The Imaging Resource
Pentax Optio 33L Digital Camera
|Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD|
|Good prints to 8x10|
Suggested Retail Price
Pentax is a camera maker with a long tradition in the film-based world, but a relative newcomer to the digital arena. They initially co-developed several cameras with Hewlett Packard, but have since stepped out on their own, with digicams entirely of their own design. Compact, well-designed cameras have become something of a specialty for them, as seen in their "Optio" lineup. Currently, the Optio line consists of the 450 and 550, models with 5x optical zoom lenses and four- and five-megapixel sensors respectively, the amazingly small Optio S, and the entry-level Optio 33L, the subject of this review. Even in their low-end models, Pentax manages to pack in a surprising range of features and capabilities, and the 33L is no exception. Read on below for all the details!
With the introduction of the Optio 33L, Pentax updates its Optio line of digicams with a 3.2-megapixel entry-level model sporting a few updated features. Stylistically, the 33L is similar to the previous 330 RS, with generally the same shape and control layout, though a slightly larger size and a plastic case, rather than the 330's all-metal construction. However, the 33L features a swiveling LCD monitor, which actually lifts up from the back panel for more flexible viewing angles. At 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (105 x 63 x 41.5 millimeters) and 8.6 ounces (245 grams) with the batteries and CompactFlash memory card, the Optio 33L is a little large for most shirt pockets, but should fit into larger coat pockets and most average purses. The camera's compact design includes a built-in lens cover which opens like a shutter when the lens telescopes out, avoiding the hassle of a misplaced lens cap. The Optio 33L's 3x zoom lens offers both manual and automatic focus control, which, combined with the variety of exposure options, packs a lot of creative power into a compact camera. The 3.2-megapixel CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, but also offers options for lower resolution images suited for email.
The Optio 33L has a 3x, 5.8-17.4mm lens, the equivalent of a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera, a range from moderate wide-angle to modest telephoto. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.6 to f/5, depending on the lens' zoom position, while minimum aperture varies from f/4.8 to f/9. The lens focuses over a range of 1.31 feet (0.4 meters) to infinity in normal shooting mode, with a Macro option covering from 5.5 inches to 1.6 feet (0.1 to 0.5 meters). The Optio 33L offers both manual and automatic focus (AF) control, with Spot and Wide AF modes. Spot AF mode bases focus on the very center of the frame, while Wide AF mode judges focus based on a slightly larger area in the center of the frame. There's also an Infinity / Landscape fixed focus setting. In addition to the optical zoom, the Optio 33L offers up to 2.7x digital zoom, (although I always remind readers that using digital zoom decreases image quality, since it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image). A 1.5-inch, color TFT LCD monitor lifts up from the back panel and flips up 180 degrees, then swivels another 180 degrees in its upright position. The end result is that you can flip the LCD around to face frontward, useful when composing self-portraits. Or, you can leave the LCD monitor pointing toward the back of the camera, and tilt it downward when holding the camera overhead. Regardless, the ability to reposition the LCD monitor is very useful for shooting at odd angles. An LCD hood also comes with the camera, and snaps into place on the outside edges of the monitor, and can block out bright light for better viewing. The 33L's LCD monitor offers a nice range of display modes, including very helpful grid and histogram displays.
Exposure is automatically controlled on the Optio 33L, although the camera offers a range of preset shooting modes for tricky situations. An On/Off button on top of the camera controls the power, and a Mode menu (accessed via the Down arrow key) lets you select between Program, Picture, Night Scene, Movie, Panorama Assist, 3D, Digital Filter, and Auto Bracket modes (which I'll discuss in more detail further on). Most exposure options are controlled through the LCD's on-screen menu system, which offers very straightforward navigation. That said, you can control focus mode (auto, macro, landscape, or manual), the self-timer, drive mode, exposure compensation, and the flash mode externally. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to four seconds, and are reported on the LCD display when the Shutter button is halfway pressed (as is the selected aperture). In Program exposure mode, all of the camera's exposure options are available through the Record menu or the camera's external controls. Exposure Compensation is adjustable via the right and left arrow keys, and increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The 33L's default metering mode is Multi-Segment, which examines points throughout the entire image area to determine exposure. Spot and Center-Weighted metering modes are also available, for those times when you need to base exposure on the central subject alone. The camera's White Balance setting features an Auto mode for most average lighting conditions, but also offers Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Manual options. A sensitivity setting offers an Auto option, as well as 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalent settings. An Auto Bracketing mode, available through the Mode menu, can bracket either exposure, white balance, saturation, sharpness, or contrast (An unusual range of control for an inexpensive digicam.) The 33L's built-in flash operates in Auto, On, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, and On with Red-Eye Reduction modes.
