Olympus FE-250 Zoom Review
Building on the success of past "FE" series cameras, Olympus continues to add new models to their ranks, like the new FE-250. Sharing most of the same features with its siblings (the FE-230 and 240), these models include a 2.5-inch LCD, high-quality AVI Motion JPEG 640x480 Movie mode, Digital Image Stabilization (Blur Reduction mode), built-in Help Guide as well as an all-metal body design. The FE-250 offers more resolution at 8-megapixels, a 3x optical zoom lens, 16 easy to use fully automatic exposure modes, Continuous or "burst" drive mode as well as user selectable ISO settings from 64 to 10,000!
While being very compact, measuring a mere 0.88-inches thick, the FE-250 fit well in my hands. I found it was best using the "pinch" technique, otherwise you'll find your fingers blocking the flash. With such a diminutive body, you can hide it away in almost any size pocket or purse. And, thanks to an all-metal construction, the camera is very durable. The various controls are well positioned across the body, and I especially like the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release. The onscreen menu system has a new look, however menu operation is still true to past models, so if you've owned an Olympus before, you'll feel right at home. The FE-250 includes the same size LCD found on its siblings at 2.5-inches. However, the FE-250's display features 230,000 pixels of resolution compared to the 150,000 of the FE-230 and 240. Overall, I found this display worked well in various lighting conditions. The surface is "Non-reflective", making it a pleasure to use outdoors in the bright sunlight. In lower lighting, the LCD gains up well to help you frame the subject.
Our shooting performance results were very similar to its brothers, much better than we have seen from some of the other FE models, but still not up to par with cameras in this class. Power up to first image captured measured about 2.5 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 7/10 of a second including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 4.0 seconds without the flash and between 4.2 and 6 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery strength. One factor that slows these times down is that you can't turn of the image preview option, which accounts for a good 1 - 1.5 seconds.
The FE-250 does offer a "High-speed" continuous shooting mode. It drops the resolution down to SQ1 (3MP - 2048x1536) size, and using it, I was able to capture 12 frames in just 1.9 seconds, before the buffer filled. This equates to a frame rate of about 6.3fps, which is much faster than most consumer digicams. However, this is not at full resolution. It then took approx. 15 seconds to flush the buffer and begin another sequence. Also, when using this mode, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, which will help when trying to follow fast moving subjects. Our tests were done using an Olympus H (High speed) 1GB 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.
This model features a 3x optical zoom lens, with a typical range for a compact consumer model of 35 - 105mm (in 35mm equivalent). This offers plenty of room for composing your shots, with the 35mm wide angle extreme allowing for nice landscape and group photos, while the telephoto end is great for close-up portraits, macro photography of helping bring your distant subjects a bit closer. I noticed there was moderate barrel distortion and slight pincushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, respectively. On the other hand, Chromatic Aberrations (also know as purple fringing around objects with high contrast) were very well controlled.
Image quality was OK for an 8-megapixel consumer model. The majority of our outdoor shots showed good exposure (especially sky details) and pleasing color saturation. However, as previously mentioned with its sibling models, I saw moderate edge softness in many of our samples, that in some instances even looks blurry. The center of the frame is sharp, and when viewed at the typical 23-25% to fill your PC's monitor, the images do look great. So, it's very unlikely that you will see any of these negative findings in your typical 4x6-inch prints. Like past Olympus models, the FE-250 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, 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 page, where we took an available light portrait without the flash. The camera selected an ISO speed of 1000, which is not even the highest setting available, and the image looks horrible. Not even worthy of being used for a 4x6-inch print. You can also manually select ISO from 64 - 10000. This is by far the highest sensitivity we have seen on any consumer model. However, noise levels are higher than normal, even at ISO 64. At 6400 and 10000 (which the camera reduces the image quality to SQ1) images look as if they had been taken by a camera phone. Therefore, I suggest using the Auto setting, as it does a good job of keeping the ISO as low as possible.
I was pleased with our close-up portrait images, when using the Portrait scene mode. Outdoors image are nice and sharp, and the tiny flash did well when using the fill-in mode. Indoors, flash exposure and skin tones were pleasing as long as you are with in the limits of the flash (approx. 14.1 feet at wide angle). I achieved the best results using the mid-telephoto capabilities of the zoom, shooting from about 5 - 6 feet away. Like all ultra-compact models that have such a tiny flash, do not expect this unit to illuminate open rooms. I did notice that many of our people photos showed occurrences of red-eye, but, the red-eye reduction flash mode was effective at helping remedy this problem.
These models record AVI Motion JPEG (.AVI) movies, instead of the Quicktime (.MOV) format used on most of Olympus' cameras. Overall, I found movie quality was much better than on past models in the "FE" series. You can capture video at either 640x480/30fps or 320x240/15fps, with audio. I was also glad to see that Olympus finally brought these models up to date with a VGA sized movie mode (past models only recorded up to 320x240). Our clips were sharp, with the AF system doing well with moving subjects. Compression noise was average, and the exposure system seemed to do well, even indoors. That said, the AVI format movie mode is a welcomed addition to these new models.
The FE-250 is powered by a tiny LI-42B 3.7v 740mAh Lithium Ion battery pack that is charged in the included rapid charger. Olympus does not specify the battery runtime, however, I found battery life was good, allowing me to capture about 115 pictures, several short movie clips as well as conclude many other tests before having to charge the battery. Because you can use one battery while charging another, we suggest you add at least one extra pack to your purchase and keep it charged and ready at all times. There's nothing more aggravating than missing that spontaneous photo opt, due to a dead battery!
Bottom line - Holding the "top of the line" spot in Olympus' "FE" series for 2007, the FE-250 does offer some appealing features like 8-megapixels, 2.5-inch LCD, Digital Image Stabilization, etc. However, image quality and performance is not quite up to par with other consumer models in the US$250 - $300 price range. Therefore, I feel it only offers an "Ok value" for an ultra-compact in this category. If you like the features of this camera and don't mind loosing 1-megapixel of resolution, take a look at its 7-meagpixel little bother, the FE-230. It incudes almost all of the same features as the FE-250 for about $100 less.
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