Cameras

Pentax Optio W60 Digital Camera Review

The Pentax Optio W60 is meant to be your foul-weather photographic friend, oblivious to water (whether a splash or a full-on immersion) and freezing cold

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Physical Tour

The Pentax Optio W60 is at home in the middle of a rainstorm or at snorkling depths, but it looks like it's ready to attend a cocktail party, with a handsome design and sophisticated color scheme. For the most part the construction seems solid, with the exception of the camera bottom, where both the compartment door and the tripod socket concern us.

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Front(6.75)

Appropriate for a camera designed for underwater hijinks, our review sample of the Optio W60 features a rich blue brushed metal front panel we found strikingly attractive. The camera’s also available with a silver panel, but in our aesthetic judgment, there’s no contest. At the far left of the camera front is a raised black bar, designed as a rest for the middle right finger, which positions the index finger directly over the shutter. The word PENTAX appears in brushed raised silver lettering to the right of the bar and, to one side of that, 10 MEGAPIXELS printed in white ink. The lens features an internal zoom, so the modestly raised lens housing doesn’t move beyond its scant 3 mm elevation -- a pocket-friendly design. Not so friendly, though is the lack of any protection for the front lens element. A set of keys or some other sharp object in the wrong spot is going to permanently damage that shiny surface. Strange that a camera promoted on the basis of its toughness has such an obvious weakness.

Printed on the lens are the words PENTAX LENS and OPTICAL 5X ZOOM 5mm-25mm. Above the lens on the left is a small self-timer lamp. Above and to the right of the lens is the small flash unit. The words Optio W60 WATERPROOF are printed in white ink along the right front. Surrounding the entire front is a matte silver bezel.

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The raised black bar on the left helps steady the camera.

Back (6.25)

In the four corners of the back are inset plastic covers, presumably for waterproofing purposes. The word PENTAX is printed below the 2.5-inch screen, with the 230,000-pixel resolution that’s a de facto industry standard for low-priced cameras today. The screen is surrounded by a black bezel and covered with a clear glossy panel. The controls are arrayed on the right. From top to bottom, these include the zoom controls, the Play button, the MENU and Smile Mode/Face Detection buttons side by side, and below that the four-way controller, a solid piece of plastic that pivots top, bottom, left and right. The icons printed on this controller represent  (clockwise from top) self-timer, macro, mode control and flash. The OK button is very slightly raised in the center. Below the four-way controller is a green button that serves as a programmable control (triggering Easy mode by default), with a trashcan icon in blue to indicate the button’s erase function when in playback mode.

Along the far right edge on the top is a line of four small raised dots which seemed mysterious at first, since ordinarily our fingers didn’t fall anywhere near them. Then we held the camera vertically and all became clear – these dots fit perfectly under your thumb when shooting in portrait orientation, and are useful to keep the camera from budging when pressing the shutter.

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There aren't a lot of complicated controls here.

Left Side* (4.00) No functional features reside here. There’s a slight curve on the right edge and, at the bottom, the seam of the battery/memory card compartment.

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Keep moving... nothing to see  here.
*

Right Side*(5.50)*

A sturdy, shiny silver connector affixed with two visible screws is the only noteworthy feature. The center hole is large and smoothly polished, making it easy to thread the  wrist strap.

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*You don't really need this much hardware to attach a wriststrap,

but it does look rugged.*

Top*(6.25)*

The matte black plastic panel on top of the camera is subtly but substantially textured, promoting a secure index-finger grip. To the right of the Optio W60 labeling is a tiny monaural microphone and, beyond that, a small speaker. The power button is inset to sit  flush with the top panel, making an accidental press unlikely. There’s a brightly lit green dot in the center of the power button, making it obvious at a glance whether the camera is on or off. The shutter button, also flush with the top panel, offers a clear two-step distinction between the half-pressed and fully triggered states.

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The non-slip-grip up front is a welcome feature.

Bottom* (4.25)*

One of the first tasks when unpacking a new camera is installing a battery and memory card. Frankly, in this case, that introduction to the W60 didn’t fill us with confidence. The door to the battery / memory card / cable connector compartment is protected by a tiny lock that pushes open sideways (your thumb pad or fingernail will do the trick), allowing the cover to slide out from the left side of the camera and pivot open. Instead of the confidence-inspiring heft and satisfying thunk of a luxury automobile door, though, the W60 door feels thin, flimsy and unsubstantial, with a hinge that seems insecure. There’s a rubber panel inside the door that assures a watertight seal when closed. We took the camera underwater, swam with it, shook it around in liquid, and never did experience any leakage. Still, for a camera designed for active pursuits, we’d like to see more rugged construction here.

On the far right side, past the requisite labeling, is a non-reinforced tripod socket. It would be far too easy to strip the soft plastic threads from this socket. The positioning and design are also less than ideal: when attached to our tripod during performance testing, the camera didn’t rest flat on the platform. Instead the left side lifted noticeably, making it difficult to line up a flat horizontal plane.

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*The all-plastic tripod socket falls short of the

overall rugged design standard.*

 

Color and Resolution

Our lab testing of the W60 was a decidedly mixed bag. Low light performance wasn’t great, and our timing results were a problem for a camera destined for active lifestyle grab-shots. The camera turned in very good resolution scores, though, and the manual noise results were also impressive. As for the noise results when shooting in auto ISO mode, the W60 earned a digital dunce cap on that particular test.

**Color ***(7.62)*

There’s a reason that color performance is presented first among our battery of in-depth tests: when it comes to measuring technical camera performance, this is the one area that triggers a powerful emotional response. The impact of a brilliant blue sky, the warm reds and oranges of a fireplace, the blonde curls of a child all pop out for us as soon as we look at an image, long before you notice peculiarities in resolution or dynamic range. And while image editing software is frequently used to enhance color for dramatic effect, what we’re testing for here is accuracy. Mess with the reality of a photo for artistic reasons to your heart’s content, but we want to start out with a photo that faithfully captures the scene we saw.

