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Pentax Optio 33LF Digital Camera Review
Introduction: The Pentax Optio 33LF is a compact 3MP digital camera with a 3x Optical zoom lens (5.8 - 17.4mm equivalent to 38mm - 114mm on a 35mm camera), and a swivelling 1.6" Colour TFT screen. The camera comes with 12mb of memory built into the camera, and can be upgraded with SD cards. The camera takes AA batteries. The camera also records 320x240 videos at 16fps without sound. The camera has a number of scene modes to make it easier to use. The camera can be bought for £99 from amazon.co.uk in the UK. The camera is compact with a size and weight as follows: Dimensions: 108.5 x 64.5 x 41.5mm. Weight: 175g (without batteries or recording media).

The camera offers very good value for money - being very competitively priced for a compact 3mp, 3x optical zoom digital camera, with a 1.6" swivel screen.

Pentax have this to say about the camera:

"The Optio 33LF shows the success of this ideal in a very special way. 3X optical zoom and 3-megapixel resolution are only 2 of its technical details. One of the Optio 33LF's most important characteristics is the monitor. It swings up 180° and rotates a full 270°. With this flexibility and a resolution of 72,000 pixels, your scene will always be in your best line of sight, under any circumstances."

You can find out more about the Pentax Optio 33LF at Pentax's website.

The Camera: It's compact and made out of shiney silver plastic.


Front - Camera off. Built in lens-cover - Flash, optical viewfinder, and self-timer lamp.


Front - Camera on, lens extended.


Back - the 1.6" swivel TFT screen, 4-way controller, OK button in the middle, playback button, zoom control, menu button, flash, self-timer, macro/focus button. Optical viewfinder.


Top - on/off, shutter release. Screen facing fowards.


Bottom, under the camera is the tripod mount which is under the lens. On the right are the battery and memory card compartments. There is also a grip so that you can pull the screen out - note the screen facing into the camera, offering additional protection for the screen.


Left Side (from back) - USB/TV Out port and DC-in. (swivel screen)


On this side is the strap holder.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is about the same size.


There is an optical viewfinder above the lens.


Size comparison

Specifications / Features:

  • 3.2 megapixels effective resolution
  • 3x optical zoom 5.8-17.4 mm / 2.6-5.0 (38 - 114 mm in 35mm film format)
  • Easy handling through a virtual mode dial for shooting modes
  • Image play back with the simple press of a button
  • Swivelling 1.6" LCD monitor, 180° horizontal and 270° vertical. It is possible to take pictures and judge the composition from nearly impossible angles; for example: viewing ground level macro shots from a comfortable top viewing position.
  • 3-D photography mode (more info can be found here)
  • TV output
  • USB terminal
  • A full choice of picture modes, including Landscape, Flowers, Portrait/Self-Portrait, Sunset, Surf and Snow, illustration
  • Multi-segment metering, switchable to Spot and center-weighted average with auto exposure
  • Exposure compensation and auto exposure bracketing
  • Built-in flash

Full Specifications can be found on the Pentax site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Wrist Strap
  • USB cables
  • Instruction manual (104 pages)
  • Software CD-Rom
  • AA Batteries
  • Warranty card

Average box contents - it's a shame no case is included as standard, although it's good to see a decent manual.

Features / Options: The camera mode is selected using Mode button on the 4-way control:

The camera keeps things quite simple, in that there are 2 basic modes: photo mode and playback mode. In photo mode there are additional 'modes' which can be accessed by pressing the mode button on the 4-way controller.

The modes available using the 'mode' button are: Program mode, Digital Filter, Panorama-assist, Movie mode, Night scene mode, and Picture mode (this has various 'scenes' such as Portrait, Flower, Landscape, Sunset, Snow, Surf, Self-Portrait). The digital filter lets you put a blue, green, red, sepia, b and w, b and w and blue/green/red* filter over the image. * These modes take a black and white photo, and only blue items appear blue in the photo whereas everything else is black and white depending on which filter you chose.

