Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pentax W90 Review

So a couple of weeks ago I decided that I really wanted to have a camera that had time lapse built right into the camera.  I thought it would be fun to use it for recording what happens on our shoots, and also I thought I'd like to attach it places outdoors and record a full day of happenings and string it together in a video.  I've always been sort of mesmerized by those videos of hundreds of images strung together to form a video of say a building being constructed or a tree losing its leaves.  I knew that the camera would have to be rugged and weather-sealed as I pictured myself strapping it to a tree and leaving it for 24 hours, rain or shine. Also, no expensive DSLR cameras, I didn't want to cry if it was stolen while strapped to that tree.  I hit Dpreview and did a search using their tool to compare cameras and found that only 5 different cameras fit my needs, 4 of them from Pentax and 1 from Ricoh.  I couldn't find the Ricoh for sale anywhere so I settled on one of the Pentax cameras.  The W90 seemed the most appealing to me because I wanted to play with the little LED lights around the lens, it had HD video and it kinda looked cool.

Don't mind the hole in our ceiling, we still haven't hung our paper rolls.

So one of the first things I did was do a quick time lapse of me setting up the studio for a shoot.  I did a few things wrong my first go at it.  I left it on auto white balance so it really messed up on the colour balance.  I also noticed it hunted focus a lot and I didn't really take enough photos, but I was afraid I'd run out of memory.  The time lapse feature is pretty easy to use.  You first have to menu dive to set up the number of images to be taken, and the amount of time between images.  Then you just hit the self timer button on the camera before you hit the shutter and select the Time Lapse option.  It shows you a confirmation of what you setup in the menu.  It would be better if you could change these settings here without having to menu dive first.

The camera LCD does turn off between shots which is handy as it preserves battery life quite nicely.  One thing that bugs me about the camera is that it has a rounded  shape to its body that prevents you from easily standing the camera up on its own without a tripod.  I often like to put my camera on the ground or a ledge and use the timer feature for a photo, and that isn't all that possible with this little guy.  Also, the tripod socket is off to the extreme side of the camera, nowhere near the middle of the lens.  This makes it awkward for doing panoramas and seems funny when on a tripod in the first place.

The time lapse feature does work well though and as advertised.  After it is done it shuts the camera down.  I believe, though I haven't tried it yet, that you could easily do a 24 hour time lapse (without flash) on one fresh battery charge.

Before I forget to mention the cosmetics of the camera I should say I chose the Shiny Orange version of the camera.  When I was at the store picking it out they had a black one behind the case.  The first boxed one they pulled out was orange and the clerk said "Oh that's ugly, I'll find you another one."  Unfortunately for her, orange is my favourite colour so I made her sell me it.  Its a pretty slick looking little camera if you ask me.

I did one more time lapse right away of the street outside of our studio.

After the initial novelty of the camera wore off I started using it as my walk around everyday family camera.  We decided to retire our previous point and shoot to our 8 year old daughter.  It is the Olympus 850SW waterproof camera which has served us well.

The image quality on the camera is pretty good in good light.  The colours are nice and rich and the image is plenty sharp.  Once it starts getting darker though or if you need to use the flash the images really fall apart.  Frankly that is what we should expect from a small sensor point and shoot.  I notice no improvement over my old Olympus point and shoot for image quality.  My old Panasonic LX3 still reigns supreme in image quality for this size of camera, though I sold that so clearly it wasn't a priority for me with my family point and shoot.  Frankly, with this type of camera, the feature set (things like time lapse) and the durability (waterproof, drop proof, freeze proof) are the only thing not having it replaced with a cell phone camera like an iPhone.  The whole breed of small point and shoots is in serious jeopardy with the prevalence of good cell phone cameras now, so setting yourself apart like the W90 is vital in today's market.

The flash on the camera is pretty useless and makes for some pretty ugly photos, but again that is characteristic in my opinion of all of these little on-camera flashes.  I wish the camera had a rule of thirds grid overlay.  I find it useful for getting my horizons straight when using an LCD, but if it has one I can't find it.  In fact, while the display is nice and bright it doesn't really appear to have too many customizable options.

One neat feature the camera has is a panoramic stitching mode that takes three images and automatically puts them together in camera.  It isn't perfect but it is still pretty cool.  It would be great on a vacation to say the Grand Canyon.  After to choose this option in the scene modes, you press left or right to tell the camera which way you are turning it after the first picture.  Then you take an image, and it provides about a 20% overlay to match up as you swivel the camera left or right (or up or down).  It does it again after the second photo and then takes about 2 seconds to stitch all three together.  I found it fun to use, a pleasant surprise.

The images tend to be a bit washed out I noticed, but you can fix that later on the computer.  I left these straight out of camera.  If you look closely you will see ghosting where the images don't quite match up. Still, getting a panorama of my daughter playing with her new (old) Olympus and a whole duck pond and some random tourist taking a photo on the other side of the pond is kinda neat.

As far as the video goes, I was happy with it, but also disappointed.  I suspected it would be rather bad in low light (and it is really bad) and the grain is very blotchy and poor in that situation.  The problem is that it isn't all that clear in bright light either.  I suppose that these cameras use a really heavy compression on the video so quality is bound to be lost.  The good news is that it is far better video than what I get on my iPhone and my old Olympus point and shoot (as you'll see at the end of this post) and nearly as good as what I had on my old LX3 from Panasonic.  The video is about what you would expect from a consumer camera, no better, no worse.

Pentax decided to put three little LED lights around the lens for macro shooting.  I thought that was a pretty cool idea and played with it a lot at first.   Thing is it is actually pretty gimmicky.  Fun to play with, but not really adequate for serious macro photography.  Then again, macro isn't my thing so maybe I should give it another chance.

W90 Pentax

The build quality of the W90 is proving to be excellent.  When I first held it at the store I was a little disappointed as the edges of the camera are plastic and from the photos I thought they'd be more of a tough rubber.  The front coloured metal plate seems kind of thin and flimsy as well.  But having said all that, in use it is proving to be equal to the Olympus point and shoot which always felt like a bulletproof little tank.  The guts of the camera must be well built as I've dropped it, stood on it, washed it and not noticed a single problem.  The rear lcd is nice and bright and clear and the camera feels good in the hands.  Battery life is good and certainly better than on my old Olympus point and shoot.

I'm pretty glad I bought this little camera.  I certainly will get as much use out of it as I have my Olympus point and shoot which I think is coming on about two years old for me.  At some point I'm guessing I'll pass it down to my kid again when my eye wanders to something new and shiny, but for now it suits my needs when I don't feel like carrying a DSLR.  I plan on getting a lot of use out of the time lapse feature so I'm sure a lot of those will be appearing on the blog over the next little while.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and if you like this blog please click the Facebook link on the right hand side and recommend it to a friend.  I appreciate you dropping by, comments are always welcome.


Rob said...

Thanks for posting, I'm looking at different waterproof camera options and this post was very helpful.

Neil Gaudet said...

No worries Rob, glad you liked it. You might also want to consider the Panasonic waterproof camera. It doesn't have time lapse which was a deal breaker for me, but it was a really nice camera with better video and image quality overall than my W90

JG said...

Thanks for the review! Can you say what are the minimum and maximum intervals for the time-lapse feature? Thanks

Neil Gaudet said...


The Pentax W90 will do intervals of between once every 10 seconds and once ever 99 minutes. The batter lift easily lasts a whole day of shooting.

Thanks for dropping by the blog!