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Pentax Optio W60

Waterproof Optio now shoots deeper and at colder temperatures
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

In May of 2008, Pentax introduced the Optio W60, a waterproof and dustproof camera that can also operate in freezing temperatures. The camera was designed to be taken places that are usually off-limits for digital cameras, like boats, the beach, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and even shallow diving. You can take the W60 down to 13 feet underwater. It's been tested at that depth for a full two hours.

People who often take pictures outdoors will greatly appreciate a camera like the W60 that doesn't need to be babied. It totally eliminates the anxiety of constantly having to worry about the camera getting wet. The W60 doesn't mind getting wet or even getting dropped to the bottom of the pool. That kind of insurance is invaluable. And based on our own (considerable) experience with waterproof cameras like the W60, jaws drop every time you casually enter the water with a gleaming little digital camera strapped to your wrist.

What do you get in a waterproof camera?

I need to begin with a preface about waterproof cameras as they have lots to offer. Taking pictures in the water and underwater is a wonderful experience. And being able to take photographs by the pool or at a beach while splashing around can be priceless. That said, there are different kinds of waterproof and underwater cameras, and you need to pick one that makes sense for you.

First, while 13 feet is plenty good enough for snorkeling and playing in the water, if you are a scuba diver you'll probably want a camera with an optional deepwater housing. Those are available for many compacts and digital SLRs, but the housing itself can cost more than the camera. The waterproof cases also add bulk and you need to meticulously maintain them so their seals won't leak and flood the camera.

As a result of these inconveniences, a number of manufacturers now offer cameras like the Optio W60 that are waterproof to a certain depth as is. They don't need special housings. However, while the optional deepwater cases are usually good for depths of 130 feet (the recommended limit for recreational diving), waterproof cameras can't go nearly that deep. The Optio W10, a predecessor of the W60 we're reviewing here, was rated at just five feet, and the still available Optio W30 can handle ten feet. There are models available rated as much as 33 feet.

There are also specialist manufacturers, such as SeaLife, that sell digital cameras with waterproof housings and flashes optimized for underwater photography. The cameras themselves are usually very generic, but their special underwater modes and the tight case/camera/software integration can make for very good pictures. Unfortunately, they are usually quite expensive.

With the Optio W60, Pentax chose a reasonable compromise. It's not a true diver's camera, but it's waterproof and you can take it down to four meters (13 feet), which means it is suitable to be used in any pool and also for most snorkeling. The two-hour rating means you're not limited to just brief dips; you can pretty much swim and snorkel with the W60 all day. And although we do not recommend it, it will probably survive depths deeper than its 13-foot rating.

Are there compromises?

Almost anytime a product is designed and engineered for a specific, as opposed to a general, purpose there are some compromises. You wouldn't be surprised if a waterproof camera were bigger and clumsier or were missing some features you generally take for granted in a camera. That's not the case with the Optio W60. It pretty looks just like a regular camera even though it's made of reinforced dual-layer polycarbonate plastic with aluminum plating instead of sporting the usual all-metallic look. It measures 3.9 x 2.2 inches and is about an inch thick. That's a bit thick for a modern digicam, but not when you consider that the W60 has a 5X zoom.

On thing you'll notice is that the W60's 5X optical zoom is entirely internal. It is one of those intricate "folding zoom" mechanisms which means that the lens never barrels out. I've always liked that arrangement as I do not like a big lens barrel motoring in and out all the time, especially when it does so at inopportune times, such as when a camera decides to go to sleep or when it is inadvertently turned on.

Pretty much everything else looks just like it would on any other digital camera. Nothing would give away that you can take the W60 to the bottom of the pool. Nothing except the way the camera is sealed. The covers for both the USB/AV and DC jacks at the bottom of the camera and the larger battery and storage card compartment on the side have carefully designed rubber gaskets to keep the water out.

