by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 05/22/08
Joining in the trend to re-energize the staid, seemingly all-silver world of digital cameras, the Olympus FE-340 offers a fun selection of body colors (pink, red, and blue), though you can also choose more conservative silver and black styles if that's more to your liking. But the Olympus FE-340 is more than just colorful fun, the camera also offers 5x optical zoom, 8.0 megapixels, Face Detection, Smile Shot, Digital Image Stabilization, and a large LCD screen. It's also very trim and compact, perfect for pockets.
Everything about the Olympus FE-340 says it is meant to be fun and carefree, from its selection of 15 preset Scene modes to its available auto functions and aesthetic design. Offering more than the typical digital camera's optical zoom, the Olympus FE-340's 5x optical zoom lens covers a range equivalent to 36-180mm on a 35mm camera, with an additional maximum 4x digital zoom available. Face Detection helps you get better portrait shots, as the camera seeks out faces in compositions and automatically bases exposure and focus on them. Olympus takes this a bit further with their Smile Shot mode, which automatically seeks out smiling faces. An amazingly useful mode, especially for photographing children. Other fun and unique features on the Olympus FE-340 include a Perfect Shot Preview mode, in-camera help guides, a large 2.7-inch LCD monitor, in-camera editing options, and Digital Image Stabilization.
With an initial MSRP of US$199.99, the Olympus FE-340 is an excellent deal. You get a lot of resolution and a good zoom lens, plus a nice array of helpful exposure modes and creative options. The available exposure modes also accommodate a wide range of user experience levels, making the Olympus FE-340 an attractive option for novices as well as more advanced users.
by Stephanie Boozer
Thin, compact, and cute? The Olympus FE-340 joins the growing trend of more personable digital camera designs. You can choose between eye-catching colors like pink, navy, or red, or stick with silver or black bodies. Whatever color you choose, the Olympus FE-340 has a super-thin body style that easily fits most pockets and small purses. With a retractable lens that withdraws fully into the camera body, the FE-340's front panel has no major protrusions when the lens is stowed. Weighing in at 4.6 ounces (132 grams) with the battery, and measuring 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches (97 x 58 x 18 millimeters), the FE-340 is compact and light weight, perfect for travel.
With its 8.0-megapixel CCD, 5x optical zoom lens, and 2.7-inch color LCD display, the Olympus FE-340 offers a lot for its low price. Novice users will appreciate the available in-camera shooting guides for stepping up their knowledge, while more advanced users will like the in-camera editing tools and expanded shooting options. With 15 preset Scene modes, Face Detection, Smile Shot, and Digital Image Stabilization settings, the Olympus FE-340 can handle just about any situation.
Look and feel. Despite its rather thin body, the Olympus FE-340 was fairly comfortable in my medium-sized hand. Shooting one-handed wasn't too awkward, as the Shutter button, Mode dial and Zoom lever were within easy reach.
However, delving into the LCD menu system or making other mode changes (such as accessing EV compensation) were definitely easier with a two-handed grip. The camera's small size leaves no space for a true handgrip, but there is a small, thin raised finger rest on the front panel, and the edge of the slightly raised LCD display area makes a good thumb rest.
Camera controls are minimal, consisting of only a few buttons sprinkled on the rear and top panels. Options like exposure compensation, macro mode, flash mode, and the self-timer can all be accessed via control buttons, while more advanced features like white balance and ISO require the menu system.
A large, bright, 2.7-inch color LCD monitor leaves just enough space on the rear panel for a small cluster of controls. Though its surface is highly reflective (which also means easily smudged), the Olympus FE-340's LCD is fairly bright outdoors. You can boost the LCD brightness via the LCD Brightness / Erase button on the rear panel when needed. The Olympus FE-340 also offers a Gridline display mode, which divides the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, to help you line up shots, accessed through the Display button.
Lens. The Olympus FE-340 offers a 5x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 36-180mm zoom on a 35mm camera, a generous zoom range compared to other consumer digital cameras in this class.
4x Digital Zoom
In addition to the 5x optical zoom, the Olympus FE-340 offers as much as 4x digital zoom. We like to remind readers that digital zoom often results in lower resolution and detail, because the camera is simply cropping the center of the frame and enlarging it.
Interface. In Program AE mode, half-pressing the Shutter button displays the camera's selected aperture and shutter speed settings in the LCD display. So while you can't directly control the exposure, you can at least see what the camera deems is appropriate, and either adjust the EV compensation or enable the flash.
The Olympus FE-340's menu system is fairly straightforward. A short-cut menu screen appears at the first press of the Menu button, offering quick links to commonly-used features, or you can skip through to the main Camera Menu, which is a fairly standard tabbed interface. There's also a shorter Function menu for more commonly-used settings like white balance and resolution.
