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Pentax Optio 330 Digital Camera Review

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Category: Compact Cameras
Product: Pentax Optio 330

Pentax Optio 330 - Pentax Optio 330 test

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The Optio 330 is an ultra-compact well-featured digital camera. Looking through its feature list is an indication of how fast this area of photography is moving, with advanced features like continuous shot mode, spot autofocus and histogram display coming down from the high priced pro models to the consumer midrange compact products. For a more detailed look at the features see the list below: Pentax Optio 330
  • Stainless Steel body
  • SMC 7.6-22.8mm f/2.6-4.8 zoom lens [37mm to 111mm equiv]
  • 3x optical and 2x digital zoom
  • 10 bit x 3 colours
  • 1/1.8in interline transfer CCD
  • Rechargeable Lion Battery
  • Histogram display
  • Comes with ACDSee 3.1
  • Viewfinder dioptre -3 to +1
  • 1/2000 sec to 15 sec shutter speeds
  • 7 point Auto Focus, 40cm to infinity
  • Macro 14cm at wide
  • Alarm clock and world time function
  • Movie mode

What you get in the box:

  • Camera BoxOptio 330 camera
  • Pentax 16Mb Compact Flash Card
  • Rechargeable Li-on Battery
  • USB Cable
  • Video Cable
  • ACDSee Software & drivers CD-Rom
  • Battery Charger
  • Ac Plug Cord
  • Strap
  • Operating Manual

The manual is very comprehensive and detailed, and before using the camera it's worth reading thoroughly to get the best performance from it. Even after several days of using the camera, we were still going back to the manual to check things, the camera has so many features.

Operation
OperationBeing a compact camera Pentax have tried their best to make it easy to use, and have more or less achieved just that. It fits snugly into my rather big hands and feels very solid due to the quality steel casing. Due to this casing the camera is probably more resilient to impacts than some of its plastic cased counterparts, and this is worth bearing in mind if you, or perhaps some of the younger family members, have a tendency of dropping things!

Although the camera takes 4-5 seconds to turn on and extend its lens, the menus all operate extremely quickly, as does the viewing of images you have taken in the playback mode.

The buttons are clearly labeled and easy to operate, the 4-position rocker switch is a pleasure to use, and is much more responsive than some other cameras. Styling is of course down to personal taste, but we liked the subtle touches of blue in the rocker switch and adjacent to the lens on the front.

Camera Modes

The dial around the shutter release controls the capture mode, with the following options.

Auto Mode Auto mode - Most of the settings are made automatically by the camera when a picture is taken.
Night Scene Night-Scene mode - This mode is for taking dark scenes such as night views.
Manual Exposeure Manual exposure mode - Allows you to set the aperture and shutter speed manually.
Movie Picture Mode Movie picture mode - This mode is for taking small movie clips, but these don't have any sound as with some other cameras.
Multiple exposure mode Multiple exposure mode - you can combine images to make one picture. It can be a bit tricky to achieve good results, but is an interesting feature.
Playback Mode Playback mode - This mode is for playing back recorded images. Images are displayed very quickly, with the camera first loading a low-resolution version of the image, then displaying the full version. This allows you to quickly flick through images.

When changing through the modes the camera is quick to respond, and all modes are easy to use having read the manual.

Manual focus and autofocus are both provided, and the focusing system relies on TTL contrast detection. Focusing is quite quick, and we found the camera easy to point & shoot, achieving a good focus most of the time. Sometimes though, as with most autofocus systems, the camera could not obtain a lock. We got round this by using a different local object to focus on, and then moved the camera back to the desired shot using the focus lock.

Some aspects of the camera did stand out as more impressive than others, for example the continuous mode was useful, particularly when set to lower resolutions as you can hold down the shutter and shoot pretty much non-stop until the card was full or the battery ran out, which takes us nicely to the next section.

Battery-life performance
Battery-life figures are quoted by Pentax as follows:

Battery Life

We didn't manage to get the number of shots that Pentax quote, but then the camera was used to transfer a lot of images, and the LCD monitor was regularly used for reviewing shots as well. In general use the battery-life is okay for a compact digital, though you will probably want to buy a spare. Pentax obviously had to make some sacrifices in designing such a small camera, and the battery couldn't really be any bigger. You can be careful about not using the LCD screen more than necessary, and also use the 'auto power off' mode, which shuts down the camera at a 3min or 5min interval when no operation is performed. In addition, setting the LCD monitor to turn off automatically when no operation is performed for a fixed time of 30sec, 1min or 2min helps extend battery life.

The picture to the right shows where the battery and CompactFlash are stored. Both covers are made from plastic and seem solidly attached. To charge the battery you take it out of the camera and place it in the charger. So you'll need a spare battery if you want to take pictures while the other one is charging. Battery

Viewfinder and LCD screen
The viewfinder is a traditional optical type that benefits from diopter adjustment, for us spectacle wearers and it also reacts to any zoom applied.
There are also two lights, the top green light shows status, the bottom red light is for flash.

 

LED

The LCD copes well in bright sunlight, with few reflections, and it is detailed enough to check if the subject is in focus.

There are four display modes which are cycled using the display button:
Display on (upper right) Shooting information is displayed such as Flash, Shooting Mode, Capture mode, AF frame, Remaining images, Date & time and a Battery symbol.
Histogram display (lower right) A graph that alters as the light levels and tonal range in the picture changes, or if the exposure is changed. This is very useful for achieving the correct exposure and good tonal range.
Display off No shooting information is displayed, just the autofocusing frame.
LCD Monitor Off (Useful for saving battery power.)

The screen has a thick plastic cover which is easy to wipe clean and resists dust well. However care should be taken when the camera is placed down on its back as the LCD sticks out from the camera, and could easily become scratched.

Example


Image quality
Looking through the features this camera has, its price and the three megapixel resolution it is fair to expect a lot in terms of picture quality. Although we weren't disappointed, neither were we very impressed, the quality being only slightly better than average overall.
The pictures below show the three different settings for sharpness you can set. The [Soft] setting lacks detail while the [Hard] setting is too aggressive at sharpening the picture, so overall you will probably want to stick with the [Normal] setting.
Sample Sample Sample
[Soft] [Normal] [Hard]

Generally the camera exposes shots correctly, thanks to the six-segment metering, and focuses accurately in most cases, but not to a level where you can totally rely on it. It's always best to preview your images on the LCD screen before thinking you have the perfect shot. An option for displaying the last taken image for a selected amount of time as soon as the picture is taken is useful to see if the photo has come out as you intended, though you can't actually zoom in this mode like you can in playback mode. The camera offers a manual focus mode, but it is not very easy or effective to use because no distance guides are provided. Also, unlike some other digital cameras, no LCD zoom is available to check if the correct focus is being achieved before you take the shot.

Sample Pictures Sample Picture Slightly underexposed, but well focused the Optio performs quite well. Little noise is visible, but shot on the 'normal' sharpness setting the image appears a little soft as shown in the blown up section on the right.

Again very little noise is visible, giving the sky a clear well saturated appearance. Details on the hut have been nicely captured, and exposure levels are balanced well. SamplePicture

Using the macro mode for this shot made it possible to keep the flower sharp and blur the background. However shots like this aren't easy to achieve and several others taken were out of focus. Sample Picture

The flash has done a good job here, considering it is an outdoor night scene. There is very little redeye present, and the subject is well balanced. Sample Picture

Being able to set long shutter speeds make shots like this possible.

Noise levels are quite low considering the long shutter speed, and the camera exceeded our expectations.

Sample Picture

Verdict
From our first impressions of this camera, we were impressed by the steel body, the histogram, the compact lens, the continuos mode, the fast menus, so it was inevitable that we should feel a little let down when the image quality didn't have the same wow feeling. Being fair though, this is a well specified compact camera, that can be carried everywhere and give you a lot of good shots. Other compacts in this price bracket of around 500 offer useful features such as CompactFlash II capability (allowing you to use the IBM microdrives for high storage capacity), and perhaps in some cases slightly better image quality. These same compacts will also be missing some of the great features the Optio has, so check around and see what is most important to you and if in doubt about what any of these features mean, check out our glossary section or ask in the forums where we're always happy to help.

Please also be aware that Pentax have now announced the Optio 430, a sister camera to the Optio 330, sharing the same body and features, but adding a higher resolution 4 megapixel CCD.


Lexar memory was used in this review.

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