I’ve posted a few photos on here now taken with my underwater camera. I’m a very keen but amateur photography enthusiast, so when I took up swimming, it wasn’t long before I started checking out my options.

Eventually, after reading reviews and waiting for exchange rates to work in my favour, and finding the camera I was interested in came in a purple model, I decided on the Pentax Optio WG1.

 I ordered from Amazon and received the camera fairly quickly.. Unfortunately, the first time I took it out in the surf, the seal on the battery/memory card enclosure leaked and the camera was d-e-a-d. Dead. Luckily, Amazon are great with these things and I used their callback service and they had a replacement out to me immediately, with a return postage bag for me to put the broken one in.

Pentax Optio WG1

Pentax Optio WG1

Since then I’ve never had a problem with the replacement, so I’m putting it down to a faulty unit and not a flaw in the camera itself.

A couple of things about how I use the camera given the demands of ocean swimming….

I don’t use the strap and carabiner out of the box. These are too short to use attached and too slow to release when I want to shoot, and in any case if I have to unclip then there’s nothing to stop me losing the camera if I drop it in the surf. Instead, I threaded an old biking string (the bit that went around my torso from a string bikini) through and knotted it. It’s long enough that I can have it around the back of my neck, and stretchy enough not to be dangerous. Then I shove it down the front of my wetsuit where it’s held firmly enough to not move.

I haven’t figured out a good way of swimming with it without a wetsuit. If you have any suggestions please feel free to make them in the comments! I don’t want it hanging, particularly when I’m trianing hard or racing. I’ve kind of looked at some options for having it somehow attached via a waist strap with a release, but haven’t found anything that’s quite right yet. For snorkelling it’s fine as you can attach a flotation strap, but for ocean swimming nothing seems to have clicked for me yet. Excuse the pun.

Things I love about this camera:

  • It takes really good underwater photos. Really good. the underwater mode is great.
  • It has some really cool macro functionality.
  • It takes some other pretty cool functions like stitched panoramas, portrait mode and low light modes.
  • It looks awesome.
  • It really is pretty tough. I carry it down my wetsuit, round my neck and let it float around in my handbag and it’s fine.
  • It’s small and light and compact.

Things that could be improved:

  • The camera might be shockproof, but the view screen itself can still get pretty scratched up. And a screen protector isn’t really an option in the surf.
  • The recovery time between finishing one photo and setting up for the next one is too long. I turned off the automatic view of the last photo and it’s still slow.
  • the view screen gets a bit glary and is flush with the back of the camera. I rarely know what I’m taking and have to point and click and hope, then weed out a lot of bad/blurry photos or photos that aren’t what I meant to take once I’m processing them.
  • Auto Mode. Shocking. I rarely use this anyway, but if I were that sort of person I’d be very disappointed with this camera. Auto mode photos are almost universally bad.
  • Low light photos are pretty average. I don’t expect much of a point-and-shoot at this price point, and the Pentax lives up to my expectations.

That being said, it’s a great camera for what I use it for. It’s never going to replace my big-girl cameras…although my current one is broken and a new Nikon is on its way from the US, so I’ve been playing with it a bit more and finding that it’s actually OK for some things so long as I don’t use Auto mode. I’ve travelled with it and it did a pretty OK job places where I didn’t want to lug a bag full of heavy camera gear. I’m not looking at replacing it any time soon.

I’ve spoken with a few swim friends who also have digital cameras. I think the recovery time seems pretty universal (not sure why that is), and it seems to take better underwater shots.

I’m kind of interested in the new underwater Sony Cybershot. Only because I’ve had a couple of Sony point and shoots in the past and thought you got a lot of bang for your buck out of them. Prior to the Pentax I had a Sony with an underwater housing that produced some pretty great pictures. This model wasn’t out yet when I was shopping around, but it would definitely have been near the top of the list if it had.