The Pentax WG-1 GPS ($350) is a waterproof, shockproof location-aware camera.
If you’ve never tried a waterproof camera before, it can be quite a jarring experience. Every fibre of your soul tells you that you shouldn’t put electronic gadgets in water, so immersing this beast feels decidedly like the wrong thing to do.
As soon as you’ve done it, though, there’s a rush of delight as you press the on button and the screen lights up, and everything just works as if it were out on dry land.
We liked the styling — rugged without being showy, this camera feels tough in your hands. You know immediately that it will stand up to some serious bad treatment.
We also like the carabiner strap, a genuinely useful and functional accessory that shows Pentax is serious about this being a serious activity camera. Nonetheless, it’s small. It’s tiny, when you consider how much of it is protective padding and rubber seals. It still slips into a jeans pocket without any trouble. It really is a take-anywhere camera.
The controls are OK, mostly menus navigated with a five-way controller. The physical buttons themselves are very small, to the point of fiddly. I didn’t have too much trouble with them because I have dainty blogger fingers, but people with larger pinkies might find them annoying.
Another nice touch is the set of LED lamps built into the lens bezel, designed to light up subjects in macro mode.
Picture quality is pretty good, under the water or out of it. As the light lessens, images do start to get rather noisy. The built-in shake reduction system seems to make this a bit worse, but you can switch that off if you like.
In all the pictures were better than I expected for a camera of this size and in this price range. When you’re buying one of these, you’re paying for the waterproofing and the tough shell, not for an amazing camera. But even so, you’re getting a decent enough camera for your money.
The GPS is disappointingly patchy. The camera struggled to get a GPS signal in my town, only managing to grab one when I climbed to the top of the nearest hill.
Consequently, the device’s constant search for GPS can seriously affect battery life. If you leave the GPS on (which I did, in my efforts to get it connected to a satellite signal), be prepared for frequent recharges.
In the box you’ll get a “Quick Guide” manual printed on paper, but the full manual is on a CD. The official Mac instructions tell you to unzip a folder and use a bundled app to read its contents, but don’t bother unless you’re using an old Mac, because it’s PowerPC software. Hey Pentax — time to update this stuff! We use Intel processors now. Intel processors are cool.
The $350 MSRP is gutsy for the amount of camera delivered. However, street prices for the WG-1 GPS are often far lower.
Despite the disappointment with the GPS, I enjoyed trying out this little camera. Picture quality is good — not amazing, but good. Although the physical controls can be fiddly, the on-screen menu system is uncomplicated and easy to get to grips with.
If GPS is crucial to you, I’d suggest trying out other cameras, because I found it lacking on this one.
But if all you want is a tough camera to take when you go swimming, diving, caving, climbing, cycling, or whatever crazy dangerous sport is your thing, you can’t go far wrong with one of these in your pocket. Or dangling from your harness on a carabiner.