The menus available are: Record menu, Playback menu (discussed later), and Setup menu. Record menu has the following options: Recorded Pixels (eg 2048x1536), Quality Level (3star, 2star and 1star), White balance (custom white balance is available), Focusing area (Wide, spot), Auto-Exposure metering, Sensitivity, Digital Zoom (on/off), Instant review, Memory, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, EV Compensation. The Setup menu options are: Format, Beep, Date adjust, World time, Language, Screen effect (when on - appears to scroll the image off the screen after instant review when you have taken a photo), Video out, Auto power off, background colour (lets you change the menu colours), brightness level (for lcd screen), screen setting (lets you choose the picture displayed when you switch the camera on and off), Custom function, Reset.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit in the 12mb provided memory: (an extra memory card is definitely recommended)

Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality / (Average file size)
  *** (3 star) ** (2 star) * (1 star)
3mp (2048 x 1536) 5 (2mb) 10 (1mb) 15 (700kb)
2mp (1600 x 1200) 9 (1.3mb) 17 (660kb) 24 (450kb)
1mp (1024 x 768) 21 (550kb) 40 -
VGA (640 x 480) 48 (233kb) - -
Movie 320x240/16fps 53seconds    

You can't fit very many images on the provided 12mb - a larger memory card is definitely needed, unless you want to use the lower megapixel settings and higher compression levels. There is a fairly good choice of image size and compression levels available, although no RAW or TIFF mode.

Speed, ease of use: The camera is easy to use, quick to switch on and quick to take photos, the play button on the back of the camera makes it easy to switch between playback mode and photo mode. The screen updates are quick and smooth, the camera does 'gain up' very well when it is dark. The camera speed in use, seems fairly quick when taking a photo, but shot to shot time is a bit slow. The camera is an average size, but fairly easily fits into large pockets. The menus are easy to pick up and use, and the modes are easy to access. The swivel screen is very good - it lets you and the people in the photo see what they look like before the photo is taken, and is lots of fun to use. The continuous shooting mode isn't especially fast.

Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, in a good position and there seem to be just the right amount of buttons, not too many and not too few. The buttons feel good, my only complaint here is that they may seem a bit small for some people. They are also labelled well.

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: Macro / Manual Focus, Flash, Self timer / Continuous, Play, Wide/Telephoto zoom, Menu/OK in the middle of the 4-way controller, Mode. On the top is the On/Off button and the shutter button.

Battery usage: Pentax say that you should be able to get 50 photos on average from alkaline AA batteries - 250 on average when using rechargable Ni-Mh batteries. I managed to get about 50 shots from the included AA alkaline batteries. Many more from the rechargable batteries I've been using (unfortunately I haven't been counting).


LCD display in photo mode: Mode, Flash, Macro/Manual Focus etc, remaining pictures, battery life, shutter / aperture speed (when shutter is half pressed), live histogram.

LCD display in photo mode: The screen is fairly clear, and updates quite smoothly - the colours appear accurate. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, it also shows the battery level, current mode, plus other things, such as aperture / shutter speed - there is a live histogram, available by pressing the OK button.

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom can be used up to 12x - it zooms in so much however, that it shows you very large pixels. The playback zoom is very quick. You can also view the picture's histogram.

Playback Menu lets you: View a slideshow, Protect images, copy images to SD card, quick zoom (this makes the zoom go very quickly through 2x,4x,8x,12x zoom), quick delete.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the gallery!

Inside:

Matt and Renee Heather Matt, Me and Heather

Inside: The camera has quite a powerful flash, although not really powerful enough for large group photos. Red eye was noticable on most photos of people - Good accurate, rich and warm colours and details.

Noise: Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise.

The camera has 4 modes for ISO: Auto, 100, 200 or 400. To choose the ISO setting, you simply go into the menu.

Noise test picture. (Flash on) ISO100 - 100%
ISO200 - 100% ISO400 - 100%

Noise levels at ISO100 are quite low - which means you get quite smooth images. ISO200 still displays fairly acceptable noise levels. It is probably best avoiding ISO400 where possible, due to the noise looking quite horrible when viewed at 100%..

