Olympus FE-300 Review
|Dimensions:||3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
(94 x 57 x 22 mm)
|Weight:||4.7 oz (133 g)
Olympus FE-300 Overview
by Stephanie Boozer
Date Posted: 02/22/08
Leading the most recent additions to Olympus' FE series of consumer digital cameras, the FE-300 is ultra-slim and compact. Aimed at savvy amateurs, the Olympus FE-300 offers full automatic exposure control and a host of preset Scene modes, as well as a handful of user adjustable settings for tricky situations.
With its 12-megapixel Truepic III image sensor, the Olympus FE-300 captures large images with great detail, at resolutions as high as 4,000 x 3,000 pixels. In addition to its standard automatic exposure options, the Olympus FE-300 also features Digital Image Stabilization for better handling in low-lighting, Face Detection technology for both its AF and exposure systems, and a post-capture Perfect Fix menu for correcting common photo mistakes (such as Red-Eye and lighting).
The Olympus FE-300's 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to a 35-105mm camera, about standard for this class of digital camera, though Olympus included Digital zoom up to 4x and Fine Zoom up to 19x (though with limitations on resolution). Tiny and compact, the Olympus FE-300 fits easily into small pockets and purses, and is light weight to boot. Retailing at around $299 or less, the Olympus FE-300 is slightly on the high side for its class, but does offer a lot of megapixels and interesting exposure options in return.
Olympus FE-300 User Report
by Stephanie Boozer
Look and feel. Tiny and compact, though still with enough heft to take seriously, the Olympus FE-300 is clearly meant to go places. It should easily fit into small pockets and purses at just 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.87 inches (94 x 57 x 22 millimeters). With the battery and memory card, the Olympus FE-300 weighs 4.7 ounces (133 grams). The camera's brushed metal front panel is attractive, with shiny silver highlights to add interest. A thin, raised bump on the front panel is the only finger grip, but I still found it easy to hold onto the camera one-handed, as the Mode dial on the rear panel made a good thumbrest.
Because the Mode dial clicks into place securely with each setting, I didn't accidentally change camera modes while shooting. Though I could operate the Olympus FE-300 one-handed in most cases (larger hands may find it a little cramped), I found the square shape of the four-way rocker button on the rear panel a little awkward with one hand, and had to revert to a two-handed grip for better control. The same went for the rest of the rear panel controls, as they were a little difficult to actuate with just one hand. Still, I liked the Olympus FE-300's control layout, mainly because of its simplicity.
Olympus omitted the real-image optical viewfinder on the FE-300, leaving more room for the bright 2.5-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD display was quite bright and easy to see even under harsh sunlight, thanks to its non-reflective surface and a backlight feature. Frame accuracy was pretty good, though not the best we've seen, at about 97% frame accuracy at full wide angle. I appreciated the temporary exposure display that appears with a half-press of the Shutter button, reporting the selected aperture and shutter speeds. Though I couldn't manually change the Olympus FE-300's exposure, I did at least have a good idea of what the outcome would be. Add to this the camera's Perfect Shot Preview mode, which displays a series of thumbnails at different exposures whenever you change a setting like exposure compensation, and you get a very good idea of what your images will look like before capture. I liked seeing how positive or negative exposure compensation would affect my images, and found an excellent feature that novices could use.
4x Digital Zoom
The Olympus FE-300 has a 3x optical zoom lens, the equivalent of a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. In addition to its optical zoom, it offers as much as 4x digital enlargement, with seamless transition from optical to digital zoom. The Zoom lever on the top panel offers fairly fluid zoom control, though you can't set the zoom to any position. If you give the lever a little nudge, it stops at a predetermined zoom setting, not at any arbitrary setting you might want. This shouldn't pose a problem for most consumers, but it's worth mentioning.
In addition to the 4x Digital Zoom, the Olympus FE-300 also features Fine Zoom, which can enlarge an image as much as 19x, depending on the resolution. What Fine Zoom actually does is crop the image to a smaller resolution, making it appear to have additional zoom. No digital enlargement occurs, the image is merely cropped down, with the maximum 19x Fine Zoom at the lowest resolution setting. Cropping is actually preferable to the normal digital zoom, which crops and then resamples the image to equal a full-size image, because the end result is usually fuzzy.