Our color testing procedure calls for shooting a standard Gretag Macbeth color chart under controlled lighting conditions, at a variety of exposure settings. The resulting images are processed through Imatest image analysis software, which identifies off hues far more accurately than the human eye. For each color square in the Imatest chart below, the outer rectangle represents the color captured by the W60, the inner square is the captured color corrected for luminance, and the inset rectangle is the original chart color.

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A second Imatest chart makes it easy to see the degree to which color reproduction accuracy suffers. In this chart, the ideal color is shown within the squares, the captured colors appear in the circles, and the length of the lines linking them indicates how the camera fared: shorter lines mean greater color accuracy.

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*In this representation of color performance,

shorter lines indicate greater accuracy.

*

The W60 produced adequate, but not exemplary, results. The greens are pretty much spot on, and the reds are also very close, helping to turn out good-looking landscapes and portraits. The blues are drifting noticeably off the mark, interesting for a camera designed for underwater use, though unless you’re shooting blue-faced folks, accuracy in this area is likely to be less noticeable in the final photo.




Pentax W60 Color Scores


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When compared to four other cameras we’ve tested recently, the W60 is a significant notch below some of the dry-land competition, but substantially outperforms the Olympus Stylus 1030SW, it’s waterproof rival.

Resolution (8.16)

The number of megapixels a camera’s image sensor boasts doesn’t relate directly to the ability to create tack-sharp photos. Many camera systems, including optics, digital signal processing and image compression, combine to determine the final image quality. That’s why we shoot an industry-standard resolution chart with each camera, use Imatest to determine how precisely the actual photo produced by the camera captures the fine lines on the chart (scored as line widths per pixel  height, or lw/ph), and from that data produce a score which lets us compare performance across camera brands, models and specs.

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A close-up of the industry-standard resolution chart we use for testing

The Pentax did well in our resolution testing, with a maximum performance of 1780 lw/ph with minimal oversharpening. This result was achieved at the lens’ widest zoom setting. Moving the camera back and shooting at higher telephoto magnification did cut resolution performance noticeably. While even at maximum zoom the resolution performance is acceptable, the camera clearly favors wide-angle, scenic shooting.




Pentax W60 Resolution Scores


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The W60 stands up well to the competition, roughly equal to the Nikon and Olympus, handily outperforming the inexpensive Panasonic Lumix, and significantly behind only the surprisingly strong Samsung resolution stat.

 

Dynamic Range (5.29)

Cameras can’t capture as broad a range of light as the human eye can see, but the closer they come, the happier we are. A wide dynamic range means you keep all that delicious detail in the shadowy areas of a photo, and the bright spots hold onto some tone and texture instead of simply appearing as bright white blobs.

Our dynamic range test requires shooting a backlit Stouffer chart, which consists of patches spanning from pure white to pitch black. The test photos are chewed on a bit by Imatest, which spits out a reading of how wide a range was successfully reproduced. Ordinarily higher ISO settings, with the higher image noise level that comes with them, cuts down on dynamic range performance. That’s why we shoot at the full range of available ISOs, and graph the results like this:

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The dynamic range starts out nicely at the lowest ISO, but drops off too quickly through ISO 400, at which point it effectively levels off. The strong performance at ISO 50 may help the camera’s score a bit, but once you get to ISO 400, a very moderate setting if you’re trying to stop fast action, you’re going to run into noticeable lighting problems in less-than-perfect situations.

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In our camera comparison, the W60 and the Nikon Coolpix lag significantly behind the others, including the waterproof Olympus.

White Balance (7.89)

Inexpensive cameras have a tough time with this one – for that matter, quite a few pricey SLRs stumble when it comes to white balance testing as well. The challenge is adjusting to the different colors of light produced by varied sources of illumination. Sunshine, for example, isn’t white – it’s warm and reddish, where fluorescent light has a green tint. When we look at a white piece of paper under these very different sources of illumination, tough, our brains compensate. Cameras try to compensate, too, with three features. The easiest to use is choosing the Automatic setting, where the camera meters the light and adjust white balance accordingly. The second is selecting from a set of presets, built into the camera, which are  tailored to specific lighting conditions. Finally you can take a manual white balance reading by shooting a neutral white or gray surface under current lighting conditions.

We test the first two, shooting a color chart under varied light sources, including flash, fluorescent, shaded daylight and tungsten (incandescent), using both the automatic white balance capability and the white balance presets.

Auto White Balance (6.86)

The automatic white balance system didn’t cope well at all with tungsten illumination, the kind you’d find in a household with standard incandescent bulbs – this is always a problem area, but the W60 was particularly far off, and fluorescent light was another major problem. On the plus side, flash and shaded daylight photos were quite accurate in auto mode. In the following graphic representation of Imatest results, the difference between the original and the captured colors are exaggerated – you wouldn’t see this great a difference in your actual photos.

  • **Preset (8.91)
    *Using the fluorescent and tungsten presets produced tremendous improvements in white balance accuracy. This is not always the case – just because a camera offers white balance presets doesn’t mean they’ll actually help performance under test conditions. In many cases, we’ve found presets that worked less well than the automatic system. Happily, the few seconds spent by the user invoking the W60 presets is time well spent. One minor caveat: the W60 doesn’t include a flash preset, found on most cameras, but the flash results in auto mode were fine in the first place.

 

Averaging the automatic and preset scores produces a decent white balance score for the W60. Keep in mind, though, that a quick settings adjustment to the fluorescent and tungsten presets will deliver notably superior results.




Pentax W60 White Balance Scores


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Noise and Video

**Noise

**Shoot a picture of a solid-color wall in low light, with a nice high ISO and look at the result. See all those speckled, grainy imperfections? That’s image noise, electronic imperfections caused by shortcomings in the camera’s digital systems. Every camera, and every photo for that matter, has some image noise, but some models are much noisier than others. Hence, the lab tests.

Noise – Manual ISO*(10.21)*

The core noise test entails shooting the well-lit color chart at the full range of available ISO settings and having Imatest analyze the percentage of noise in the resulting images. When a camera has a user-controllable noise reduction system, we test with the system on and off. The W60 doesn’t let you turn the system on and off but, looking at the lab results, the camera is clearly attempting to keep noise under control through some statistical manipulation.

