One of four simultaneously announced new FE-series digital camera models with approachable, beginner-friendly features, the Olympus FE-250 has been shipping since February 2007, with a list price of $300. The Olympus FE-250 combines an eight megapixel CCD imager, an Olympus-branded 3x optical zoom lens, and a 2.5 inch LCD display in a pocket-friendly body. The FE-250 aims to keep things simple, with 13 Scene modes that make it easy to get the shot without understanding the subtleties of shutter speeds, apertures and suchlike.
In addition to its 20MB of built-in memory, images can be stored on xD-Picture cards. The FE-250 offers a maximum ISO sensitivity of 3,200, with the ability to bump this to ISO 10,000 equivalent at reduced resolution. (We do caution readers to take claims of extremely high ISO settings with a large grain of salt though – Images shot with such extreme settings may be of questionable value, even for 4×6 inch snapshots.) The FE2-50 also has a VGA Movie mode with sound at a frame rate of 30 fps. Power comes from a proprietary Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. There’s also USB computer connectivity, and video out to let you see your photos on a television.
Olympus FE-250 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. Let’s just start this review by admitting I had a lot more fun with the Olympus FE-250 than I usually have with an entry-level digicam. Sure, I had to give up some of my favorite tricks (like shutter priority shooting) but I didn’t mind the holiday. Sometimes you just want a camera that’s smart enough to take snapshots effortlessly. The FE-250 is that smart — and that simple.
I like to set the shutter speed to 1/30 second when I shoot in dim light so I avoid blurry images. But I also like to crank the ISO up to 400 to register as much of the scene as I can. With the FE-250, I took advantage of its high ISO sensitivity, setting the ISO to 1,600. I didn’t have to worry about the shutter speed at that ISO setting. Simple. Smart. Shots captured at ISO 1,600 made rather soft-looking 8×10 inch prints, but I found them fine for viewing on a wall, at typical distances of a couple of feet or so. They were still slightly soft at 5×7, but looked great as 4×6 inch snapshots.
Eight megapixel sensors can make for noisy images, but Olympus has found a good use for all those pixels: Average groups of them together, reducing the noise. At ISO settings over 3200 (and there are two: 6400 and 10,000) you’re shooting 3-Mp images, not 8-Mp images. Normally, 3 megapixels would be enough resolution to make decent 8×10 inch prints, but the noise processing applied to these very high-ISO images from the Olympus FE-250 meant that they were really only usable for 4×6 inch snapshot prints. Still, given the choice between getting a blurred mess (from camera or subject movement) vs a slightly soft 4×6 inch snapshot, I’d take the latter any day of the week.
In another twist on making good use of fewer pixels, the Olympus FE-250 can also drop down to 3 megapixel resolution for super-fast motor-drive performance (in this case 15 fps). Two different requirements, two smart ways to use an 8-Mp sensor.
The Olympus FE-250 also smart enough to help you solve some common shooting problems. Guide mode lists a number of problems you may stumble across. With a click of the Right arrow, the FE-250 tells you how to handle the problem and, at the same time, sets itself up for you. Some examples include “Brightening the image,” “Super close up photo,” “Shooting at night” and many more.
The Olympus FE-250 doesn’t overwhelm you with dozens of Scene modes, either. The most common ones are right on the dial: Portrait, Landscape and Night Portrait. And there’s a Scene mode with a few more like Candles and Document for more specific situations.
The size is right, too. Compact enough to take with you everywhere but not so small you can’t actually grip it. And the LCD is large enough to show off your shots right away.
Design. I find the FE-250 both attractive and intelligently designed. Compromises? Not on the FE-250.
Take a look at the bottom plate to see what I mean. You’ll find the speaker there where it can resonate off whatever surface you place the camera on, adding a little depth to the otherwise small sound. (If you set it down flat on a surface, the sound can be muffled, but if the lens is extended, you can tilt the camera forward (gently!) so its resting on its lens. This lets the sound bounce up off any flat surface the camera is resting on, directing it very nicely toward your ears.) And the tripod mount, though plastic, is far enough from the battery/card compartment that you can attach a quick release mount or tripod and still open the compartment. Not a lot of cameras get the bottom plate right.
The same is true of the control layout. On the top panel, you can’t miss the Power button. It’s small enough to not intrude during normal operation but easy to find. The Shutter button is large and prominent and surrounded by the Zoom level with a prominent knob to help you push it left or right. You just can’t confuse these things on the FE-250.
The back panel gets away with the minimum number of buttons. A pair above the LCD to switch between Record and Playback, a smooth Mode dial, a large four-way navigator that’s no cheapie, with an OK/Function button in the center and a Menu button and Erase button below the navigator. Simple.
The chrome accents on the brushed steel body are attractive, the lens surrounded by a series of concentric circles like the pattern a rock makes dropped in a pond. The microphone is tucked under the lens where your fingers won’t muffle it. The small flash next to the self-timer lamp in the corner barely makes a ripple. And the sliver of a finger grip is handy and stylish. I might wish for a bit more room for my thumb on the back panel, but you can safely put it on the Mode dial once it’s set. Smart.
This is a light digicam. You do notice that it’s in your shirt pocket, but it’s not obtrusive in the slightest. The Shutter button is sensitive enough that you don’t jar the camera when you take a shot. So it feels well balanced despite its lack of heft.
I wish all digicams were as simply and elegantly designed as the FE-250. It may seem ordinary on a shelf full of similar slim silver digicams, but it stands out from the crowd when you actually use it.
Display/Viewfinder. There isn’t an optical viewfinder on the FE-250, like most cameras in its class. The real question is how difficult it is to use the LCD in bright sunlight.