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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.