Olympus FE-210 Zoom Review
By Movable Type Admin
Holding the entry level position in Olympus' "FE" series of compact cameras for 2007, the FE-210 includes many of the features found on the FE-230 and FE-240 we reviewed earlier this year. They share the same 7-megapixel imager, 2.5-inch LCD, Digital Image Stabilization (Blur Reduction mode), and built-in Help Guide. The FE-210 also offers a 3x optical zoom lens and 16 easy to use fully automatic exposure modes. This camera is aimed towards the beginner or one who has just entered the digital world, looking for a replacement to all of those disposable 35mm film cameras.
What I would consider a "compact" model, the FE-210 is easily tucked away in a large pocket or small handbag. And, thanks to the enlarged handgrip on the right-hand side of the body, it offers a nice comfortable feel in your hands. Controls are well placed and easily accessed by your fingertips, and we especially like the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release. The onscreen menu system is very simple, allowing for quick and easy navigation. The 2.5-inch LCD is the only viewfinder on the camera. Outdoors it works ok, however its coating is quite reflective, which made it difficult to see at times. Indoors the display does not "gain up", luckily the exposure system is very sensitive, allowing you to see your subject is marginal lighting conditions.
Shooting performance was sluggish. Power up to first image captured measured a leisurely 4.0 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured 2/10 of a second when pre-focused, slowing to over 1 second including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.8 seconds without the flash and between 4 and 6 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery strength. The FE-210 does not offer a continuous drive mode. Our tests were done using an Olympus H (High speed) 512MB 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.
The 3x optical zoom lens offers a typical range for a compact consumer model, covering a 35mm equivalent range of 38 - 114mm. While it favors the telephoto end, the 38mm wide angle will afford nice landscape and group photos. Its telephoto capabilities will help you produce nice close-up portraits or macro shots. There was moderate barrel distortion at the wide angle extreme as well as slight pincushioning at the telephoto end, respectively. Chromatic Aberrations (also know as purple fringing around objects with high contrast) were also very well controlled.
Like its siblings, the image quality of our SHQ images was OK for a 7-megapixel consumer camera. This model shows nice exposure and color balance, but I did see moderate edge softness. Like many Olympus models, the FE-210 features their DIS (Digital Image Stabilization) exposure mode. Using it helps reduce blur in your photos, caused by camera shake or subject movement. It does this by boosting the sensitivity to as high as ISO 640, thus allowing for faster than normal shutter speeds. While it is effective at reducing these negative effects, there is a down side. These high ISO settings also show a significant increase in image noise. You can see for yourself on our samples, where we took an available light portrait without the flash. The camera selected the highest ISO speed of 640, and the image looks very bad. It's not even worth being used for a 4x6-inch print. Because ISO is fully automatic, we can not show you a sequence of images at each ISO setting like we normally do.
Portrait mode also produced only OK results. Indoors you'll have to work with the limited range of the flash (approx. 12.8 ft. at wide angle). I noticed that this was a very weak flash unit, and even when shooting from about 5 or 6 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range, exposure was a bit dark. Red-eye was also an issue, even when using the red-eye reduction flash mode. You can see examples of both on the samples page.
The movie mode was also disappointing. While it does record video at VGA (640x480) resolution, the frame rate is only 15fps and there's no audio recorded. The only positive thing about not having sound is that you can use the optical zoom while recording. Our movie samples were pretty bad. Not only were they a bit "choppy", but they looked out of focus. In fact, the example we posted on the samples page was the sharpest out of several clips.
Power is supplied by two standard AA type batteries. This means you can use Alkalines, NiMH or Lithium cells. We prefer NiHM cells, they last longer and can save you money in the long run. While Olympus does not specify battery life, I found it was quite good. We were able to capture about 50 shots and several 10-15 second movie clips as well as conclude many of our other test with power to spare. However, be sure you always carry and extra set charged and ready.
Bottom line - I was a bit disappointed with the overall performance of this model. Not only is it slow, but the 7-megapixel images it creates are only OK. With a street price of US$199 or less, I feel there are better models out there in this price range. However, if you liked the features found on this camera, take a look at its brother, the FE-230. It's also 7-megapixels, but features a more compact and durable body, better performance, and is only about $50 more.
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