Owners of the earlier and also waterproof Optio W10 will immediately notice a most appreciated improvement: doors are self-locking. Close them and a springloaded latch locks the doors shut with an audible click. And to open them you need to pull a springloaded lever. Why is that so important? Because if a latch needs to be locked manually, it's only a matter of time until you forget to do so. And if that happens when you take the camera into the water -- instant flooding. I know because I did flood an Optio W10 (amazingly, after taking it apart and drying everything off, it was as good as new).

The lens has a special water-resistant coating, and the flash cover is considerably thicker and sturdier than what you'd generally find on a land-use only camera.

Design and controls

The overall design of the Optio W60 is quite attractive; in my eyes considerably more so than the also waterproof W30. The boxy shape with its cut and rounded edges and corners looks both functional and elegant. The color choices (silver or ocean blue) are becoming, and polycarbonate/metallic body feels stronmg and solid.

The W60's controls are simple and mostly follow the current standard for digital cameras. On top are the shutter, the on/off button with a green light in the center to indicate the camera is on, and the speaker and microphone.

The back features a nicely-sized 2.5-inch LCD, a zoom rocker, a record/playback toggle switch, a menu button and a "green mode" button. There is also a five-way navigation arrangement, with the "OK" button in the middle, and four directional buttons each of which also brings up one of the common screen menus (focus mode, drive mode, flash mode, and scenes). A new addition is a face recognition mode button with a smiley on it.

On the bottom, in addition to the self-locking USB/AV, storage card and power compartment cover, is a tripod mount located all the way to the right (we prefer center). The sides of the W60 are unadorned with the exception of a sturdy strap hook.

A nice extra is that the face recognition button also zooms into a face if the image was taken in face reco mode. If there are multiple faces, each push of the button will zoom into a different face.

Much improved screen

One gripe we had with the Optio W30 was that while its 2.5-inch display was large enough, it had a low 115k pixel resolution that simply wasn't enough for a clear picture and definitely not enough to see if a shot is actually in focus. The W30 screen also had a very narrow viewing angle and unless you held the camera smack in front of your face, you couldn't see the picture. The W60 fixes all that. Its 2.5-inch display has twice the resolution (230k pixel) and a full 170 degree viewing angle both horizontally and vertically. Add to that a very effective anti-reflective coating to cut reflections and glare, and you have a display perfectly suited for outdoor and underwater shooting.

Features

The Optio W60 is mostly a point & shoot camera that relies on scene modes for its settings, but it does have quite a few interesting features.

The 5X zoom lens offers a focal length equivalent to 28 to 140mm in 35mm terms. That means it starts wide and then goes well beyond the usual 114mm limit of a 3X lens.

There is a wealth of scene modes, 25 in all. You get:

  • Auto Picture -- Automatically picks the best capture mode.
  • Program -- Default mode that lets you set arious functions.
  • Night Scene -- Best used with a tripod; benefits from the camera's ability to shoot at very high sensitivity.
  • Night Scene Portrait -- Optimized for low-light portraits; use a tripod here.
  • Firework -- Makes the best out of firework displays; use a tripod!
  • Underwater -- Special mode for underwater shooting. The modes (still and movie) are very flexible insofar as they still let you set various other parameters. For example, you can pick underwater still mode, and then set the flash, autofocus mode, and exposure compensation just the way you like it. Not all cameras with underwater modes let you do that.
  • Underwater Movie -- Underwater movies mode with sound; optical zoom can be set on.
  • Voice Recording -- For recording sound only (up to 24 hours worth).
  • Half-length portrait -- Uses face recognition to find a face in a pic, then zoom in for a half-length portrait.
  • Landscape -- The camera focusses on a wide range.
  • Flower -- Brings out bright colors and softens outlines.
  • Natural Skin Tone -- Tries t adjusts color and brightness to accurately reproduce skin colors.
  • Portrait -- Brightens skin tones for that healthy, vibrant look.
  • Surf & Snow -- Accommodates bright and shiny backgrounds like beaches and snow.
  • Sport -- Keeps the camera in focus until the shutter is released to capture fast-moving subjects and action.
  • Digital SR (Blur Reduction) -- Switches the camera to higher sensitivity and quicker shutter speed to reduce blur from subject and camera movement. However, with SR max resolution is just 5 megapixel.
  • Pet -- To capturing pets in motion, and there's a special setting setting to capture a pet's coat (white, gray or black).
  • Kids -- Combines capturing moving subjects with face reco and also produces healthy and bright skin tones.
  • Food -- High saturation makes food look yummy!
  • Report -- Records in fixed 1280 x 960 mode.
  • Text -- Lets you take pics of documents normal and reversed.
  • Digital Panorama -- Stitches three images together to create a panorama.
  • Digital Wide -- Combines two images for a simulated wideangle view equivalent to a 28mm lens.
For portrait photography, the W60 helps users optimize pictures with a face recognition function that automatically detects and focuses on faces and then sets the optimum exposure. Smile Capture detects the key facial expression of happy, smiling people and releases the shutter automatically. Blink Detection reports to the user if a subjects closed their eyes in an image so that the shot can be redone if necessary. Another useful feature is auto-tracking autofocus for continuously focusing on a moving subject (like a running child or a vehicle).

