Olympus FE-340 Zoom Review
By Movable Type Admin
Building on the success of the FE series from last year (like the FE-300), Olympus has created several new models for 2008, including the FE-340. The FE-340 features an 8-megapixel imaging sensor (instead of a 12), the zoom has been increased to 5x over 3x, and a larger 2.7" high-resolution LCD screen. As with the past models, the FE-340 offers an in-camera shooting guide, on screen preview of many of the shooting modes and adjustments, as well as a fully automatic shooting with multiple pre-programmed scene modes. There is also a full VGA video capture mode.
Just slightly larger than a deck of playing cards, the FE-340 is a very light, easy to use ultra-compact digicam. The size and weight make this camera easy for anyone to carry in a small purse or pocket. The layout of the controls on both the top and back of the camera make it very easy to operate using either 1 or 2 hands. The menu system is easily navigated thanks to the well thought out initial menu screen. The 2.7" LCD screen is great for framing your shots indoors and out as it gains up in low light conditions and in bright light conditions the brightness of the screen can be increased, making it easier to see. It is however, very prone to fingerprints; you'll find yourself cleaning it regularly.
Performance from the FE-340 has been slightly improved from the FE-300, but still seems to lack a little compared to other cameras in this class. From start-up to the first image captured, it took the camera 2.3 seconds. The shutter lag, the time from when you press the shutter release till the image is captured, was almost instantaneous when the camera was pre-focused. When allowing the camera to focus, it took just 4/10 of a second and 9/10 of a second when using the flash. Shot to shot time was a little disappointing, only being able to capture 5 images in 11.2 seconds and 12.5 seconds with the flash. This becomes more disappointing when you realize that there is no burst mode on this model. All of our tests were completed using an Olympus M series 2GB xD picture card, program mode, ISO 64, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, photographer response, media, etc.
The overall image quality from the FE-340 was average for an 8-megapixel consumer model. On a sunny day the exposure and colors are excellent. However, as we have seen with most consumer cameras, on an overcast spring day the camera slightly overexposes the cloudy sky. This can be avoided if you are able to get close enough to your subject to use the flash, but that is not always possible when shooting outdoors. The 5x (36 - 180mm, 35mm equivalent) optical zoom is a very nice addition, giving you the ability to get closer to your subject than most ultra-compacts. The lens does produce some barrel distortion on the wide end and slight edge softness through out the zoom range. I was impressed by the cameras ability to almost completely eliminate chromatic aberrations (purple fringing).
I was pleased with our indoor quality results. The flash was able to provide good exposure of the subject, without trying to illuminate the background. The colors and skin tones look very natural. Portrait mode combined with Face Detection Technology makes shooting portraits a breeze. Olympus even includes "Smile Shot" mode which automatically takes 3 pictures when it detects that your subjects are smiling, making sure you don't miss a smiling face; you don't even have to touch the shutter release. The flash has a range of up to 12.8' at ISO 800, but since we don't recommend shooting with an ISO setting that high, we feel you'll achieve the best results when shooting within 6 to 8 feet of your subject. When shooting in mixed lighting, we did find that the FE-340's white balance system tends to produce images that look a bit warm. You can see what I mean by taking a look at the M&M man shots n the samples page.
The FE-340 allows you capture video at both 640x480 and 320x240 resolutions with either 15 or 30 fps. Olympus has not yet allowed many of their cameras to capture more than 10 seconds of high quality video at a time like most other companies, which is disappointing. The video quality was very good, capturing smooth, high quality, VGA sized video clips with crisp, clean sound.
Powering the FE-340 is an unimpressive 3.7v 740 mAh rechargeable Lithium Ion battery and charger. Olympus claims that this battery will allow the camera to capture up to 240 images. I was able to capture around 80 images and few videos with some viewing on the camera, but I was not able to complete all of my tests afterwards without charging the battery again first. Because of this we highly recommend that you keep a second battery pack on hand at all times.
Bottom Line - the FE-340 is an easy to use, ultra-compact camera, with an 8-megapixel imaging sensor and above average 5x optical zoom lens. It offers some very nice features and innovative shooting modes such as "Smile Shot," along with descent all around quality images. However, the performance, 10 second max VGA (30fps) movie mode and lack of continuous capture features are disappointing. With an MSRP of US$200, this is not a bad camera for someone that takes the occasional pictures at family gatherings or on vacations. If you are looking for a similarly priced model with better performance, image quality, and longer movie recording, check out our review of the Canon SD1100 IS, which can be had for just $50 more.
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