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We’re impressed with the noise performance here. It starts out, at ISO 50, just a hair above 1% noise, a very good figure for a point-and-shoot camera. After reasonable increases at ISO 100 and 200, the noise goes pancake flat from 200 to 400, and after another jump at ISO 800, maintains nearly the same performance at the camera’s top ISO 1600 setting. Being able to pump up the ISO to gain shutter speed in low-light situations, without paying a hefty price in additional noise, is a good thing.




Pentax W60 Manual Noise Scores


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Auto Noise (0.66)

The Auto ISO test is more about digital smarts than actual noise testing. We set the camera on Auto ISO, where it decides on the setting based on metered conditions. We shoot the color chart and run the noise analysis. The difference between success or failure here is how well the camera picks an appropriate ISO setting. The W60, sad to say, did as poorly as it possibly could. We pointed it at a well-lit chart, one that could be shot successfully at ISO 100 or 200. At its default setting, which lets the camera choose any value from ISO 50 to 800, the W60 consistently chose 800. When allowed to choose an ISO up to 1600, it chose 1600. We’re guessing the engineers decided to pump up the ISO to provide a nice, easy-to-handhold shutter speed, a valid consideration. In this case, though, at the default Auto ISO setting, the camera shot our chart, lit to a bright 1700 lux, at ISO 800, shutter speed 1/100 second, aperture f/5.5, noise 2.38%, score poor.




Pentax W60 Auto Noise Scores


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**Low Light **(5.88)

Photographic flash is a wonderful tool when you really need it, but there’s no arguing that the blast of a flash radically changes the look of what you’re looking at, not to mention the mood of the room. The better the low-light performance of your camera, the less you’ll have to resort to artificial lighting. And with a camera that’s geared for underwater as well as surface photography, that low-light rating is even more important.

We have two testing set-ups for low light. And interestingly, after the Olympus 1030 SW defeated our efforts to conduct both tests successfully, the Pentax Optio W60 confronted  us with exactly the same problem.

Our first test was easy enough to run for both cameras. To check color accuracy and noise levels at varied lighting levels, we light the color chart in four steps, from 60 lux (roughly the same as a well-light indoor room) down to 5 lux (about the illumination you’d get from a single candle), shooting at a highly light sensitive ISO 1600 setting.

The results at the three higher light levels were mediocre but not awful. However, when we hit the dim 5 lux lighting, the W60 basically threw in the towel, producing images with color far from the original and overwhelming noise levels.

Our second low-light test requires shooting at a range of shutter speeds, from 1 to 30 seconds, and analyzing the results. Unfortunately, the W60 (like the Olympus 1030 SW) offers no manual control over shutter speed, making accurate testing impractical. When set to ISO 400, the camera set the shutter speed to 1/4 second and produced an image nearly as far off color-wise as the disappointing 5-lux image in our light level testing, with over 3% noise. However, since we couldn’t conduct the full long-exposure test, this result isn’t factored into the overall score.




Pentax W60 Low Light Scores


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The key factor here is the comparison between the two underwater-friendly cameras, the Pentax and the Olympus. On this test, the Olympus performed exceptionally while the Pentax results are only so-so.

Still Life

In every review we shoot two stock still life scenes we created, one featuring  our perpetually happy couple, the other a tiny Rosie the River figure and her colorful  companions. The photos are shot in program mode, under standard fluorescent lighting, at each available ISO. Clicking on the small images below will open the full-size originals, but keep in mind that these are large files and will take awhile to download.

**Video Performance ***(3.85)*

Movie recording is available at a variety of settings, including a widescreen 1280x720 (limited to a choppy 15 frames per second), 640x480 (at 30 or 15 fps) and 320 x 240 (again at 30 or 15 fps). There is also a dedicated movie mode for shooting underwater, which shifts the white balance to handle watery conditions. We conducted our video quality tests at the 640 x 480, 30 fps level.

We test two key attributes of video performance: color accuracy and resolution.

Bright Indoor Light - *3000 Lux

We shoot video of our color chart under bright studio lighting to mimic outdoor illumination levels in a controlled environment. As with our still image testing, the reds were captured very nicely, while the blue values show significant inaccuracies.
*

****

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**

**

***Low Light - *30 Lux

Unlike the Olympus 1030 SW, which maintained its color accuracy nearly unchanged as we relit the chart from a bright 3000 lux to a dim 30 lux, the Pentax colors suffered noticeably under lower lighting, with dark blues and light greens wandering off in odd directions, and even reds starting to show some visible shift, though still not radically off.

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*****Resolution **(1.78)

While the resolution test results for the W60 surpassed the distinctly disappointing figures for the Olympus 1030 SW, they still won’t fool anyone into thinking you were shooting with a camcorder. The top horizontal resolution in our testing was 528 lw/ph, the vertical resolution 368 lw/ph.

**Motion **(1.50)

We head for a busy local street to test the motion-capturing performance of the still cameras we test, shooting fast-moving traffic, then viewing the resulting video on a large-screen TV and assessing the results visually. The W60 did a nice job here: movement was smooth, with no noticeable stuttering, and there was very little blur when shooting in broad daylight.

Speed and Timing

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Speed/Timing

**All speed tests were performed with a SanDisk Extreme III 8-gigabyte SDHC memory card, so bottlenecks caused by writing to a slow memory card are not a factor. 
Startup to First Shot **(6.3*0*)

The W60 was slow to wake up from its slumbers here, consistently taking over three seconds from power-on to shot taken. **

Shot-to-Shot (0.96)

In the faster of the two continuous release modes, Pentax claims you’ll get 3.5 frames per second. We got 3.46, which sounds great -- until you realize that the high-speed mode limits image resolution to 5 megapixels on this 10-megapixel camera. The slower continuous shooting mode, which saves shots directly to the memory card instead of internal buffer memory, ran just a hair under 1 frame per second, a fairly pokey performance.

Shutter-Shot** (3.48)

Shutter lag, that annoying gap between the time you press the shutter and the moment a photo is captured, is still an issue for the W60. Unlike higher-performing cameras, where this test often produces results too small to measure accurately, the W60 consistently took over half a second to snap a picture, an unimpressive result.**

Processing** (3.17)

Here we measure the time it takes from pressing the shutter to seeing your photo displayed on the LCD screen. Again, the W60 disappointed, taking over two and a half seconds on average before you saw your photo and were ready to take another.

