Pentax Optio 33L review
Very special camera with no direct competition, almost a class of its own.
Main thing is the swivel LCD which is unique. This is a dont't miss feature and it adds lots of flexibility & fun to daily shooting experience!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: you get all you need to instantly start playing around, plus a bonus: you'll find some curious stuff in there, like a viewing device with strange glasses. This is provided to watch 3D images [similar like back then in the 1950-ties].
BODY & DESIGN: the camera is quite feminine, rounded shapes with polished [metal-like] elements. The lens is the only masculine element, because it would not retract completely into the body - but this is a camera, it may look this way!
First bad news: this camera doesn't have an optical viewfinder! The good news is - there are no more drawbacks whatsoever here! So if you would sometimes prefer an optical viewfinder - this is the wrong camera for you! If you are devoted to precise framing, then Optio 33L is the camera for you! Forget about the parallax correction - the LCD will give you almost 100% of the final image!
As already mentioned the 1,5" LCD is flexible, you can go 180 deg. vertical and 180 in the horizontal axis. The anchor point is above the monitor, which makes much more sense as the more conventional left side mount [usually where Pentax has the LCD-anchor other cameras would have a viewfinder window]. Pentax provided a collapsible shade [in the box] for the LCD which clips-on nicely there - this is pretty much useful outside in bright sunlight, where the screen would sometimes be difficult to read.
LOAD OF FEATURES
The camera looks fairly simple but it's loaded with features. There is no main-mode-dial, but if you press the 4-way-controller 'down' you will get into the virtual-mode-dial, giving you 8 main modes including submodes in some. By the way, the menues are gracefully shallow, the typo & the animations are nicely polished. You may also change the color scheme to suit your individual moods!
The manual control on this camera is limited to the exposure compensation [+2/-2 EV in 1/3 steps] which can be activated anytime by pressing the [well designed] 4-way-controller. Beyond this you can have white balance running in a bracketing mode, which is quite useful. You can bracket almost each other parameter of your choice/importance, like exposure, contrast, sharpness or color saturation [all in customizable steps ofcourse]. It's possible to finetune the camera's general image characteristics the way that suits your taste & needs, although the default settings are very good already. I've reduced default sharpening, color hue is being increased or decreased flexible [depending on light] and finally contrast was reduced for capturing more dynamic range.
You will find a highly usable panorama-stitch-mode which would help you a lot when you want to create overlaping images. Before you shoot your panorama you decide which way the stitching direction will go. There is a movie-mode with no sound. And there is this really unique and rather curious 3D-mode, which enables you to make pairs of stereoscopic images!
One of the most stunning features on this little camera is the live-histogramm view & the advanced metering system. These are actually prosumer features. I will not forget the face of a friend photographer who got a fancy Canon PowerShot G6 lately & noticed his prosumer gadget lacks live histogramm preview! The metering system is very reliable, the choices are multisegment metering [this is good for 80% of shots], the conventional center weighted metering PLUS a bonus of spot-metering for difficuld light conditions. A luxury in this camera class.
IMAGE QUALITY is very good overall, balanced tonal range, good colors, very faithfull, prints are not looking diigital. I keep the camera mostly on ISO 200 and medium compression, this would result in good overall performance with low artefacts and low noise. Another smart detail is the 2/3 grid view option which is very useful at architecture shots and in general photography. Every digicam should have this!
CONCLUSION: If you find one Pentax Optio 33L new out there nowdays - GET IT! It's a hell of a little camera, much better than any of the other competitors current budget models. Get hi-quality Ni-Mh batteries & charger [everything upon 2000 mAh will be fine], buy a big CF-card, approx. 300 images of max. resolution at best quality fit on 512 MB.
No problems after 2 1/2 years of frequent use ...
Optio 33L Bonus side:
++ flexible LCD-screen
++ high fun factor
++ live histogramm view
++ reliable & precise metering
++ very good tonal response
++ AF good also in weak light
++ grid overlay option on screen
++ 'film-like' image characteristic
++ powerfull nightscene-mode
++ low image noise
++ decent lens performance
++ usable burst-mode
++ powerful flash
++ effective red-eye-reduction
++ very usable macro
++ ease of use
++ large array of functions
++ panorama-mode very usable
++ manual focus with live preview
++ intuitive controls
++ good menue structure
++ finetuning of image parameters
++ CF standard memory card
++ battery flexibility
++ clever design
++ very good package
++ well written manual
++ software provided very usable [ACDSee...]
++ great value for money