Olympus FE-140 Zoom Review
The FE-140 is positioned at the top of Olympus' Easy and Fun series of inexpensive digicams for 2006. It offers users 6-megapixels of resolution, 3x optical zoom lens and a 2 1/2-inch LCD, all packed in a compact and lightweight body. Like its FE-130 sibling, the FE-140 is intended for beginners, providing Auto exposure mode plus 20 pre-set shooting modes and movie mode. It shares the FE-130's unique Guide Shooting mode,providing an English language (French, Portuguese and Spanish are also included) menu that will make camera settings based on your responses.
But for the larger 2 1/2-inch LCD, the FE-140 is a physical clone of the FE-130, sharing its fair ergonomics. There is no comfortable place for your right thumb without resting it on the mode dial or other rear controls, causing their occasional unintended activation. The zoom control protrudes too far out of the body, and is easily interfered with in the normal use of the shutter button. The tripod mount is positioned too close to the edge of the body, allowing the camera to be easily rotated while tripod-mounted. The 2 1/2-inch LCD was effective as a viewfinder, bright enough in most outdoor conditions to be usable. The LCD could be improved with an anti-reflective coating, however. Indoors it works very well, gaining up when you enter dim lighting.
The FE-140's menu system was well organized and easily navigated. Its unique Guide Shooting mode is very effective for beginners, describing 11 shooting guides such as Blurring background, Brightening subject, Reducing blur etc, offering one or more solutions, and actually making the appropriate camera settings to achieve the desired results - all without navigating the camera's menu system.
The FE-140's shooting performance was average, but a bit better than the FE-130. 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 1/10 second when pre-focused and 5/10 second including autofocus; both times include the approximate 1/10 second delay present in the LCD's live viewfinder image. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.7 seconds without the flash and between 2 and 9 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance. Using red eye reduction, the pre-flash extends the shutter lag time to 1.1 seconds, during which the LCD viewfinder goes blank. The FE-140 does not offer a continuous shooting mode. Our tests were done using an Olympus 1GB high speed 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 sub par for a 6-megapixel entry-level model. The majority of our outdoor sample photos had good center sharpness, but the white balance was a bit off, showing a slight bluish bias. Corners of the FE-140's images were noticeably soft, and compression artifacts were evident. The 3x optical zoom lens offers flexibility in composing your shots with a focal range of approx. 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent.) It exhibited average amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle and pincushioning at telephoto, and moderate amounts of purple fringing were evident in high contrast areas. Image noise was not an issue in our test shots. Auto ISO sensitivity settings can range from 80-320, and Digital Image Stabilization mode can extend ISO to 800. Image quality at ISO 400 was acceptable, especially considering the 4x6 prints that the FE-140's images will be called upon to produce.
Indoors it captured sharp images with good exposure as long as you are within its limited flash range of approx. 11 feet at wide angle or approx. 6 feet at full telephoto. Indoor flash portraits produced pleasing skin tones, and the red eye flash mode was fairly effective at close range. Autofocus performance in dim lighting was only fair; because the FE-140 has no focus-assist lamp, a moderate amount of interior lighting was required to achieve AF lock consistently. Given the limited flash range and field of view at the lens 38mm wide angle extreme, the camera's best results will be of small rooms and portraits of small groups.
The FE-140 can also capture video at either 320x240 or 160x120 without audio. Because sound is not recorded, the optical zoom may be used while you are recording a movie. While the FE-140's movies were well-exposed and focused, we think the choppiness of its 15fps frame rate and the absence of audio will disappoint most users.
Power comes from 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 nearly 100 images 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 disappointing to be unable to take a shot due to dead batteries.
Bottom line - Olympus' FE-140 may be appealing because of its under-$180 street price, but its image quality leaves a lot to be desired. If low price is a major consideration and you can tolerate slow shooting performance, I would even suggest the FE-115 as a better alternative. If quality and performance matter and price is of less concern, find an additional $30-40 in your budget and get something on the order of a Canon PowerShot A610 or Sony CyberShot W30. Both offer much better performance and image quality, and include a far superior movie mode with sound.
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