The camera's Picture mode offers eight preset "scenes" for shooting in unusual situations. Scenes include Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-Portrait, Soft, Surf and Snow, Sunset, and Illustration. Night Scene mode handles darker shooting conditions, using a slower shutter speed for longer exposures. In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures moving images (without sound) for a maximum of 30 seconds per movie. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between pressing the Shutter button and the camera actually taking the picture, allowing you to get into your own shots. A shorter 2-second delay is handy for times when you want to prop the camera on something to take a photo in dim lighting so you won't jiggle it during the long exposure. For shooting fast action subjects, the 33L's Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid series of images for as long as you hold down the Shutter button, much like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera. The space available on the memory card determines the maximum number of images the camera will capture in the series, and details like resolution, shutter speed, and the state of the camera's "buffer" memory determine the shooting interval. A High Speed Shooting captures images more rapidly, but is limited to a maximum of three images in quick succession.
The 33L also offers a 3D recording mode, which debuted on the earlier Optio 230 model. In 3D mode, the camera produces three-dimensional "stereo pairs" of images similar to old-fashioned stereographs. The camera guides you to capture two images of the same subject (one with the camera position shifted slightly from that used to capture the other) and then combines them as a "stereo pair" in a single frame of image memory. A transparent display of the first image captured remains on the LCD monitor, making it easy to keep everything aligned as you move the camera over slightly and capture the second image. (Very slick, this eliminates one of the biggest problems with handheld 3D stereo photography.) A pair of 3D viewing glasses comes with the 33L, and works whether viewing 3D images in the Parallel or Cross formats. (Parallel means you view the stereo photo with your eyes looking straight on, while Cross means that you cross your eyes to see the stereo effect. Most people seem to have an easier time with the Cross format, but the 33L supports either method.) A Panorama Assist mode lets you capture panoramic images, in any direction. Guidelines appear on the LCD display for lining up shots, and the accompanying software "stitches" images together into one panoramic frame. The 33L also has a nice range of creative tools, including a Digital Filter mode, which offers eight color filters for special effects. Color filters include Black and White, Sepia, Red, Pink, Violet, Blue, Green, and Yellow. Image contrast, saturation, and sharpness settings provide further creative options.
The Optio 33L stores images on CompactFlash Type I memory cards, and comes with a 16-megabyte starter card. This is handy, but really doesn't give you enough space to take many photos at the camera's best quality setting. Plan on buying at least a 32- or 64-megabyte card at the same time as the camera. (Memory cards are cheap enough these days that you should really plan on 64 megabytes as a minimum. The camera uses a single CR-V3 battery pack or two AA batteries for power (either alkaline, nickel, NiMH, or lithium). As always, I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images. The 33L connects to a computer via a USB interface, and comes with the necessary cable, as well as a software CD loaded with ACDSee interface software. Also included is a video cable, for viewing images on a television screen.
- 3.2-megapixel CCD for image sizes to 1,536 x 2,048 pixels.
- 1.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor that swivels 180 degrees horizontally and vertically.
- Glass, 3x, 5.8-17.4mm lens, equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera.
- 2.7x digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control, plus eight preset Scene modes.
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,500 to four seconds.
- Aperture range from f/2.6 to f/5.0, depending on lens zoom position.
- Built-in flash with five modes.
- CompactFlash (Type I) card storage (16-megabyte card included).
- Power supplied by one CR-V3 lithium battery pack, two AA-type batteries, or optional AC adapter.
- ACDSee software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
- Movie recording mode (without sound).
- Continuous Shooting and High Speed Continuous Shooting modes.
- 3D and Panoramic Assist capture modes.
- Night Scene photography mode.
- 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
- Digital Filter mode with eight color filters for special effects.
- Macro (close-up) lens setting.
- White balance (color) adjustment with six modes, including a manual adjustment and bracketing feature.
- Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments, with a bracketing feature.
- Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
- Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes.
- Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents (100, 200, and 400) and an Auto setting.
