Competition in the tough-cam space is as fierce as we've ever seen it. As the industry shifts away from featureless, low-end pocket cameras, they're looking toward rugged cameras as a space for growth—you can't swim with your iPhone, after all. The WG-2 is one of seven current top-tier tough cams, and it stacks up pretty favorably. Read on to see why.

The WG-2 is available now at a current MSRP of $299 (originally $349) in vermillion red and matte black. The GPS-enabled WG-2 GPS (the model on review here) is available now for an MSRP of $349 (originally $399) in shiny orange and glossy white. Aside from the GPS antenna, the two models are identical.

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

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Box Photo

• Pentax Optio WG-2 digital camera

• rechargeable li-ion battery (D-LI92)

• battery charger (D-BC92)

• AC plug cord

• USB cable

• carabiner strap

• macro stand

• GPS manual

• operating manual

The WG-2 comes equipped with an f/3.5-5.5, 28-140mm equivalent, 5x zoom lens. It's all internal, encased behind a glass barrier, so it never extends beyond the camera's body.

The 16-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch backlit CMOS sensor is a typical point-and-shoot chip. It's similar to the sensors in just about every other tough-cam out there, give or take a few megapixels.

The 3-inch, 460,000-pixel widescreen LCD is bright and contrasty enough to be seen fairly well in bright sunlight or underwater, though the screens on many other tough-cams are brighter and sharper. It's an upgrade from the 2.7-inch screen on last year's WG-1.

The flash is built into the upper-left corner or the front panel. Wandering fingers might block it from time to time. The spec sheet claims that it's effective up to 18 feet, which is above average for a point-and-shoot.

Flash Photo

Two ports sit behind a latched, rubber-sealed door on the left side of the body. There's one micro-HDMI port for high-def video output, as well as proprietary USB jack for transferring photos.

The WG-2 runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It's rated for 260 shots, though the longevity plummets below 200 if the in-camera GPS feature is turned on. The battery compartment is next to the memory card slot, behind a latched, rubber-sealed door on the bottom of the camera.

Battery Photo

No surprises here: The WG-2 records to SD/SDHC/SDXC media cards. The card slot is next to the battery compartment, behind a latched, rubber-sealed door on the bottom of the camera.

Media Photo

If we trust the ratings, the WG-2 is the most durable compact camera on the market.

It's waterproof to 40 feet for up to 2 hours, the deepest rating out there. It's an upgrade from last year's WG-1, which could swim 33 feet underwater. The manual cautions users to avoid bringing the camera into very warm water (like a hot spring), and salt water can be hazardous if the camera isn't cleaned properly afterward.

It's shockproof to 5 feet—bested by 6.6-feet shockproofing on a few competing models, but still enough to survive some drops from chest-height and general rough-housing. No guarantees, but we bet it could withstand slightly more serious spills, too—just make sure the doors sealed tightly.

It's crushproof up to 220 pounds of pressure—most rugged cameras don't even advertise crushproofing. The average person can stand on top of a WG-2 without any repercussions (though that's probably a bad idea). We're thinking that this will only come in handy if you leave it at the bottom of a loaded rucksack. Don't run it over with your car or bike.

It's freezeproof (coldproof) to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, just like every other tough-cam. Take it skiing or ice-climbing, but don't leave it in your freezer just to see what happens.

To round it all out, it's also dustproof. All of the camera's moving parts are encased behind glass, plastic, or rubber, so the lens is safe from bits of dust and especially sand.

Does the extra durability matter much in real-life usage? Well, logic kind of suggests that if it can survive 40 feet underwater, it should handle an afternoon at the pool or in the surf better than a camera rated for "only" 33 feet. We're not sure that's the case; added peace of mind is a more realistic way to justify it, and since it doesn't cost anything extra, it certainly can't hurt.

A word of caution: we read dozens, if not hundreds of user reviews from unhappy customers, claiming that their tough-cam sprang a leak or cracked after a short fall. Just about every tough cam earns a few negative reviews with time.

