The FE-5050’s main controls are mostly the same as previous FE models, with a rocker-switch zoom control and a square D-pad, although they are at least made of chrome-finished plastic rather than the awful see-through plastic of the FE-5020. The buttons are labelled with etched lettering, but it’s easier to read than is usually the case. The controls are well mounted, easy to access and operate with a nice positive action.
In terms of features it’ll come as little surprise that the FE-5050 isn’t all that different from the FE-5020. It’s a basic point-and-shoot camera designed for easy use, and has only the most basic range of options. Shooting modes consist of program auto, a scene mode with 13 scene programs, an automatic scene recognition mode and the “Magic” filter mode, which offers a limited range of creative filter effects. There is no continuous shooting mode, no exposure metering options and no tone adjustment, but at least it does allow manual selection of ISO setting and white balance, something that was lacking on some previous FE models.
Over the years I’ve repeatedly criticised Olympus’ menu system, which has always previously been ugly, awkward and slow to use. However the FE-5050 has a completely new menu system, and to my considerable surprise it is absolutely brilliant, although this is largely because it’s copied almost entirely from Casio. It has a permanent on-screen sidebar menu controlling most common shooting functions such as flash mode, macro focusing, self timer, exposure compensation, white balance and ISO. As with Casio’s system this is activated and navigated by the D-pad. As well as this there is a main menu, which thankfully does away with the pointless graphic front page in favour of a conventional tabbed multi-page menu system. There aren’t a lot of options on it in this case, but it’s still a massive improvement.
The video recording mode is very basic by current standards, offering only VGA (640 x 480) resolution at 30 frame a second with mono audio, and no optical zoom when shooting. The video and audio quality are pretty grim, not much better than you’d expect from a cell phone, and the microphone is very prone to wind noise.
Olympus has now completely abandoned the expensive and unpopular xD-Picture memory card format, and the FE-5050 accepts SD and SDHC cards, although it doesn’t appear to be compatible with the newer SDXC high-capacity format. This isn’t a major problem however, since those cards are mainly intended for use with HD video recording.