DigitalCameraReview.com
Olympus FE-300 Review
by Ben Stafford -  11/11/2007

The Olympus FE-300 is the current flagship of the entry level FE line of digital cameras from Olympus.  The FE-300 is a 12 megapixel camera, with a 3x optical zoom, 2.5 inch LCD, and a sturdy, slim metal body.

olympus fe-300
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NUTS & BOLTS

Sensor

The FE-300 has a 1/1.72" CCD that can capture a total of 12 megapixels.  Full resolution images measure 4000x3000 pixels and file sizes of images taken in SHQ mode average just under 5MB a piece.  Images can also be captured at 2048x1536, 640x480, and 1920x1080.

Viewfinder/LCD

The FE-300 only has a 2.5 inch LCD for framing and then reviewing your shots – there is no optical viewfinder.  The LCD has a decent pixel density, with a total of 230K pixels.  The refresh rate is a little sluggish, but still usable.  In bright sunlight outdoors, the screen viewability is again not great, but still usable.  The screen does a nice job of gaining up and down depending on lighting conditions.

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Lens/Zoom

The 3x optical zoom lens on the FE-300 extends from the camera body when powered on.  While it's powered off, the lens lies almost flush with the body and is protected by a built-in lens cover.  The maximum aperture ranges from f2.8 at wide angle to f4.7 at telephoto. The lens covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of 35-105mm.

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There are just a few focus area modes that you can use.  The default is iESP Auto (multi-area), but you can also use spot AF (focus area in the middle of the frame) and face detection AF.

If you are using normal AF (not macro), the focus range at wide angle is 23.6 inches to infinity.  If you need to focus on something closer, macro mode can focus on subjects as close as 11.8 inches (and you can still use the zoom).  If you need to get closer, the super macro mode lets you focus on subjects as close as 3.9 inches and the zoom is fixed.

Lens performance was good, with very little distortion at both the wide angle and telephoto settings.  There was some very slight edge softness at the wide angle, but I didn't see that same softness at telephoto.  Chromatic aberration was very noticeable at high contrast boundary areas.


(view large image) Notice chromatic aberration on right side in this 100% crop


(view large image) Note slight edge softness

Flash

The built-in flash can be used in auto mode, red-eye reduction, fill flash (always on), and disabled.  According to the spec sheet, the flash has an effective range of about 1 foot to 20 feet at ISO 800 and wide angle.  At telephoto and ISO 800, this range is 1.6 – 11.8 feet.  

On paper, twenty feet looks pretty good, but keep in mind that this range is with ISO set at 800, which will lead to very noisy shots.   The really unfortunate part is that the camera does boost ISO automatically up to ISO 800 in dark conditions.  When I was using the fill flash in some bright backlit conditions, the auto ISO setting stayed reasonable.

Memory Media

The FE-300 accepts xD-Picture Card media, which is available in capacities up to 2GB.  There is also 48MB of internal memory.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Images are stored as JPEG files only.  Movie files are captured as AVI files.

Connectivity

There is a single connector that can be used with the included USB cable or the included AV cable.


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Power

The camera is powered by a 740 mAh lithium-ion battery.  The spec sheet says that you can get up to 300 shots per charge.  In real life (and usage), I would expect around 250 shots.  The included battery charger takes approximately 5 hours to charge the battery. 

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EXPOSURE 

The Olympus FE line has traditionally been the realm of easy to use, entry level cameras and the FE-300 is no different.  It is an auto-exposure only camera, with full automatic, program auto (you can change things like white balance and ISO), and a set of preset scene modes. 

The mode dial is how you select your shooting mode.  Your options are auto, P (program auto), digital image stabilization (high ISO stabilization), portrait, landscape, scene, and movie.  Also on the mode dial is access to the built-in guide which can help you make the right settings changes for a particular scenario. 

If you choose the scene mode option, you can choose from one of the following preset modes: Night+Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, and Smile Shot (camera takes the shot once your subject smiles).  There is also a Panorama assist mode if you are using an Olympus-branded xD-Picture Card. 