Components

**

Viewfinder**

Like most compact cameras we’ve seen lately, the Optio W60 doesn’t have an optical viewfinder, relying solely on its LCD screen for composing photos. The downside? An optical viewfinder always works, even when glaring sunlight makes an LCD hard to see. A viewfinder is also useful when you’re trying to eke out a few more shots from a nearly drained battery. And as SLR shooters will tell you, holding a camera up to your eye helps steady your hands.

LCD Screen(3.00)

The 2.5-inch LCD display offers the near-standard 230,000-pixel resolution we see on most cameras today. The brightness is adjustable in seven steps through the Settings menu. Even at its default setting, the display handles bright daylight well, and the anti-reflective coating does make a difference. At the beach or other blindingly bright environment we still miss an optical viewfinder, but the Optio display stands up well in comparison to other compact cameras we've tested.

While shooting, the LCD display toggles between four settings. The normal display includes indicators for shooting mode, zoom status, remaining storage capacity, battery level, time, aperture and shutter speed, EV compensation, and the focus frame. Pressing OK adds a live histogram to the display. In addition to the histogram itself, sections of the screen that are overexposed blink red, and sections that are totally black blink yellow – looking at a problematic exposure is like watching a traffic light at a busy intersection. Another OK press clears the screen except for the focus area indicator. And finally, a third press turns the screen off entirely, for no apparent reason. The camera has no optical viewfinder, so the ability to turn off the screen and take a photo without seeing what you’re shooting seems ridiculous.

**

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The 2.5-inch LCD is small but adequate

**Flash (5.25)

The tiny flash, less than half an inch across, performed better than expected. Shooting a blank wall from seven feet away produced bright illumination in a smooth, even pattern, with the expected dimming along the farthest edges but without the clearly visible hot spot which is common with flashes this size and shape.

The flash range, as quoted by Pentax, is 0.98 – 13 feet (0.3 m – 3.9 m) with ISO set to auto. There are six flash modes in all:

****- Auto

  • Flash Off

  • Flash On (mandatory flash, useful for filling in shadows when shooting in daylight)

  • Auto + Red-eye reduction

  • Flash On + Red-eye reduction

  • Soft Flash****

    flash_mode.gif

Red-eye reduction emits a single, lower-power pulse about a second before the main flash, intended to close down the subject’s pupil before the picture is taken. This makes it less likely that light will travel through the pupil, hit the back of the eye and reflect off the blood vessels there, causing the all-too-familiar demonic red glow of flash photography.

Like Flash On mode, Soft flash will fire whenever you press the shutter, but lowers the intensity of the blast, cutting down on the harshness of flash illumination and the volume of complaints from friends and family when shooting in close quarters.

The positioning of the flash on the camera body isn’t ideal: it’s very close to the lens, increasing the chance of red-eye when shooting faces in the dark.

Some cameras like the Optio W60, which lack an LED illuminator to help with focus in very dark environments, use brief bursts of flash as a substitute. That’s not the case here, leaving the focus system completely in the dark when you’re completely in the dark. The result? Out-of-focus shots.

****Zoom Lens **(5.50)

A more powerful zoom lens is a key advantage of the Optio over its primary waterproof competition, the Olympus 1030 SW. The Olympus provides a 3.6x optical zoom. The Pentax lens spans a 5x range, equivalent to a 28 – 140mm on a 35mm camera. The aperture starts at f/3.5 at the widest angle setting and f/5.5 at maximum telephoto – not ideal for low-light photography without flash. As for wide-angle coverage, the 28mm setting equals the Olympus (the Pentax gain is entirely on the telephoto side).

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The small flash is positioned very close to the lens,

causing red-eye problems..

One area that did impress us regarding the lens is the extreme close-up macro capability. We were able to shoot close-ups of subjects within 1 cm (2.5 inches) of the front of the lens, with very good sharpness and fast auto focus performance.

Digital zoom, up to 5.7x the optical zoom range is also available. While we’d never use digital zoom when shooting in high resolution (far better to crop with computer software later), shooting at reduced resolutions (7 megapixels or less) allows the use of "intelligent zoom," which uses the sensor resolution not required for the smaller image size to create a virtual zoom effect, without resorting to mathematically altering the image.

The zoom occurs entirely within the camera: there’s no snout moving in and out. This doesn’t make much difference under ordinary circumstances, but is handy when you want to use an accessory case to reach greater depths underwater.

An oddity here is the lack of any lens covering. The Olympus Stylus 1030 SW has an automated lens cover that closes when the camera powers down, a desirable feature on a camera built for rugged lifestyles. The Pentax lens is unprotected, vulnerable to grime and far more destructive incursions.

The zoom lens control buttons pivot stiffly from the center point. They work fine if you poke at them with a fingernail, but pressing with the ball of the thumb can be frustrating. This is particularly difficult on the left, zoom-out part of the switch, which is mounted very close to the raised lens bezel. On the plus side, lens movement is smooth and precise, not moving into a series of predetermined positions or wobbling noticeably when you let up on the control.

Design / Layout

Model Design / Appearance*(7.50)*

There’s nothing about the look of the Optio W60 to betray its element-defying specialty. The turquoise blue color is sophisticated and subtle – not the kind of screaming red, pink or green we’ve seen in some recent camera introductions, but more interesting than good old black and silver. While the shape is more rectangular than curvaceous, subtle beveled edges at the corners and well-placed silver and black accents contribute to one handsome camera design.

Size / Portability (9.00)

You don’t pay a portability price opting for the reinforced Optio 60W over a more run-of-the-mill point-and-shoot. It measures 3.9" x 2.2" x 1.0" (98.0 mm x 55.5 mm x 24.5 mm) and weighs 5.1 oz. (145 g) including battery and memory card. The Optio doesn’t have quite the depth-defying prowess of the Olympus 1030 SW, but it also comes in a significant 26% lighter

Handling Ability(8.00)

The W60 feels secure and steady, whether you’re holding it in one hand to grab a quick shot or, more often, have it resting on your two thumbs with your finger hovering over the shutter button. The black textured covering on top of the camera has a reassuring non-slip feel, even underwater, and the raised lettering on the bottom battery compartment cover provides an equally secure purchase there. Theoretically you could block the tiny microphone on top of the camera with your left index finger, but you’d have to be holding the camera at an odd angle to make that happen. As for the shutter, it’s well positioned and offers unmistakable two-step tactile feedback when half-pressing and fully depressing the button.

