DCRP Review: Pentax Optio 330GS
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

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The Pentax Optio 330GS ($470) is the latest in Pentax's series of small, 3 Megapixel cameras. It follows in the footsteps of the Optio 330 and the 330RS. The 330GS is very similar to the 330RS, with the main difference being the flip-out LCD display. But more on that later.

There are an awful lot of compact cameras out there these days. So how does the 330GS fare against the competition? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

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

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Optio 330GS camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • CR-V3 lithium battery (non-rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 3D Image Viewer
  • CD-ROMs featuring ACDSee
  • 112 page camera manual (printed)

Pentax throws a 16MB CompactFlash card in the box, which is enough to get started. But once you start getting serious, you'll want a bigger card. I'd get a 64MB card at the very minimum.

Something you'll have to buy even sooner than a memory card is a set of batteries. Pentax gives you a throwaway CR-V3 lithium battery. I recommend picking up some AA NiMH batteries instead. Since the 330GS only uses two AA batteries at a time (or one CR-V3), a four-pack of batteries will be perfect. With NiMH batteries, Pentax estimates that you'll take about 200 pictures, or playback images for 100 minutes.

The Optio 330GS has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry about.

So what the heck is the 3D Image Viewer that's included in the box? The 330GS has a unique feature which lets you take two shots in a row and combine them into a 3D image. To view the images in 3D, you can print them out and then use the 3D image viewer. Once you get the hang of it, you can probably do it without the image viewer.

Don't expect many accessories for this small camera. The only ones I could find include an AC adapter and camera case.

Pentax includes ACD System's ACDSee for both Mac and PC. The software is great for viewing and organizing your photos, but it's no substitute for something like Photoshop Elements when it comes to retouching. ACDSee is Mac OS X native.

The manual included with the Optio 330GS is about average. Everything you need to know is in it, but it may be a bit hard to read.

Look and Feel

The Optio 330GS is a compact, mostly plastic camera. Even though it's plastic, it feels well built. Controls are well placed, and it's easy to hold with one hand or two. It's not as small as cameras like the Digital ELPH line, but it's still pocket-size.

The official dimensions of the camera are 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.7 inches (W x H x D), and it weights just 180 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the Canon PowerShot S230's dimensions are 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1, with the same weight.

Let's begin our 360 degree tour of the 330GS now!

The 330GS uses an F2.6, 3X optical zoom Pentax lens. The lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded. There's also a 2.7X digital zoom available, but using it will lower the quality of your pictures.

Just above and to the right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.2 - 5.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.1 - 2.7 m at telephoto. As you'd expect, there are no external flash options available on the Optio.

Just below the flash is the self-timer lamp, which doubles as an autofocus (AF) illuminator. It's great to see Pentax adding this to their cameras. In low light situations, this red light greatly aids in focusing.

One of the new features on the 330GS is its flip-out LCD. Unfortunately, it's vastly inferior to those found on other cameras for one reason: it doesn't rotate. The LCD can be in two positions: what you see above and below. It's not like the PowerShot G2/G3 where you can rotate it around. It would probably cost Pentax $5 to add this part to the camera... it's a shame that they didn't.

Aside from it's lack of rotation, the 1.6" LCD on the Optio 330GS is pretty good. It's not super high resolution, but most will find it acceptable. Images on the LCD move fluidly, and the screen is bright, though a bit grainy. If it's not bright enough, you can adjust that too.

The button on the bottom of the LCD will reverse the image, which is needed when it's turned around the other way.

Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's good-sized for a small camera, but it lacks diopter correction for those without perfect vision.

To the right of that are two buttons:

  • Flash (Auto, off, on, auto w/redeye reduction, on w/redeye reduction) / Delete photo
  • Drive (Self-timer, macro, landscape, manual focus) / Protect photo

Turn the camera to manual focus mode, and the image will be enlarged on the LCD, so you can make sure you're in focus. Too bad the guide on the LCD doesn't give you a more exact focal distance aside from somewhere between 0.1 m and infinity!

Below that you'll find the four-way switch, plus the menu and display buttons. The four-way switch is used for menu navigation as well as exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments). Pressing the blue "ok" button will also enter playback mode.

The final items on the back of the camera are the zoom controls, which are at the top-right of the picture. The zoom moves very quickly, taking just over a second to move from wide to telephoto.

On the top of the camera, you can see the power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button. The items on the mode wheel include:

  • Standard Mode
  • Picture Mode
  • Night Scene
  • Movie Mode
  • 3D Image Mode

Picture mode is much like scene mode on other cameras. Pick a scene and the camera chooses the best settings for that situation. The scenes available on the 330GS include:

  • Landscape
  • Flower
  • Portrait
  • Self-portrait
  • Soft
  • Surf & Snow
  • Sunset

I've already touched on 3D Image Mode earlier in the review. There's a split screen on the LCD in this mode. You try to take the same picture on each side. You can also choose between parallel and cross modes of viewing.

Here's one side of the 330GS. Under those rubber covers, you'll find ports for USB/video output, as well as DC in (for optional AC adapter).

Nothing to see over here... where's that memory card slot?

The memory card slot is here, along with the battery compartment and a plastic tripod mount. The 330GS uses Type I CompactFlash cards only -- so no Microdrives.

Using the Pentax Optio 330GS

Record Mode

The 330GS takes about three seconds to extend its lens and warm up before you can start shooting. Press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks focus in about one second. It may take a bit longer if the AF illuminator is used. Press the button fully and the picture is taken with just a minimal delay.

