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Olympus FE-200 Digital Camera Review
by  -  12/19/2006

The Olympus FE-200 is currently the top of the “easy and fun” FE line of digital cameras.  The FE line is squarely targeted at the entry-level user who is looking for an affordable, easy to use camera.  The camera features a built-in help system and a nice looking, well built, compact design.  The 6 megapixel FE-200 offers a wide angle (28mm equivalent) 5x optical zoom as well as a 2.5 inch LCD.  Based on its target user, there are no manual exposure modes, but instead a set of scene modes should cover the basics for a beginner shooter or someone who wants a simple camera.

olympus fe-200
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In the Box 

Packed along with the camera, you’ll find the lithium-ion battery with charger, AV cable, USB cable, wrist strap, CD-ROM with Olympus Master software, a CD-ROM with the advanced manual, and a printed basic manual.

Camera Design 

Compared to the FE-190 that I just finished reviewing, the FE-200 is quite a bit chunkier.  I imagine that the main reason for this is the larger lens.  The camera is still pocketable, for the most part, and has the same silver powder finish.

olympus fe-200
Olympus FE-200 on right, next to FE-190 (view large image)

The front of the camera has the 5x optical zoom lens, which retracts completely into the body of the camera.  You’ll also see the flash, self-timer/focus assist lamp, and microphone port.

olympus fe-200
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The back of the camera has the 2.5 inch LCD and most of the controls.  There are buttons to access capture and playback modes on the top right.  There is also a mode dial and a circular, 5-way directional pad along with a menu button and delete button.

olympus fe-200
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The top of the camera hosts the power button and shutter release.  The zoom is controlled by a ring around the shutter release.

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The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount and a door to access the battery and memory card compartment.

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The right side of the camera has the USB/AV port to connect the camera to your computer or to another device to display your pictures and movies.

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Camera Features

To keep things simple, there are four settings for capture resolution/compression.  The SHQ and HQ modes capture 2816x2112 images – the only difference is that SHQ does less compression, resulting in larger files (and better quality).  Down from there, you can also capture images at 2048x1536 (SQ1) and 640x480 (SQ2).

The lens has a focal length of 4.6 – 23.0 mm (28 – 140mm equivalent) for a 5x optical zoom range.  The wider angle and longer zoom are nice to have.  The lens has an aperture range of f3.3-f54.8.  In normal and macro focus modes, at wide angle, you can focus on subjects that are 7.8 inches to infinity.  If you zoom out to full telephoto, this range moves out to 19.7 inches.  In super macro mode, you can focus as close as 2 inches.

The 2.5 inch LCD on the back of the camera is your only means for framing the shot.  There isn’t an optical viewfinder.  The LCD has 150,000 pixels of resolution, which leaves it a bit grainy, but it does refresh fast enough to provide smooth viewing.  As the lighting changes, the LCD gains up and down, so you can still see the shot in dim conditions.  Viewing the LCD outdoors was good.

The FE-200 can capture movies at two quality settings: 320x240 at 30 frames per second and 160x120 at 15 frames per second.  Movies are captured as Quicktime movies, with audio.  You can use the optical zoom during movie capture but only if you disable sound recording.

The camera has 24MB of internal memory, but your primary means of storage will be with an xD-Picture Card.  If you want to use the Panorama mode on the camera, you’ll have to use Olympus branded media.

The camera is powered by a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery.  While it does have good life, the downside is that a replacement or spare battery is not cheap.  The included charger can charge the battery in about 5 hours.

Since this camera is meant for beginners, there are no manual exposure modes.  In fact, you can’t even change the sensitivity (ISO) of the sensor or white balance.  There are a few “shortcuts” on the mode dial to get to the most common modes: auto, movie capture, digital image stabilization mode, portrait, landscape, and night portrait.  When you set the dial to “scene” you can choose even more scene modes.  Choose from Portrait, Landscape, Night & Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Sunset, Sport, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Behind Glass, and Auction.

A built in “Guide” system is pretty handy.  It’s an entry on the mode dial, so it’s very easy to get to.  When you turn on the guide, you can choose from several options.  For example, entry #1 is “Brightening subject”.  By following the arrow, you get other options.  In this case, you can increase the exposure compensation or turn on the fill-in flash.  By making your choice, the camera performs the setting change for you.

There is a 12 second self timer if you need it.  However, there are no continuous shooting modes that let you hold the shutter down and take several pictures in a row.

The built-in flash can be set to auto, red-eye reduction, fill flash, or off.  At wide angle, the flash has a range to 8.2 feet.  At telephoto, the range is reduced to 5.6 feet.

Camera Performance and Image Quality 

Overall, despite this being the current “flagship” model of the FE line, it was a bit more sluggish than its little sibling, the FE-190.  If you have to do a full press of the shutter (when you’re not able to do a partial press), then the shutter lag is around 1 second.  If you can do a partial press, shutter lag was right around 0.2 seconds, which is actually not horrible in this class of camera, but also not the fastest.  Cycle time (time between shots) was also acceptable.  Another slow area was image playback, where it can take a second or two to move through the shots that you’ve already taken.

The layout and comfort of the controls was just fine.  The most important one, the shutter release, is easily accessible.  I do like the zoom control on the FE-200 better than I did the FE-190.  The FE-200 zoom control is a ring around the shutter release, which I actually prefer on point and shoots (the FE-190 has small rocker switch on the back of the camera).

Flash performance was fair, but I experienced a higher rate of red-eye than with similar point and shoot cameras.

Auto focus performance was not great.  It was a fairly sluggish and often had a hard time achieving the right focus.  An upside, though, is that the camera does have a focus assist light, which I think should be requirement on every point and shoot camera.

Image quality was disappointing.  I like the combination of a 5x optical zoom and the 28mm (equivalent) wide angle.  However, images were, in a word, blurry.  The details were not as crisp as I prefer and it seemed like things got worse as you zoomed in.  Colors were generally good under straightforward lighting and exposure was also good, in general.  Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) was well controlled and better than the FE-190.

olympus fe-200 sample image
Sample of blurriness - taken around mid-point of zoom range (view medium image) (view large image)

Since the sensitivity (ISO) is not adjustable on this camera, I wasn’t able to compare noise in the images.

Additional Sample Images

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olympus fe-200 sample image
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olympus fe-200 sample image
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olympus fe-200 sample image
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olympus fe-200 sample image
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olympus fe-200 sample image
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olympus fe-200 sample image
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olympus fe-200 sample image
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Specifications 

Conclusion 

While the wide angle, 5x optical zoom lens and 6 megapixel resolution is currently a kind of “sweet spot” in the current point and shoot market, the FE-200 doesn’t perform well enough to keep up with the competition.  In addition, in my opinion, any price difference between this camera and a competitor, if there is any, is not enough to make the FE-200 any more attractive.

With that said, there are good things about this camera.  It is simple to use – there are no deep menus to get lost in and there aren’t a lot of settings to wade through.  It is also built very well and is good looking.  Also, shutter lag, after doing a partial press of the shutter, was not bad.

Image quality was unimpressive.  My shots were blurry, with not a lot of crisp lines or detail.  Colors and exposure were typically good, but the blurriness/muddiness was to hard to overlook.

Bottom line, I would have a hard time recommending this camera.  For the same price, you’ll be able to find much better cameras, like the Canon Powershot A530, Nikon Coolpix L2 or Coolpix L3.

Pros

Cons