Movie Mode

Movies can be captured in 640x480 at 30fps, 320x240 at 15fps, and 160x120 at 15fps.  Monaural audio can also be captured.  Optical zoom is available during movie capture but only if you disable audio capture.

Metering

Metering can be one of two modes, either Digital ESP metering (evaluative) or face detection AE (the camera meters with priority on faces) when you use face detection AF.

If you need to adjust the exposure, Olympus has made it easy to use (and preview) the exposure compensation setting.  If you press up on the control pad, the screen splits the view into 3 or 4 panes that show the effect of increasing or decreasing the exposure compensation by steps of 1/3 stop.  Just select the preview that looks best and take your shot.  It's not something that experienced photographers will like, but it's definitely handy for the beginning photographer.

White Balance

For white balance, you can leave it set on auto, or you can choose from several built-in presets.  The available presets are sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, and 3 different fluorescent settings.  There is no way to set a custom white balance.

Sensitivity

In addition to auto ISO, the camera can shoot in the ISO range of 50-6400.  If you use settings of ISO 3200 and 6400, camera resolution is decreased.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

During image capture, there aren't really any options for adjusting images.  During image playback, you can resize, crop, or apply a "Perfect Fix" adjustment.  Perfect Fix allows you to apply digital image stabilization, a lighting fix, or red-eye fix to images.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The FE-300 is a very solid little camera.  Despite its "entry level" status, nothing about the camera feels cheap.  The metal body feels very sturdy and solid, but it's not too heavy to still feel like an ultra-compact camera.  The camera is definitely pocketable at only 0.87 inches thick.

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Ergonomically, the camera is also very good (for an ultracompact, at least).  The shutter button is placed well and the zoom control is right there as well (a ring around the shutter).  The mode dial on the back is easily accessed with your thumb, as is the 5-way control pad.

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Included

Included with the camera is  wrist strap, the lithium-ion battery, battery charger, USB cable, AV cable, and CD-ROM with the Olympus Master 2 software.

PERFORMANCE

One thing that Olympus really does well with these FE cameras is the ease of use.  If you're used to the menu systems of other brands, then it may take a bit to get adjusted to the menu system, but otherwise, it's easy to figure out how to use the camera.  It's also really nice that this camera has nothing resembling a "cheap" feel.

Image Quality

Overall, image quality was pretty average.  The FE-300 can make some nice shots, but in general, they're just so-so.   Details were a little soft overall, except in the some of the macro shots that I took.  I was also annoyed at a slight color shift when you take the same shot at wide angle then at telephoto.  At the telephoto end, the shots had a cold look to them, so the auto white balance was having a little trouble adjusting to the different light quality coming in at wide angle vs. telephoto.  When the auto white balance was spot on, colors were reproduced accurately and were not oversaturated.  Shots taken with flash were not impressive.  In fact, the only shots that I liked that I took with the flash were taken when using the flash as fill flash.  Shots taken indoors, and especially ones taken in dark or dim rooms were not impressive since the camera increased the sensitivity up to ISO 800.


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400
 

Additional Sample Images

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Timing/Shutter Lag

Start up time is on par with other cameras in its class, right around 2-3 seconds.  Shutter lag is also on par.  If you don't get a focus lock first and need to do a full press of the shutter, expect a shutter lag of 0.4-0.5 seconds in good conditions.  If you do get a focus lock first with a partial press of the shutter, then the shutter lag is right around 0.1 seconds.  The flash takes about 4-5 seconds to recharge between shots.  Cycle time between shots takes around 3-4 seconds, depending on how full the buffer is.  Olympus has a nice little meter on the bottom right of the LCD that shows you the status of the buffer.

Conclusion

The Olympus FE-300 provides a whopping 12 megapixels of resolution, but don't let the thought that "more is better" enter your mind when deciding about whether to buy this camera.  With this camera, all that 12 megapixels gets you is large files and the ability to do a ton of cropping.  Now, if you are looking for a quality built, slim, entry level, easy to use camera, then consider this camera, but realize that you'll get average image quality.  There are a lot of good things about the camera – battery life, good macro shots, the built-in guide system, and the styling.  You'll need to balance the good things with the bad – soft details, noisy flash shots, and so on.

Pros:

Cons: