretty good, but a decent terrestrial model like the Canon IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS will still out-perform it in both still and video performance, while crucially offering stabilisation and a nicer screen to boot.

Ultimately you have to ask yourself two questions: do you need waterproofing, and if so, how deep do you want to go? If you’re not bothered about underwater or splash-proof capabilities, you’ll get better picture and video quality from a decent terrestrial compact like the Canon above. If you’re a serious diver who needs to go deeper than 4m, then buy a decent terrestrial compact with an underwater housing, such as the Canon IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS with the WP-DC26, or the PowerShot G10 with the WP-DC28, both rated to 40m.

If however you fall in-between and like the idea of a camera for use in a swimming pool or on shallow dives, the Optio W60 is a perfect choice. It’ll capture your kids splashing in the pool along with the fishes swimming around coral reefs on holiday. The same waterproof capabilities will also mean you can confidently use it while kayaking, jet-skiing, sailing, hunting, fishing, camping or hiking in heavy rain. Suffice it to say it’s also resistant to splashes from a poolside or even accidentally being knocked-in. And you can do all of this without investing in a pricey underwater housing and lugging it around.

This sheer flexibility is what makes underwater cameras so seductive; indeed if you’re an active outdoor type who’s into any kind of water-sports, you’ll wonder how you coped without one. So if a large proportion of your photo opportunities take place in or around water, the Pentax Optio W60 comes Recommended. A decent terrestrial compact may still outperform it under normal conditions, but if there’s a regular chance of submersion or even just rain and splashes, it’s one of the best models around right now.

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Good points
Fully waterproof to depths of 4m.
Decent 5x optical range with 28mm wide.
Contrast, sharpness and saturation controls.
Interval timer shooting and smile detection.

Bad points
No optical or sensor-shift anti-shake.
Average video quality and HD at only 15fps.
Low contrast images in some tests.
Concerns over scratching lens cover.



Scores

(relative to 2008 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

19 / 20
15 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20

85%

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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