With 15 preset Scene modes, Auto and Program AE exposure modes, and a nice selection of exposure tools such as ISO, white balance, EV compensation and metering options, the Olympus FE-340 can handle a variety of shooting conditions. Accessing all of these modes and options is fairly uncomplicated, as the Olympus FE-340's external controls were easy to identify and the LCD menu system logically laid out. The Mode dial on the rear panel controls the main exposure mode, and there are only a few external controls available for parameters like zoom, flash mode, EV compensation, macro mode, and the self-timer setting. All other changes are made either through the main Record menu or through the Function menu, the latter of which is accessed by pressing the OK/Function button in the center of the Multi-controller.
The Olympus FE-340's main menu is laid out similarly to other Olympus digital cameras, with an initial shortcut screen directing you either to the main Camera menu, or to Setup, Silent Mode, Image Quality, Scene, or Reset options. Once in the main Camera menu, selections are displayed in a tabbed interface, and you simply use the up and down arrow keys to scroll. Exposure options such as white balance, ISO, resolution, and quality are available through the Function menu, which overlays the image display area in the LCD monitor. The FE-340 features what Olympus titles Perfect Shot Preview mode, which essentially displays smaller thumbnails of the image composition with varying levels of adjustment applied. For example, when you access the EV compensation adjustment, four smaller thumbnails appear, demonstrating the effect of each step of EV compensation. Thus, you can quickly choose the best image. When setting the white balance (accessed through the main Camera menu), the image display adjusts as you scroll through the available options, giving you an idea of the final outcome.
Modes. The Mode dial on the Olympus FE-340's rear panel controls the main shooting mode, offering Auto, Program AE, Digital Image Stabilization, Portrait, Landscape, Scene, Guide, and Movie modes. Auto and Program AE modes both keep the basic exposure (aperture and shutter speed) under automatic control, but Auto mode also keeps options like white balance, AF mode, ISO, etc. under auto control while Program AE provides more user control here. The Scene position of the Mode dial provides access to the remaining preset modes that do not have places on the Mode dial, namely Night Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, and Smile Shot. Once a mode is highlighted in the Scene menu, a short description appears on the LCD monitor explaining how it works.
Smile Shot Mode
Most of the preset modes are self explanatory, though a couple deserve special mention. Smile Shot is an intelligent mode that uses Face Detection automatically detect smiling faces, basing focus and exposure on the faces it finds in the frame. The camera automatically snaps three images in quick succession when it detects the smiling face or faces, like those in the series above. As I've noted in other digital camera reviews that feature smile detection, this is an absolutely ingenious tool for parents of small children. It's also great for small groups, where it can be hard to hit the shutter at that magic moment when everyone is smiling.
Some other noteworthy scene modes are Self Portrait and Auction. Self Portrait mode is for pointing the camera back at yourself, and optimizes the exposure and focus for better self-portraits in front of scenery -- great for those travel shots that prove you really did make it to the top of the mountain or survive a rainforest zip-line course. Auction mode is another useful tool in the days of online auction sites, as it captures a series of three images at different exposures (like an auto-bracketing mode) in a lower resolution more suited to online posting. Each of the Scene modes offers varying levels of user adjustment, as the camera typically keeps most exposure options under auto control.
In Program AE mode, however, you have a nice range of exposure tools to choose from. White balance and ISO settings are available through the Function menu, while other tools like AF mode, Fine Zoom and Sound Caption are available through the Camera menu.
Special Features. Like many Olympus-brand digital cameras, the FE-340 offers a Panorama shooting mode when any Olympus-brand memory card is inserted into the camera. (Without the card, the option appears grayed-out in the Camera menu.) Panorama mode lets you capture a series of images to be stitched together on a computer later, and a set of framing guidelines help you line up each sequential shot. The Olympus FE-340 also features a Movie mode with sound, which records movie files at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, at either 30 or 15 frames per second.
An interesting mode on the Olympus FE-340 is the Guide mode, accessed through the Mode dial. Novices will appreciate this mode, which displays 14 common shooting questions and issues, from reducing blur to shooting backlit subjects, and offers useful information on how to get good results.
The camera's Playback menu has a few expanded editing tools that some consumers might appreciate. Under the Perfect Fix setting, you can opt to apply Digital Image Stabilization to minimize blur, perform a Lighting Fix for underexposures, or remove Red-eye with the Red-eye Fix. The Edit option under the Playback menu lets you perform an Expression Edit and Face Focus. Expression Edit literally lets you change a person's facial expression. This feature only works when a subject's face takes up most of the frame, and the camera presents four versions of the image on-screen for you to choose from. The effects were fairly subtle, but in a couple of shots it looked like the camera was flipping the smile upside down and either stretching or exaggerating other facial features a little. The Face Focus option sharpens focus on the subject's face while simultaneously blurring the background a little. Honestly, I'm not sure why you'd spend much time with the Expression Edit option, but Face Focus seems like a useful tool if your portraits didn't stand out enough.
