As well as its premium line of mju (µ) weatherproof compacts and excellent E-series digital SLRs, Olympus makes a more modest line of compact snapshot cameras, the FE series. It’s been a while since I last took a look at any of the FE cameras. In fact the last one I reviewed was the FE-150 almost exactly a year ago. To say I was not terribly impressed by it would be an understatement; it received one of the lowest review scores I’ve ever given, with a total of eight out of a possible forty marks, and only two out of ten overall. I found major problems with its performance, design, construction, lack of features and shoddy image quality. Still, a year is a long time in the digital camera industry and the FE-150 is long gone, so today I’m taking a look at the FE-230, one of the latest cameras in the range, and hopefully something of an improvement.
The FE-230 is a slim and lightweight 7.1-megapixel ultra-compact with a 3x zoom lens and a 2.5-in 115kp monitor, which puts it smack in the middle of the most popular sector of the digital camera market, so it’s got a lot of competition from virtually every other major manufacturer. The FE-230 currently sells for around £120, and comparable cameras include the Casio EX-Z75 (£149), Pentax Optio M30 (£99), Nikon S500 (£158), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX30 (£234) and the Canon IXUS 75 (£181), so on price at least the FE-230 is fairly competitive.
It’s a pretty little thing too. In overall style it is, not surprisingly, very similar to most of the other cameras in the list above, most notably the Pentax M30. It is very slim, measuring just 19.1mm across the thickest part of the body, and amazingly light, weighing only 105g without the Li-ion battery, and not much more with it. Despite this feather-like weight it is surprisingly solidly made, with a good strong stainless-steel case which resists marks and scratches, and solidly mounted controls. The card/battery hatch is plastic and a bit flimsy, and the tripod bush is also plastic, but on the whole the build quality is very good. Handling is also good for an ultra-compact. The 2.5-in screen leaves plenty of room on the rear panel, and the raised mode dial doubles as a thumb grip, making the cameras nice and secure to hold. The FE-150’s horrible rocker switch zoom control has been replaced with a rotary bezel around the shutter button, which is a lot more responsive, and the large square D-pad and main mode dial are also nice and easy to operate. The zoom is stepped, but with eleven steps between wide and telephoto it offers a lot of scope for precise framing.