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The W60 is small and well-balanced enough to grab a shot one-handed.

**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size **(8.00)

Pentax opted for simplicity in the control design. There are no knobs to turn and only a few clearly labeled buttons. This approach is both a plus and a minus in day-to-day shooting. If you’re basically a point and shoot kind of person, offering only a handful of controls lowers the intimidation factor and makes manipulating the buttons that are available more straightforward. On the other hand, there are few easy shortcuts to settings you might want to alter frequently. Changing an ISO setting, for example, or choosing an exposure preset requires clicking your way through the on-screen menu system using the four-way controller.

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The controls are clearly marked but tough to operate..

The buttons at top right that zoom in and out while taking photos are also used in playback mode to magnify an image (up to 10x) or, going in the other direction, to lower  the magnification level, then switch to a nine-image thumbnail display, then finally switch to a calendar view that organizes your shots by the date they were taken (pressing the green button while in calendar view switches to folder view, and vice versa). This zoom control feels stiff and requires fingernails, rather than just the ball of your thumb, to press effectively.

Next down is the dedicated button, with a green VCR-style Play icon, that switches between record and image playback modes. The Menu button, right below Play, brings up the on-screen menu display for Record or Play mode, plus the Setup menu. Directly to the right is a dedicated happy face button that toggles between Face Priority On, Smile Capture and Face Priority Off. It seems odd to devote a button to this function, when there are other adjustments we’d use far more frequently, but apparently Pentax believes that W60 buyers will find switching flavors of face detection a high-priority task.

The four-way controller is a standard feature today, but the Pentax version is tougher than most to use, thanks to the same hard-to-press design used in the zoom lens control. The rectangular four-way controller has short, stubby buttons on each side, giving them very little leverage, backed by a stiff spring that requires a substantial press. Fingernails are required and, even then, we found the controller problematic, especially when pressing the left side (flash mode) button, which butts up against the raised lip of the LCD screen to limit access. At least the OK button in the center is raised, making that easy to press.

The four-way control buttons handle, from the top and moving clockwise:

Drive Mode (indicated by timer icon): Standard, Self-timer (10- or 2-second delay), Continuous Shooting (standard and high-speed, Interval Shooting, Auto Bracket (exposure)

focus_mode.gif

Focus Mode (indicated by flower icon): Standard Auto Focus, Macro, 1 cm Macro, Pan Focus, Infinity, Manual Focus

Mode (indicated by the word MODE): select from 24 shooting modes

Flash (indicated by lightning bolt): Auto, Off, On, Auto + Red-eye, On + Red-eye, Soft

Below the four-way controller is a single button with a rounded green rectangle printed on it. During record mode, by default, this triggers Green Mode, which sets the camera to full automatic and locks out most user settings. During playback, as indicated by the blue trash can icon printed to the right, the button controls the image erase function.

Surprisingly, though, the Green button leads a dual life, providing welcome flexibility for those with a hankering for manual control access. The Record menu provides the option to switch the Green Button from a shortcut to total simplicity to instant access to four programmable functions. In this "Fn" setting, a press of the green button brings up a shortcut overlay for the four-way controller. You get to decide which of eleven functions is mapped to each four-way controller button. The possibilities are:

  • Recorded Pixels

  • Quality Level

  • White Balance

  • Auto Focusing Area

  • Focus Limiter

  • AE Metering

  • ISO Sensitivity

  • EV Compensation

  • Sharpness

  • Saturation

  • Contrast

Whichever options you choose, icons representing the selected functions are clearly displayed on the LCD screen when you press the Green button, so there’s no memorization required. You even get a convenient histogram, so if you’re changing exposure compensation, for example, you get an instant graphic feedback on the result. Exposure compensation and ISO were the first two function we mapped to the Green mode control screen. Without Green mode, it takes  eight button presses just to get to the point where you can start making exposure compensation adjustments. With Green mode, it takes two.

Menu (5.50)

On-screen menus aren’t particularly attractive, but the text is readable enough and the organization is consistent. The Record and Settings menu appear after pressing the Menu button. Unfortunately, the only way to move between the Record and Setting menus is to bring the cursor all the way to top of the menu you’re in. That’s because the right button of the four-way controller is used to open up menu options, which are then confirmed using the OK button.

As for the Play mode menu, which includes editing choices and a slideshow utility, that’s available by pressing the MODE button on the four-way controller while reviewing an image. Instinct says you should get to the Play menu by pressing MENU, but you can’t always trust your instincts.

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**Ease of Use **(7.00)

Your perception of this camera’s ease of use will depend heavily on how you’re planning to shoot. For pure point-and-shooters, it’s tough to argue with a camera that lets you turn it on, press the shutter and get a decent picture. For those of us looking for even a little bit more control, the W60 makes you work for it. All of the shooting mode choices are bundled into a single on-screen menu, so instead of turning a dial or pressing a button to jump from still to movie mode, for example, you have to pull up the Mode menu and maneuver through it using the directional controller – it’s a slow system. And while we welcome the ability to map frequently used functions to the Green-button-and-four-way-controller combo, that’s a fairly obscure system compared to providing dedicated controls in the first place.

Modes

Auto Mode (8.25)

There are three separate automated modes available. Auto Picture, the default setting, lets the camera assess the scene and choose from seven of the available preset modes: Night Scene, Landscape, Portrait, Night Scene Portrait, Sport, Flower and Standard. This is a more sophisticated approach to point-and-shoot than the typical full auto mode found on most compact cameras. That more traditional full auto is available on the W60 as well, by pressing a dedicated button to enter Green Mode, which pegs exposure, white balance, ISO and so on to automatic readings. One oddity about Green Mode is that it automatically sets compression to the middle, "Better" quality setting instead of Best. Considering current SD card capacities, skimping on image quality to save a few megabytes is just wrong, even in full auto mode.

