Pentax Optio W90 Digital Camera Review

John Riley reviews the shockproof, waterproof and freezeproof Pentax Optio W90.

01/11/2010 - 14:21


A compact camera that operates down to -10C, will survive a fall onto a hard surface from 1.2 metres and is waterproof down to 6 metres for up to 2 hours has to be an attractive proposition. In addition, a host of features are offered that enable picture taking in almost any situation, so does the W90 live up to expectations and is it good value for its £200 price tag?

Pentax Optio W90: Features
Waterproof, dustproof and shockproof are the main selling points, but beyond that we have a 12.1Mp CCD, a 5x optical zoom equivalent to 28-140mm in 35mm terms, built in macro lights, focusing down to 1cm, a variety of recording and playback modes and the option to shoot a widescreen 16:9 format at a reduced pixel count of 9Mp.

Movies can be shot at up to 1280x720 pixels at a frame rate up to 30 fps. The limitation is that recording can only be made in 2GB blocks, so larger cards will mean restarting recording every 2GB. The camera is compatible with both SD and SDHC cards, as we would expect.

The lens is protected behind a sheet of coated glass that lies flush with the camera body, so the lens does not extend in use as most compacts do. The access points for connectors and battery/card are substantial and are protected with silicone seals that must be kept scrupulously clean to avoid water ingress.

The macro lights are an innovative feature. Three small LEDs around the lens provide additional illumination in very close macro work. A useful alternative when shooting very small objects, especially for photographers who prefer continuous lighting to flash.

Pentax Optio W90 key features: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
The Pentax Optio W90 has a 2.7in screen.   Most of the cameras controls are on the back.
The battery and memory card are kept secure in this waterproof door.   The lens does not extend out if the camera when using the 5x optical zoom.

Pentax Optio W90: Handling
The camera has a nice solid feel and close examination shows that assembly and finish standards are very high. There are plenty of dedicated buttons and switches to operate the most used functions and it is very useful that the green button can be allocated to an Fn menu where the user can select a variety of options for quick access. I chose exposure compensation, quality level, white balance and image size from the options given.

This is a small compact, measuring just 107.5 x 59 x 25mm, and as always there are issues with camera shake, but the pixel track shake reduction does help. This slows down the operation of the camera, but not excessively so, adding 2-3 seconds to the delay before the camera is ready to shoot again.

The sheer range of facilities covers every possible requirement for a compact and adding the waterproofing is quite liberating. Rain, sand, dust, as well as underwater use means that the camera can be used virtually anywhere.

The caveat to this is that to maintain image quality the front glass needs to be kept clean and clear. It is quite vulnerable, being flush with the camera body, not only to the elements but also to fingerprints when carrying and using the camera. This results in, relatively speaking, quite a bit of cleaning and I can't help but wonder if this will not eventually take its toll. Normally we clean lenses as little as possible, but here it is hard to see how it can be avoided. It may be the price that we have to pay for the other obvious advantages.

The one niggle I have is that the tripod socket is right at one end of the base and also sits slightly proud. This is not the most stable of arrangements and it needs some care in use to make sure the camera is firmly fixed.

Pentax Optio W90: Performance
The camera performed pretty much flawlessly in terms of reasonably quick focusing, accurate exposure and excellent colour reproduction. It was happiest under daylight and tungsten (incandescent) light, but less so under fluorescent tubes. I generally used the daylight setting, which I do anyway as I like to retain the varying quality of the ambient light rather than have the camera try to “correct” it. However, AWB performed well and gave generally fine results.

Pentax Optio W90 White-balance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.   Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.
Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.   Fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting.

The range of shooting modes was extensive and I did make use of some of these. In some cases they seemed to make little difference, but for beginners who are in doubt then they definitely have a place.

The focusing modes were all excellent in use , the macro setting switching in automatically when needed is a nice touch.

In summary, I was very pleased with the general handling and found the camera a pleasure to use.

ISO and Noise Performance
This is a small 1/2.3 inch sensor and is quite susceptible to noise at higher ISO values. ISO 400 is still usable, but deterioration is setting in at ISO 800 and above. I would use lower settings wherever possible, although a sharp and noisy picture will always look better than a noise free blurred one.

