Friday, December 4, 2009 at 8:11AM
Just in time for the season of giving, and the season of snow and beach vacations comes the Pentax Optio WS80 camera.
I do a lot of shooting with my DSLR, but the reality is I also want a point and shoot. The primary reason, of course is that these cameras are small and can fit in a shirt or pant pocket. So if you don't want to drag a camera bag with you everywhere you go, you can still have a camera with you if a great visual opportunity comes along.
But another compelling reason for the point and shoot is that unless you are willing to invest in an underwater housing or raingear for your DSLR, you are out of luck with these cameras when the weather goes south, or you are in wet or dusty conditions.
Enter the Pentax WS80, a wonderfully small (approximately 3.5in. W x 2.25in. H x .75in. D), lightweight (less than 4 oz.) and dustproof/waterproof (to 5 feet) camera.
As I have said in the past, there are lots of great websites that will go into the technical specs of cameras. dpreview, and Luminous Landscape are two such sites. My interest in posting reviews is to give a personal response to a camera in terms of ease of use, functionality and quality of images.
In all of these areas, I found the Pentax Optio WS80 to be an excellent camera. With its slim, trim profile, I found that I always carried it with me. Because it is fitted with a 5x zoom that is the equivalent of 35-175mm in 35mm terms, it covers a lot of ground from mid-wide angle to mid telephoto. And the fact that the lens does not extend means the protective glass over it keeps the optics perfectly safe.
The camera does not have a viewfinder (as many newer point and shoots), but the 2.7" LCD screen with anti-reflective coating is bright and sharp. I found it easy to work with in composing images, and accessing the menus to make adjustments.
Speaking of menus, these are easy to navigate and logically arranged. And the controls on the camera are the same. For the few things you might need help with, Pentax provides a printed manual (yes, as I have often suggested in my blog I always carry these with me until everything is second nature).
Although the WS80 shoots in jpg format, it does have a D-Range setting in the menu. You can check settings that will help control lose of detail in highlights or shadow in contrasty lighting situations, a real bonus when a camera does not shoot in Raw format.
This camera is great for beginners. The Green Button (bottom right side of the photo above) sets a number of basic functions like auto ISO, auto flash, auto white balance, and file size so virtually anyone can pick up the camera and get great results. And the camera has an Auto Pict mode accessed through the menu that automatically selects from 8 different shooting modes and 23 scene modes.
One of the great features of this camera is Face Detection, and the ability to warn you if your subject blinks during the exposure with its Blink Detection option. It can even shoot the photograph when it recognizes that the main subject is smiling!
The WS80 has ISO settings ranging from 64 to 6400. I found the best quality to be at 64 and 100, something you would expect with any camera in this price range. The higher ISO's are a bit noisy and need help with products like NIK Define to make them more pleasing.
The camera also has a movie mode in 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second, but to be honest, my interest (and the selling point for who I am as a photographer) is on the still side in challenging weather. And I was very happy with the results. In fact, I found myself running out to shoot pictures and snapping away with abandon, knowing the camera could not be damaged. And I came back with pictures I would not have ventured to shoot as a result. To me, that's a huge endorsement.
With winter here and snow all around, this is a great camera for shooting in town or at the ski area. And because it is waterproof to 5 feet and dustproof as well, this is a perfect camera for a vacation at the beach.
I heartily recommend this camera.