The Olympus FE-300 does offer Digital Image Stabilization, but this is more of an ISO and shutter control than optical control. Useful in low-lit situations, Digital Image Stabilization optimizes the exposure toward higher ISO equivalents and faster shutter speeds, to reduce the chances of blurring from camera movement.
Barrel distortion at 35mm is 0.2%
Barrel distortion at 105mm is 0.1%
Optical distortion is surprisingly low with the Olympus FE-300's lens, as I measured only 0.2% barrel distortion at wide angle, much lower than average, and not very noticeable in its images. I also measured about 0.1% barrel distortion at full telephoto, but again, the distortion is really low. This is actually a pretty impressive result.
Interface. The Olympus FE-300 has very few external controls, as the camera operates mainly in automatic mode. The Power button and Zoom lever/Shutter button combination on the top panel are easily accessed with an index finger when shooting one-handed. Two buttons on the rear panel control the Olympus FE-300's main operating mode, either Record or Playback (just above the LCD monitor), and a notched Mode dial selects between the available recording modes: Auto, Program AE, Digital Image Stabilization, Portrait, Landscape, Scene, Guide, and Movie modes.
The Olympus FE-300's LCD menu system was fairly straightforward as well. A first press of the Menu button pulls up a shortcut screen, allowing you access to the main Camera, Setup, and Scene menus, as well as shortcuts to Silent Mode, Image Quality, and a Reset utility. Once you get into the Olympus FE-300's main menu screens, you simply scroll up and down through the available options. Quite straightforward.
When shooting, the Olympus FE-300's LCD monitor offers a very basic information overlay, containing image quality, resolution, and the number of available images. A random selection of camera mode icons will appear at the top of the screen if set to anything other than Auto, and the Exposure mode icon remains present at all times. Half-pressing the shutter button displays the exposure information, as well as focus and flash mode, all of which disappear the moment the button is released. Thus, you can at least see what the camera is doing. Unlike many consumer digital cameras, the Olympus FE-300 doesn't allow you to change the LCD display mode. You can, however, adjust the LCD brightness, or boost it for backlighting.
Modes. The Olympus FE-300 offers a full Auto exposure mode, as well as a standard Program AE mode. Full Auto takes care of everything, from exposure to white balance. You can keep the exposure under automatic control while expanding your creative tools by switching to Program AE mode. Here, you can adjust white balance and ISO, and control the flash mode as well. An interesting note about Auto mode, though, is that you can still access the camera's Exposure Compensation adjustment. When you press the up arrow of the Olympus FE-300's rocker button, an index display appears with tiny thumbnails of the image area with different levels of compensation applied, making it easy to quickly see which exposure you'd like to have.
The Olympus FE-300 offers a nice selection of preset Scene modes, two of which are accessible on the Mode dial: Portrait and Landscape. Through the Scene menu, however, you can choose among Night Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, and Smile Shot. Of special note here is the Olympus FE-300's Smile Shot mode, which automatically captures three consecutive frames at high speed when the camera automatically detects a smiling face. How many times have you had to throw out an image because the subject's eyes were closed? Part of Olympus' Face Detection technology, Smile Shot helps ensure you won't miss the shot because of fleeting facial expressions.
Special Features. The Olympus FE-300 also offers a Guide mode, accessed via the Mode dial. This mode automatically displays a menu of popular photography advice topics, with directions on how to set the camera to get the best shots. For example, under "Shooting into Backlight," the camera advises you on how to set the Olympus FE-300's flash and increase the exposure compensation, and provides access to those adjustments. The Guide encompasses a total of 13 common tricky photography scenarios, helping you learn how to deal with them in the future. This is a great idea for novices, as they can instantly improve their skills while out in the world, instead of waiting to get home and look it up in a book or online.
The Olympus FE-300 also features a movie mode with sound, which records moving images at 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels. The highest resolution records at 30 frames per second, while the remaining two record at 15 fps. Playback mode provides a few minor movie editing tools, including reverse play and frame-by-frame display. You can also record short audio clips to accompany still images, via an Audio setting in the Camera menu.
Common to most Olympus digital cameras is a Panorama mode, though it's only available when an Olympus-brand xD-Picture Card is in use. In this mode, you can capture as many as 10 consecutive frames on the Olympus FE-300, which can then be stitched together with the Olympus software on a computer post-capture. A set of guidelines helps you line up each shot.
