General Electric is very much an American company, but its General Imaging branded cameras are made in China to Japanese designs. Not that this is in any way a bad thing; most of our consumer electronics including the vast majority of digital cameras are made in China’s ever-growing number of high-tech manufacturing plants. Most of the other camera manufacturers follow this same highly successful Japanese design/Chinese manufacture business model; it’s the main reason why we can buy such amazingly high-tech devices so cheaply.
The range of features that the E840s has to offer is a bit generic, but not at all bad for the price. It has an 8.0-megapixel 1/2.5-inch CCD sensor, a 4x zoom f/3.4 – f/5.8 lens equivalent to 37-148mm, and a 2.7-inch 230k resolution LCD monitor. It has the usual three metering options (Matrix, centre-weighted or spot), a limited range of colour options, and 12 scene modes, again covering all the usual situations. It does have face detection, and also smile detection, something which Sony is still advertising as a unique feature. Both of these features appear to work tolerably well.
The E840s is equipped with electronic image stabilisation, which is applied in combination with boosted ISO to reduce camera shake in low light situations. It works pretty well, producing sharp images at shutter speeds as low as 1/30th of a second, but as usual it’s no substitute for a proper optical stabilisation system.
The control interface is also fairly generic, but again this is not really a bad thing, since it is often-used design ideas that tend to work best. Main mode selection is via a large eight-position dial which is positioned so that it also serves as a thumb-rest. It is easy enough to operate, but it is also quite easy to jog it accidentally. Below this is a D-pad with a central function menu button. Again, this isn’t a new idea, but it is well executed and easy to use. The D-pad also carries exposure compensation, flash mode, macro mode and self-timer controls.
The on-screen menus and the various status icons on the display are shared across all six models, but look as though they were designed for a much lower-resolution screen. They are clear enough to read but they do have some untidy-looking jagged edges.
My only major criticism with the control interface is the zoom lever, which on the E840s consists of a small, fiddly and seemingly quite flimsy rocker switch on the top plate. Other than that everything works as it should and the camera is easy and even pleasant to use.