In addition to these two leave-everything-to-the-camera approaches, the W60 supports Program Mode, which sets aperture and shutter speed automatically but leaves other options, such as image size and flash mode, to the user.

**Movie Mode ***(7.25)*

The S60 offers separate modes for normal Movies and Underwater Movies. The standard movie mode provides three resolution settings at15 frames per second, a widescreen 1280 x 720 plus 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. The advantage to shooting choppy video with more pixels, in 1280 x 720 mode,  eludes us  Smoother 30 frame per second video is available when shooting at 640 x 480 and 320 x 240.

Movies can also be shot in black and white or sepia tone. A Movie Shake Reduction mode provides some protection against shaky hands by digitally enlarging the middle of the image sensor, cutting down on the area being shot. It provides a modest improvement under certain circumstances – when shooting out the window of a moving car, for example – but is no substitute for true sensor- or lens-based image stabilization, which the W60 lacks.

The other movie mode that’s actually kind of fun is interval shooting, where you set the camera to shoot a frame at a user-defined interval (1, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes)  and compile the results into a movie file. Settings to predetermine the length of the movie and any desired delay before the movie shooting begins are also available.

Drive / Burst Mode*(6.00)*

Two drives modes are available. High-speed continuous shooting promises 3.5 frames per second for two seconds, with resolution capped at 5 megapixels, and met that promise right on the button. Pentax doesn’t offer a speed rating for the standard-resolution continuous shooting mode, which saves out to your memory card after every shot and will keep shooting until the card is full. In our testing, we got roughly one frame a second at full 10-megapixel resolution (without flash, of course).

**Playback Mode ***(9.25)*

The image playback screen offers three different displays, toggled by pressing the OK button:

playback.gif

Standard: image name, date and time taken, battery level, 4-way controller key (all but the image name disappear after a few seconds)

Enhanced: image name, date and time taken, battery level, 4-way controller key, image size, compression setting, white balance mode, ISO, shutter speed, aperture and histogram (all stay on-screen until dismissed by user)

Clean : 4-way controller key disappears after a few seconds to leave only photo

As for editing tools for working with images during playback, those are available by pushing the MODE button on the four-way controller while viewing an image. These include digital sharpening to eliminate the appearance of camera shake, resizing, cropping, image rotation, digital filter, movie edit, frame composite, red-eye compensation and voice memo attachment.

Zooming in while in playback mode increases magnification in 28 steps up to 10x. Enabling Quick Zoom in the Setting menu brings magnification up to 10x with a single click of the zoom-in control, a handy way to quickly check the focus of a photo you’ve just taken. You can’t one-click back to normal view, though, requiring the usual modest, tedious steps instead.

Custom Image Presets*(8.50)*

The custom  image presets, which consist of prepared camera setting combinations designed to suit a particular shooting situation, are lumped into the record mode menu along with basic Auto Picture and Program mode choices.

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Control Options

**

Manual Control Options**

Manual exposure controls are lacking, a significant shortcoming. No aperture-priority or shutter-priority auto exposure is available, nor can you get full manual exposure control. Manual exposure compensation is available, though, and so is manual focus, a feature frequently missing from compact cameras. There are also settings in the Record Mode menu for sharpness, saturation and contrast, but each only has three values, limiting their usefulness.

Focus

Auto Focus (8.00)

There are three auto focus area settings. Multiple, the default, focuses on a broad area in the center of the screen, while Spot concentrates on a smaller area. Automatic Tracking AF maintains focus on moving objects if you first select them by half-pressing the shutter button, then keep the button pressed.

To speed focus performance, you can set the Focus Limiter function so that the lens only attempts to find focus in the longer range settings when shooting normally, and on the close side when shooting in macro mode. We found it both confusing and of limited value, a potently unpleasant combination.

The system did reasonably well auto focusing in low light conditions. However, the lack of an auto focus assist illuminator did pose a problem when we turned off the lights indoors – the poor camera was literally left in the dark, unable to take a picture.

Manual Focus (5.50)

The manual focus capability provided by the W60 is nothing fancy – no helpful magnified view as a focusing aid, or automatic feedback to indicate when you’ve achieved a sharp image – but being able to manually focus at all was a welcome surprise. Manual focus is selected by pressing the four-way controller right, into the focus mode selection menu. Then pressing the four-way controller buttons up and down adjusts the setting, is a smooth progression from infinity down to 1 centimeter.

ISO*(8.75)*

ISO settings range from a surprisingly low ISO 50 to ISO 1600 at full resolution, and on to 3200 and 6400 at a reduced 5-megapixel resolution. The odd part of the ISO setting scheme comes in auto mode, which allows users to predetermine the ISO range the camera is allowed to select, in five increments: 50-100, 50-200, 50-400, 50-800 and 50-1600 (50-800 is the default setting). We understand the thinking here, we think. If you’re eager to maintain the best possible image quality, you’d keep the camera from pushing for really high ISOs, which inevitably add unwanted image noise. On the other hand, the camera’s digital brain should be smart enough to select an appropriate ISO setting based on current shooting conditions, without requiring user intervention. The fact that, in our low-light testing, the W60 chose an entirely inappropriate setting of ISO 1600 in a brightly lit room makes us think that Pentax should concentrate on smartening up the auto ISO system instead of asking users to rein in the system’s yearning to mistakenly maximize light sensitivity settings.

White Balance (5.50)

The number of white balance presets is sparse – you get automatic, shade, sunlight, tungsten and one fluorescent setting – but the fact that you can easily establish your own custom white balance setting makes up for some shortcomings on the preset side. Just choose manual white balance, point at a white surface and press the shutter – it’s easy and effectiv

Exposure (3.00)

The lack of any manual exposure controls hurts the W60s score in this area. Exposure compensation does work fine once you get to it, allowing the typical thirteen steps between -2EV and +2EV. The annoyance is having to work through eight button presses to reach this frequently useful capability. Working with the camera over time, we generally kept exposure compensation mapped to the Green Mode button, which put it just two clicks away, though it shouldn’t require advanced settings to get at a basic command.