Another unique offering on the Olympus FE-300 is the Perfect Fix option of the Playback menu. You can choose between Digital Image Stabilization Edit, Lighting Fix, or Red-Eye Fix, or All. Another great idea for novices, the Perfect Fix option lets you quickly correct minor mistakes without waiting to download images, useful if you might be printing straight from the camera.
Storage and battery. While the Olympus FE-300 accepts xD-Picture Cards via a tiny slot next to the battery in a compartment on its bottom panel, the camera also has about 48MB of internal memory. A card does not come with the camera, so you'll want to purchase a large capacity xD memory card straight away, as the internal memory holds a maximum of eight large/fine JPEGs, which are about 5.9MB each.
The Olympus FE-300 uses a custom, rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power, and comes with both a battery and charger. In our testing, we found that a fully charged battery would get you about 300 shots, which is pretty good. I'd still recommend picking up a spare battery and keeping it freshly charged and on-hand, especially for longer outings.
Shooting. Overall, shooting with the Olympus FE-300 was a breeze. Finding the right camera mode and settings was very straightforward, since the camera primarily operates in automatic mode. The LCD monitor was bright and easy to see even in very bright sunlight, thanks in part to the anti-reflective coating on its surface. The camera also has an LCD backlight feature that aided in framing in the bright sunlight.
The Olympus FE-300's response times were on the slower side of average, however, beginning with its slightly slow start-up time of 2.49 seconds. Mode switching was also a little sluggish, but not terrible. Shutter lag was again on the slow side, at about 0.99 seconds at wide angle, and about 1.35 seconds at telephoto, though "prefocus" times (half-pressing and holding the Shutter button) were zippy at 0.08 seconds. Shot-to-shot cycle times were markedly slow at a whopping 4.00 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, and 2.77 seconds for the smallest resolution. Thus, the FE-300 may not be the perfect choice for capturing fast-paced action. Even when I was out shooting landscapes, the slower lag time was a hindrance. Snapping portraits of my four-year-old wasn't much of a challenge, since she can sit still for a reasonable amount of time, but chasing a speed-crawling 10-month-old proved too difficult for the Olympus FE-300.
Image quality. The Olympus FE-300 captures natural-looking color, though with slightly oversaturated reds and blues, and even some of the yellows. Since many consumers actually prefer stronger, more vibrant color, the FE-300's performance here should please many. While the reds are quite bright, they aren't so bright that they lose all detail. The large cyan fabric square stands out most among the bright tones in this image, evidence of the camera's attempt to push blues for better-looking skies.
The FE-300 did a good job capturing fine detail in the Still Life shot. Above are crops from the bottles about center in the image. In the crop above right, the mosaic loses some of its detail in the woman's shirt, shawl, and skin, thanks to some noise suppression. Still, results are good, with a lot of fine detail present at ISO 50.
The FE-300 produces low image noise at the 50 and 100 ISO equivalents, but noise creeps up with the 200 and 400 settings.
Image noise becomes obtrusive at ISOs 800 and 1,600, blurring detail quite a bit. At the maximum settings of 3,200 and 6,400, image resolution is limited to the 2,048 x 1,536-pixel setting. Despite this attempt at reducing the effects of increased noise, the images here look more like illustrations than photographs, as the FE-300's noise pattern greatly reduces fine detail and definition. You can make good 11x14-inch prints from ISO 50 and 100 images, and a good 8x10 from ISO 200 images. ISO 400 prints are better kept to 5x7, though, and 800 and 1,600 are better at 4x6. ISO 3,200 and 6,400 images are only good for small Web reproduction. Overall, this isn't the best performance for a 12-megapixel digital camera, but it'll do for most snapshooters.
Wide: Very high and bright,
top left @ 200%
Wide: Quite bright,
top right @ 200%
One area where the FE-300 could use a little improvement is in reigning in the chromatic aberration at full wide angle. In the crops above, the distortion is very strong and quite noticeable in full wide angle images. A significant amount of blurring in the corners at wide angle is no doubt intensifying the effect. At full telephoto, results are much better. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)
35mm eq., about 98% frame accuracy
105mm eq., about 97% frame accuracy
The FE-300's LCD monitor proved fairly accurate at both zoom settings. Results were just a hair tight at full telephoto, but still good.
