Pentax Optio 33L review: Pentax Optio 33L

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We shot more than 500 photos (with the LCD on and the flash firing about 12 percent of the time) on one charge of a pair of optional 1,950mAh nickel-metal-hydride AA batteries. You can also use a long-life disposable CRV3 cell, one of which comes with the camera.

The Pentax 33L is a midlevel performer in its class. At its slowest, shooting highest-quality photos with the flash firing, the camera takes 4 to 5 seconds to trigger the shutter after focusing, save the file, and recycle the flash. You can shave off a second or so by shooting at a lower resolution or turning off the flash. For faster shooting, the continuous mode will get you there, albeit without flash.

The 33L's 3X (38mm to 114mm, 35mm-camera equivalent) zoom lens operates smoothly and responsively, if a bit noisily. And we were pleasantly surprised at the camera's ability to lock its autofocus under almost dark conditions without the visible red glow of an AF illuminator lamp. Under normal lighting conditions, autofocus worked reasonably well on the Wide setting, but the spot-focus option delivered better, more sharply focused results.

In all but extreme lighting conditions, the rotating LCD provides a sufficiently clear view for composing your shots. Pentax includes a somewhat flimsy snap-on LCD hood, which we found moderately helpful in bright sunlight.

With a flash range of about 16 feet, the 33L offers more powerful illumination than most other cameras in its class. You'll be able to light up a room (or at least a good part of it) and generally end up with even and well-balanced coverage. Just be careful that your left forefinger doesn't stray and block the flash. And be sure to switch on red-eye reduction if you're taking pictures of people.

Image quality from the 33L is good but doesn't rise to the level of some other cameras in the same class. Our test exposures were generally accurate, although not always spot-on; we were glad to have the option of autobracketing.

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Although using the automatic white balance under indoor (tungsten) lighting gave our pictures a very warm tone (left), the 33L rendered colors vividly yet naturally.

Automatic white balance performed reasonably well under a variety of lighting conditions, and colors came out well saturated and natural-looking. The camera recorded a variety of bright colors (even hot pink and purple) without going off the edge of the real-world color spectrum--a plus in a budget-priced camera.

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The 33L's image quality is generally good, but it would have been nice to see more detail and less noise, especially in shots such as this one (detail shown at 100 percent).

On the other hand, images fell short of our expectations in terms of sharpness and detail. For example, in floral close-ups, we were able to capture rain beads on a flower but not the finer details of the petals. We also noticed a moderate amount of artifacts and image noise; we suggest you keep the light-sensitivity setting at ISO 100 for the best quality.

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