- Wide or Spot AF areas.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
The Optio 33L offers good picture quality in a compact, well-designed package, with a nice complement of features to boot. Full automatic exposure control will set novices at ease, but there are enough creative features and exposure options to keep more savvy users entertained. Interesting options like a 3D mode, a full range of preset scene modes, and a host of color options make the camera a flexible choice for any experience level.
Reasonably compact and light weight, the Optio 33L's all-silver plastic body is stylish and attractive. The camera is free from any significant protrusions apart from the lens barrel, which projects about 1/4 inch from the front of the case. The lens telescopes outward when powered on, and the LCD monitor can flip upwards and swivel 180 degrees. Measuring 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches (105 x 63 x 41.5 millimeters), the Optio 33L most likely won't fit into smaller shirt pockets, but coat pockets and average purses should offer ample space. The Optio 33L is light weight as well, at just 8.6 ounces (245 grams) including the battery and CompactFlash card.
The front of the camera features the lens, flash, and self-timer lamp. A shutterlike, retractable lens cover protects the lens whenever the camera is powered off, sliding quickly out of the way when the camera is turned on. The lens then telescopes out from the camera body about three-quarters of an inch. The front of the camera has only a thin, rubbery strip for a finger grip, so I'd recommend keeping the wrist strap securely around your wrist when shooting.
The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) holds only the eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.
On the opposite side of the camera are the USB/Video and DC In jacks, covered by a flexible plastic flap that pops out and rotates out of the way to reveal the connectors.
The Optio 33L's top panel is fairly smooth, and features the Shutter and Power buttons.
A handful of external controls dot the camera's back panel, along with the 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD monitor is hinged at the top, so that it can flip upward 180 degrees. Once extended away from the camera's back, the monitor can then swivel another 180 degrees to face forward or backward. Three notches on the outside edges of the monitor hold the included LCD hood accessory in place, which blocks out bright light for better viewing in bright conditions. (I'd still prefer an optical viewfinder for sunny shooting, but the little hood does indeed help matters somewhat. It would be a bit of a nuisance to keep track of though, if you were traveling with the camera.) Across the top of the rear panel are the Flash/Protect, Focus/Erase, and Zoom control buttons. A small LED lamp next to the Flash/Protect button lights or flashes to indicate the charge status of the flash. A Four Way Arrow pad is to the right of the LCD monitor, with an "OK" button in the middle for confirming menu selections. The two remaining controls are the Menu and Playback buttons.
On the bottom panel of the Optio 33L are the tripod mount, CompactFlash compartment, and battery compartment. The plastic, threaded tripod mount is just off-center from the lens, but provides a fairly stable mount. I prefer metal tripod sockets, but the small size and light weight of the 33L mean the plastic socket should hold up fine. The battery compartment features a locking, hinged door, too close to the tripod mount to allow quick battery changes while working with a tripod. Likewise, the CompactFlash slot is also blocked when the camera is mounted to a tripod.
The Optio 33L's user interface is very straightforward, with only a few external controls and a fairly concise (though multi-page) LCD menu system. For standard point-and-shoot operation, the most basic features such as flash, focus mode, and zoom are all adjusted via external controls. The Mode setting of the Four-Way Arrow pad lets you quickly select a capture mode. When it is necessary to enter the LCD menu system, you'll find it simple to navigate. The arrow keys of the Four Way Arrow pad scroll through each selection, and the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. It shouldn't take much more then a half-hour or so to become familiar with the camera setup, as it's fairly intuitive.
The 33L has a nice selection of LCD display modes, although you must set them individually, through the camera's Setup menu, a slight inconvenience relative to the more usual external "display" button. The main display shows the image area along with basic exposure features and the autofocus area. When the Shutter button is half-pressed, the aperture and shutter speed are reported as well. Through the Setup menu, Grid, Histogram, and No Info display modes are also available. Grid mode divides the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically, which is helpful for aligning difficult subjects. Histogram mode activates a small histogram, which graphs the tonal distribution of the image. This lets you quickly check the overall exposure before snapping the image. Finally, No Info mode simply shows the image area, without exposure information.
