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Pentax Optio 33WR review: Pentax Optio 33WR

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The Good Water resistant; compact; thoughtful control layout; broad point-and-shoot feature set.

The Bad Erratic autofocus; average image quality; limited wide-angle capability.

The Bottom Line Though the Optio 33WR is an otherwise average pocket camera, its water resistance and broad snapshot feature set make it stand out from the crowd.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 6

Review Sections

Review summary

The water-resistant, 3.2-megapixel Optio 33WR is better equipped than most of us to handle inclement weather. Outfitted with Pentax extras, this compact camera offers a broad array of features that stretch the bounds of snapshot photography. Its 2.8X zoom lens provides enough flexibility for taking typical point-and-shoot pictures, and its photo quality is decent, although not above average for its class. Almost perfectly square, the Pentax Optio 33WR fits neatly into backpacks and larger pockets. At 7.3 ounces with batteries and a media card, it's comfortably portable, and its rubberized corners and solid body make it rugged without looking too clunky.

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The camera top is simple, with just a power button and a shutter release.

Its lens zooms internally, maintaining a clean design line by never protruding from the camera. We do, however, worry that bouncing the camera around in a backpack or a pocket with keys will scratch the glass protecting the lens.

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The zoom toggle falls comfortably under your right thumb when you hold the camera.

Novices will have no problem snapping pics with the 33WR right out of the box, and experienced shooters will have fun exploring its features. In either case, the basics of this Optio are easy to master. The control layout is clean and logical, so you don't have to do much work to change settings, whether using the standard menu or the virtual mode dial. The latter is activated by a single push of a four-way controller arrow. From there, it's easy to choose your shooting preference. Identifying the little pictographs for each mode is challenging, however, and you'll initially need to check the manual.

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The playback button lets you switch quickly from shooting to image review and back. Pentax makes good use of the four-way controller: the right and left arrows let you quickly adjust exposure, while the up and down arrows access continuous-shooting modes, the self-timer, and the virtual mode dial. The center button activates a dynamic histogram display.

Pentax has thoughtfully put the microphone on the front-left corner of the Optio 33WR's body, so you're unlikely to cover it with your fingers while holding the camera. A separate external button activates recording, and sound capture couldn't be easier; however, the speaker for on-camera playback is tiny.

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Using the microphone button, you can record audio or add voice annotations to photos. The other buttons allow quick flash- and focus-mode changes.
The most notable feature of the Pentax Optio 33WR is its water resistance. According to Pentax, you can hold the camera under as much as 3 feet of water for as long as 30 minutes, although you can't actually operate the camera while it's immersed. In other words, it's a beach-and-skiing camera, not a snorkeling accessory. Likewise, its 2.8X zoom lens is made for outdoorsy types. The 37mm-to-104mm focal-length range will be better at bringing you close to the guy on the other boat than giving you a wide enough angle in tight indoor spaces.

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The Pentax Optio 33WR uses SD/MMC media.

The Optio 33WR comes with all the point-and-shoot basics and more. There are no fewer than nine scene modes and a panorama mode. In addition to exposure compensation, preset and manual white balance, and selectable light-sensitivity settings, you can adjust saturation, contrast, and sharpness. Three metering modes and a choice between spot and multiarea autofocus lend the camera versatility. Exposure information and a histogram display are available in both recording and playback modes.

This Optio also incorporates a mini digital darkroom into its playback mode. You can resize images by using a choice of resolution and compression selections or save copies of your photos after cropping them. Pentax also provides a set of 10 digital filters, including Soft, Brightness, and assorted colors, which you can apply to images during playback.

You can choose from four resolution and three JPEG compression settings, although there is no non-JPEG option. Movie mode offers two low-res choices that capture 15fps clips up to your media's capacity, as well as the option to shoot in color, black and white, or sepia. Better yet, the Optio 33WR has an interval mode for shooting time-lapse photos. You can also use the camera as a voice recorder or attach audio annotations to photos in playback mode. The speaker volume for on-camera playback is pretty low, however. The Optio 33WR's shooting performance is generally above average for its class, with a quick start-up-to-first-shot time of less than 2 seconds. Time between shots is a little slow, at about 2.5 seconds; add another second when using the flash. Continuous shooting speeds things up a bit, capturing slightly fewer than 2 frames per second.

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Battery life was average. We got slightly more than 400 shots--half with flash--from a pair of rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride batteries. You can also power the Optio 33WR with one disposable CRV3 cell.

This Optio's internally zooming lens moves smoothly and quietly, although it takes a little longer than usual for the autofocus to catch up to the zoom. In some low-light and low-contrast situations--and even a few bright outdoor shots--the 33WR had us mumbling under our breath as its focus stalled or searched. Switching between spot focus and multifocus didn't change this erratic behavior. However, using Snap mode all but eliminated the problem and shaved a hair off shot-to-shot times.

The 1.6-inch LCD is difficult to view under bright sunlight, especially when you're scrolling through the menu, but gains up nicely in low light, so you can see what you're photographing. The small optical viewfinder is adequate, but we preferred using the LCD whenever possible.

Like many small cameras, the Optio 33WR has a low-power flash, so don't expect to light up a room. While the flash sometimes proved a little too powerful when we took advantage of the camera's ability to focus as close as 3.93 inches, it generally throttled back nicely for most macro shots. Our test shots from the Pentax Optio 33WR were a mixed bag. Overall, images were well exposed, although there was a tendency to go dark in low-light situations. Colors tended to be a bit lackluster, although they really popped when we used the flash. Automatic white balance functioned well under most lighting conditions, but images were heavily yellowed under tungsten light.

Sharpness and detail in our test photos were good but not outstanding for this camera's class. Our macro shots tended to be crisper than our other photos. At ISO 50 and 100, the Optio 33WR produces clean images, but noise becomes noticeable at ISO 200, and we advise against using the ISO 400 setting. Fortunately, we saw little purple fringing in our photos, although we did notice occasional bleeding of dark edges into light areas. At the extremes of the lens's zoom range, we saw some barrel and pincushion distortion, which makes the 33WR less than ideal for photographing buildings and other subjects with a lot of straight lines.

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