Apart from its unusual zoom range and large monitor, the FE-290 is a bit short on features, and by short I mean it could walk under a duck without taking its hat off. Shooting modes are limited to program auto, full auto, portrait, landscape, high-ISO mode and a selection of just 11 very basic scene modes. The main menu is, as usual, pointlessly fussy, especially considering the extremely limited range of options available. It has a front page with up/down/left/right navigation for five sub menus, but two of these only have one option, and even the main camera menu has only three. It would have been far easier and less confusing to put everything the camera can do onto one simple two-page menu. As it stands it requires a lot of button pressing to discover that there’s hardly anything you can adjust in there anyway. The set-up menu contains the usual options for date, time and language setting, card formatting, beep volume and video output mode, but once these are first set you’ll probably never use them again. The main camera options menu consists of just three options: ISO setting (64-640), voice recording (on/off) and panorama stitching. There are no metering options, focus modes, or colour correction. There aren’t even any options for continuous shooting or white balance setting, and you can’t turn the digital zoom off. The really stupid thing though is that in full auto mode even these few options are disabled, in case they were too complicated. I’ve heard of dumbing down, but this is just depressing.
The video shooting capabilities of most of the recent Olympus cameras have been a bit lacklustre, but the FE-290 is particularly poor. It can shoot in 640 x 480 resolution, but only at a maximum of 15 frames per second, and clip length is limited to 29 minutes. The zoom lens cannot be used while filming (no surprise there), but the digital zoom that replaces it is stepped in large but unevenly spaced increments, and jerks from one step to the next.
The list of options in playback mode is equally limited. You can re-size your pictures to either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, and rotate them. You can view your pictures as a slide show or flag your favourites for printing, but that’s pretty much it. Forget red-eye correction, filtering or colour adjustment, or even frames.
You can probably tell that I’m finding it extremely difficult to think of something positive to say about the FE-290. The 28-112mm zoom range is useful, especially the wide-angle end, but even that isn’t as unusual as it used to be. The zoom control isn’t too bad, with 11 steps between minimum and maximum focal length, although the fact that the digital zoom can’t be switched off does mean that if you go too far you end up in picture-ruining territory. The built-in flash is also quite good, with a range of 3.9m at wide angle and good exposure even at close range.
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