As with Record mode, the 33L's Playback display modes are set through the Setup menu. The main display shows the captured image, plus exposure information (aperture and shutter speed), the date and time of the image, and the image number. If Histogram mode is enabled through the Setup menu, a small histogram graphs the tonal distribution of the image. Pressing the "W" end of the Zoom rocker button activates a nine-image index display. You can also enlarge captured images via the "T" end of the Zoom rocker button, as much as 12x.
Power Button: Located unobtrusively on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off.
Shutter Button: Next to the Power button on top of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
Zoom Toggle: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this button controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, this button lets you zoom in on captured images, to check focus or precise framing. Pressing the "W" side of the button activates the nine-image thumbnail index display mode.
Focus / Erase Button: Directly to the left of the zoom toggle button, this button cycles through the available focus modes: Autofocus (no icon), Macro mode (flower symbol), Infinity / Landscape focus mode (mountain symbol), and Manual Focus mode ("MF"). In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently-displayed file, or all files from the CompactFlash card.
Flash / Protect Button: To the left of the Focus / Erase button, this button controls the camera's flash mode in any Record mode. Flash modes include Auto, On, Off, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, and On with Red-Eye Reduction. In Playback mode, this button lets you mark the currently-displayed image as write-protected, which prevents it from being accidentally erased (except via card formatting). You can also opt to protect all images on the card, or remove protection.
Playback Button: Next to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button activates Playback mode when in any Record mode. Pressing the button a second time returns to Record mode.
Four Way Arrow Pad: Below and to the right of the Playback button, this four-way multi-controller navigates through settings menus.
In Record mode, the up key accesses the camera's drive settings, cycling through Continuous Shooting, High Speed Shooting, and Self-Timer modes. The left and right keys adjust the exposure compensation, from -2 to + 2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The down arrow accesses the camera's Mode menu, with the following options, the current selection indicated by a rotating "virtual dial" display on the LCD. (The screenshot shows the 3D mode selected.):
- Program: All exposure options are under user control, with the exception of shutter speed and aperture.
- Picture Mode: Provides access to eight preset scene modes, including Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Self-portrait, Soft, Surf and Snow, Sunset, and Illustration. Limited exposure options are available in each of these modes.
- Night-Scene Mode: Optimizes the camera for capturing images in dim lighting (enables longer exposure times, to 4 seconds), with or without the flash.
- Movie Picture Mode: Captures moving images, without sound, for a maximum of 30 seconds per clip.
- Panorama Assist Mode: Provides framing guidelines for creating panoramic images, with the sequence of exposures proceeding in any direction. (Left or right, up or down) Images are "stitched" together on a computer later.
- 3D Mode: Captures two images which are combined to make a single 3D image.
- Digital Filter Mode: Offers eight color filters, for more creative shooting effects.(Options are black/white, sepia, black and white plus red, green and blue, and red, green, and blue. The black/white plus (red, green, blue) produces monochrome images with the indicated tint color. Red, green, and blue modes produce color images that are tinted slightly with the chosen color.)
- Auto Bracket Mode: Lets you bracket exposure either by exposure value, white balance, sharpness, saturation, or contrast.
In Playback mode, the left and right keys scroll through captured images on the memory card. The up arrow key activates the DPOF settings menu, allowing you to mark individual or all images for printing, as well as establish the number of print copies, crop the image, and activate a time and date stamp.
OK Button: Nestled in the center of the Four Way Arrow pad, this button confirms menu selections in any mode.
Menu Button: Next to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button calls up the settings menu in both Record and Playback modes.
Camera Modes and Menus
Record Mode: In Record mode, the camera can capture still images or movie files. The Mode menu, activated by pressing the down arrow key, selects between Program, Picture, Night Scene, Panorama Assist, 3D, Movie, Digital Filter, and Bracketing modes, which provide varying levels of control over the exposure. The Record menu is displayed by pressing the Menu button in any of these exposure modes, and the following options are available:
- Record Mode Settings
- Recorded Pixels: Sets the image resolution to 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 pixels.
- Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Good, Better, or Best (three stars being Best and one star being Good).
- White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Manual. (Manual white balance lets you use a white object to set the camera's color balance to match the scene lighting exactly.)
- Focusing Area: Designates the area of the frame that the camera determines focus from, either Spot or Wide. Spot AF bases focus on the very center of the frame, while the Wide setting judges focus from a larger area in the center of the frame.
- AE Metering: Chooses how the camera determines exposure, choices are Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Segment.
