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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hands-On Review : Pentax Optio W90

A "Work Horse" with the ability to go underwater or foot with "rugged" features, cool color choices, photo-modes and more, but does it do everything perfectly?
Out Contributing editor Melanie Beus takes on this camera with the help of a few teenage scuba-diving boys to give it a full workout.

Contributing editor Melanie Beus
I recently acquired one of these (the green one) for the primary purpose of sending it with my two teenage sons on a scuba diving trip to Florida. For this purpose the camera behaved marvelously and came back to me with only a few scratches on the back lcd screen (I should have thought ahead and protected it from said teenagers), but fully functional. This says a lot about a camera that hung out with teenage boys for 9 days and went swimming repeatedly.
(scuba pic)

While using this camera myself, I have found several things that I really like about it:

Control over settings - There is a lot of control over settings, including 5 different flash options, focusing area, metering methods, focusing modes, including the ability to manually focus, exposure compensation, plus, I can set the camera to remember the mode when the camera is shut off, so when I turn it back on, it's still in the previous modes. Or I can choose to have it reset itself.

Descriptions of the various modes - This camera, as well as my other Pentax Point and Shoot, the Optio E90, not only gives you a variety of modes, but provides, in the menu, a description of that mode and the effect that using it will have on the image. It also informs the user of when a lower resolution image will result. This is such a handy feature as it allows the user to not have to remember the specifics of each mode, or run to the manual upon forgetting. And there are indeed a large number of modes at hand to play with on this camera. It promises to be not only a good photographic tool, but entertaining as well.
(pic of optio back)

The ability to focus within 2 cm - Wow. Holy cow. How totally cool is that? On a point and shoot even. Light for this focusing mode can be provided by three LED lights around the lens. Using these in P mode rather than the Digital Microscope mode will give you all 12.1 mp whereas Digital Microscope will give you only 2.1 mp. And really, using it this way renders the Digital Microscope mode rather useless, unless you want to get that close in one step and resolution is not an issue.
(pics of bug and pine bud)

What I don't like:

Position of the flash - The budget Optio E90 has the flash placed on the other side of the lens, near the middle of the camera. This makes it much easier to avoid the inadvertant placing of fingers over the flash. On the W90, it's placed in the more traditional upper left (when looking at the back of the camera) where it's easy to get fingers in the way.

Image quality when focus is set to infinity - This focusing mode results in images that leave quite a bit to be desired. It's difficult to obtain much in the way of sharpness, although when viewed small the images are okay
(pwforst pic)

In my opinion, the Optio W90 tends to overexpose a bit. That may be my personal preference as I would rather err on the side of non-blownout highlights. I much prefer the look of the images with about a -0.7 EV, and have the camera set to stay at that (unless I change it of course). But again, this can fall under personal preference. The boys used the underwater video on a seaturtle but a only cursory exploration of the abilities and quality of video recording has been undertaken.

What I would love to see is a Pentax point and shoot that had the ability to shoot in RAW. That would make me one happy camper indeed. However, for the intended purpose, this camera is a workhorse. It survived the teenagers, the scubadiving, and even myself (having dropped it already).

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