Automatic exposure bracketing is available, taking three shots (one at the metered reading, one a full EV step below and one a full EV step above) when you press the shutter once. This feature would be much more practical if the interval between shots wasn’t so long, though, or the exposure difference so great. 

Metering (7.50)

There are three auto exposure metering modes.  Multi-segment divides the image into 256 sections and meters for best overall exposure. Center-weighted also looks at the entire image, but weights the result to favor a proper exposure in the middle. Finally, spot metering looks only at a small area in the center of the screen.

Shutter Speed*(4.00)*

Shutter speeds for the W60 are quite limited, ranging from 1/1500 of a second to just 1/4 second with normal settings and 4 seconds in night scene mode. Combined with the lack of manual shutter speed control, this limits the camera’s ability to take high-quality photos in low-light situations, even if you carry a tripod.

Aperture*(4.50)*

The maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 at the closest setting to f/5.5 at maximum telephoto range. The f/3.5 setting is unimpressive, and undoubtedly tied to the system’s tendency to choose higher light sensitivity settings. Considering the fact that the camera is designed to be used underwater, where light levels are already filtered down, we would hope for a faster lens (though the Olympus 1030 SW, designed to reach even greater depths, offers exactly the same f/3.5 aperture spec). The picture is somewhat brighter, though, on the telephoto side. The Olympus, with s 3.6x telephoto, offers a maximum f/5.1 aperture at its full zoom setting. The Pentax cranks the zoom to a welcome 5x, with nearly the same maximum aperture.

Image Parameters

Picture Quality / Size Options (5.80)

The 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor, with 10.34 total pixels, delivers 10.0 effective megapixels. Available resolutions are:

 

Three compression levels are provided, Best, Better and Good. We were unhappy with the fact that Better, described in the manual as "suitable for viewing the image on a computer screen," is used as the default setting, and imposed with no flexibility in the ultra-simple Green Mode, rather than the Best setting, which is more print-friendly.

Picture Effects Mode (4.75)

A variety of editing and picture effects functions are available during playback, with the option to overwrite the edited file or save a new version when appropriate. These tools include:

Shake Reduction: attempts to remove blur from low-light images

Resize: change image size and/or compression

Crop: a variety of crop sizes and positions are available

Rotate: available rotation positions are previewed in thumbnails on screen

Digital Filter: effects include B&W, sepia, color shift (red, pink, purple, blue, green, yellow), color extraction (red, green, blue), soft filter, brightness adjustment, fish-eye

Frame Composite: overlay image of frame on a photo (over 80 designs are available)

Red-eye Compensation: automated fix

While taking photos a panoramic image capture option is available, which automatically stitches together up to three horizontally panned images in the camera. A ghost image of the edge of the previous shot appears on-screen to aid in aligning the next shot. There’s also a special-purpose panoramic mode called Digital Wide. You take two shots in portrait (vertical) orientation, and the camera stitches them together to mimic the frame proportions of 35mm camera, though the final image is limited to 5-megapixel resolution. We found the panorama process worked very nicely, creating nice clean connections between handheld images in under a minute.

It is also possible to shoot with a picture frame overlay while taking pictures, but the option to add one later seems much more practical.

Connectivity / Extras

Connectivity

Software (6.00)

The camera comes with a full copy of ACDSee Photo Manager, a popular shareware image editor that ordinarily sells for $39.99. It's does a nice job importing and organizing photo files, including automatic categorization based on EXIF image data, and also allows image tagging by category and rating. There's also a wide range of image adjustment and file conversion tools, from basics to curve tweaking. unsharp mask and noise removal. You can't do the kind of hand editing possible in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, but it's a much stronger piece of software than we expect to receive bundled with a point-and-shoot, and you get versions for both PC and Mac.

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The battery, memory card and multipurpose connector

are all housed in one compartment.

Jacks, ports, plugs (1.50)

Hidden in the compartment housing the battery and memory card is a single port to connect proprietary cables for the supplied USB and AV out cables. As always, the need for proprietary cables makes us nervous: they’re hard to find and expensive to replace if they go missing, or you leave them home while traveling. At least the Pentax uses a standard SD memory card, so most users will get photos from the camera to the computer with a memory card reader instead of a cable.

Direct Print Options (6.00)

The W60 supports both PictBridge for printing directly via USB to a compatible printer, without using a computer. All the basics options are covered through easy-to-navigate menu choices, including photo choice (all or selected images), print quantity, paper size and type, print quality and border settings.

DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) is also supported, allowing users to create a file indicating printing preferences, save it to the memory card and hand the card to a commercial printing service. A DPOF file can also be used when printing via PictBridge.

Battery (5.00)

The camera is powered by a slim D-L178 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Pentax estimates the camera can shoot 205 photos on a single charge, with flash used 50% of the time. Unfortunately, the battery is symmetrical, with the same rounded edges on both sides. As a result, it’s perfectly easy to insert it the wrong way around – it won’t blow anything up, but it also won’t power the camera until you re-open the door and re-insert the battery. *Memory* (4.00)

The W60 has 36.4 megabytes of internal memory, primarily used to hold image files for the picture frame edit feature. For photo storage, the camera accepts SD and higher-capacity SDHC memory cards.

Other features (11.50)

Torture and Abuse Resistance: As with the Olympus 1030 SW we reviewed recently, this is a special-purpose camera appealing specifically to an audience looking for resistance to the elements, and willing to pay a premium price for that feature.*

*

The daredevil-specific claims for the Pentax Optio W60 include:

Waterproof to 14 feet (4m) for two hours

Freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius)

Dustproof against dirt, sand and dust

The new 14-foot depth spec is a 30% improvement over company’s previous rugged model. On the other hand, it pales in comparison to the 33-foot (10-meter) underwater depths braved by the Olympus 1030 SW. The Olympus makes additional Schwarzeneggerian claims as well: shockproof to withstand a 6.6-foot (2-meter) drop and crushproof to withstand 220 pounds (100 kilos) of pressure. For light-duty aggressive behavior, including fun by the pool or at the beach, sailing, chronicling snowball fights or jogging dramatically through a downpour, either camera should do the job without incident. For plummeting down mountain slopes on skis or snowboard, diving below snorkeling depth or TK, we’d feel more secure with the Olympus. Of course, there’s a price to be paid for this increased ruggedness, both economically (the Olympus runs $70 more than the Pentax) and in portability, with the Pentax a significantly smaller, lighter-weight and more pocket-friendly.