Ricoh CX4 test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
ISO80 ISO100 ISO200 ISO400
ISO800 ISO1600 ISO3200 ISO6400

Lens performance
I wondered if the constraints placed on the lens design, concealed as it is behind a glass plate, would have an effect on image quality. This does not seem to be the case, and results were sharp and crisp, especially from close up to the medium distance. Shots at infinity were probably the weakest, but we need to put this into perspective with the target market.

Those who want a rugged, waterproof go-anywhere camera that gives then sharp bright pictures in almost all circumstances will not be disappointed. Macro shots are superb, underwater shots will similarly be at fairly close distances, and family and friends will get lively and pleasing portraits.

Those who want A3 prints of landscapes for competitions and exhibitions will need to reach for their DSLRs as this is not what this camera is for.

The lens is at its best close up and images are possible with ease that would be quite difficult with a DSLR, and certainly would be much more expensive in terms of the equipment needed.

Flare is quite easy to induce, so this needs to be watched, but even so in many situations this is not an issue. Chromatic aberration is impressively low.

Pentax Optio W90 Performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
The W90 is capable of superb colour rendition.   There were just seconds to grab this scene before other visitors wandered into the shot.
Infinity shots do lack bite and detail, something which the camera is not really aimed at.   Crisp detail in this rusty chain.

Pentax Optio W90: Verdict
The Optio W90 is an impressive and competent performer that excels in close up and medium distance shooting. Adding the waterproof, dustproof and shockproof features makes it ideal for snorkelling, beach, holidays, parties and all the general photography that people enjoy. It is capable of tackling a huge range of subjects.

It does not replace the DSLR though in terms of quality, although it makes accessible many things that the DSLR cannot easily achieve.

At around £200 this camera is good value and has a liberating effect on when and where we can shoot pictures.

Pentax Optio W90: Pros
Waterproof, Dustproof and Shockproof
Build quality
Colour reproduction
Image quality at close and medium distances
Fair price

Pentax Optio W90: Cons
Vulnerable front glass
Noisy at high ISO
Image quality at infinity


Pentax Optio W90: Specification
Price £214.00
What comes in the box AV cable, USB cable, AC cable, Li-ion battery, battery charger, carabiner strap, strap and software.
Lens Pentax 5 - 25mm f/3.5 - 5.5, equ. to 28‐140mm in 35mm
Resolution 12.1Mp
Max. Image size 4000 x 3000
Aspect ratio 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 & 1:1
LCD monitor size 2.7in colour 16:9 LCD
Focusing system TTL contrast detection auto focus system with AF assist lamp
Focusing modes Infinity-landscape, Pan Focus, Manual Focus: available 9-point AF, Spot AF, Auto tracking AF
File types JPEG
ISO sensitivity ISO80 - 6400
Metering system Multi-segment metering, Centre-weighted metering, Spot metering
Metering modes Auto Picture, Program, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Half-length Portrait, Movie, Underwater photo, Underwater movie, Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Digital Microscope, Digital Wide, Digital SR, Surf & Snow, Kids, Pet, Sport, Fireworks, Candlelight, Text, Food, Digital Panorama, Frame composite, Report, Green
White-balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten light, Fluorescent light, Manual setting
Exposure compensation ±2EV
Shutter speed range 1/1500  - 1/4sec.
4 sec at most. (Night Scene mode setting)
Anti-shake mode Pixel Track SR
Hi-sensitivity anti-shake mode (Digital SR) Movie shake reduction mode (Movie SR)
Movie mode HDTV (1280x720), 30 or 15fps ; VGA (640x480) 30 or 15fps ; QVGA (320x240), 30 or 15fps
Media type SD / SDHC
Interface Micro HDMI output, USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), PC/AV terminal (NTSC/PAL, mono) and AC power input

Rechargeable D-LI88 lithium-ion battery
Optional AC adapter kit

Size (wxdxh) 107.5 x 25 x 59mm
Weight (with battery) 161g

The Pentax Optio W90 costs £214.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Pentax Optio W90

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