Olympus FE-280 Zoom Review
The continuing success of Olympus's "FE" series cameras can be seen in the addition of the FE-280. Still featuring an 8-Megapixel imaging sensor, the 3x optical zoom, in-camera help guide, and 21 preset shooting modes (6 more than the previous model), not a lot has changed from the FE-250 model. The camera itself is actually a little bit smaller and lighter, which is very impressive since it hasn't lost many features. A couple things that have been removed are any type of continuous shooting mode and some of the extremely high ISO settings (3200, 6400, 10,000), which wont be missed.
At just .65" thick, and a little smaller the rest of the way around, the FE-280 is even easier to carry than before, fitting into most pockets and purses. Even with the small size, it is still very easy to handle and use. Using the "pinch" technique, you have easy access to the shutter release and zoom controls without interfering with the lens or flash. The camera control buttons are conveniently placed on the camera where they are out of the way when shooting, but easy to use when you need them. They are a great compliment to the easy to use in-camera menu system. The majority of the back of the camera is taken up by the 2.5" LCD screen. The screen has a non-reflective coating, which makes it very easy to use outside in any light, and it gains up for easy framing in low light situations.
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 6/10 of a second including autofocus. When capturing a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.5 seconds without the flash and between 3 and 4.5 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.
Featuring a 3x optical zoom lens, it has a typical range for an ultra-compact consumer model with a 35mm equivalent of 36 - 108mm. This lens offers a good range for shooting either landscape or large group shots as well as getting close enough to single out a person or object from a group or distant setting. It also does very well with the macro setting, allowing you to focus from just a couple inches away. We found that the lens does produce some barrel distortion and pin cushioning, but chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) are controlled pretty well.
The image quality was average for a consumer model. The sample shots showed good color saturation and nicely exposed images. The images were sharp in the middle, but get a little soft around the edges. This is ok for small prints, but will become more noticeable as the print size gets larger. When shooting in DIS (Digital Image Stabilization) mode, the level of noise did increase noticeably. This is due to the increase in ISO to raise the shutter speed. This is how the camera makes up for the slight shaking of the camera as you are taking a picture. While it will help in well lit situations since the camera won't have to raise the ISO very much, in low light, it will add much more noise, lowering the quality of your pictures. Using the auto settings and a flash is the best way to keep your image quality as high as possible. Another way is to use a tripod or a monopod to help steady yourself as you are shooting.
When shooting with the flash, the camera did very well as long as you stayed within the limits of the flash (approx. 18ft. at wide angle). It provided good light and allowed for good colors and skin tones, however, it is not very powerful since the flash and the battery are so small. That said, don't expect this flash to light up a medium or large sized room, which means, you will have to get close enough to your subject to produce a well lit picture. When shooting in portrait mode, I noticed that it would shoot at ISO 50 as much as possible. This is good for the image, but it also causes the background and shadows to appear darker than it would if it had used an ISO of 100 or 200.
As with the 250, the 280 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-280 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 110 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 - As one of three new additions to the Olympus "FE" lineup, the 280 is definitely the smallest. Sporting an 8- megapixel image sensor, 3x optical zoom, and 21 preprogrammed scene modes, it isn't necessarily small in features. This is an excellent camera for the beginning photographer, or someone that wants to have one around that isn't bulky or in the way. The built-in Guide allows for the user to learn about photography as well as take the best possible pictures in any situation. With a price between $170 and $200, the Olympus FE-280 offers a good value for it's quality and size.
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