DigitalCameraReview.com
Olympus FE-230 Digital Camera Full Review
by  -  4/27/2007

The 7.1 megapixel Olympus FE-230 is probably one of the the slimmest and most budget friendly digital camera currently on the market.  It measures only 0.65 inches thick and you still get a typical 3x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD.  It’s also a small step up from its cheaper sibling, the FE-210, and gets a TruePic Turbo imaging processor that gives it a bit more speed and some more image processing capabilities.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

 

The FE-230 is one of four new FE digital cameras from Olympus (the others are the FE-210, FE-240, FE-250).  For approximately $50 less, you can get a chunkier, AA powered, slightly slower FE-210 that has more LCD resolution.  For approximately $50 more, you can get the FE-240, which adds on a 5x optical zoom.

NUTS & BOLTS

Image Sensor

The FE-230 is a 7.1 megapixel camera.  The maximum size of an image is 3072x2304 pixels.  There are two compression levels (SHQ and HQ) at this size, but you can also choose from 2048x1536, 640x480, and 1920x1080 (16:9 aspect ratio).

LCD

The 2.5 inch LCD on the back of the FE-210 has 115K pixels of resolution.  The display is pretty fluid and gains up or down depending on lighting conditions.  Colors are represented well.  There is no optical viewfinder of any type on this camera.

Zoom

The FE-230 has a 3x optical zoom lens (38 – 114mm in 35mm terms).  Eight steps along the optical zoom range provide a fair amount of control over your framing.  The lens has a maximum aperture of f3.1 at wide angle.

Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

In normal focus mode, at wide angle, you can focus on objects as close as 23.6 inches.  At telephoto, this number moves to 39.4 inches.  In macro mode and wide angle, you can focus as close as 3.9 inches.  With macro and telephoto, it moves out to 23.6 inches.  In super macro mode, you can focus as close as 2 inches.

Flash

The built-in flash has a wide angle range from 0.33 feet to 12.8 feet.  At telephoto, the flash range is 2 – 6.6 feet.  The flash can be set to auto, red-eye reduction, fill (always on), and off.

olympus fe-230 sample image
Flash at about 8-10 feet (view medium image) (view large image)
olympus fe-230 sample image
Flash at about 12 feet (view medium image) (view large image)

Memory Media

Images can be stored on xD-Picture Card (up to 2GB) media and approximately 20MB of internal memory.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Images are stored as JPEG only.  Movies are captured as AVI Motion JPEG with audio files.

Connectivity

There is a multiconnector for USB 2.0 Full Speed out jack and AV out.

Power

The FE-230 is powered by the LI-42B lithium-ion battery pack (740 mAh).

EXPOSURE

Auto Mode

The FE-230 is truly just a point and shoot digital camera.  There are no other exposure modes other than auto and scene modes.  In auto mode, you can adjust the flash mode, focus mode (normal, macro, or super macro), exposure compensation, and self-timer mode (12 second timer).

There is also a digital image stabilization mode on the mode dial that is essentially an auto mode, but it will bump up the camera’s sensitivity in order to minimize blur.

If you need additional guidance with your shots, Olympus has also included their Guide system on this camera.  The Guide menu prompts you for the type of shot or effect that you want and will set the camera accordingly.

Scene Modes

There are plenty of scene modes to choose from on the FE-230.  Olympus put three of them (portrait, landscape, and night portrait) on the mode dial for easy access.  If you want more, there is a “scene” entry on the mode dial that gives you access to a larger menu of scene mode options.  You can choose from Portrait, Landscape, Night & Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Sunset, Sport, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Behind Glass, Auction, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, and Underwater Macro.

Movie Mode

The FE-230 can capture 640x480 movies at 30 frames per second and 320x240 at 30fps.  Unlike its little sibling, the FE-210, you can capture movies with audio.  If you do want to capture audio, then optical zoom is not available (but digital zoom is).  If you’d rather have the optical zoom, you can disable sound capture (so you don’t capture the sound of the zoom motor).

Metering

The user cannot change the metering method used by the FE-230.

White Balance

The white balance setting is fully automatic on the FE-230.

Sensitivity

The FE-230 only allows itself to adjust the ISO, but it has an ISO range of 64-640.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

Really the only thing you can change during image capture is the exposure compensation.  During image playback, you can resize and rotate images.  Also during image playback, the FE-230 has digital image stabilization edit.  When a shot is taken, movement data is captured by on-board gyros.  The camera can use this data to fix blurriness in the image.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The FE-230 is probably the slimmest entry level camera that I’ve seen in a while.  It measures 3.6" W x 2.2" H x 0.65" D and weighs 3.7 ounces without battery or a media card.  It’s probably hard to tell in the pictures, but it kind of has a darker silver color to it.  Not quite gunmetal, but just a little bit darker than your standard silver.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

Build quality is excellent and the controls are easy to access.  The zoom control is the ring type of control around the shutter button and is easy to operate.  The shooting mode dial makes it easy to move around various shooting modes quickly and with a glance.  In case you’re not sure, there are plenty of on-screen instructions and descriptions about pretty much everything you can do with the camera.  The 5-way control pad is a little hard to operate, requiring a little more strength to operate than is typical.

The front of the camera has the lens, flash, microphone, and self-timer lamp.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

In addition to the 2.5 inch LCD, the back of the camera has two buttons along the top to switch between capture and playback modes.  The shooting mode dial is on the top right of the back.  Right below that is the 5-way control pad.  At the bottom right is the menu button and delete button.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

The top of the camera has the power button, zoom control, and shutter release.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

The bottom of the camera has the battery/media compartment and tripod mount.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

The right side of the camera has a plastic door covering the USB/AV out multiconnector.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

The left side of the camera has the speaker.

olympus fe-230
(view large image)

Included

Olympus includes a wrist strap, quick start guide, lithium-ion battery, battery charger, USB cable, AV cable, Olympus Master 2.0 CD-ROM, printed basic manual, and advanced manual on CD-ROM.

PERFORMANCE

I did like the image quality from the FE-230 better than what I got from the FE-210.  The color reproduction was pleasing and the automatic white balance did a pretty good job.  Details were sharp with just a touch of softness at the edge of the frame – nothing to worry about unless you’re really looking for it.  Default exposure was also good.  Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) was well controlled, much better than the FE-210 that I just finished reviewing.  There was some barrel distortion (straight lines bow away from the center), but it was not bad.  At the telephoto end, pincushion distortion (straight lights bow toward the center) was very noticeable.

olympus fe-230 sample image
Pincushion distortion at full telephoto (view large image)

Timing/Shutter Lag

The FE-230 was a snappy little camera, compared to the rest of the entry-level digital camera market.  Start up was right around 2 seconds.  If you do a full press of the shutter, you first have to wait for a focus lock and for the camera to calculate exposure and this took about 0.6 seconds.  If you do a partial press first (which I highly recommend) to get that critical focus lock, it only takes less than 0.1 seconds to capture the shot after depressing the button the rest of the way.  About the longest focus time that I experienced was around one second.  The cycle time (time between shots) was about 3 seconds, with or without flash.  When I was testing, the battery was in good condition and I was using a Fujifilm M-type xD-Picture Card.  Card access time was my least favorite part – during playback, it would take 3-4 seconds to page through my images.

Additional Sample Images

olympus fe-230 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
olympus fe-230 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
olympus fe-230 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
olympus fe-230 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
olympus fe-230 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
olympus fe-230 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

Conclusion

I was pretty impressed by the very slim Olympus FE-230, given the price point (sub-$200) and its performance.  While it may not meet the needs of every photographer, it’s a good fit for someone new to digital photography (with plenty of built-in help features) who wants a slim, pocketable camera.  The 7 megapixel resolution, 3x optical zoom, 2.5 inch screen and 30fps movie mode provide a good set of specs for beginning photographers.

Pros

Cons