Olympus FE-180 Zoom Review

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Olympus FE-180 Zoom

Steve's Conclusion

The FE-180 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 (3.5 W x 2.4 H x 1.1 in. D) body. Designed more for beginners, the FE-180 has a wide variety of fully automatic modes that will allow users to capture pleasing images in a variety of shooting conditions and subjects.

The FE-180 has a lot in common with its little brother, the Olympus FE-170, including lens, 6-megapixel imager, 2.5-inch LCD display and shooting modes, but it is slightly smaller in size (1/10-inch in each dimension), and offers improved shooting performance, higher quality movies, greater sensitivity in Digital Image Stabilization mode, and includes a pair of Sanyo eneloop rechargeable NiMH batteries and charger.

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-180 is much more responsive than the FE-170 largely due to its TruePic TURBO™ Image Processor. Power up to first image captured was only 2.3 seconds seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 6/10 seconds including autofocus time. Both measurements include the less than 1/10 second delay in presenting the live image on the LCD viewfinder; the FE-180 has no optical viewfinder. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds without the flash and between 2 and 7 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery condition. Shutter lag when using Red eye reduction flash mode was 1 second. The FE-180 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, pushing the image sensor's sensitivity to an equivalent of ISO 1000 when lighting conditions warrant it. 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 9 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 very close range. The AF system worked effectively 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.

The FE-180's movie mode is good, capturing 640x480 or 320x240 moving images at 30 frames per second, and recording sound or not based on a menu setting. When sound is turned off, the FE-180 allows the use of the optical zoom during recording; when sound is on, the optical zoom is disabled. The FE-180's movie mode is a big step up from that of the FE-170.

The FE-180 is powered by a pair of AA batteries. Olympus supplies a pair of Sanyo eneloop rechargeable batteries with charger in the box. Not only did the eneloops power the FE-180 through approx. 100 test shots plus other testing, but they retained their charge even after several weeks of storage. Sanyo claims that eneloop batteries retain 75% of their charge after one year of storage. I commend Olympus for including this advanced technology power solution with such an inexpensive camera.

Bottom line - Available at a street price of under $150, the Olympus FE-180 is a good fit for beginners. Its useful exposure modes, high quality movies, reasonable performance and long battery life belie its entry-level price. For only a few dollars more than its less capable FE-170 sibling, the FE-180 is a reasonable value for those looking for an inexpensive high resolution digicam, but not needing advanced features.

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