DCRP Review: Pentax Optio 33WR
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 22, 2004
Last Updated: February 22, 2004

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The Pentax Optio 33WR ($350) is one of the cameras that are water resistant right out of the box. I've said this before, but I'll say it again here: water resistant is not the same as waterproof. The 33WR can get splashed or rained on, but you can't go swimming with it. The manual says that it can be submersed in water briefly, and gives an example of washing the camera off in the sink (don't use soap, though).

Beside its ability to get a little wet, the 33WR is also a competent 3 Megapixel camera with a 2.8X optical zoom lens. Some of the unique Pentax features can be found on it as well.

Let's take a closer look at the 33WR in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Optio 33WR has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Megapixel Pentax Optio 33WR camera
  • Two AA alkaline batteries (not rechargeable)
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ACDSee software + drivers
  • 113 page camera + separate software manual (both printed)

The Optio 33WR includes a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card, which is enough to get started with -- but you'll soon be wanting a larger card. I suggest 128MB as a good starting point. The 33WR can use both SD and MultiMedia (MMC) cards, though SD cards are recommended due to capacity and speed differences.

Something else you'll need to buy are batteries, as the 33WR comes with two alkaline AAs that will quickly find their way into the trash (or, better yet, the recycling bin). Do yourself a favor and buy a four-pack of NiMH rechargeable batteries and a fast charger right away. Pentax says that you can take around 300 photos, or spend 125 minutes in playback mode with NiMH batteries, which is average (at best).

The 33WR doesn't have a lens cap or cover of any type, nor is there one available. So watch where you put your fingers!

There's a grand total of one accessory available for this camera, and it's an AC adapter ($48).

Pentax includes ACD System's ACDSee for both Mac (v1.6) and PC (v5.0). It's not Photoshop, but it's good for organizing, editing, and sharing your photos. Windows users will also get ACD Photostitcher, which can be used for creating panoramic images. The Mac version is Mac OS X native.

The manual included with the Optio 33WR is typical of those included with a digital camera. It's complete, but confusing at times.

Look and Feel

While the Optio 33WR looks perfectly square at first glance, in reality it's not. If I'm not mistaken, the only totally square camera is the Nikon Coolpix SQ. The 33WR's body is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and it feels sturdy, for the most part. The four corners of the body are rubberized.

Despite its unusual shape, the 33WR is easy to hold, with the important controls within easy reach of your fingers. The official dimensions of the camera are 81.5 x 76.0 x 30.5 mm / 3.2 x 3.0 x 1.2 inches (W x H x D), and it weigh 160 grams / 5.6 ounces empty.

Ready to take a closer look at this camera?

The lens on the Optio 33WR is an F2.8-3.9, 2.8X optical zoom model. The focal range of the lens is 5.7 - 16.0 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 104 mm. The lens is not threaded. Another thing note is that the lens does not extend out of the body.

To the upper-left of the lens, you'll find the built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.1 - 2.9 m at wide-angle, and 0.1 - 2.1 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.

Just left of the flash is the self-timer amp. On the top-right of the photo is the 33WR's microphone. There is no AF-assist lamp on this camera.

On the back of the camera, you'll find a 1.6" LCD display. I got a laugh out of the line in the specifications section of the camera manual, which has this for the LCD resolution: 84 kilomegapixels. That must be some LCD! Anyhow, the LCD really has 84k pixels of resolution, which isn't great, but it didn't seem to bother me too much. The screen is bright (the brightness is not adjustable), and motion is fluid.

At the top of the camera is the optical viewfinder, which is on the small side. There's no diopter correction feature, which is used to focus what you're looking at. To the lower-left of the viewfinder is the speaker.

Above the LCD are three buttons, which do the following:

  • Voice recording - save voice clips to the memory card in WAV format; the only limit is the amount of free memory on the card; the included 16MB SD card holds 30 minutes of audio
  • Flash setting (Auto, flash off, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction) {record mode} / Protect image {playback mode}
  • Focus setting (Auto, macro, infinity/landscape, manual) {record} / Delete photo {playback}

Manual focus

The manual focus feature lets you use the four-way controller and a guide on the LCD to set the focus yourself. The camera also enlarges the center of the frame on the LCD, so you can verify that your subject is in focus.

Virtual mode dial

To the right of the LCD are the playback and menu buttons, as well as the four-way controller. In addition to navigating the menu and adjusting the exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments), the controller is also used for:

  • Up - Drive, which has the following options:
    • Self-timer
    • Continuous shooting - takes 6 shots in a row at 1 frame/sec at the highest quality setting
    • Multi continuous shooting - takes 4 shots in a row at around 2 frames/sec and puts them into one image
    • Continuous shooting w/self-timer
  • Down - Virtual mode dial, which has the following options:
    • Program mode - for "normal" shooting
    • Landscape
    • Night scene
    • Night portrait
    • Portrait
    • Surf and snow
    • Flower
    • Sunset
    • Fireworks
    • Snap mode - I'm not sure what this does
    • Movie mode
    • Panorama assist mode - helps you line up photos which you'll later combine into one panoramic shot

The final item on this part of the tour is the zoom controller, which is located at the top-right of the photo. The controller smoothly (and quietly) moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.3 seconds. Something awkward that I noticed is that each time you move the lens, the image goes out of focus for a fraction of a second.

