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3/10

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Olympus FE-4000

All of the major digital camera manufacturers have wide product ranges with cameras designed and priced to suit almost every budget and aspiration, in most cases ranging from professional digital SLRs costing as much as £5,000, down to simple budget compacts selling for under £100. As I've often remarked in the past, buying a camera at this lower end of the market is a risky business, because the quality of the products on offer is so variable. As Panasonic, Pentax and Casio (among others) have repeatedly demonstrated it is perfectly possible to find a good digital camera for under £120, but for every bargain-priced gem there are half a dozen cheap plastic lemons, and even a recognised big-name brand is no guarantee of quality.

Which brings me, regrettably, to today's review camera. Olympus is one of the most respected names in the photographic industry. For more than 80 years it has been producing high quality cameras and has turned out many classic models, such as the PEN half-frame SLRs, the Trip 35mm compacts and the OM 35mm SLR system, and even today it makes some outstanding digital cameras, including the revolutionary Pen E-P1, the go-anywhere mju Tough series and the widely acclaimed E system digital SLRs. Unfortunately it also makes the FE series of low-cost compacts, tarnishing an otherwise enviable reputation with some of the worst compact digital cameras I've ever encountered, including the dismal FE-4000.

The FE-4000 is a point-and-shoot ultra-compact equipped with a 4x zoom lens with a wide angle equivalent to 26.3mm, a 2.7-inch 230k LCD monitor and a 12-megapixel CCD sensor. It is a very small and lightweight camera, measuring 95 x 57 x 22.4mm and weighing only 121g including battery and card. The camera body is all plastic, with a “Double Layered Crystal Shell” finish available in a range of five colours including dark grey, pure white, magenta, Arctic blue and the Tangerine orange shown here. The build quality is pretty poor even by budget camera standards. The body panels creak under even a gentle squeeze, and the battery/card hatch is extremely flimsy. That shiny metallic finish looks great straight out of the box, but it scratches easily and attracts finger marks like a magnet, so before long it looks dull and grubby. It is also very slippery and hard to grip, and feels greasy and mildly unpleasant to the touch.

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