*

Face Recognition*: The W60 provides three features based on face detection technology. First is your basic Face Priority mode, which identifies up to 32 faces in the frame and sets focus and exposure to match their mugs. Second is Smile Detection, an increasingly popular feature that waits after you’ve snapped the shutter until the camera recognizes a smiling face before actually taking the picture. If your subjects are particularly morose on a given day, you can override the waiting game by pressing the shutter a second time.

Finally there is Blink Detection, which notifies you after the face if the subject of your photo blinks  Shooting in real-world conditions, we found the smile capture feature worked reasonably well, and might help you take better photos. Blink detection, on the other hand, missed the fact that eyes were closed as often as it noticed and, even then, didn’t add anything to the picture-taking experience. You have to glance at the screen to see the blink detection warning – as long as you’re looking, you should be able to see the subject’s closed eyes in the image review. Sony recently implemented a more interesting version of blink detection in some of its cameras. Instead of simply letting you know the shot’s no good, it automatically snaps a second photo a split-second later, upping the odds that the blinker will have reopened his or her eyes and producing a useable photo. In the more limited version provided by Pentax, using blink detection is not an eye-opening experience.

*

Interval Shooting: *Both still and movie modes offer an interval recording option, where you set the camera in position, tell it when to shoot and leave it to create either a sequence of stills or a movie stringing together the individual shots. The interval can be set anywhere from 10 seconds to 99 minutes, the number of shots from 2 to 1000, and the delay before starting the sequence up to 24 hours, so you don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to capture a beautiful sunrise sequence.

Overall Impressions

Value (7.00)

The value question here is all about the waterproofing. If that's not a high priority for you, there are no other compelling reasons to spend $330 for the W60. And if you're doing any serious diving or expect to beat up your camera in substantial ways, we'd be inclined to spend the extra $70 and go with the Olympus Stylus 1030 SW. However, the W60 is well designed for family fun at the pool, the beach, and in the snow, and the weather resistance doesn't result in a bulky camera, so it can comfortably do double duty as your day-in, day-out point and shoot.

Comparisons

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**Nikon Coolpix P5100 – **The Nikon sells for nearly the same price as the W60 and, while it offers a less extensive zoom capability (3.5x versus 5x), it delivers all the manual controls a serious photographer wants in a compact camera, in contrast to the highly automated W60. Screen size is the same, and portability is comparable. The Nikon did outscore the W60 in several lab tests, notably in color accuracy and low light performance, but when it comes to resolution and dynamic range the two are neck and neck.

olympus-stylus-1030sw-120.jpg

**Olympus Stylus 1030 SW– **When it comes to image quality, the Pentax W60 holds a noteworthy edge over the more expensive ($399.99) Olympus in several key categories, including color accuracy and image noise. Neither has the manual controls we'd like to see in a camera in this price range, or the image stabilization feature to help deal with action shooting in challenging environments. If you're looking for a truly rugged camera, though,  the 1030 SW has a decided edge over the less robust Pentax.

panasonic_lz8-120.jpg

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8**–** This is a very inexpensive model, at just $180, and comes in at 8 megapixels versus the Pentax 10-megapixel spec. It does offer a 5x zoom, though, optical image stabilization and the manual exposure controls the Pentax sorely lacks. Bottom line: if waterproofing isn't high on your agenda, you can find a much less expensive camera with superior controls and decent image quality.

 

samsung-NV40-120.jpg

Samsung NV40**–**Pricier than the Panasonic at $280, this 10-megapixel Samsung  delivered exceptional results in several key performance tests, including resolution and dynamic range, and even produced very good video. Our main concern, though, was the peculiar controls scheme, which involves brushing your fingers along rows of buttons to move an on-screen highlight. The Pentax is much simpler to use, and the extra weatherproofing doesn't result in much of a price difference compared to this model.

**

Who It’s For ***

Point-and-Shooters* – This is a grab-and-go camera with simple controls and a Green Mode that makes photography completely idiotproof.

Budget Consumers – It may be a good value if waterproofing is high on your agenda, but it's still a fairly expensive piece of gear.

Gadget Freaks – The idea of a camera you can toss into the pool without turning it into a digital paperweight may appeal to some, but beyond that the gee-whiz features are sparse.

Manual Control Freaks – Not a chance.

Pros / Serious Hobbyists – The controls are too rudimentary to cause a serious photographer to even glance at the Pentax, beyond the personal pleasures of taking family snapshots in water-soaked locations.

 

Conclusion

**

Conclusion**

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Most of us miss out on great photo opportunities because we're afraid to ruin our cameras in harsh conditions. The beach is a wonderful place to grab shots of our family (or particularly attractive members of someone else's family, for that matter), but waves and spray could have you wiping out without going near a surfboard. Same goes for the pool, or the slopes for skiing or snowboarding. The Pentax takes the worry out of these situations, and for many users that's going to be worth a few extra dollars compared to a less rugged camera with otherwise similar features. Image quality is adequate if not outstanding, but good enough for the point-and-shoot task at hand. The fact that the camera is a bit slow on the shutter is a greater concern, but compared to no camera at all, you can learn to live with it.

If you're a serious outdoorsman, though, we'd point you to the Olympus 1030 SW, which boasts much tougher construction and the ability to plunge to depths of 33 feet, versus 13 feet for the Pentax. Both are equally adept at dealing with the cold, though, so  balance the $60 price difference ($329.99 for the Pentax, $399.99 for the Olympus) against your  personal preferences for physical feats of derring-do.

Sample Photos

**Sample Photos

Click on any of the images below to view the full-sized original image. However, please note that some of the images are extremely large (up to several megabytes) and could take a long time to download. **

**

You can browse photos shot with the Pentax Optio W60 at the following photo hosting sites.******

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Specs / Ratings

**Specs Table

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