On the top of the 33WR, you'll find the power switch and shutter release button.

On this side of the camera are the I/O ports: DC-in (for optional AC adapter) and USB & A/V out (one port for both). They are kept behind a plastic door of questionable durability.

On the other side of the camera is another cheap-feeling plastic door. Let's take a look at what's behind door number two.

It's the memory card and battery compartment! Here is where you'll put an SD or MMC card, as well as the two AA (or one CR-V3) batteries.

The final stop on the tour is the bottom of the camera. Here is where you'll find the plastic (I think) tripod mount.

Using the Pentax Optio 33WR

Record Mode

With no lens to extend, the 33WR starts up quickly -- in just 1.7 seconds.

Autofocus speeds on the 33WR were about average, with a 1/2 - 1 second delay in most cases. The only exception was in macro mode, where focusing seemed to take an eternity. I was unimpressed by the Optio's low light focusing ability.

Shutter lag was just barely noticeable, even at slower shutter speeds.

The Optio's LCD can show a lot of info in record mode, including a histogram

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a roughly two second delay between photos. The camera always shows the image you just took for 1.5 seconds -- there's no way to turn that off.

To delete a photo immediately after it is taken, just hit the delete photo button.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the Optio 33WR (Pentax uses a "star system" to represent image quality):

Resolution Compression # shots on 16MB card
2048 x 1536 Best (***) 7
Better (**) 12
Good (*) 18

1600 x 1200

Best (***) 11
Better (**) 20
Good (*) 27
1024 x 768 Best (***) 25
Better (**) 45
Good (*) 56
640 x 480 Best (***) 53
Better (**) 82
Good (*) 100

There is no RAW or TIFF option on the 33WR, and I wouldn't expect there to be.

As far as file numbering goes, the camera names files as IMGP####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the card.

The Optio 33WR has a simple, fairly easy to navigate menu system. The options in the record menu include:

  • Recorded pixels (see chart)
  • Quality level (see chart)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
  • Focusing area (Multiple, spot)
  • AE metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Sensitivity (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this lowers the quality of your photos
  • Interval shooting - see below
  • Movie
    • Recorded pixels (320 x 240, 160 x 120)
    • Color mode (Full color, black & white, sepia)
    • Fast forward movie (Off, x1, x2, x5, x10, x20, x50, x100) - described later
  • Memory - the camera will store the selected settings in memory so they aren't lost when you turn off the camera. The available settings include:
    • Flash
    • White balance
    • Exposure compensation
    • Digital zoom
    • AE Metering
    • Sensitivity
    • Focus mode
    • Zoom position
    • Manual focus position
    • File numbering
  • Sharpness (Soft, normal, hard)
  • Saturation (Low, normal, high)
  • Contrast (Low, normal, high)

The Optio 33WR has just two manual controls, and they are focus (described earlier) and white balance. The manual WB mode lets you shoot a white or gray card, to get perfect photos in any lighting. Now that I have studio lights, I consider this a required feature (for me, at least).

The interval shooting feature lets you take up to 99 pictures at a set interval. The interval can range from 10 sec - 99 minutes. The AC adapter is basically required for this.

The 33WR doesn't have the digital color filter feature in record mode that some other Pentax models have. Rather, it's found in the playback menu.

In addition to the record menu, there's also a setup menu. The options in this menu include:

  • Format
  • Sound
    • Volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Startup sound (Off, 1-3)
    • Shutter sound (Off, 1-3)
    • Operation sound (Off, 1-3)
    • Self-timer sound (Off, 1-3)
  • Date adjust
  • World time - view the time around the world
  • Language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Chinese) - not sure about those last two
  • Display (Normal, histogram, no info, off) - choose what is shown on the LCD in record mode, or just turn it off
  • Screen setting
    • Startup screen (Off, select image)
    • Background color (1-6) - for the menus
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Quick delete (on/off) - when on, it shortens the photo deletion process by one button press.
  • Quick zoom (on/off) - when on, "zoom and scroll" feature automatically jumps to highest zoom ratio
  • Function setting (Recorded pixels, quality level, white balance, focusing area, AE metering, sensitivity, flash exposure compensation, digital zoom, instant review, sharpness, saturation, contrast) - define what the various directions on the four-way controller do (while the function button is held down).
  • Auto power off
  • Reset - turn settings to back their default values

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

The Optio 33WR has a really nice macro mode. You can get as close to your subject as 1 cm at wide-angle, and 20 cm at telephoto. That's right, I said 1 cm -- just 0.4 inches. I was able to get an area of 20 x 21 mm to fill the frame -- pretty impressive.

