Olympus FE-120 Zoom Review
The FE-120 is the big brother to the FE-110 and FE-100 from last year. It offers users 6-megapixels of resolution, 3x optical zoom lens and a 1.8-inch LCD, all packed in a compact and lightweight body. This model is intended for the entry-level consumer, with various fully automatic exposure modes (Auto, Program) as well as 16 pre- programmed creative scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sports, Landscape + Portrait, Night + Portrait, Sunset, Cuisine, Candle, Behind Glass, Available light portrait, Self portrait, Indoor, Beach, Snow, Fireworks.)
Ergonomics are good. It has a good feel in your hands, and is still small enough to be tucked away in your backpack or handbag. The controls are easily reached by your finger tips and because of its fully automatic operation, the menu system is very simple and straight-forward. The only issue I had was with the position of the flash, it was very easy to block it with a finger from your right hand. I was a little disappointed with its 1.8-ich LCD. Indoors it works very well, gaining up when you enter dim lighting. However, outdoors in bright sunlight it is very hard to use. I found myself cupping the LCD to frame many of our outdoor samples. A brightness adjustment is offered, but only helps a little bit, as the surface of the display still reflects the sun. (Check out Delkin's eFilm Popup Shade, for $25 it does wonders for LCD visibility.)
The FE-120's shooting performance was much better than past "FE" models. 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 2/10 of a second when pre-focused and 1.0 seconds including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged about 2 seconds without the flash and 2.3 - 3 seconds with flash, depending on the distance from the subject and the available battery life. These times are surprising as you can not turn off image preview. The FE-120 does offer a burst mode, and when using it I was able to capture 5 shots in just under 3 seconds. 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 average for a 6-megapixel entry-level model. The majority of our sample photos were sharp and showed pleasing color saturation. However, there was visible edge softness on several of our images, especially along the left hand side of the frame. The 3x optical zoom lens offers flexibility in composing your shots with a focal range of approx. 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent.) As usual, it shows average amounts of barrel distortion and pincushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, respectively. Sensitivity is fully automatic and ranges from 50 - 320. I found it typically used an ISO speed of 80 outdoors and 100 - 200 indoors. Noise is noticeable even at ISO 100, but you have to be viewing an image at 100% to see this and it's very unlikely you'll see anything in your typical 4x6-inch print.
Indoors it captured sharp images with good exposure as long as you are within its limited flash range of approx. 12 feet at wide angle or approx. 7 feet at full telephoto. Our indoor people portraits were shot from about 5 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. We feel you'll achieve the best indoor shots when shooting in small to mid sized rooms from no more than 8 - 10 feet away.
The FE-120 can also capture video at either 320x240 or 160x120 without audio. I was a little disappointed that Olympus didn't include a microphone on any of these "FE" series models. Because there is no sound, the optical zoom may be used while you are recording. Although our samples were sharp and showed very little compression artifacts (noise), not having the ability to record audio pretty much defeats the purpose of capturing movies.
Power comes from a single CRV3 or two AA type batteries. This means you can use a variety of different cells, like either one-use alkalines and lithiums or the recommended rechargeable NiMH cells. Using a set of 2500 mAh rechargeables, I was able to capture all of our sample photos (about 70 shots) and conclude some other tests before the cells were exhausted. Always be sure you have at least one extra set with you that is charged and ready for action; it's very aggravating not being able to take a shot due to dead batteries. For the occasional user the one-use CRV3 type lithium batteries are an excellent choice, they have a long shelf life and duty cycle.
Bottom line - Olympus' FE-120 may not be our first pick for a consumer looking for an easy to use point-n-shoot digital camera. However it is the best "FE" series model we have tested thus far (2/2006), offering good image quality and much better shooting performance over its predecessors. With 6- megapixels, you have plenty of resolution to create high-quality 13x19-inch prints. At about $229 (MSRP), it's a bit expensive when you consider the intended class and we recommend taking a look at some similar priced models ($200 - $300 range) from different manufactures, like the Casio EX-Z120 or Canon's PowerShot A610 just to name a couple.
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