The E840s’s general performance is also pretty good for such a cheap camera. It starts up in approximately two and a half seconds, which is perfectly reasonable, and shuts down again in about the same. Shot-to-shot cycle time in single-shot mode and maximum image quality is rather slow at approximately four seconds. In continuous shooting mode it can maintain a speed of well over a shot a second, which is pretty impressive, but it doesn’t focus between shots, so its usefulness for moving subjects is limited.
A limiting factor on the camera’s performance is the autofocus system, which is a little on the slow side, especially at longer zoom settings. Its low-light performance is surprisingly good though, and it is able to focus in the dark with reasonable reliability thanks to a good AF assist lamp with a range of about three metres.
So far the E840s is looking pretty good, especially considering its price, but unfortunately the camera does have one major annoyance. It has the worst shutter lag I’ve seen on a digital camera in several years. When you press the shutter button to take a picture, the camera focuses and then the monitor screen goes blank for about a second before the shot is taken, and stays blank for about another second and a half before the image preview appears. This is particularly annoying if you’re trying to frame a moving subject. Oddly it only does this in single-shot mode, so the best option for action shots is to use continuous mode but only take one shot.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the E840s is the image quality, which is much better than I had anticipated. It’s not really in the same league as some of the other compacts we’ve looked at lately, but then it costs half as much, and for a cheap camera it is really quite good. The lens produces some barrel distortion at wide-angle, but no worse than the £220 Nikon S600 I reviewed earlier this week, and while the overall image lacks a certain sharpness it is at least consistent from corner to corner. There is a little chromatic aberration towards the edges of the frame, but not enough to cause a problem in most circumstances.
Exposure metering is generally good, although it does have a tendency to burn out highlights in favour of shadow detail, mostly to compensate for the limited dynamic range of the small sensor. Colour rendition is also generally good, although again strong highlight colours such as bright reds and yellows tend to lack detail. Noise control is surprisingly good, and although there is some noise visible in shots as low as 200 ISO, photos are still quite printable at 800 ISO. I have seen much more expensive cameras produce worse results.
Considering its exceptionally low cost, the General Electric E840s is a much better camera than I had expected. It’s not without a couple of flaws, but its design, build quality, handling, performance and results are far from disappointing, and a fair match for similarly priced cameras from Casio, Pentax and Fujifilm. The only question is whether or not it is good enough to make an impact in an already overcrowded market.