The macro shot above turned out nicely, though perhaps slightly overexposed. The camera captured plenty of detail, and colors were accurate.

Ahhh, San Francisco City Hall -- someplace that has been in the news a lot lately. I accidentally took the first couple of shots at the manual white balance setting that I used for the macro shot -- turns out they looked the best, so I kept them. The photo looks great, with low noise and purple fringing levels, and plenty of detail. You cannot set the shutter speed manually, so you're at the mercy of the camera's brain -- but it did a good job here. The slowest shutter speed on the 33WR is 4 seconds.

I should add that I took the shot above while it was raining -- and there was no need to be worried about that!

One area in which the 33WR was not so hot was the redeye test -- it's pretty bad. To reduce this effect, you can increase available lighting, take the shot again, or just clean it up in software.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. While the edges are a little darker than the center, I didn't see this problem in my real world test shots.

Overall, I was pleased with the Optio 33WR's photo quality. Exposure, color, and and sharpness were all very good, though images were a bit noisy at default settings. Purple fringing was not a major problem based on the photos I took.

Don't just take my words as gospel: view the pictures in the gallery and make your own decision about he Optio 33WR's photo quality!

Movie Mode

The Optio's movie mode is average (for 2004), letting you record 320 x 240 movies (15 frames/sec, with sound) until the memory card is full. A smaller 160 x 120 resolution is also available. The included 16MB SD card can hold just 40 seconds of video. The bigger your memory card, the longer you movie can be!

In addition to that movie mode, you can also take movies in sepia or black & white. But wait -- there's more. The fast forward movie mode slows the frame rate, so when it's viewed at normal speed, everything looks fast. You can slow the frame rate down by 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/20, 1/50, and 1/100. This makes a lot more sense when you try it yourself.

Files are saved in QuickTime format.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a sample movie for you. I apologize for the wind noise... in the winter you have to take what you can get.

Click to play movie (4.3MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Optio 33WR has a very nice playback mode. The Optio has the basic playback features nailed: slide shows, DPOF (but not PictBridge) print marking, thumbnail mode, and image protection are all here.

The zoom and scroll feature is here too, allow you to zoom in as much as 8X into your photo, and then scroll around. Zoom and scroll speeds are about average. By turning the "quick zoom" feature in the setup menu on, the camera automatically jumps to the full 8X setting when you press the zoom button.

The digital filters feature lets you change the color, sharpness, and brightness of your photo, right in playback mode. The available color filters are black & white, sepia, red, pink, violet, blue, green, and yellow. A soft filter gives your images a very soft look to them, while the brightness filter lets you, well, adjust the brightness. You can overwrite the original image, or create a new one.

The resize function lets you reduce an image to any of the smaller resolutions (plus 320 x 240), and you can change the quality as well. The trimming feature allows you to crop a photo -- the resolution and quality settings are the same as the original image. In both cases, the original image is kept.

The Optio can show plenty of information about your photos, including a histogram.

The camera moves through photos fairly quickly, with a one second delay between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

At first glance, the Pentax Optio 33WR may look like just another camera (and an awkward-looking one at that), but it's much more. It's one of a select handful of cameras that can get wet right out the box. And by wet, I mean that it can get splashed, rained on, and dunked in water (briefly). You cannot go scuba diving with it, though! I can vouch for its water resistance, as I spent 10 minutes in the rain taking the night shot that appears in this review.

Aside from that, the 33WR is an average 3.2 Megapixel camera. It's mostly point-and-shoot, though the manual focus and white balance features are a nice touch. Performance is about average in all areas, except for low light focusing, where the camera had a lot of trouble. Photo quality was good, though a little on the noisy side. While the movie mode is about average, the macro mode is excellent. I appreciate the scene modes, histograms, and digital filters, as well.

My complaints are few. Some of the plastic doors are a little flimsy. The zoom lens is only 2.8X, and I don't like how the image goes out of focus for a second each time you zoom in or out. Redeye seemed to be a little worse than normal.

All-in-all, the Optio 33WR is a nice camera for those who are out in the elements. Do take a look at the competition from Olympus, as their Stylus models are very good as well.

What I liked:

  • Water resistant
  • Good photo quality
  • Live histogram in record mode
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Fast startup time
  • Lots of scene modes
  • Cool digital color filter effects
  • Doubles as a voice recorder

What I didn't care for:

  • Images on the noisy side
  • Redeye
  • 2.8X zoom lens; image goes out of focus for a second when you zoom in or out
  • Cheap plastic doors over I/O ports and battery/memory card compartment
  • Poor low light focusing, no AF-assist lamp
  • No lens cover

For straight-out-of-the-box water resistance, the only other cameras to consider are the Olympus Stylus 300 and 410, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Optio 33WR and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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

Want another opinion?

Read another review of the Optio 33WR over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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