DCRP Review: Pentax Optio 330
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2001

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Back in the "old days", Canon was the only game in town when it came to tiny digital cameras. Soon came Casio, and then Kyocera, and now Pentax. These mini-cameras are very popular, since they're easy to pocket, and can do about anywhere.

The Pentax Optio 330 ($699) is a 3.34 Megapixel mini-camera, with a 3X optical zoom lens. How well does it work? Find out now...

What's in the Box?

The Optio 330 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.24 (effective) Mpixel Pentax Optio 330 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • D-LI2 Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ACDSee software and drivers
  • 91 page manual (printed)

Strangely, the manual says that a CompactFlash card is optional. But rest assured, it's not -- a Lexar 8X 16MB card is in the box. I wish camera makers would start including larger memory cards on these high resolution cameras.

It's almost unavoidable to have a proprietary battery on these micro-cameras and the Optio is no exception. The D-LI2 is a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery about the size of two CompactFlash cards put together. If you're thinking that you won't get much life out of such a small battery, you're right. Pentax estimates playback time at 75 minutes, or about 190 photos, depending on flash and LCD use.

Pentax includes a battery charger, which takes about 2 hours. An AC adapter is optional.

Speaking of optional extras, the only thing I could find was a wireless remote control, but I don't know much about it.

The camera has a built-in lens cover, so you need not worry about lens caps.

Pentax includes the popular ACDSee software with the camera, for both Mac and PC. I only played with it briefly but it seems pretty good. The Optio 330 was compatible with Mac OS X 10.1. It loaded up Image Capture right when it was connected.

The camera manual wasn't too bad -- there weren't a lot of "notes" at the bottom of each page, and its laid out well.

Look and Feel

The Optio 330 is a small, metal camera about the size of a deck of cards. While it's small, it's not necessarily light, since it's all metal. It's easy to stuff in your pocket, and you can use it with one hand.

The chart below compares the dimensions and weight of the Optio with the other mini-cameras out there:

Camera Dimensions Weight
Optio 330 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g
Finecam S3 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.2 165 g
PowerShot S100/S110 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 190 g
PowerShot S300 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 240 g

As you can see, it's neither the smallest nor the lightest camera out there. Let's take our tour of the Optio 330 now.

The Optio 330 has a F2.6 Pentax lens with a 3X optical zoom. The focal range of the lens is 7.6 - 22.8 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. The lens is not threaded.

The flash on the camera has a working range of 0.14 - 3.7 m at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 2.0 m at telephoto.

I'd like to see some sort of AF assist lamp on this camera, since it has trouble focusing sometimes.

Here is the back of the camera. The 1.6" LCD is smaller than normal due to the size of the camera, but its still of excellent quality. Nose smudges on the LCD will only be a problem if you use your left eye for the optical viewfinder.

Speaking of which, the optical viewfinder is a little small, but that's not surprising. It does have diopter correction for those without perfect vision. None of the other mini-cams I've mentioned in this review have diopter correction.

The buttons to the right of the LCD are the usual suspects: Menu, Display, and the Four-way switch, which is used for changing settings in the menus and in manual mode.

Above those buttons are a few more, multifunction buttons:

  • Flash [record] / Delete photo [playback]
  • Self-timer, Remote control, continuous shooting [rec] / DPOF print mark [play]
  • Macro, Landscape, Manual focus [rec] / Protect photo [play]

Continuous shooting mode really varies depending on the resolution and quality you've chosen. At 1024 x 768, it went for quite a few shots at a fast rate. However, at 2048 x 1536, two-star quality, it only did two shots before stopping.

The manual focus feature puts a "bar" on the left side of the LCD, but it doesn't give you any units to provide an idea of how far out you're focusing. This was an issue brought up on the Canon PowerShot G1, and it was resolved on the G2.

To the right of that, you can see the zoom controls. I found the zoom to be smooth and responsive.

On top of the camera, you'll find the power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button. Like all of the mini-cameras, there is no LCD info display up here, so you're forced to use the main LCD to see remaining shots, flash settings, etc.

There are six choices on the mode wheel:

  • Playback
  • Auto Record
  • Night Scene
  • Manual Record
  • Movie mode
  • Multiple Exposure mode

Multiple Exposure mode lets you combine two images into one. You can give preference to the brighter or darker image, or just average them out.

Manual record mode lets you choose both the shutter speed and aperture. There is no shutter/aperture priority mode, just both.

At wide-angle, you can choose between F2.6 and F5.0 for aperture. At full telephoto, you can pick from F4.8 or F9.2. Shutter speeds range from 1/1000 sec to 15 sec.

On this side of the Optio, you'll find the I/O ports under a rubber cover. Those ports include USB/Video out, and DC in.

On the other side of the camera is the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type I slot, so no Microdrive support. The included 16MB card is shown. The door covering the slot is one of the few plastic pieces on the camera, and I worry that it could bust off if you force it.

Finally, here's the bottom of the camera. A metal tripod mount, as well as the battery compartment are located down here.

Using the Pentax Optio 330

Record Mode

The Optio 330 takes 3 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking photos. The auto-focus on the camera was troublesome. When you depress the shutter release halfway and it locks focus, it takes less than a second to do so. But quite often, it wouldn't lock focus (showing red brackets on the LCD), even in situations where most cameras wouldn't have a problem. Pentax released a firmware update to improve the autofocus, but I still had trouble. In most situations (meaning outdoors), the camera focuses just fine. But indoors, it was frustrating at times. Of course, that's what manual focus is for.

After you take a shot (there's no noticeable shutter lag), it takes about three seconds before you can take another shot. You have the option of pressing the Display button to delete a photo before it's recorded to the CompactFlash card.

