A Camera to Run With: Pentax WG3-GPS

As I’m getting more into trail running and upping my running distance, I’ve been thinking a bit about getting a camera specifically to take photos while running.  This isn’t going to be a big review of a camera – more just a note of my thought process behind the choice I made.

Pentax WG3-GPS

My first thoughts were to just use my phone, but there are a couple of reasons why that didn’t work out so well.  Firstly, after killing a rather nice (at the time) Samsung Galaxy S phone by sweating into it over a 20 mile run (!), I now run with a Motorola Defy phone which is pretty tough to the elements.  It’s splashproof, has little rubber seals for the connector covers and is robust enough to just be chucked in shorts/waistpack/backpack without worry about it.  However, it’s never had the best camera, and by today’s standards it’s pretty awful.  But more importantly, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and it’s just so slow to unlock, start the camera app and take a picture.  Also, being a touch screen phone, if my hands are a bit sweaty then the screen goes mad and I can’t control it.

So, then I thought I could take a better phone, but the use-case of taking photos on the run is still not really met by the phone – it’s a bit clumsy and fiddly to use.  This doesn’t matter when you’re standing in a room, but when you’ve been running for 2 hours it’s important to have something that’s simple to use!

I work with cameras every day, and have access to a ridiculous collection of DSLRs and lenses.  I’m used to excellent image quality, so my first thought for a running camera was to pick something small but capable like the Sony RX100.  However, it wasn’t long before I realised that this would present all the same problems that using a phone would.  It’s delicate, expensive, and offers settings that I just won’t be inclined to use while running.  The first two combined would lead to a fair amount of worry, add the rest and it seriously negates any benefit of taking the camera.  If I’m more inclined to leave it at home for fear of breaking it, then what was the point?!  Whilst it would take excellent pictures and give me raw image files to play with, it just wouldn’t really have worked as a quick and easy running camera.

That made me realise that what I was after was a tough camera that was easy to use, with acceptable IQ (Image Quality).  I popped over to my local camera shop (Castle Cameras in Bournemouth), and had a play with 3 different “tough cameras” – the Pentax WG3, the Fuji Finepix XP170 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5.

I used the 3 cameras for half an hour or so in the shop.  I quickly ruled out the Fuji as the image quality wasn’t up to the level of the other 2.  I liked the Pentax – preferring the style over that of the Panasonic as it would more easily slip into a vest or backpack side pocket.  It also had a macro feature which caught my attention – I shoot a lot of macro with DSLRs and although this Pentax feature was a bit gimmicky it did appeal to me!  The big problem with the Pentax was the lack of GPS, but it turned out they also had a GPS model in the shop which incorporated a barometric altimeter, wireless charging and a GPS.  So that was it – I grabbed one of those: the WG3-GPS:

Pentax WG3-GPS

Pentax WG3-GPS: Front View

Pentax WG3-GPS

Pentax WG3-GPS: Rear View

Getting home I had a bit of a play and compared the image quality in a few conditions with that of my available phones: the Nexus 4, the Motorola Defy and the Nokia Lumia 920.  The IQ of the WG3-GPS is not up there with a DSLR (no surprise!), but it is noticeably better in detail, colour and dynamic range than most of the phones.  The Nokia Lumia 920 came very close (it’s big feature is it’s camera), but it only had half the pixels (8MP compared to 16MP) so the WG3-GPS gets a noise advantage when images are downsized for web viewing or small printing.

I’m writing this post after having the camera for a couple of weeks, and I’m happy with it for now.  It’s nice not having to worry about it getting wet or bashed around a bit, and it’s very easy to use even when a bit worse-for-wear during a long run.  I’ve also stuck an Eye-Fi card in which means picture transfer is all via WiFi.  Combined with the wireless charging, I don’t have to open the camera up at all!

I won’t post any picture from the camera yet – they’ll come in the next few posts about running.

So there you are.  I’m now running with this camera on pretty much all runs, either in a backpack or a waistpack, and I’m generally taking a few photos from each run (certainly those in new places).  It’s added a bit of new dimension to the running to, as I’m starting to think of places to go that might be worth both running to and photographing.  Keep an eye on the blog for photos from my runs in future.

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