Storage and battery. The Olympus FE-340 accepts xD-Picture Cards, but does not come with a card. The camera also includes about 48MB of internal memory, which can hold about 12 full resolution images. Of course, we always recommend picking up a large capacity xD memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
For power, the Olympus FE-340 uses a single, custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and ships with both the battery and charger. You can purchase an AC adaptor as a separate accessory, and we highly recommend picking up a spare battery and keeping it freshly charged and on-hand for extended outings.
Shooting. The Olympus FE-340 was an easy camera to get to know, as it has limited external controls and only a few menu options to deal with. And, when shooting in the fully automatic modes, you don't have to worry about much other than resolution or zoom. In terms of timing, the FE-340 ranged from good to a bit sluggish, depending on the task at hand. Startup time was quite slow, at 2.5 seconds, but shutter lag was good at both wide angle and telephoto (0.31 and 0.49 second respectively). Shot to shot cycle times dragged at 2.44 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, but keep in mind that file sizes are fairly large here. Download speeds were zippy at 4,216 KB per second.
Image quality. The Olympus FE-340 performed pretty well overall, producing generally good color and exposure. Strong reds and blues tended toward oversaturation, but overall color was still pleasing, especially considering that most consumers like slightly more saturated color.
Good detail in the mosaic pattern,
with minimal blurring.
Evidence of blurring in the lower
left corner, extending far into the frame.
The Olympus FE-340 captures a lot of fine detail, with very modest noise suppression blurring detail only slightly at ISO 64. In the crop above left, the mosaic shows good detail, with little smudging in the clothing and skin features. The crop above right shows how far blurring extends into the lower left portion of the frame from a small amount of lens distortion.
The crops above represent an abbreviated ISO series, showing noise levels at the lowest and mid-range setting, and highest full-res ISO setting. Noise is quite minimal at the Olympus FE-340's lowest ISO setting, but noise artifacts are still visible, particularly in the gray areas of the target. At ISO 400, the noise pattern is more pronounced, and while noise pixels aren't terribly colorful, the noise pattern does interfere with detail definition. At the highest settings, the effect becomes more dramatic, blurring detail quite a bit.
Strong detail to
1,300~1,400 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,300 lines vertical
The Olympus FE-340's 8.0-megapixel CCD captured fairly high-resolution images. Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,300-1,400 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,300 lines vertically. Extinction occurred around 1,850 lines.
Appraisal. Despite its slightly sluggish cycle times and so-so performance in terms of image noise, the Olympus FE-340 performed fairly well overall. General color and exposure are about right and pleasing, and the camera seems to handle the normal range of lighting and exposure conditions well. Image noise creeps up a little and can be distracting even at the normal ISOs, and overall detail isn't as sharp as it could be, but results are still good. With its MSRP of US$199.99, the FE-340 offers a lot of intuitive functions that many novices will greatly appreciate, plus the benefit of slightly expanded user control if desired. With its Face Detection and Smile Shot modes, the Olympus FE-340 is definitely aimed at family and portrait photo opportunities, and should perform well in that regard.
Olympus FE-340 Basic Features
- 8.0-megapixel CCD (effective) delivers image resolutions as high as 3,264 x 2,448 pixels
- 5x optical zoom lens, equivalent to 36-180mm
- As much as 4x digital zoom
- 2.7-inch color LCD monitor
- iESP, Spot, and Face Detect AF modes
- Auto and Program AE exposure modes
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds, depending on mode
- Maximum aperture range from f/3.5 - f/5.6, depending on zoom position
- Built-in flash with four modes
- xD-Picture Card memory slot
- 48MB internal memory
- Power from custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
- Multi-connector for A/V television connection and USB 2.0 connection
- PictBridge compatible
Olympus FE-340 Special Features
- 15 preset Scene modes
- Movie mode with sound
- Sound caption option for still images
- Panorama mode with Olympus brand xD-Picture Cards
- Digital Image Stabilization
- Face Detection enabled Smile Shot mode
- Macro, Super Macro and Self-Timer modes
- Digital iESP and Face Detection metering modes (auto controlled)
- Adjustable ISO from 64 to 3,200 equivalents, plus an Auto setting
- Adjustable white balance with seven settings
- In-camera editing menu for correcting common mistakes
- Soft carrying case
- Backup rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity xD memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Olympus FE-340 Conclusion
The Olympus FE-340 is pocketable and user friendly, and boasts a very nice selection of preset scene modes, auto modes and useful in-camera guides and correction tools. It's an excellent choice for novices who want to learn slowly, and for anyone who takes primarily portraits. Its 8.0-megapixel CCD captures fairly high resolution images, with good overall detail, though finer details are a bit on the soft side. Our sample also produced soft images in the lower left corner. Image noise plays a part here, particularly in the higher ISO settings. Still, useful tools like Face Detection and Smile Shot will attract many consumers, and the camera's flexible range of presets are useful in a wide variety of situations. All in all, not a bad camera at US$199.99 MSRP -- and its fun selection of body colors will turn some heads.