Olympus FE-300 Zoom Review
The new top of the line Olympus "FE" model is the FE-300. It includes most of the same features as the FE-280, with the only real differences being the two models being the FE-300 features a slightly more powerful flash and a 12-megapixel imaging sensor. It still consists of an all metal body, 2.5" LCD screen, built-in camera guide and 3x optical zoom. There's also plenty of fully automatic exposure modes, which will allow the FE-300 to be used by every member of your household or office.
Measuring only .87" thick, it's very small and easy to carry in a purse or small pocket. Even though it is so small, it is fairly easy to handle and operate using the "pinch" technique. I also liked the ease of the zoom control wrapped around the shutter release button. The other camera controls are well placed on the back where they are out of the way when you are shooting but easy to access if you need to change settings. The rest of the back of the camera is taken up by the 2.5" LCD screen. This is a very nice display, featuring a non-glare coating that makes it easy to see even in direct sun slight. It also gains up in low light situations to allow for easy and accurate framing of your subject.
The shooting performance numbers were a little bit better than that of the previous FE models. Power up to first image captured measured about 2.8 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 3.8 seconds without the flash and between 4 and 5.5 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance and battery strength. Our tests were done using an Olympus H (High speed) 512 MB 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 is standard in this range of ultra-compact consumer models. This is the 35mm equivalent of a 35 - 105mm lens. This provides you with plenty of range to shoot landscapes and group shots, but also has enough zoom to single out an individual or other subject. It also does very well with the macro settings, allowing you to focus from just a few inches away. There was some barrel distortion on the wide end and pincushion throughout. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing), however, were well controlled.
The image quality was right in line with the rest of the FE series cameras. It produced good color saturation and had well exposed images. The images are a little fuzzy on the outsides of the picture, but clear in the middle. With a 12-megapixel image sensor, this should still produce good looking images in smaller prints (8x10 and under). When shooting with the Digital Image Stabilization mode, there was noticeably more noise than without due to the camera increasing the ISO settings to eliminate blur from camera shake. Other ways to make up for the camera shake are to use a flash if possible or use a tripod or monopod to help steady the camera.
The listed range of the flash is up to 20 ft. at ISO 800, however when shooting in portrait mode, it did very well between 10 and 15 ft. shooting with an ISO between 100 and 200. It is powerful enough to light up a small to medium sized room but controlled enough to use at shorter distances and in macro mode if you need it. Not only was it powerful enough at 10 ft. but it also gave our pictures very good color and skin tones. The one negative to the flash is that it produced very dark shadows behind the subject.
As with the 250, the 300 still uses an .AVI format instead of a .MOV format that is used on most of the Olympus models. You have the choice of capturing video at 640x480, 320x240, or 160x120 with audio. The movies turned out excellent in well lit situations indoors or out. With less than perfect light, the amount of noise will increase dramatically. The 3x zoom is able to be set before you start recording but it is disabled during recording. The movie files are quite large when shooting in 640x480, so it is recommended that you have a large memory card if you plan on taking a lot of videos.
The FE-300 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 - the FE-300 is a very simple to use camera with 18 "best shot" modes, face recognition, and a 12-megapixel imaging sensor. As nice as the features are, the picture quality and shooting performance are slightly under par for a camera with a price near US$300. If you like this camera but don't need a 12-megapixel imaging sensor, check out our review of the FE-280 with all the same features in an 8-megapixel model for $50 - $100 less.
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