One other thing I noticed is that the right hand grip of the camera starts to warm up after using the camera for a while.


Manual Mode LCD screen

Manual Mode LCD screen with stats

When using the LCD to take a picture, you can hit the display button to show some exposure statistics and a histogram. Of course this blocks the view of the subject!

There are three resolution and three quality levels to choose from on the Optio 330. This chart shows them all:

Resolution Number of photos on 16MB CF card
Best (***) Better (**) Good (*)
2048 x 1536 10 13 26
1024 x 768 40 53 94
640 x 480 106 160 228

One nice thing about the Optio is that the menus don't differ between Auto and Manual record modes. Many cameras prevent you from using some of the manual features found in the menus when in Auto mode, but not here. Here are the menu choices on this camera:

  • Resolution (2048 x 1536, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
  • Quality (***, **, *)
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual)
  • AF Area (Wide, Spot, Free)
  • Digital Zoom (on, off)
  • AE Metering (Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot)
  • ISO Speed (Auto, 100, 200)
  • Color (Full, B&W, Sepia)
  • Instant Review (Off, 0.5 sec, 1-5 sec) - how long an image is shown on the LCD after it was taken
  • Sharpness (Hard, Normal, Soft)
  • Saturation (High, Normal, Low)
  • Contrast (High, Normal, Low)

One of the AF Area choices is "free". This lets you position the cursor to the point where you'd like the camera to focus. The Optio also has a manual white balance mode, which lets you shoot a white or gray card (or whatever you want as a baseline white color), for photos in any lighting.

There is another menu available called Memory. This allows you to choose the settings that are saved when the camera is shut off. The settings that can be stored in memory are:

  • Flash
  • White Balance
  • Focusing Area
  • Digital Zoom
  • AE Metering
  • ISO Speed
  • MF (manual focus) Position
  • Display (LCD setting)
  • File Number

There are two rather unique features to this camera that I haven't seen anywhere else. The first is that the Optio can store two clock settings: home, and world time. The camera has many cities programmed in, so you can just change the city name to change the time. The second feature, though I'm not sure how useful, is the ability for the camera to act as an alarm clock. You can have up to three alarms, as well.

The macro test came out just average on the Optio 330. While it managed to get the colors about right (the room lighting doesn't help), the edges seem over-sharpened. Of course you can adjust the sharpness, but I don't mess with settings when I take these shots. When it macro mode, the camera locks the lens at full wide-angle. The macro focal range is 14-50cm.

The Optio 330 really surprised me when it came to the night shot test. It did much better than I expected. I tried Night Scene, Program, and Manual modes, and only got bad results in Program mode. There really isn't a lot of noise in the shot, either.

Overall, I was satisfied with the photo quality from the Optio 330. Images were sharp, and the color was good too. If you don't trust me, check out the photo gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

In movie mode on the Optio 330, you can record silent movies as long as 30 seconds. They are saved as AVI files, at a resolution of 320 x 240. Since sound is not recorded, you can use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a short sample movie:


Click to play movie (1.6MB, AVI format)

Playback Mode

The Optio 330's playback mode may look bare from the menu above, but it has most of the features that people need. That includes slideshows, DPOF print marking, 9 thumbnail mode, and image protection.

The venerable "zoom and scroll" feature is here as well. For those of you just joining us, this lets you zoom into a photo, and then move around it it. This is useful for checking focus, or showing off to your friends. The Optio's implementation isn't my favorite, though. You can't tell how far in you've zoomed, and scrolling is sluggish.

Scrolling between images on the Optio 330 is pretty quick. When you press left or right on the 4-way switch, the camera instantly shows a low-res image of the next photo. A high-res image replaces it in under 3 seconds.


Basic Info

More Detailed Info + Histogram

Just like in record mode, you can get basic info about a photo, or more detailed, as seen above.

How Does it Compare?

The micro-cameras have been getting better and better over time. The first cameras from Canon were essentially point-and-shoot cameras in small bodies. The Kyocera Finecam S3 and now the Pentax Optio 330 show that you can have manual controls on a small camera. The cameras impressive features, good photo quality, and controls lead me to recommend the Optio 330. There were a few issues though: there's the usual battery problem (small camera = small battery = small capacity). There's also the focusing troubles that I had in lower-light situations (if you're going to be doing lots of low-light shooting I'd test the camera carefully before buying it). And the camera also had the tendency to get hot after use.

It's a real close race between the Optio and the Finecam. The features are very similar, but I prefer the Optio's use of the CompactFlash format, rather than MultiMediaCard on the Finecam. The Finecam also required the use of a card reader, since it had no USB port. Also, the Optio has a 3X lens, versus a 2X lens on the Finecam. Finally, the Finecam was slower to startup and operate. I'd probably pick the Optio myself, but again, take a close look at both, and don't forget the very nice, but more limited Canon Digital ELPH line.

What I liked:

  • Very small, good looking, easy to carry camera
  • Very good bundle
  • Many manual controls, unusual for a micro-camera
  • Histograms and exposure info in record and playback mode
  • Can use zoom in movie mode
  • Very simple to use

What I didn't care for:

  • Proprietary battery
  • No sound in movie mode
  • Focusing troubles in lower light
  • Heats up after a few minutes
  • "Zoom and scroll", manual focus features could better

The other micro-cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot S110 and S300, Casio QV-3EX, Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 775, and the Olympus D-40. There's also a new 4 Megapixel version of the Optio, known as the Optio 430. Look for a review soon.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Optio 330 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steves Digicams review of the Pentax Optio 330.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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