Program AE, Auto Flash
Program AE, No Flash
Indoor Portrait Mode
The images above show a common yet tricky exposure situation. The combination of bright window light, dim tree lights and a dark foreground make this a commonly difficult image to get good results with. The FE-300's Program AE mode handled the situation fairly well, though the flash gave the image an unnatural feel and the shot without the flash was too dark on the girl's face. Switching to Indoor Portrait mode produced similar results to the Program mode, but the camera cranked up the ISO to speed up the shutter, thus increasing image noise.
Program AE, no flash
Digital IS Off
Program AE, no flash
Digital IS On
Given that the exposure in the standard Program AE mode without the flash was too slow to hand-hold, I tried switching on the camera's Digital Image Stabilization to reduce blur. Though the camera does increase the shutter speed, it also ups the ISO to 800, which results in stronger blurring in the fine details. Thus, you're better off in this instance with the standard exposure mode, no flash, and a tripod.
Program AE exposure
I also played around with the Olympus FE-300's Perfect Fix option in Playback mode. You can choose between a Digital Image Stabilization Edit, Lighting Fix, or Red-Eye Fix, or All. I chose the All option, which did correct the small amount of Red-Eye from the Auto flash setting, as well as boosted the exposure. Though the highlights on the girl's face are a bit too bright and washed out, I can see the Perfect Fix option coming in handy in many situations. An interesting tool.
Appraisal. Overall, the Olympus FE-300's images were pleasing under average conditions, and still pretty good under dim lighting. Image noise was definitely a problem with increased ISOs, compromising the value of some of the FE-300's preset Scene modes such as Indoor Portrait and Candle. Additionally, the benefits of the camera's Digital Image Stabilization technology were almost lost due to blurring from the raised ISO setting. So, while the Olympus FE-300 is definitely capable of getting better exposures under lower lighting, the trade-offs are higher image noise and less detail definition. Depending on your final print size, this may not be too much of an issue for most consumers. There's always the argument that a slightly noisy image would be better than a bad exposure. My only other area of complaint on the FE-300 is its timing. It's slow for a consumer point-and-shoot, doesn't offer a continuous shooting mode, which isn't ideal for photographing small children. However, if that's not your aim, the Olympus FE-300 is quite capable enough for travel photography and normal activities.
What the Olympus FE-300 has going for it is its small size, large CCD, and well-rounded complement of automatic exposure features and preset modes. The Perfect Fix option in Playback mode is a useful tool for common problems, and the informative Guide mode will help some users learn how to tackle more tricky situations. The Olympus FE-300 is an excellent choice for novices, and offers a lot of resolution for the money. Olympus features such as Face Detection and the TruePic III Processor are also nice benefits.
- 12-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 4,000 x 3,000 pixels
- 3x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm lens
- As much as 4x digital zoom and 19x Fine Zoom
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor with Backlight Boost
- Automatic exposure control
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 4 seconds
- Maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/4.7, depending on zoom position
- Built-in flash with four modes
- Multi-Terminal connects to USB and AV cables, both included
- Power from one custom, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, charger included
- xD-Picture Card memory slot
- 48MB internal memory
- Software CD with Olympus Master 2 for Windows and Macintosh computers
- Macro and Super Macro focus modes
- iESP Auto, Spot, and Face Detection AF modes
- Adjustable ISO from 50 to 6,400 equivalents
- Digital ESP and Face Detection metering
- Adjustable White Balance setting with 7 preset modes
- Digital Image Stabilization mode
- 14 preset Scene modes
- Movie mode with sound
- Panorama mode with Olympus brand xD-Picture Cards
- Shooting Guide and Perfect Shot Preview modes
- Post-capture editing tools including Red-Eye Fix, Lighting Fix, etc.
- 12-second Self-Timer mode
- Spare battery pack
- Soft carrying case
- Large capacity xD memory card. (These days, 1GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, go for 2GB.)
Though it isn't as responsive as some consumer models, the Olympus FE-300 is quite capable of handling average shooting situations. Its extended ISO offerings mean you can get much better exposures in very low lighting, but the downside is high noise in many cases. Still, the camera's Digital Image Stabilization and Face Detection technology go a long way toward improving images.
If your aim is to capture good snapshots and print them at mostly small sizes, the FE-300 deserves a look. However, its printed results prevent the Olympus FE-300 from making a Dave's Pick.
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