Olympus FE-115 Zoom Review
The FE-115 is Olympus' entry-level digicam for 2006. It features 5-megapixels of resolution, a 2.8x optical zoom and a 1.5-inch LCD in a compact plastic body. The FE-115 can be used by any member of your family with its fully automatic Program Auto mode. It also includes five scene modes (Digital Image Stabilization, Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene and Self-Portrait) and provides a movie mode without sound. The camera is clearly designed for the beginner in terms of price and features
While its boxy dimensions are far from stylish, the FE-115's additional depth provides a quite comfortable grip. Its controls are well-placed both for ease of use and to avoid accidental use. The FE-115's menu system is minimal but effective; there aren't a lot of settings on this camera, and the menus are very simple as a result. The FE-115's only viewfinder is a 1.5-inch LCD, quite small considering the industry trend toward ever larger LCD's. It was often difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions, frequently needing shade to be viewed at all. It does "gain-up" the live image in dim lighting, allowing you to compose indoor shots in marginal lighting.
The Olympus 2.8x optical zoom lens has a 35mm-equivalent range of about 38 - 106mm. The field of view provided at wide angle is adequate for landscapes, but limiting indoors. The telephoto end is adequate for portraits, but offers limited magnification for your distant subjects. The lens produces a moderate amount of barrel distortion at wide angle, but very little pin cushion distortion at full telephoto. It produced adequately sharp results at the center of the image, but is quite soft at the corners. High contrast areas had moderate amounts of purple fringing, a typical result for cameras in this class.
The FE-115's Shooting performance was disappointing. Power up to first image captured was about 4.5 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured 3/10 second when pre-focused and 1.0 second including autofocus; both measurements include the approximately 1/10 second delay in the LCD's live image. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged about 6 seconds without the flash and between 7 and 10 seconds with flash. Use of the FE-115's red eye reduction flash mode extends the shutter lag to 1 second when pre-focused. The FE-115 does not offer a continuous shooting mode. Image review mode also suffers from poor performance, taking about 4 seconds to scroll from one image to the next. Our tests were done using an Olympus 512MB xD Picture card, SHQ quality, Program Auto mode, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, photographer response, media, etc.
Image quality was quite good considering the FE-115's low price; you'll be pleased with the 4x6-inch prints that it will typically be called on to produce. Its 5-megapixel SHQ images are adequately sharp with good color saturation, exposure and white balance. Noise levels were low when ambient lighting permitted the camera to keep a low ISO setting. Noise was quite acceptable when the mode dial was turned to D Image Stabilization, a mode that effectively raises the camera's ISO setting to 320 so that higher shutter speeds can be used.
Indoors portraits were pleasing, with red eye reduction fairly effective at close range. However the short flash range (about 12 feet at wide angle) will limit your picture taking to individuals or small groups. Because it has no focus assist lamp, the FE-115's AF system struggled in marginal lighting, frequently failing to focus in average incandescent room lighting.
The FE-115 can also capture video at either 320x240 or 160x120. Video clips are recorded without sound, that feature falling victim to the camera's low price point. Despite the absence of sound, the FE-115 does not allow you to zoom during recording. Although our samples were sharp with good exposure, the slow 15fps frame rate made them look "choppy". That said, movie recording was memory efficient, consuming less than 3MB for a 10 second 320x240 clip.
The FE-115 is powered by a pair of standard AA type batteries. We love models that use AA's because you can choose from a variety of different cells, like either one-use alkalines and lithiums or the recommended rechargeable NiMH cells. Using a set of 2500 mAh AA's I was able to capture about 75 shots before their charge was exhausted. Always make sure you have at least one extra set charged and ready, there are few things more disappointing than picking up a camera for a unique shot, but finding the batteries dead.
Bottom line - you'll be happy with the Olympus FE-115's SHQ images, but frustrated by its slow shooting performance and poor low light AF performance. If most of your shooting is outdoors, the FE-115's street price of less than $150 makes it a fairly good value, especially for children whose needs may demand nothing more than a fully automatic point-n-shoot. Please have a look at our Sample Photos to see what this inexpensive digicam is capable of.
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