Olympus FE-190 Zoom Review
By Movable Type Admin
The FE-190 is another easy to use point-n-shoot, entry-level model for Olympus' 2006 "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 2.3 H x 0.7 in. D) body. Designed more for beginners or those who just want to snap photos without dealing with camera settings, the FE-190 has a wide variety of fully automatic modes that will allow users to capture pleasing images in various shooting environments.
Ergonomics were good. While this is what we consider an "ultra-compact" model, that's about the size of a deck of playing cards, I found it still fit well in my hands. Controls are well placed and easily reached by your finger tips, only the Record and Playback buttons force you to change your hold on the camera. The onscreen menu system gains access to various simple settings that are well organized, making for easy navigation. Olympus models feature their unique 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.
The FE-190's shooting performance was average for a camera in this class, but much better than previous models. Power up to first image captured was about 2.3 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds without the flash and between 1.9 and 2.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. Unfortunately, this model does not offer a continuous shooting mode. Our tests were done using an Olympus 512MB (High speed) xD 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.
Like we saw with the FE-140, 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 above 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 normally use the flash. While this mode was very effective, you will notice that image noise does increase, degrading image quality. 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 8.9 ft. at wide angle. I was able to produce usable flash portraits that showed good overall flash exposure and pleasing skin tones, from about 4 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. Therefore, you will be limited to individual or small group portraits in small rooms. Do not expect this unit to illuminate even a medium sized room (like your living or dining room.) I also saw several instances of red eye in our people photos when using the Auto flash mode. Luckily, the FE-190 has a red eye flash mode that is fairly effective at close range. The AF system did Ok in dim lighting; an AF-assist lamp would have been a great addition on this model. Because there is no AF-assist lamp, a moderate amount of interior lighting will be required in order to achieve AF lock consistently.
Movie mode was disappointing. You can capture video at either 320x240 (30fps) or 160x120 (15fps) with audio. Almost all consumer models these days feature a VGA (640x480) sized movie mode, with many now jumping into the XGA (1024x768) or Widescreen formats. Not only are the FE-190's movie clips small, they also show plenty of compression artifacts.
The FE-190 is powered by a small LI-42B 3.7v 740mAh Lithium Ion battery pack that is charged in the included LI-40C rapid charger. Olympus does not specify the battery runtime, however, I found battery life was good, allowing me to capture about 70 samples and conclude many other tests with power to spare.
Bottom line - While the Olympus FE-190 does offer some appealing features at an affordable price of US$200 or less, the below average image quality of its 6-megapixel SHQ images and poor 320x240 movie mode really bring it down. 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-W50, Casio Exilim EX-Z600, or Canon PowerShot SD600 just to name a few.
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