Outside:

Group photo Matt's Van New Building

Again very good colour, they are rich colours with low noise, I didn't notice jpeg artifacts in the images. Images are a tiny bit soft, and could do with a sharpen.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x Optical zoom and a built in 2.7x Digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Full 3x Optical + 2.7x Digital

The digital zoom doesn't show you on screen how much magnification you are using. It is quite quick. When using the optical zoom, it's quite noisy, and fairly quick, it has about 6 steps between wide and telephoto. The amount of optical zoom is not displayed on screen numerically.

Other Image Quality issues: Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing doesn't appear to be a problem on this camera.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is at full wide angle, and you can zoom in - you can also use the digital zoom - The camera can focus down to 10cm in macro mode, in wide-angle, and then you can zoom in closer without having to move the camera away from the subject.

Macro - Timex Watch (wide-angle) Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro - Timex Watch (full zoom) Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro - Box of Twinings Gold Tea Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is very good, especially when I discovered you could use the optical zoom. You can use the flash in macro mode - the camera does a decent job of toning down the flash. Colour and detail is quite good (apart from white balance issues due to lighting), however they could do with sharpening in a photo editing package.

Movie: 320x240 - 16fps without sound - you can use the digital zoom whilst recording a video, and you can zoom in using the optical / digital zoom before you start recording. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file. Length is only limited by the memory card size.


Flat Eric being mauled by Elmo - Download 320x240/16fps movie
Click here. (right click, save target as, 1.44mb AVI) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is good - 320x240 is a bit small compared to other digital cameras, 16fps is about average, but unfortunately there is no sound.

Conclusion

Image: Image quality is good - the images have a rich warm colour, and good detail although images could do with a sharpen, luckily there is an option to increase sharpness in camera. Images have fairly low noise and there is very little purple fringing. Image compression doesn't seem to cause jpeg artifacts, and there is a good range of image sizes and compression options. The macro mode is very good. The flash didn't cause problems when the subject was too close. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be fairly good. The movie mode is good although a bit low-res compared to other cameras, and unfortunately lacks sound.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact, and fairly stylish, its main selling point is the 1.6" rotating-swivelling screen that lets you take pictures of yourself, friends, family etc. The screen updates smoothly as well, but is a bit low-res / grainy. The camera is very easy to use, the menu systems easy to use and well laid out. The 3x optical zoom is a useful feature to have. Camera handling and design are good. The camera speed is good in use and has a quick but noisy zoom, shot to shot time could be quicker. The built-in scene modes, digital filters and panorama mode help make this camera easier to use as well.

Alternative compact 3mp / 3x Optical zoom digital cameras: Yakumo Mega Image 37 (£85), Pentax Optio 33L (£105 from ebuyer.com - with swivel screen), Olympus C-310 (£100), C-360 (£130), Nikon Coolpix 3200 (£125), Canon Powershot A75 (£150), Kodak Easyshare DX6340 (4x Optical zoom, £135), CX7330 (£118), Konica Minolta Dimage X31 (£117), Fuji Finepix A330 (£119). Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The Pentax Optio 33LF is one of the cheaper 3 megapixel / 3x optical zoom digital cameras currently available, and one of the cheapest with a swivel screen. It has a swivelling rotating 1.6" colour screen, and records videos without sound. The camera is quite compact and easy to use. Image quality is good, with good detail and rich colours, although with some image softness. The movie mode is fairly average, recording 320 x 240, 16fps movies without sound. The camera is very easy to use, and has some nice features such as scene modes, digital filter, and panorama mode. For around £99 (UK) from Amazon (if available) this camera offers excellent value for money. Overall, for someone looking for an easy to use, compact camera with a rotating screen I would recommend this camera.

What I like:

  • Good image quality - rich vibrant colour
  • Swivel screen is fun, and useful
  • Very good price
  • Very good macro mode

What I don't like:

  • Movie mode lacks sound
  • Slightly grainy / noisy screen
  • Noisy optical zoom
  • Slightly soft images

Remember to have a look at the full size (and medium size) versions of these photos in the gallery!