- Sensitivity: Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity, options
are Auto, or 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
- Digital Zoom: Turns the 2.7x digital zoom on and off. When enabled, the digital zoom kicks in after you've zoomed the optical lens all the way to its telephoto position.
- Instant Review: Turns the Instant Review function off, or sets the review time on the LCD screen to 0.5, 1, 2, 3, or 5 seconds.
- Soft Setting: (Applies to "Picture" mode only.) Controls the intensity of the softening effect of the Soft "scene" selection in Picture mode.
- Ex. Bracket Step: Adjusts the bracket amount for Auto Exposure Bracketing mode. Available step sizes are +/- 0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 1.3, 1.7, or 2.0 EV.
- WB Bracket Step: Controls the bracket step size for the white balance bracketing sequence, in arbitrary units from one through five.
- 3D Mode: Sets the 3D recording mode to Cross or Parallel. (Cross
means you need to cross your eyes slightly to see the 3D effect. Parallel
means you need to look straight ahead. Actually slightly "walleyed."
Most people find the crossed-eye method easier.)
- Memory: Specifies which Record mode settings are saved when the camera is turned off. Options are Flash, EV Compensation, White Balance, Focusing Area, AE Metering, Sensitivity, Digital Zoom, Focus Mode, Zoom Position, Display Mode, and File Numbering.
- Sharpness: Adjusts the overall image sharpness to Normal, Hard, or Soft.
- Saturation: Controls the level of color saturation. Options are Normal, High, or Low.
- Contrast: Adjusts overall image contrast to Normal, High, or
Low.(The 33L's contrast adjustment works particularly well, compared to
those of many cameras on the market.)
- Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
- Beep: Turns the camera's beep sound on or off.
- Date Adjust: Sets the camera's internal date and time, with an option for different display formats.
- World Time: Allows you to set the time in another city, so that you can display the time in London, for example, on the LCD monitor. A full list of cities is in the manual.
- Language: Changes the menu language to English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, or Japanese.
- Display Mode: Controls the type of display in Record and Playback
mode. Options are Normal, Histogram, Grid, and No Info.
- Screen Effect: Designates how LCD display screens transition. If selected, the camera animates a smooth transition between displays.
- Video Out: Sets the video output format to NTSC or PAL.
- Background Color: Offers a range of background colors and textures for the camera's menu screens.
- Auto Power Off: Turns this feature off, or sets the camera to shut off after three or five minutes of inactivity.
- Brightness Level: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
- Reset: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
Playback Mode: This mode lets review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. Pressing the Menu button in playback mode displays only the slide show option, with a variety of choices for frame intervals. The same Setup menu as found in Record mode is also available.
In the Box
The following items are packaged with the Optio 33L:
- One CR-V3 battery pack.
- USB cable.
- Video cable.
- Wrist strap.
- 3D image viewer.
- LCD hood.
- 16-megabyte CompactFlash card.
- Software CD.
- Operating manual and registration card.
- Larger capacity CompactFlash memory card. (I'd recommend 32 megabytes as a bare minimum, 64 megabytes would be preferable.)
- Rechargeable AA batteries and charger.
- AC adapter.
- Small camera case.
Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
I've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that I'm now inserting a standard notice in my reviews of all AA-powered cameras: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. Buy two sets of batteries too, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Check out my Battery Shootout page for the latest in actual, measured performance of various AA batteries. Read. - Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite.
See the specifications sheet for the Optio 33L here.
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.
See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my standard test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Optio 33L's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Optio 33L's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
- Color: The Optio 33L produced good color throughout my testing, although saturation was typically a little low. That said, the camera tended to oversaturate bright red tones, especially in the flower bouquet of the Indoor and Outdoor portraits. Each of the white balance settings tested (Auto, Daylight, and Manual) produced very similar results, with only slight color casts at each. The camera's Auto white balance setting had a terrible time with the difficult household incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait shot, but the Manual and Incandescent settings both did pretty well, with relatively minor color casts. Skin tones under daylight conditions were about right, but the camera had a little trouble with the always-difficult blue flowers both indoors and out. Colors were subdued in the large color blocks of the Davebox target, but still nearly right. Overall, a good performance, if not an outstanding one.
