DigitalCameraReview.com
GE E850 Review
by Ben Stafford -  7/31/2007

There was a lot of head scratching when the world learned that the General Electric brand was entering the very competitive digital camera market.  General Imaging, the worldwide exclusive licensee of the GE brand on digital cameras managed to put together a complete line of digital cameras sporting the trusted GE name.  The GE E850 is an "intermediate" camera, with 8 megapixel resolution, a 28mm equivalent wide angle, 5x optical zoom lens, and 3 inch LCD.

ge e850
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NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

The only means of framing (and then reviewing) your shots is the 3 inch LCD.  It has 230,400 pixels of resolution, is color accurate, and has a fast enough refresh rate to provide a smooth viewing experience.  The large LCD doesn't leave room for an optical viewfinder. In bright overhead sunlight, the image, while not great, is still viewable. While the LCD has plenty of resolution, for some reason, images don't look good on it and I'm assuming that it is from the compression the the internal camera software uses to display items on the LCD. There are more details on this in the Usage section later.

ge e850
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Lens/Zoom

While the camera is powered off, the lens is protected by a built-in lens cover.  At power-up, the lens telescopes out of the body.  The lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28 - 140mm for a 5x optical zoom.  Having the wider angle lens is a definite plus for this camera.

In normal focus mode, the E850 can focus as close as 60cm.  If you're using the macro feature, the lens can focus on objects as close as 6cm at wide angle and 40cm at telephoto.

The E850 has some pretty flexible options as far as focus area.  There is a single area AF, multiple area AF, and Face Detection AF.

There is a focus assist lamp that is used in darker conditions to help the camera obtain focus.

Flash

There are a few modes in which the built-in flash can be used.  You can pick from auto, auto with red-eye reduction, forced flash, no flash, slow synchro, and slow synchro with red-eye reduction.

At ISO 400 and wide angle, the flash works best between 0.3 and 3.9 meters.  At telephoto, the flash range is 0.3 - 2.6 meters.

Memory Media

There is 26MB of internal memory, but you can also use SD and SDHC media.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Images are stored as JPEG files.  Movies are recorded as MPEG-4, Quicktime movies with mono sound.  If you record just audio files, they're recorded as WAV files.

Connectivity

The E850 has a mutli-connector for the USB 2.0 connection and AV out.  There is also a DC in jack if you get an optional power adapter.

Power

The E850 is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (1050mAh).  According to the spec sheet, the E850 can get 210 shots per charge (based on CIPA Standards).  In real life and real world usage, you will get less.

ge e850
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EXPOSURE

The GE E850 is purely a point and shoot camera.  There is an "M" mode on the dial, but don't let it confuse you - it's essentially a program auto mode.  In full auto mode, you can change the flash modes, focus modes, timer modes, exposure compensation, capture resolution and image quality (compression settings).  In "M" or program auto mode, you can change the above, plus the white balance, ISO, and color settings.

Besides auto and program auto, there are several other modes accessible via the mode dial.  Playback mode is on there, as well as panorama assist mode, portrait mode, digital image stabilization mode, scene modes, and movie mode.  The panorama assist mode can stitch together up to three images in-camera.  When you use this mode the first image that you take overlays the second one that you're about to take so you can make a nice panorama.  The digital image stabilization mode increases the sensitivity of the camera to allow for a faster shutter speed.  If you move the dial to SCN, for the scene modes, you can choose from Sport, Children, Indoor, Leaf, Snow, Sunset, Fireworks, Glass, Museum, Landscape, Night Landscape, and Night Portrait.  As you navigate through the menu of scene modes, some built-in help content explains the best use for a particular scene mode.

Movie Mode

In the E850's movie mode, you can capture movies at 640x480 and 320x240 at 30fps and 15fps.  Optical zoom is available during movie capture, but you will be able to hear the zoom motor in the audio of the movie clip.

The movies captured by the E850 were just "ok". During movie capture, if you zoom a lot, the AF has to catch up and it just takes a little bit longer than I would like. Also, compression seemed pretty heavy as the movies weren't very crisp. Overall though, the movies were satisfactory for this category of digital camera.

Metering

The E850 has three metering modes to choose from Artificial Intelligence AE (AiAE), center-weighted, and spot metering.

White Balance

When you're in program auto mode, you can adjust the white balance of the camera if you notice a color cast in your shots.  In addition to auto white balance, there are presets for daylight, cloudy, fluorescent CWF, and incandescent.  The E850 is also capable of letting you set a custom white balance by targeting a white or neutral target and passing the Menu button.

Sensitivity

In addition to letting the camera adjust its sensitivity with auto ISO, you can set it to ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 (in program auto mode).

Noise performance was pretty typical of a "budget" compact digital cameras. Noise is visible at ISO 100 and 200 and gets very noticeable as you move up from there.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

In-Camera Image Adjustment

Besides affecting the exposure with exposure compensation and ISO settings, there are a handful of color settings that can be used.  You can choose from black & white, sepia, and vivid.

During playback, you can trim your images, resize your images, and perform red-eye removal.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The E850 is a pretty typically sized compact point and shoot digital camera.  Since the lens assembly doesn't protrude significantly from the body of the camera, I consider it to be pretty pocketable.  It would be about the size of a thick bi-fold wallet.  It's also fairly lightweight for its size.  Despite its mostly plastic construction, it still feels solid.

ge e850
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As far as controls, the E850 has all the right ones.  A mode dial lets you easily change shooting modes, or get to the movie modeand playback mode.  A 5-way control pad lets you easily access the shooting settings and a menu button lets you access camera setup and other settings that aren't needed as often.  My big beef with the controls is the zoom control and how it's situated with the shutter button.  They're both on top of the camera, along with the power button.  The zoom control is kind of a nub of a rocker switch and when you're not looking, it's easy to press it when you mean to press the shutter.

ge e850
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ge e850
Bottom (view large image)

ge e850
Right side (view large image)

Included

Included with the camera is the lithium-ion battery, charger, USB cable, AV cable, wrist strap, CD-ROM, manuals, and quick start guide.

PERFORMANCE

Usage

The E850 was pretty easy to use.  The controls and menus are pretty intuitive and reminded me of the Canon controls and menu options.  In my opinion, the black back panel around the LCD really looks nice and always seems to make the LCD image more attractive.  While the glossy black finish is nice, it is, as you can imagine, very prone to fingerprints.

After shooting with it for a while I noticed that I was blocking the focus assist lamp with the fingers of my left hand.  That corner of the camera wasn't exactly the best place for the focus-assist lamp.  However, if you know about it, then you can adjust your hand position.

Another big gripe that I had was when viewing images with the LCD.  While it has plenty of resolution (230,400 pixels), images looked pretty bad on it.  I concluded that whatever internal compression that the camera uses to display images from the card on the LCD is very heavy as a lot of the poor viewing quality was from compression artifacts, like "jaggies" and strange color edges.

Flash performance was average. It did well with human subjects within 6-8 feet, but couldn't fill the corner of a room at just about 10 feet away.

The GE E850 does have a face detection system, but it's not that great. There is a nice dedicated button to enable it for your shot, but if you take a shot and want to use face detection again, you have to press the button again. Also, the facial detection is not very robust, requiring a pretty straight-on and enough time for the camera to find the face.

Image Quality

The image output from the E850 was mixed.  I was able to take some nice images, but there were a couple things that reared their ugly heads at times.  First, the auto white balance was pretty horrible in some instances (indoors).  At my office, with pretty straightforward fluorescent lights, there was a very heavy color cast.  However, this is easily fixed using a custom white balance, which is very easy to set with the E850.  The other thing that was disappointing was the noise that was visible even at shots taken with ISO 80.

Otherwise, color reproduction was good, if just a tad vibrant.  Macro shots showed a lot of detail and images overall had nice detail, except for the edges of the frame at wide angle. At wide angle, there was noticeable softness at the corners and the edges of the frame.

Exposure overall, was pretty good, but the camera didn't have a great dynamic range (see the shot of the rose in the Sample Images section).


Notice edge and corner softness in this wide angle shot (view medium image) (view large image)

There was some noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow away from center) at wide angle, but pincushion distortion at telephoto was very minor.  There was also some vignetting visible at both wide angle and telephoto.


Wide angle - barrel distortion (view large image)

Telephoto - pincushion distortion (view large image)
(Shots above are only for purposes of viewing lens distortion, their JPEG quality has been reduced)

Timing/Shutter Lag

The E850 is definitely no speed demon.  I measured start-up time to be about 5-6 seconds.  A full press of the shutter required at least 0.7 seconds from button-push to image capture (and will depend on how quickly focus is acquired).  If you acquire focus first, with a partial press of the shutter, shutter lag is right around 0.1 seconds.  Cycle time is also not very impressive.  With the camera set to a one second post-capture review, it still took 3-4 seconds until the camera was ready to take the next shot.  Flash charge time was approximately 4 seconds.

Sample Images

ge e850 sample image
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ge e850 sample image
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ge e850 sample image
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ge e850 sample image
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ge e850 sample image
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ge e850 sample image
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Conclusion

The GE E850 is, overall, an average camera.  It is easy to use, it's built well, and it has decent battery life. Image quality has some good aspects and some bad ones. I thought that the color reproduction and macro performance was good, but noise performance, lack of dynamic range, and edge softness detracted from the good column. Also, its speed of operation is pretty sluggish.  However, the biggest problem facing the E850 is that the competition is already ahead and this camera doesn't do anything to help it catch up.  It lacks optical (or mechanical) image stabilization and it's priced similarly to models that do, like the Canon Powershot A570 IS and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80, and the image quality is not good enough to recommend it over some other cameras that may even be cheaper.

Pros:

Cons: