You can access and cycle through flash, self-timer/continuous shooting, focus and scene modes via the four arrow keys that surround the centre OK button on the four-way controller. The OK button controls display options. Dedicated playback and menu buttons are also accessed on the back of the camera.
We found the menus clear and easy to understand, but Pentax gives neophytes a hand with its excellent built-in help system. You can press the green button when you're in the mode menu to get information about each scene option. Unfortunately, the help system doesn't work for the Record menu. Once you understand all the options it offers, taking pictures is quite easy.
The tiny battery and SD card slot are located on the bottom left of the camera, with a tripod socket on the right, so it may be possible to access the card and battery while the camera is mounted on a tripod, depending on its design. What's most important about this area of the camera is the locking mechanism for the card/battery cover, since this is the one vulnerable entrance where, if not locked to provide an impregnable seal, water, sand or other camera enemies can sneak in. Be careful when you insert the battery, though, since it fits into the compartment backwards just as easily as it does the right way round.
As is typical of Pentax cameras, the Optio WP is chock-full of features, including a wealth of typical and unusual scene modes such as Portrait, Candlelight, Underwater, Pet and Skin Tone. We didn't spot a few modes, however, since they don't all fit on the screen and are not revealed even by scrolling. However, when we hit the zoom lever while in the Mode menu, it switched to a horizontal listing -- only then were we able to find the missing modes. It's confusing, to say the least.
In addition to the scene modes, you have a choice of the basic Green mode we mentioned in the Design section, which activates such standard settings as auto white balance, autosensitivity, digital zoom on and better (but not best) photo quality. On the other hand, in Program AE, you have access to all features, including manual white balance, three compression and multiple resolution settings, exposure compensation, and fine-tuning adjustments for attributes such as sharpness, contrast and saturation.
An always-welcome feature is the ability to lock one or more camera settings into the memory so that they're not reset when you turn the camera off. The live histogram with yellow and red graphical warnings also comes in handy to make sure you're getting a well-exposed image.
At best, the camera's low-resolution movie mode is suitable for fun clips viewed on a computer and nothing more, but you can record sound and create sepia or black-and-white movies for a more creative touch. Voice annotation is available for still images and the Synchro Sound Record feature records the sound 10 seconds before the shutter is pressed and 10 seconds after, which might come in handy if your subject has something interesting to say.
The most compelling feature for many people will be the WP in the name, which of course stands for waterproof. Depth-rated to 1.5 meters, the camera can be submerged for as long as 30 minutes and remain water tight, as long as the battery/card compartment is in the locked position. That number is particularly important to snorkellers who tend to remain underwater longer than more casual poolside users. Keep in mind, however, that the camera is not particularly rugged -- its lens cover can be scratched or damaged, rendering the camera unusable. The Optio WP will also sink if you drop it.
Playback is as feature-rich as the record mode. In addition to creating a slide show, cropping, resizing, copying files between internal memory and an SD/MMC card and editing movies, you can apply one of Pentax's signature digital filters to tone the shots in one of a myriad of colours. There's also a kind of cheesy frame function, so you can add a heart or a couple of other frames to your image. This feature works better if you access the frame-composite feature via the drive-mode button before you shoot, so that you can position your subject within the frame.
More important playback options include a brightness setting, a feature similar to Nikon's D-Lighting, which lightens an underexposed image. It works fairly well, but you may notice a little more noise in the adjusted image. Also worthy of mention is the camera's postprocessing red-eye fix. We had no red-eye in any of our test shots, which speaks well for the camera, but we were unable to see if the feature works.
The Optio WP is equipped with only enough internal memory for three high-resolution images, so you'll need to budget in the cost of a high-capacity memory card (1GB will set you back around £60 online).