First thoughts: Pentax Optio W90

gear bagMy waterproof wonder, the Pentax Optio W30, finally outlived its useful life started to bore me. That camera was easy to use, had plenty of functionality, and took great pictures (despite its owner). So I upgraded.

A few days back the new Pentax Optio W90 arrived on my doorstep. I won’t be providing some detailed technical review – that’s dpreview‘s job. I won’t be providing all kinds of detailed images of the unit either – there are already plenty to go around. What I will do is tell you what I like right out of the box, from a layman’s point of view. Begin!

  • The unit is solid, like a brick. More so that the W30, with its all metal exterior. There’s shock/scratch resistant plastic mounted at every vulnerable point (like corners). The camera feels good in the hand – very grippy all around.
  • That strap with the fake carabiner on the end Pentax markets the camera with? Useless. It actually seems to get in the way of handling, and it was put back in the box not five minutes after assembly and playtime. It won’t be coming back out. On a similar note, Pentax provided another, traditional, wrist strap, but no small mount for it. So it slips across that big strap bar on the side of the unit. This feels a bit clumsy, and I’ve stuck THAT wrist strap back in the box now too. Note to self: find a decent wrist strap.
  • The LEDs on the front of the camera are a very cool feature, making extreme closeup shots without flash a cakewalk.
  • While the specs for the camera show a bigger display than before, a nice slice of the left side is not usable for viewing – it’s reserved for settings. My W30 placed settings over the image in view – I’d rather have the whole screen for viewing, but it’s still livable.
  • The tripod mount should have been an afterthought, but Pentax placed it on the far edge directly underneath the shutter button. Very smart, particularly if you are going to use a small tripod, as the pressure on the shutter button won’t tilt the camera.
  • The battery charger has been slimmed down, but the cord was not. A flexible one to two foot cord would have been nice.
  • The camera has an infrared sensor on the front, and a waterproof remote was supposed to be available by now. I’d buy it if I could find it. Anywhere.
  • Unlike the W30, the W90 sends out that funny little beam when you lightly depress the shutter button. Speed and aperture settings then show up on the display. I’m not sure this will make my pictures any better (what would?!) but I’ve seen the feature on high end SLRs so I assume it’s something pretty fancy.
  • Finally, the rear display feels kind of plastic-ky and hollow. While I hope that’s just my imagination, the display is big, and probably the most vulnerable part of the camera to scratches. I’ll be putting a skin on it pretty darn soon.

From first blush, I’m pretty satisfied with the upgrade. I’d gotten familiar with the Optio W30 menus and buttons, and Pentax was kind enough to keep things similar for me. I have noticed some additional settings, which I’ll get to forthwith. A camera can’t earn its stripes until it sees some real action, and I’m particularly anxious to see how it will perform in really bright conditions.

MG signing off (to read another manual)

UPDATE 7/26/10: The funky carabiner strap is back on. As it turns out, it’s better than the alternatives (strap perpetually sliding around, or no strap at all). There’s still a better way, but I don’t own a sewing machine.

Comments

Looks like they’ve come a ways on the design front since they made my W10. Shooting in bright lights remains a PITA – especially if you’re wearing polarized glasses.

Let me know if the W90 is any better…

MG – I think the Taylor or the Pan would be a good place to test drive this new toy….I’m just saying.

Opting out of *any* wrist strap? Good thing that baby is waterproof. But whose diving into that 15′ hole to retrieve it? Gracie is doing it without protection!

@TC – I don’t think the W30 was much more than yours, so it should be a decent comparison. I’ll be posting some more “usability” related notes in the next few months as well as a few pics.

@RK – I wish I could, as I hear both are off the hook right now. Unfortunately, work is really getting in the way right now – my only free day in the next four weeks is next Friday, and that’s already booked with birthday present guiding.

@SC – No wrist strap, no love. I’ll have something on it, until I find a better one.

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How viewable is the screen in direct sunlight? Easy to frame photos, or useless?

Dan –

I honestly haven’t run it through the ropes in that circumstance yet. But with the upcoming Deneki FIBfest that’ll be a non-issue in a week.

I’ll report back as soon as I’ve put it through the bluebird paces.

Peter Srank says:

Has it USB charging? Is the battery charged during USB connection to PC?

@Dan – The screen is usable in the bright sun, but just usable.

@Peter – No USB charging that I can tell. Must remove battery and stick in the charger.

PS: The camera survive a week in the salt, and returned unscathed. Got dunked a few times too – no problem. I did notice that when the unit was sitting exposed to the direct sun that it got pretty hot, and some condensation formed on the view screen “cover”. But this had no effect on performance (and I’ll note I was in a pretty humid environment).