DigitalCameraReview.com
Olympus FE-340 Review
by Jerry Jackson -  4/7/2008

The Olympus FE-340 is the current mid-range model of the entry-level FE line of digital cameras from Olympus. The FE-340 is an 8 megapixel camera, with a 5x optical zoom, 2.7-inch LCD, and a sturdy, slim metal body.

Olympus FE-340
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With a 5x zoom in a slim body at a budget price, the FE-340 has been building interest among buyers looking for something that breaks the "3x zoom" mold without breaking the bank.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The Olympus FE line has traditionally been the realm of easy to use, entry-level cameras and the FE-340 is no different. It is an auto-exposure only camera, with full automatic, program auto, and a set of preset scene modes.

Shooting modes are selected via a traditional mode dial. Your options are:

Access to the built-in guide, which can help you make the right settings changes for a particular scenario, is available via the mode dial.

There is also a Panorama Assist mode that allows you to stitch photos together if you are using an Olympus-branded xD-Picture Card.

The FE-340 has a 1/2.35" CCD sensor that can capture a total of 8 megapixels of resolution. Full-resolution images measure 3264x2448 pixels and file sizes of images taken in SHQ mode average just under 3MB a piece. Images can also be captured at 2560x1920, 2048x1536, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 640x480, and 1920x1080.

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

A wrist strap, the lithium-ion battery, battery charger, USB cable, AV cable, and CD-ROM with the Olympus Master 2 software are included in the box.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Styling and Build Quality

The FE-340 is a very solid little camera. Despite its "entry level" status, nothing about the camera feels cheap.

Olympus FE-340
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The metal body feels very sturdy and solid, but it's not too heavy to still feel like an ultracompact camera. The camera is definitely small enough to fit inside your pocket at only 0.87 inches thick.

Olympus FE-340
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Ergonomics and Interface

Ergonomically, the camera is also very good for an ultracompact of this size. 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 five-way control pad.

Olympus FE-340
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As with previous Olympus point-and-shoots, the menus remain a bit obtuse at times, with a pair of primary sub-menus ("Image Quality" and "Setup") and some fuzziness as to what goes where. Thankfully, the interface is less multi-layered than the one on some previous (and perhaps current) Stylus models, and the on-screen quick menu is easy to understand and navigate. While it's not the best interface out there, the FE-340's variant isn't the bloated maze that has earned low marks for some other Olympus cameras.

Display/Viewfinder

The FE-340 has a nice 2.7-inch LCD for framing and then reviewing your shots – there is no optical viewfinder.

Olympus FE-340
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The LCD has a decent pixel density, with a total of 230K dots and two brightness adjustments. The refresh rate is a little sluggish, but still usable. In bright sunlight outdoors, the screen visibility is again not great, but still usable. The screen does a nice job of gaining up and down depending on lighting conditions.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag

Start-up time is on par with other cameras in its class, at right around 2.5 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 around 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 around 5 seconds to recharge between shots. Cycle times between non-flash shots take around 3 to 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.

Lens and Zoom

The 5x optical zoom lens on the FE-340 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 f/3.5 at wide angle to f/5.6 at telephoto. The lens covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of 36-180mm.

Auto Focus

There are just a few focus area modes that you can use on the FE-340. 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.

Macro image quality was a bit hit-and-miss with this camera. Even when the camera indicated correct focus and the shutter speed was high enough to prevent motion blur, macro images tended to be soft and appear almost slightly out of focus.

Olympus FE-340
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Flash

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

On paper, 20 feet of flash range looks pretty good for an ultra-compact with a tiny flash unit, but keep in mind that this range is with ISO set at 800, which will lead to very noisy shots given the FE-340's noise performance. 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.

Olympus FE-340
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As is evident in the above sample photo, flash shots taken at ISO 800 are somewhat noisy, and made more than a bit soft by the FE-340's noise reduction.

Flash recycle time was also a little longer than I would have liked since I often found myself waiting for several seconds between flash shots before I could take the next shot. (The camera isn't completely blacked out during flash recycle, however.)

Battery Life

The camera is powered by a 740 mAh lithium-ion battery. The spec sheet says that you can get up to 240 shots per charge. In real life (and usage), I would expect around 150 shots. The included battery charger takes approximately 5 hours to charge the battery.


IMAGE QUALITY

Overall, image quality from the FE-340 was pretty average.

Olympus FE-340
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The FE-340 can make some nice shots, but in general they're just so-so. Details were a little soft overall, especially in the some of the macro shots that I took.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

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.

In terms of color, I was 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 versus 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.

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.

Lens Faults

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.

Olympus FE-340
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Olympus FE-340
100% Crop

Chromatic aberration was very noticeable at high contrast boundary areas but purple fringing was always well controlled.

Sensitivity and Noise

In addition to auto ISO, the camera can shoot in the ISO range of 64 to 3200.

Olympus FE-340
ISO 64
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 64, 100% Crop

Olympus FE-340
ISO 100
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 100, 100% Crop

Olympus FE-340
ISO 200
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Olympus FE-340
ISO 400
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Olympus FE-340
ISO 800
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Olympus FE-340
ISO 1600
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

Olympus FE-340
ISO 3200
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Olympus FE-340
ISO 3200, 100% Crop

The ISO settings below 800 did an acceptable job of maintaining detail, but 800, 1600 and 3200 suffered considerably from agressive noise reduction, resulting in a smeared look. All of this puts the FE-340 clearly a step or two behind the best ultracompacts for indoor, flash, and low-light/high-speed shooting.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus FE-340
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Olympus FE-340
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Olympus FE-340
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CONCLUSIONS

The Olympus FE-340 provides a respectable 8 megapixels of resolution with acceptable levels of performance across the board. If you are looking for a well built, slim, entry-level camera that's easy to use, the FE-340 makes a good choice. However, the average image quality and smeared flash photos make this camera fall short of perfection. There are a lot of good things about the camera – easy-to-use interface, stylish build, great colors, and a good lens with a little more range than is the norm at this price point. Unfortunately, you'll have to accept the good with the bad, which means soft details, aggressive NR in high-ISO performance, and average battery life.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Olympus FE-340 Specifications:

Sensor 8.0 megapixel, 1/2.35" CCD
Zoom 5x (36-180mm) zoom, f/3.5-5.6
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K-pixel LCD with two-step brightness adjustment
Sensitivity ISO 64-3200
Shutter Speed 4-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Program, Digital Image Stabilization, Scene, Movie
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, Smile Shot
White Balance Settings iESP2 Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3
Metering Modes Digital ESP, Face Detection AE
Focus Modes iESP Auto, Spot AF, Face Detection AF, Macro, Super Macro
Drive Modes N/A
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, Off
Self Timer Settings

12 Seconds, Off

Memory Formats xD-Picture Card
Internal Memory
48 MB
File Formats JPEG, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size 3264x2448
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Yes (with audio recording disabled)
Battery Lithium-ion rechargeable
Connections USB 2.0, AV output
Additional Features Face Detection, Digital Image Stabilization and DIS Edit, Perfect Shot Preview, Expression Edit, Smile Shot, TruePic III processor, In-Camera Help Guides