The WG-2 doesn't have any negative Amazon.com user reviews yet, though there are only 5 total reviews. The WG-2 feels very well built, and survived our cursory abuse tests. Just use common sense whenever possible—treat it like an expensive electronic gadget, and always follow the care instructions in the user manual.

Image quality is fine for shooting outdoor, brightly lit scenes to share online or with medium or small prints. Otherwise, there's a long list of problems: soft edges, terrible color fringing, lots of noise and sloppy noise reduction. Colors are accurate and can be punchy enough to shoot underwater, and video is pretty good. But image quality is not an asset.

The WG-2 struggles with image sharpness. Most cameras have soft spots in their lenses—usually between the center and the edge of the frame at the wide-angle setting. But the WG-2 is pretty fuzzy across the entire zoom range in just about every area of the frame. Vertical sharpness is notably crisper than horizontal, but the net effects is always a bit blurry.

The WG-2 improves slightly on the sharpness of last year's WG-1, but falls short of the other tough-cams in this comparison. More on how we test sharpness.

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The Pentax WG-2 doesn't have optical image stabilization, but the digital stabilization it does offer is reasonably effective. We measured about a 47 percent improvement in sharpness with the SR Pixel Adjust mode activated. The downside is that all of the "stabilization" is actually just extra image processing; it doesn't occur in real-time like optical stabilization does, so it slows down the camera's shot-to-shot times.

Color performance is acceptable. The WG-2 earned a respectable score, but with a qualifier. The smallest color error we measured in our lab was 2.87 (anything below 3.0 is quite good) with 91 percent saturation (low, but not low enough to incur a penalty), shot with Natural color mode. More on how we test color.

But in the real world, we had much better results with the Bright color mode—the camera's default setting. Technically the colors aren't as accurate—they're deeper and more vivid than they should be—but Natural mode produces flat, lifeless hues in most situations. It's particularly bland underwater, where saturation and contrast are naturally reduced. We'd recommend always shooting in Bright mode, which produced a 3.31 color error (still decent) with 103 percent saturation.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Aside from the WG-1, the rest of the cameras in this comparison tend to over-saturate their colors—technically less accurate, but better-looking for outdoor and underwater shooting.

Three color modes are offered: Bright (default), Natural, and Monochrome.

Automatic white balance is strangely inconsistent. Most cameras handle daylight without a problem, but the WG-2 is noticeably warmer than it should be. It does handle incandescent lighting better than most, and white fluorescent lights pose no problem. And custom white balance evens out the issue. But it's bizarre to see a camera made for the outdoors struggle in sunlight.

White balance modes include automatic white balance, daylight, shade, tungsten light (incandescent), fluorescent light, and custom white balance.

Noise is a problem in the WG-2's photos. We measured more than 1 percent noise at the base ISO setting (125)—not something we usually see until ISO 800 on most compact cameras. The ratio stays pretty consistent through ISO 1600, but in this case, that's a bad thing. That means the noise reduction is aggressive throughout the entire ISO range, scrubbing away fine details from any shot in any kind of lighting. It's acceptable through ISO 400, but too sloppy at any higher settings. More on how we test noise.

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Full-resolution photos can be taken at ISOs 125 through 6400 (adjustable in full stops). An auto ISO setting is available with an adjustable maximum, from 200 to 6400.

We only recently started recording dynamic range data for point-and-shoots, so we can't make accurate comparisons based on test results (yet). That said, based on our anecdotal experience, the WG-2 struggles to properly expose scenes with a bright sky and details in the shade (as do most point-and-shoots). There are in-camera options for highlight and shadow correction to balance things out a bit. More on how we test dynamic range.

The WG-2 is not a good low-light camera. Mid and high ISO performance is poor, and the lens starts at a mediocre f/3.5. If you want to attempt low-light shots, you'll need to crank up the sensitivity and deal with sloppy image quality, settle for blurry photos, or turn on the flash. In any case, this is not the camera you want if you take a lot of low-light photos.

Noise is a problem in the WG-2's photos. We measured more than 1 percent noise at the base ISO setting (125)—not something we usually see until ISO 800 on most compact cameras. The ratio stays pretty consistent through ISO 1600, but in this case, that's a bad thing. That means the noise reduction is aggressive throughout the entire ISO range, scrubbing away fine details from any shot in any kind of lighting. It's acceptable through ISO 400, but too sloppy at any higher settings. More on how we test noise.

Full-resolution photos can be taken at ISOs 125 through 6400 (adjustable in full stops). An auto ISO setting is available with an adjustable maximum, from 200 to 6400.

Low light sensitivity also surprised us, only dropping below our acceptable threshold at 8 lux—it's not uncommon to see point-and-shoots fail to pass 30 lux.

The WG-2 suffers from extreme aberration at times. Even the center of the frame isn't safe, but it's particularly problematic at the telephoto setting on the left side of the frame. In real-world terms, this means that photos will have ugly color fringing along tree branches and other high-contrast areas. This is one of the worst aberration scores we've recorded in recent memory.

At least distortion isn't a problem. Like most point-and-shoots these days, the WG-2 earned our top distortion score. Straight lines will look straight, no matter what the focal length.

Video quality is average for a 1080i-shooting point-and-shoot. We noticed trailing, stuttering, and color-bleed in our motion test, but not at unusual levels. Artifacting was the biggest issue, but nothing out of the ordinary. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video was surprisingly sharp for a camera with mediocre still-photo sharpness. We measured 475 horizontal and 400 vertical lw/ph in bright light. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

In low light, we measured 375 horizontal and 375 vertical lw/ph—not much of a dropoff.

Low light sensitivity also surprised us, only dropping below our acceptable threshold at 8 lux—it's not uncommon to see point-and-shoots fail to pass 30 lux.

Like most tough-cams, the WG-2 handles an acts like an automatic point-and-shoot, just clunkier. The angular design, rubbery grip, and light body-weight are easy to handle, and it's compact enough to fit easy into a jacket or cargo pocket. The small sticky buttons are frustrating at times, and the sluggish continuous shooting mode is a disappointment. Pentax really needs to update their ugly old menu system, but there are flashes of brilliance in this interface, including the assignable green button and modes like Digital Microscope.

Like all tough-cams, the WG-2 is designed for automatic shooting—best to leave the work up to the camera while you're busy swimming or hiking. Two auto modes are available:

Auto Picture is a typical automatic mode. Picture size, quality, focus area, and ISO can all be adjusted, but the camera takes care of everything else.

Green Mode is completely automated. Every setting is fixed and regulated by the camera, so it's completely hands-off—probably too hands-off for most users. The upside is that it has a dedicated button on the rear (the green button, go figure). So if you need to quickly switch to auto mode, this might come in handy.

The button design and layout is typical of a tough-cam. A button controls zoom instead of a tilter, which is the biggest departure from a normal point-and-shoot layout. The buttons are also a bit smaller and stickier compared to most pocket cameras, a function of the waterproof construction.

A healthy selection of scene modes and picture effects are available, but without some of the extras we've come to expect in compacts, like sweep panorama or in-camera HDR.

The Pentax menu system is ugly and often puzzling—but occasionally brilliant, too. The clunky type-face could use an update, menu options should be organized more logically, and there should be a better way to navigate among menu pages.

But we love the green button. As we touched on above, it can be assigned to bring up a customizable Fn menu. It gave us, in effect, four virtual hot-keys on top of the five physical hot-keys. It's easy to set up, and easy to switch back to Green Mode if need be. If you spend most of your time shooting in program mode like we do, it can be a huge boon to your shooting experience.

Kudos to Pentax for actually including the full 248-page printed manual with the camera. It's helpful, well-illustrated, and has an index. Most cameras only come with an abbreviated paper guide and a CD with a PDF version of the full thing.

The lumpy, rubberized design looks ugly, but it's great for handling. There's no obvious bump or handle on the shutter-side of the body, but all the little divots and contours add up to a comfortable grip, especially with the textured coating. It's surprisingly light for such a rugged camera, and comfortable for one-handed shooting. The buttons are a bit small and sticky, which we expect from a tough-cam, so if you need to adjust any settings aside from zoom, you'll probably need to grip the camera with two hands.

Handling Photo 1

At a thickness of 1.2 inches, the WG-2 is a bit too bulky for pants pockets, but it's small and light enough for any cargo or jacket pocket. The camera comes with a carabiner, so it can clip onto a belt loop or backpack—not a bad idea if you're busy.

Handling Photo 2

The button design and layout is typical of a tough-cam. A button controls zoom instead of a tilter, which is the biggest departure from a normal point-and-shoot layout. The buttons are also a bit smaller and stickier compared to most pocket cameras, a function of the waterproof construction.

Buttons Photo 1

Without a doubt, the highlight of the user interface is the green button. By default, it's a dedicated button for Green Mode, a super-simple auto mode (see above). But it can be changed to a movie hotkey, voice recorder hotkey, or a function (Fn) menu button (more on that below).

Buttons Photo 2

The 3-inch, 460,000-pixel widescreen LCD is bright and contrasty enough to be seen fairly well in bright sunlight or underwater, though the screens on many other tough-cams are brighter and sharper. It's an upgrade from the 2.7-inch screen on last year's WG-1.

The Pentax WG-2 doesn't have optical image stabilization, but the digital stabilization it does offer is reasonably effective. We measured about a 47 percent improvement in sharpness with the SR Pixel Adjust mode activated. The downside is that all of the "stabilization" is actually just extra image processing; it doesn't occur in real-time like optical stabilization does, so it slows down the camera's shot-to-shot times.

Still-photo shooting modes include Auto Picture, Green Mode, Program, Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Handheld Night Snap, Flower, Underwater, Kids, Pets, Sport, Fireworks, Candlelight, Food, Text, Surf & Snow, Night Scene Portrait, Report, Digital Microscope, and two stitch-panorama modes.

The closest that the WG-2 comes to any kind of manual control is manual focus. Since the LCD is relatively low-res, there's no viewfinder, and focus is controlled with the four-way pad, the usefulness is limited. It's more of a novelty than a useful feature, but it can come in handy for some macro shots.

Maximum resolution is 16 megapixels in a 4:3 format. A handful each of smaller 4:3 and 16:9 options are available, as is a 12-megapixel 1:1 setting. Three quality settings are offered for each setting. This is a JPEG-only camera—no RAW capture.

A few extra picture controls are available as well.

Sharpness

Three sharpness settings are available, starting on the middle setting by default.

Saturation

Three saturation settings are available, starting on the middle setting by default.

Contrast

Three contrast settings are available, starting on the middle setting by default.

IQ Enhancer

The user manual doesn't really explain what this setting does, but it seems to boost sharpness and noise reduction.

Startup is fast and shutter lag is not a problem. But in terms of continuous or burst shooting, the WG-2 is sluggish, even by tough-cam standards.

Two drive modes are available: Continuous, which shoots at full res, and Burst, which shoots at 4 or 5 megapixels. An auto-bracketing drive mode is also available, shooting at +/- 1 EV stop, non-adjustable.

We measured a top speed of 1.87 shots per second at full resolution in continuous drive mode. That's about twice as fast as last year's WG-1, but very slow compared to any of its top-tier competitors in the adventure-cam category. It's puzzling, because backlit CMOS sensors usually enable speedy continuous shooting, but not here.

The typical 2-second and 10-second self-timer options are available, as is a remote-control setting. And as usual for Pentax, they've included an interval timer, programmable from 10 seconds to 99 minutes, and from 2 to 1,000 shots. A bit overboard, sure, but it's always better to have the option, right?

Durability is the main feature here—you're paying $349 for a tank-like object that happens to take pictures. Like most of this year's tough-cams, the WG-2 GPS has a built-in GPS antenna, though it's a quirky system (a non-GPS version is available as well). The LED macro lights return, made popular by the WG-1 and W90 before it. Otherwise, it's a standard point-and-shoot feature set, a bit slower and sparser than the most capable compacts out there.