- Exposure: The Optio 33L tended to underexpose shots slightly, both in the studio and out. Even with its variable contrast setting adjusted to its lowest level, the 33L tended to have a somewhat contrasty tone curve, causing it to lose highlight detail under the deliberately harsh lighting Outdoor Portrait, while at the same time producing rather dark shadows and midtones. Indoors, the camera required a lot of positive exposure compensation (+1.7 EV on the Indoor Portrait without flash, the average required for this shot is +1.0EV) to get a bright enough exposure. As with the rest of the studio shots, the "Davebox" test was a little underexposed, although the camera was able to distinguish the subtle tonal variations quite well. Overall, not wonderful exposure, but not bad either. (A slightly below-average score.)
- Resolution/Sharpness: The Optio 33L performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height horizontally, and as low as 800 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,050 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,250 lines.
- Closeups: The Optio 33L performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 3.09 x 2.32 inches (78 x 59 millimeters). Resolution is high, with strong detail in the dollar bill. The coins and brooch are soft due to the limited depth of field that comes with short shooting distances like this. There's once again a fair bit of softness in the corners of the image, most noticeable down the right-hand side. The Optio 33L's flash almost throttled down for the macro area, but overexposed the top center of the frame. There's also a small shadow in the lower portion of the frame. Overall, a pretty good macro performance, but plan on using external lighting for the closest shots.
- Night Shots: With fully automatic exposure control and a maximum exposure time of four seconds, the Optio 33L isn't up to the standards of higher-end digicams for low light shooting, but does surprisingly well, and should easily handle city street scenes at night. Its adjustable ISO option helps quite a bit as well, letting you get usable photos even in very dark surroundings. The Optio 33L produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level, with good color at the 400 ISO setting. At ISO 200, images were bright as low as 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux), and at ISO 100, images were bright as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux). Since average city street lighting at night equates to about one foot-candle, the Optio 33L should perform well even in slightly darker conditions. Autofocus works well down to about 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) too, and there's a manual focus option for settings darker than that. Noise is quite low, overall. Even at ISO 400, image noise is lower than I'm accustomed to seeing from consumer digicams. Overall, surprisingly good low light performance for an entry-level digicam.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: The Optio 33L's LCD monitor is pretty accurate, showing approximately 98 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and approximately 96 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Optio 33L's LCD monitor has only a little room for improvement here. I do miss the presence of an optical viewfinder, although the 33L's LCD does better than most in bright light.
- Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the Optio 33L is high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.97 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared a little better, as I measured a 0.35 percent pincushion distortion. (Both numbers are higher than average though.) Chromatic aberration is very low, showing only about faint coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The most noticeable distortion in most of my photos is fairly noticeable softness in the corners of most of my test images.
- Battery Life: For a camera powered by only two AA cells, the Optio 33L shows surprisingly good battery life. In capture mode with its LCD enabled, it will run for almost two hours on a set of 1600 mAh batteries (true capacity, not advertised), and well over two hours on a set of newer, higher-powered cells. In playback mode, it runs for over two and a half hours. (Definitely purchase a couple of sets of high-powered NiMH rechargeable cells and a charger though. Read my Battery Shootout for full details on the best batteries currently on the market, and my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to see why it's my longtime favorite.)
- Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: The Optio 33L is average to faster than average when compared against other entry-level models. Its shutter lag (the delay between pressing the shutter button and the camera actually taking the picture) ranges from 0.77 to 1.01 seconds, faster than many low end digicams, but not as speedy as some higher-end units. Depending on memory card speed, it can snap a shot about every two seconds, also pretty good for an inexpensive model.
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The Optio 33L is the latest in a series of compact, feature-packed digicams
from Pentax. The 3.2-megapixel entry-level model in their line, the 33L offers
good value for the money when you consider the range of features it offers,
although image quality isn't up to the standard of the higher-end Optios,
or the best of the competition in its own market segment. Its color is good,
if slightly undersaturated, and I found its exposure accuracy to be a little
variable, but the Optio 33L is unique in the entry-level market for the amazing
level of functionality it provides. It will probably find its strongest adherents
among 3D enthusiasts, as it's the cheapest camera on the market with the capability
to easily and accurately capture 3D stereo pairs of images. If it had slightly
better image quality, or a slightly lower street price, it might have made
it as a "Dave's Pick",
but it was a near miss. As it is, I think there are other models that offer
the same or better image quality for less money. (If 3D photography is your
thing though, the Optio 33L is the best deal out there.)