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Robert Abrams
Camera Reviews
The Hilton Waikoloa Village
United States
Waikoloa (Big Island), HI

Review of the Pentax Optio W30 Underwater Camera and Video of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

by Robert Abrams
November 12, 2007
The Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Drive
Waikoloa (Big Island), HI 96738
(808) 886-1234 / 1-800-HILTONS
While it is true that there is not that much call for underwater cameras for dance photography, it is not completely out of the question. You could be in Miami shooting a Salsa performance by a pool, and at the of the performance, the dancers might jump into the pool to be dramatic. Not that Salsa performances are usually lacking in drama. To fully capture the performance, you, as the photographer, might want to jump into the pool with the dancers.

If so, the Pentax Optio W30 is a servicable point and shoot camera, both on land and underwater. It is Class 8 waterproof and Class 5 dustproof. Which means that it can go down about 10 feet under water.

The pictures below are examples taken with the Optio W30 under water and in a dust cloud respectively. The dusty horse trail is on Maui. The under water shots are from the Big Island of Hawaii. Plus, I have included a video of a green sea turtle in the lagoon at the Hilton Waikoloa. I justified including the video because it shows of the video mode of the Optio W30, and because you might be a choreographer who is thinking about doing a dance that emulates the movements of a green sea turtle, in which case this video will be a practical resource for you. If you don't want to dance like a turtle, you should watch the video anyway because green sea turtles are really cool. In case you were wondering, the rice krispies noises in the background are fish eating coral. The high pitch noises are either dolphins or a construction project. The pictures underwater are sometimes slightly blurry because the lagoon is a place where fresh water meets salt water, which tends to cause somewhat variable visibility.

In general, I would say the Pentax Optio W30 takes decent pictures. Don't expect the underwater pictures to look as vibrant as those taken by professional photographers with high end equipment, but for a small vacation camera, they are fine. The dry land pictures are also fine.

I am not going to go into a detailed analysis of the camera's output under various conditions, though, because the camera has one significant flaw: Pentax's lack of willingness to honor their warranty.

The Optio W30 worked fine for two weeks of underwater and dry land photography, when it suddenly failed. Fortunately, the photos that were already on the memory card were intact, but it would no longer take pictures. It looked like some condensation had gotten behind the LCD viewscreen. I had to buy inexpensive film cameras in underwater housings for the last day's snorkel trip, since there was not a digital underwater camera to be had on the Big Island at the time.

The fact that the camera failed isn't the issue, however. Electronics fail, and electronics that are designed to be taken underwater are just inherently more at risk of failing. In fact, based on this experience, if you are going away and intend to take underwater pictures, I highly recommend that you spend the extra money and buy two underwater cameras so you have a back up in case one fails. The camera can always be fixed or replaced. The opportunity to be in paradise may be difficult to repeat.

I had been back from the trip for about a month and was about to send it in to be fixed under the warranty. On a whim, I tried turning the camera on again and discovered that the camera had spontaneously come back to life. I called the Pentax repair department and described the situation. They recommended I send the camera in to be examined anyway, just to be safe. I paid for the shipping and sent it in. I just got the camera back with a note saying that "Upon examination of your camera, dirt or sand was found on the battery/card cover which compromised the camera's waterproof functions. Extensive water damage exceeds the price of a new Pentax product." Calling Pentax clarified that this meant that they were neither willing to certify that the camera was currently fine, nor to fix or replace what ever might be wrong to make sure that I got at least one year of use out of the camera as an underwater capable camera. $200+ is a little much to spend on what, it is now clear, is potentially a disposable camera. (And they didn't even bother explaining why it might have died and come back.)

Now, if I had buried the camera in the sand, they might have a point, but I only used it for the purposes the camera was supposedly designed for. Do they expect the average amateur photographer to be on the back of a horse and think "This is a class 6 dust cloud and my camera is only class 5 dustproof, so I had better leave it in my pocket"?

I am a reasonable guy. If a company's product fails and they make an effort to rectify the situation, I will remain a customer. The content and tone of my conversation with Pentax's repair department made it clear to me that Pentax just didn't care. I even made it clear that I was a member of the press and would be forced to write a negative review if they didn't rectify the situation, and they still didn't care.

Therefore, while I will continue to use the camera I have until such a time as it fails again, I am not going to depend on it. I strongly recommend that if you are looking for a point and shoot underwater camera, that you avoid the Pentax Optio W30.

Try the Olympus Stylus SW 770 as a possible alternative. It is a little more expensive, but it goes to 33 feet deep. That's what I am going to try the next time I have a need for an underwater camera.

On the other hand, The Hilton Waikoloa Village resort was spectacular. You could spend a week there, never leave the resort and have plenty of opportunities for underwater photography, including dolphin encounters. Just don't do that, because there is a lot you won't want to miss on the Big Island of Hawaii. Make sure you participate in a dolphin encounter at the resort, though: not cheap, but worth it.

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Your challenge if you choose to accept it: Choreograph a dance based on the movements of the green sea turtle.
Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

Dusty Horse Trail on Maui

Dusty Horse Trail on Maui

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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