Olympus FE-200 Zoom Review
Holding the top position in Olympus' entry-level "FE" series line (as of January 2007), the FE-200 is a 6-megapixel point-n-shoot model which includes some appealing features like a 5x "Wide" optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch LCD, Digital Image Stabilization (Blur Reduction mode) as well as a built-in Help Guide. You will find this model shares many features with its slimmer sibling, the FE-190 which we reviewed late last year. This camera is designed for the novice user who wants a simple to use camera in mind, and has the ability to capture nice photos, without having to deal with complicated settings.
The FE-200 is not an "ultra-compact", measuring 3.9" x 2.4" x 1.1" thick, however, it can be tucked away in a large pocket or a small purse. The various controls are well positioned across the body, and I especially like the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release. The body is very durable, thanks to its all-metal construction. While the LCD is the same size as the one we saw on the FE-190 (2.5-inches), the FE-200's offers more resolution at 150K pixels compared to the FE-190's 110K. Overall, this is a high-quality display that works well in most all lighting conditions. The surface is a bit reflective, so there are going to be some instances where the reflection of the sun might make for a bit more difficult use. In marginal lighting, like your typical living room at night, the LCD gains up well to help you frame the subject; something that was never possible with film cameras. There is no optical viewfinder.
The FE-200's shooting performance is sluggish for a 6-megapixel consumer model. Power up to first image captured is about 4.0 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 9/10 of a second including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 4.4 seconds without the flash and between 5 and 7 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery strength. The FE-200 does not offer a continuous shooting mode. One factor that might attribute to these slower times is the fact that the image review option can not be turned off. However, at best, that would only add about 1/10 of a second. 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.
When using the FE-200's highest quality setting (SHQ), it produces images that are sharp with accurate exposure. Colors are richly saturated, and the white balance system seems to do well in various lighting conditions. Like many new digital cameras these days, the FE-200 offers a form of Digital Image stabilization, in the form of a handy Blur Reduction scene mode. This exposure mode boosts the sensitivity, to allow for faster than normal shutter speeds, thus helping reduce the likely hood of camera-shake or subject blur in your photos. While image noise increases at higher sensitivity, the usefulness of this feature counteracts these negative effects. The 5x optical zoom lens offers versatility in composing your shots, as well as a wider than average field of view equivalent to 28 - 140mm in 35mm format. The 28mm wide angle extreme will afford pleasing landscapes and large group portraits (just be sure there's plenty of ambient lighting.) The 140mm telephoto end will help bring your distant subjects a bit closer, but works best for close-up portraits. As usual, I noticed average amount of barrel distortion, but only slight pincushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, respectively. You can also see traces of chromatic aberrations or purple fringing around subjects with high contrast.
Our portrait images turned out well. Both indoors and out, "people" photos were sharp with natural skin tones. When shooting in marginal lighting, you'll have to stay within the limits of the built-in flash unit (approx. 8.2 feet at wide angle.) While it doesn't have the power to illuminate open rooms, producing good flash exposure of your individual or group portraits from about 5 - 6 feet away is not a problem.
Like the FE-190, the movie mode was disappointing. You can capture video at either 320x240 (30fps) or 160x120 (15fps) with audio. Almost all consumer models, even entry-level, these days feature a VGA (640x480) sized movie mode, with many now offering XGA (1024x768) or 16:9 Widescreen formats. Not only are the FE-200's movie clips low resolution, they also show plenty of compression artifacts.
The FE-200 is powered by a small LI-12B 3.7v 1230mAh Lithium Ion battery pack that is charged in the included LI-10C rapid charger. Olympus does not specify the battery runtime, however, I found battery life was good, allowing me to capture about 65 samples and conclude many other tests with power to spare.
Bottom line - While the Olympus FE-200 has the ability to capture nice photos, includes several user-friendly exposure modes, and offers a 5x optical zoom with a nice wide field of view, shooting performance is comparable to the speed of a snail at full sprint, which really turned us off. I was disapointed to see that there were not more advanced controls offered for novice users, however this model is aimed more toward the complete novice. At about $249 or less, the FE-200 doesn't offer the greatest value, we suggest you take a look at other manufacturer's entry-level models before making a final decision.
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