Shot-to-shot speed is about average. You'll want about three seconds before you can take another shot.

The Optio 330GS offers a live histogram in record mode, a handy feature for judging exposure.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the 330GS:

Resolution Compression # shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
2048 x 1536 Best (***) 8
Better (**) 16
Good (*) 33

1600 x 1200

Best (***) 13
Better (**) 27
Good (*) 60
1024 x 768 Best (***) 24
Better (**) 50
Good (*) 89
640 x 480 Best (***) 50
Better (**) 89
Good (*) 128

There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera. The camera names files as IMGP####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the card.

The 330GS has an easy to use menu system, with quite a few options available. Here's a look:

  • Recorded Pixels (2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
  • Quality Level (Best, better, good)
  • Color Balance (Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
  • Focusing Area (Normal/wide, spot)
  • AE Metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • ISO Speed (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Auto Bracket
    • Applied Photo Mode (Exposure bracketing, white balance, saturation, sharpness, contrast)
    • Bracketing Amount (0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 1.3, 1.7, 2.0 EV) - these are only for exposure and white balance bracketing
  • Color Mode (Full, B&W, sepia)
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Instant Review (Off, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5 sec) - amount of time that photo is shown on LCD after it is taken
  • Continuous Shooting (on/off)
  • Memory - see below
  • Sharpness
  • Saturation
  • Contrast

As you can see, the Optio 330GS has tons of manual controls! Here are some more details about some of them.

The first is white balance (Pentax calls it color balance). You can use a white or gray card to manually set the white balance, which is a handy feature when lighting is unusual.

The 330GS has one of the most impressive auto-bracketing systems I've seen. Not only can you bracket exposure, but you can do things like saturation, white balance, and sharpness as well. Cool!

In continuous shooting mode, you fire off shots at the unimpressive rate of about 1 frame/second.

The memory feature lets you choose which settings the camera stores when it's turned off. This is one of those features that I wish every camera had. The settings that can be stored include:

  • Flash
  • Exposure compensation
  • White balance
  • Focusing area
  • AE metering
  • ISO speed
  • Digital zoom
  • Focus mode
  • Zoom position
  • Display mode
  • File numbering

In addition to the record menu, there's also a setup menu. It has items such as date/time, card formatting, video output format, display language, LCD brightness, and world time.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The Optio 330GS did a fine job with the macro test. The colors look nice, though the red is slightly over-saturated. The subject is sharp, too. The focal range in macro mode is 10 - 50 cm.

Since there's no manual shutter speed control, the only way I could get this shot to come out was to use the Optio's night scene mode. That allowed the camera to take a long exposure, which was four seconds in this case. The camera was able to take in a lot of light, so the shot looks good. I was also impressed with the lack of noise. One thing I was not impressed with was all the purple fringing that you can see.

The Optio 330GS did a decent job with the redeye test. There's a bit of it in one eye, but I don't think it's horrible. Redeye can be cleaned up pretty well using software (though not the bundled ACDSee, as far as I know). Note that I blew up this image a bit so you could see the details.

Image quality on the 330GS is acceptable for a smaller, 3 Megapixel camera. The photos I took were generally well exposed, with good color. Many of them were on the soft side, but I would imagine tinkering with the camera's sharpness controls would clear that up. Don't just take my word for it, have a look at the photo gallery and judge for yourself!

Movie Mode

The 330GS has a pretty basic movie mode. You can record clips, without sound, for up to 30 seconds.

Movies are saved in AVI format using the Motion JPEG codec. The resolution is the usual 320 x 240.

Since sound is not recorded, you can use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a rather long sample movie for you. The quality is not great.


Click to play movie (6.2MB, 320 x 240, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Playback mode on the Optio 330GS is pretty basic. You've got slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you quickly zoom in as much as 12X (with many stops along the way) and then scroll around in the enlarged area. It's a handy feature for checking focus, among other things.

There's no image rotation feature or anything fancy like that on the 330GS.

The camera does provide a good amount of information about your picture, including a histogram. It also moves through images very quickly.

How Does it Compare?

While not really a standout in any area, the Pentax Optio 330GS does hold up against the competition. This small camera takes good quality pictures (though a little soft), offers a decent amount of manual controls, and is easy to use. The multiple bracketing options and scene modes are a treat as well. The flip-out LCD isn't really useful because it cannot rotate, and the 3D feature sounds a little gimmicky to me. I would've also liked to see a microphone, so you can record sound along with your movies. There are a lot of compact cameras out there, and the 330GS should definitely be one you consider.

What I liked:

  • Good quality photos
  • Compact, well-designed body
  • Has an AF illuminator lamp
  • Lots of controls for a point-and-shoot camera
  • Bracketing options rarely seen even on expensive cameras
  • Histogram in record and playback modes

What I didn't care for:

  • Flip-out LCD not very useful (since it can't rotate)
  • No sound in movie mode
  • No shutter speed/aperture controls
  • Bundle isn't great
  • Expensive

Some other low cost 3 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S230 and S30, Casio QV-R3, Fuji FinePix 3800 and A303, Kyocera Finecam S3x and S3L, Kodak EasyShare DX4330, Minolta DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3500, Olympus D-550Z, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7 and DSC-P71, and the Toshiba PDR-3320. It's a lengthy list but it shows that you have a lot of choices -- and that you need to do your homework before you buy!

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Optio 330GS and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read a review of the 330GS at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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