A healthy selection of scene modes and picture effects are available, but without some of the extras we've come to expect in compacts, like sweep panorama or in-camera HDR.

Durability

Durability is the main feature on the WG-2—you're paying $349 for a tank-like object that happens to take decent pictures. See our Durability section for more.

GPS

The WG-2 GPS comes with a GPS antenna for geo-tagging photos. For some adventurous photographers, it's a must-have feature. They can map out their photos and figure out exactly where they took their favorite shots—and share that info with friends and other outdoor enthusiasts.

But like most in-camera GPS systems, it takes a few minutes to sync with the satellite, doesn't work very well in urban areas (or at all underwater), and is a major drag on battery life. The WG-2 GPS allows you to completely disable the GPS function, and Pentax also sells a cheaper, non-GPS version of the WG-2 (it's completely identical otherwise).

If GPS is a critical feature for you, the best in-camera GPS system we've seen is in the Panasonic TS4.

LED Macro Lights

The WG-2 has 6 LED lights situated around the lens ring. These lights enable clear macro shooting from as close as 1cm—basically with the lens leaning against the object. It's a very cool feature without any significant downsides.

The WG-2 can shoot 1080/60i video in the MPEG h.264 format, as well as 720/30p and VGA formats. A high-speed movie option is available as well, capturing 120 frames per second at a very low resolution. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Auto Controls

Video mode is entirely automatic. Scene modes and picture effects are not available while shooting movies, though there is a dedicated Underwater Movie setting.

Zoom

Focal length can be set prior to filming, but zoom is not available while movies are being recorded.

Focus

Focus is always accurate when clips begin filming, and from there, it's entirely out of the user's control. It can handle scenes with some motion (swimming underwater, for instance), but autofocus isn't quick or accurate enough to handle quick action.

Other Controls

Exposure compensation and white balance can be adjusted prior to filming.

Audio recording is limited to mono, with no additional options, features, or control.

Competition is a great thing. While sales of plain point-and-shoots dwindle, the camera industry is betting that tough-cams like the Pentax WG-2 will keep the compact-camera market afloat. Most manufacturers now make at least one adventure-ready camera, and it's driving improvements and innovation in the newly crowded segment.

The WG-2 stands out by default because it can go deeper underwater than any other adventure-ready camera. It's also in a tie for the title of most crushproof, freezeproof, and, uh, dustproof. A few cameras can survive slightly longer drops, but all told, the WG-2 is arguably the toughest of the tough cams. Thanks to the angular, rubberized design, the WG-2 is easy to grip—pretty important when you're underwater or hanging from a cliff. There are some cool and unique features too, like the ring of LED lights for macro photography.

Image quality has been a soft spot in the tough exterior of many adventure cameras, and that's still the case with the WG-2. Shots taken outdoors and in bright lighting are fine for sharing online or making medium-sized prints, and colors are punchy enough for decent underwater shots. But indoors and in low-light, photos are soft, sloppy, and flat. Not much has changed since last year's WG-1, which at the time we thought took pretty good shots for a tough-cam. But we've seen a handful of competitors in the meantime that take cleaner, clearer, and punchier shots—and those cameras are faster, too.

Photographers who need a camera exclusively for outdoor excursions might still consider the WG-2—there's a certain peace of mind that comes along with the world's toughest camera, and some folks can live with "good enough" quality. But anyone looking for an all-around snapshooter with a hard shell should look elsewhere.

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

Meet the tester

Liam F McCabe

Liam F McCabe

Managing Editor, News & Features

@liamfmccabe

Liam manages features and news coverage for Reviewed.com. Formerly the editor of the DigitalAdvisor network, he's covered cameras, TVs, personal electronics, and (recently) appliances. He's a native Bostonian and has played in metal bands you've never heard of.

See all of Liam F McCabe's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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