Olympus FE-170 Zoom Review
The FE-170 is another easy to use point-n-shoot, entry-level model for Olympus' "FE" series line up, and includes some appealing features like 6-megapixels, 3x optical zoom lens and a 2.5-inch LCD, all packed in a durable and compact (3.6 W x 2.5 H x 1.2 in. D) body. Designed more for beginners, the FE-170 has a wide variety of fully automatic modes that will allow users to capture pleasing images in various shooting environments.
Ergonomics were good. Although compact in size, I found it still fit well in my hands. Controls are well placed and easily reached by your finger tips. The onscreen menu system provides access to various simple settings that are well organized, making for easy navigation. Olympus FE models feature a handy "Guide Shooting" mode that is very effective for helping beginners achieve optimum results. It describes 11 different shooting situations 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 or turning the mode dial.
The FE-170 is not what I would call a responsive performer. Power up to first image captured was about 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 1.2 seconds including autofocus time. Both measurements include the approx. 1/10 second delay in presenting the live image on the LCD viewfinder; the FE-170 has no optical viewfinder. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 4 seconds without the flash and between 6 and 8 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery condition. This model does not offer a continuous shooting mode. Our tests were done using an FujiFilm 512MB xD card, SHQ quality, 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.
Like we have seen with some other FE models, the quality of our SHQ images isn't quite up to par with similar 6-megapixel entry-level models. While the majority of our outdoor samples show good exposure and have good center sharpness, there's above average edge softness and image noise. The 3x optical zoom lens offers a typical focal range of approx. 38 - 114mm (in 35mm equivalent), and exhibited average amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle and pincushioning at telephoto as well as average amounts of purple fringing (aka Chromatic Aberrations) in high contrast areas. The Digital Image stabilization mode will help you capture blur free images in marginal lighting conditions where you would otherwise be forced to use the flash. While this mode was effective, you will notice increased image noise and reduced detail. You can see an example on the samples page.
When shooting indoors, you will have to work within the very limited range of the flash, about 13 ft. at wide angle. That combined with the relatively modest field of view at full 38mm wide angle will limit indoor flash shots to individual or small group portraits in small rooms. I was able to produce usable flash portraits that showed good overall flash exposure and pleasing skin tones, but the red eye reduction flash mode was effective only at close range. The AF system worked well but slowly in well lit environments, but you must find a high contrast area to focus on in dim lighting; an AF-assist lamp would have been a good addition on this model.
Movie mode was disappointing. You can capture video at either 320x240 (15fps) or 160x120 (15fps) without audio. Although sound is not recorded, the FE-170 prevents zooming during recording. Almost all consumer models these days feature a VGA (640x480) sized movie mode, with many now jumping into the XGA (1024x768) or Widescreen formats. The FE-170 movie's small size and slow frame rate are memory-efficient, however; our 8-second 320x240 sample consumed only 2.4-megabytes.
The FE-170 is powered by a pair of AA batteries. Olympus supplies 2 Alkaline batteries in the box, but you'll be happier with rechargeable NiMH batteries. Using a pair of 2500MaH NiMH batteries, I was able to capture about 50 samples and conclude many other tests with power to spare.
Bottom line - Available at a street price of under $150, the Olympus FE-170 is a good fit for children and beginners. But its relatively slow performance and below average image quality will disappoint more experienced users. That said, if you're in the market for an ultra-compact 6-megapixel model with an appealing price tag, check out some other manufactures' models like the Sony Cyber-Shot DCS-W30 or Canon PowerShot A540 just to name two.
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