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Given such a dismal list of features and options, at least overall performance isn't too embarrassing. The camera starts up in just under three seconds, which is about average for a camera in this class, and takes about the same time to shut down again. Shot-to-shot time is a little slow at 3.3 seconds, although this does speed up slightly to 3.1 seconds when using a faster xD Type H memory card. I can't test the continuous shooting speed, because the FE-290 has no continuous shooting mode.
Part of the reason for its slow shooting speed is the AF system, which takes well over a second to focus even in good light. It focuses reasonably well in reduced light, but even in a room lit by normal domestic lighting it fails to focus about one try in three. In lower light it simply doesn't focus at all, and it has no AF assist lamp.
So the FE-290 has virtually no features apart from its zoom range and monitor, overall performance that is merely average, and it costs £30 too much, but much of that could be forgiven if only it had really nice image quality. Sadly however, it does not. In fact the image quality is the weakest point of an already weak camera. When I saw the level of detail in my test shots, I thought for a moment that I'd accidentally taken them on the lower quality three-megapixel setting, but no, they were shot at the highest quality that the FE-290 has to offer. The pictures are massively over-processed, with very heavy-handed sharpening applied over every shot whether it needs it or not.
The lens isn't too bad, although it is a little soft towards the edges. It produces relatively little wide-angle barrel distortion, but it does produce the opposite; pincushion at the telephoto end. On top of that, there is visible noise and heavy noise reduction visible from 200 ISO, and even though the maximum is only 640 ISO, image quality at that setting is very poor. Colour reproduction, exposure and even dynamic range are all reasonably good, but this isn't enough to rescue a very disappointing camera.
The Olympus FE range is very unpredictable, with some very good cameras and some very poor ones. Unfortunately the FE-290 is one of the latter. Although it is attractively styled and well made, it has almost no features apart from its 4x wide-angle zoom and 3-inch monitor, lacking even such basics as white balance and continuous shooting. Performance is average at best, but the worst part is the very disappointing image quality. There are many better cameras that cost less.
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