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Following on from last week’s review of the Nikon L4, this week I’ve got another budget camera to review, the Olympus FE-150. Announced at the end of January this year, the FE-150 and its six megapixel sibling the FE-160 are intended for complete beginners, and are designed to be extremely simple to use, while still providing very high quality pictures. The FE-150 has a list price of £160, but is widely available for around £130.
In terms of physical appearance, the FE-150 is unremarkable. It has a square-cornered shape, and its aluminium body is finished in a brushed metal texture with chrome details. Measuring 90 x 55 x 24.5mm and weighing about 150g with the battery it’s just about small enough to go in a shirt pocket. Build quality is adequate, but the body metal feels very thin and flimsy, and would probably dent or scratch easily.
Despite its rather blocky shape the camera is fairly easy to hold thanks to a small finger grip protrusion on the front and a textured thumb grip on the back. The main controls are well laid out and easy to find, although I personally found the shutter button to be far too sensitive.
The main external feature is the big 2.5-inch LCD monitor. With 230k pixels it is nice and sharp, and although it is quite reflective it is bright enough to use in daylight.
Due to the camera’s extreme simplicity, the external controls are very basic. There is a slider switch on the top plate to select between playback, movie mode and still shooting. I didn’t have any problem with this, but a couple of my friends who briefly tried the camera ended up accidentally shooting movies instead of taking photos.
The other main controls, for the flash mode (four options), exposure compensation, 10 second self-timer and macro focusing, are all secondary functions on the D-pad. The only other buttons are delete, quick print and the menu button.
The menu itself is equally simple, with only four image quality options, four scene modes (portrait, landscape, night scene and self portrait), a limited range of set up options and a panorama mode, although despite a thorough examination of both the 20 English pages in the basic manual and the 73-page CD-ROM PDF-format advanced manual I was unable to get this option to work. The manual said that an xD card was required, but even with a 128MB card installed and formatted the panorama mode remained unavailable.
Like the Nikon L4, the FE-150 offers no manual control over ISO setting. The camera appears to automatically set its ISO to either 64, 125 or 160 depending on the exposure, but there is an “image stabilization” option in the Scene Mode menu which increases the maximum to 320 ISO, providing a slightly faster shutter speed to counteract camera shake.
The camera also has no manual control of white balance, however the automatic system appears to work well under most normal circumstances.
The movie mode is one of the weakest I’ve seen in a long time. In the laughably titled High Quality mode it can manage only 320 x 240 pixel resolution at a jerky 15 frames a second. Most other cameras in this class can manage 640 x 480 at 30fps. The standard quality mode offers only 160 x 120 at 15fps; most modern mobile phones can do better than that.
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