Pentax Optio 33L Review
By Movable Type Admin
If you need a good, compact size camera then the Pentax Optio 33L may be just
what you're looking for. At first glance you might think the stylish silver body is metal
but a touch and a tap will tell you that it's really plastic. Even so it seems to be very
well built and should hold up well under normal use. The Optio 33L is an affordable
3-megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom. The lens retracts fully inside of the
camera body when powered down and is protected by a builtin lens cap. The Optio 33L
makes a great "go anywhere and be ready at a moment's notice" kind of camera due to its
diminuitive size and light weight.
Press the power button and the camera is ready to take the first shot in about four seconds if the flash is off or about six seconds if it's on. Most of that startup time is required to extend the lens. Shot to shot time in single exposure mode is about three seconds without flash or six seconds with flash. If you need to grab several shots in sequence change into continuous mode or capture motion video at 320 x 240 resolution at 15fps for up to 30 seconds per clip. The optical zoom is useable during movie recording because it does not record audio, there is no microphone. Images and movies are recorded on standard CompactFlash Type I cards. The camera comes with a small 16MB card, a 128MB or 256MB card will serve you well and they've come way down it cost this year.
Some of the Optio 33L's unique features are the 3D image mode, the PICTure modes and the Digital Filters. When using the 3D image mode, you record two images by following the on-screen prompts and these images are merged into one picture. You now print this picture and use the supplied 3D viewing device to see a stereographic image. I'm not sure how many people will really have a use for this mode but it's there if you want to use it. Much more useful (in my opinion) are the PICTure modes, these are pre-programmed "scene" modes for Landscape, Closeup, Portrait, Self-Portrait, Soft Focus, Beach/Snow, Sunset and illustration. The digital filters really let you creative side have some fun. The B&W + color filters let you create basically a B&W image with one color "highlighted" -- see the sample photos page for some examples. Another unique feature is the "180° swing-up and rotate" color LCD monitor. It's handy for framing self-portrait pictures and also makes the camera useable at both high- and low-angle shooting. Unfortunately it lacks any kind of optical viewfinder though.
The Optio 33L is basically an automatic camera (meaning it has no shutter speed or aperture priority exposure modes), but it offers a multitude of recording options. You can set the focus area to Spot-AF or Wide-area AF. It also has the usual white balance options and a manual setting and that's usually only found on "higher end" cameras. There's a full compliment of exposure metering options; matrix, center-weighted averaging and spot. You can capture color, B&W or Sepia toned images and have a 3-step control over the sharpness, saturation and contrast. You'll find the advanced Auto Bracketing mode in the recording menu options. Auto bracketing isn't limited to just exposure value. You can also bracket the white balance, saturation, sharpness and contrast. The camera takes a series of three pictures and varies the selected parameter between each of the frames to make sure that at least one comes out "just right."
Overall the image quality is quite good. The lens produces sharp images and the autofocus speed and accuracy is about average in normal lighting. There will be times when you'll want to use the Spot-AF as the camera can focus on something behind your subject if it has more contrast. Another advanced feature of the Optio 33L is manual focusing. In manual focus mode there is a sliding distance scale on the LCD but it lacks any numeric reference. While you're adjusting the focus the center of the screen is enlarged and displayed in monochrome to aid in critical focusing. However it can often be difficult to judge the focus on such a small screen, especially when you're out in a brightly lit environment.
The bottom line - the Optio 33L is a pocketable and affordable 3-megapixel camera that takes good pictures and is easy to use. It has more than the usual number of extra "bells and whistles" for when you want to be more involved in the creative process. It's powered by standard AA size batteries (or a CR-V3 type) and uses CompactFlash memory cards so it's inexpensive to power or upgrade the image storage capability. We need to be point out that this camera has no optical viewfinder, you must always use the LCD. This means there will be times when the environment may make it difficult to see the screen, if you can live with that limitation then so be it.
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