I don't tend to review many budget cameras, because if you're looking for the cheapest option you don't usually need a review to tell you what you're going to find. Typical budget compacts have a very limited set of features, with low quality 3x zoom lenses, poor performance and distinctly sub-standard build quality. Therefore I was somewhat surprised to discover that Olympus has added to its FE series of budget compacts the FE-5020, which sports a 12-megapixel sensor, a 5x zoom lens with a 24mm-equivalent wide-angle and a 2.7-inch 230k LCD monitor, all for a price of only £125. I had to take a look.
I've reviewed quite a few previous FE series cameras, and the fairest thing I can say about them is that some have been better than others. There were a few really dire ones, such as the 2006 FE-150, the 2007 FE-230 or the 2008 FE-290, but some others were really not bad, such as the 2007 FE-250 or last year's FE-340. The FE series has always been at the lower end of the Olympus product line, and a long way from the company's flagship cameras like the E-620 digital SLR or the innovative Pen E-P1.
At first glance the FE-5020 looks like any typical low-cost ultra-compact. It has an all-plastic body, and is available in a range of four colours; black, brown, metallic blue or white, with chrome-coloured plastic trim. It's a very slim and lightweight camera, made for slipping into a shirt pocket for a night out, and is designed with an eye to style. The overall build quality is about what you'd expect for a budget camera. The actual fit and finish is reasonably good, but the materials feel cheap. The plastic is quite thin in places and the camera feels a bit flimsy and fragile, especially the battery/card hatch which looks like it could snap off with little provocation.
The deep colour and shiny finish of the body certainly looks good, but the high-gloss surface feels quite unpleasant to the touch, with an almost oily quality. It is very difficult to grip securely, and the crowded rear panel leaves no room for the thumb, which makes the camera awkward to handle. It's very difficult to hold the camera one-handed without blocking the flash with the right middle finger. The controls on the back are cheap-looking rounded transparent plastic buttons which provide little tactile feedback, with recessed labels that are difficult to see in dim light.