While most serious photographers play around with their pictures in an image processing program once they are uploaded into a PC, the W60 lets you do some image manipulation in the camera. You can also select frames for fun pictures. Use either one of the three standard frames or download as many as 99 frames and save them in the camera. You can still zoom and even move the image around so the subject fits just right.

Gone is the "Synchro Sound Record" mode of the W30 that continually listened to sound, then commited the ten seconds prior to the picture when you pressed the shutter and kept recording for another ten seconds afterwards.

Another feature that's simplified in the W60 is the Pentax "Green" button. Pentax generally uses "Green Mode" to let you quickly toggle between full automatic and whatever special scene mode or setting you also want, and that's the way it works in the W60. In the W30, in addition to toggling between a scene and automatic, you could also assign access to up to three other function menus, such as focusing area, sharpness, white balance, etc. Pushing the Green Mode button in quick sequence then toggled through the assigned function menus. In the W60 you can still assign a function to the Green button, but you're limited to one.

In movie mode, you can zoom in and out during recording 640 x 480 pixel format video at a full 30 frames per second. And the zoom is not just digital; you can also use the full optical 5X zoom. In addition to VGA, the W60 includes a High-Quality Movie mode with HD resolution up to 1280 x 720 pixels which is comparable to a 720p HDTV at 15fps,

There is a manual focus mode. If you select it you get a vertical bar that let's you adjust the focus between 0.01 meter (0.4 inches) and infinity. Yes, you can get that close.

Interval shooting lets you take up to 1,000 pictures in intervals between ten seconds and 99 minutes and you can set the start delay. But that is not all. You cn also record multiple stills at intervals between a minute and an hour and then record all those pictures as a movie.

If you select the histogram LCD viewing mode, the screen will flash overexposed areas in red and underexposed in yellow.

There is no active CCD anti-blur, but you do get digital shake reduction both is still and movie mode. It works by increasing shutter speed and boosting sensitivity up to ISO 6400.

What's still missing is an autofocus illuminator light.

Power

The Optio W60 uses a small Li-Ion battery. A full charge is good for about 200 pictures, 75 minutes of movie recording or over three hours of playback, though that depends on how often you use the LCD. To charge the battery you need to remove it from the camera and pop it into its charger. Replacement batteries (D-LI78) can be had for between US$15 and 30, so I'd get a spare.

Storage/memory

The V20 uses SD cards and the camera supports the higher capacity SDHC standard as well. The camera also comes with about 36MB of internal memory. That can come in handy when a memory card is full, though at full resolution it's only enough for nine pictures or so.

Sensitivity and other settings

In the olden days of film, one normally shot with 100 or 200 ISO film, and 400 ISO was reserved for low-light conditions where degree of graininess was acceptable. Today's digital cameras can record at significantly higher sensitivity, but always at the cost of extra graininess. The Optio W60 can be manually set to as high as ISO 6400 though the camera only uses 80 to 800 in automatic mode. In the highest settings (3200 and 6400) resolution is set to 5 megapixel. Experiment with the high sensitivity settings to see what degree of graininess is acceptable to you.

Some cameras oversharpen, oversaturate and use other defaults that result in pictures that may not be pleasing to all eyes. The W60 lets you change some of those settings. You can, for example, set image sharpness, color saturation, and contrast to your liking.

Bottom line

The Optio W60 is a waterproof and dustproof 10-megapixel point & shoot camera that you can take and use practically anywhere. It has an internal 5X optical zoom lets you get close to the action while also offering 28mm wide shooting. The high resolution 2.5-inch LCD display with anti-reflective coating means you can see if a picture is really sharp, and you can enjoy playback. Tricks like face recognition and the ability to wait for smiles and detect eye blink can be quite useful. The high 6400 maximum sensitivity can result in shots that would otherwise not be possible. A new 1280 x 720 movie mode lets you record in high definition. Overall, the elegantly styled Pentax Optio W60 offers more in almost every respect than the predecessor W30.

We like:

  • Waterproof to 13 feet, dustproof, can shoot in freezing weather
  • Excellent high-res 2.5-inch wide viewing-angle LCD
  • Internal 5X optical zoom
  • New 1280 x 720 movie mode
  • Plenty of fun and useful software features (face/smile/blink recognition)
  • Digital shake reduction with ISO up to 6400
Not so much:
  • No sensor shift shake reduction
  • No illuminator lamp
Specifications Pentax Optio W60
Status Added 07/2008
Camera Type Water- and dustproof Compact
Body Reinforced 2 layer polycarbonate plastic with aluminum plating
Water/dust protection JIS Class 8 submersible and Class 5 dust proof (equivalent to IP58), tested at 13 feet underwater for 120 minutes
Operating temperature 32-104 degrees F
Size 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.0
Weight (oz.) 4.4 w/o battery, 5.1 with
Effective Pixels 10.0 mp
CCD Type 1/2.3 interline transfer CCD with primary color filter
Max pixel size 3648 x 2736
File formats Still: JPG (EXIF 2.2), DCF 2.0, DPOF, PIM III; Movie: AVI (Motion JPG); Sound: WAV (PCM), monaural
Compression Best, better, good
Movie recording (best) til full @ 30fps at VGA (15fps at 1280 x 720)
Max movie pixels 1280 x 720
Voice recording Record til full (24 hour max); up to 24 hour voice memos
Speed Startup: approx 1.9 sec; Release lag: approx 0.03 sec
Image stabilization Still: Digital SR Mode (ISO up to 6400); Movie: movie SR Mode
Lens 11 elements, 9 groups
Focal length 5-25mm (28-140mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 5X/5.7X
Aperture f/3.5 - f/5.5
Focus modes 9 point AF, spot, pan, auto-tracking, manual, face recognition
Focus macro/normal 0.4 inches, 1.65 feet
Shutter speed 1/1500 to 1/4 second (up to 4 seconds in night scene mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/50-1600 (up to 6400 available in Digital SR Mode at 5MP); manual 50-6400
Autofocus system TTL contrast detection autofocus
Metering TTL multi/center/spot
White-balance modes auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light, manual
Shooting modes auto/15 modes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.5" LCD (230k) 170 degree wide viewing angle, anti-reflective coating
LCD type standard
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 13 feet
Flash modes on, off, auto, redeye, soft flash
Camera internal memory 36MB
Storage Medium SD Card, SDHC
I/O USB 2.0/PC/AV
Battery type Li-Ion D-LI78 (3.7V, 680mAH)
CIPA Battery life 205 images
List Price US$329.99
Contact www.pentaximaging.com
Pentax Optio V20 screens

Above: The Pentax Optio W60 has a "half-length portrait" mode. Uses face recognition to find a face in a pic, then zoom in for a half-length portrait.

Above: For portrait photography, the W60 helps users optimize pictures with a face recognition function that automatically detects and focuses on faces and then sets the optimum exposure.

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