We test color accuracy by photographing an industry standard GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart, and running the images through Imatest. The ColorChecker is made up of 24 tiles of different colors from around the color spectrum. Many of the colors are what you would find in common scenes: grass greens, sky blues, and flesh tones. We determined the FE-250’s color accuracy by comparing the actual color of the chart with the color the camera reproduced. This is shown in the image below. The outside square is the color the camera reproduced, the inside square is the color of the chart corrected for luminance, and the tiny rectangle is the ideal color of the chart.

FE250-Colors.jpg

As you can see, almost every color tile is significantly different than what the camera reproduced. The following graph shows this in a more discrete way, by plotting each of the ideal chart colors (the squares), and each of the corresponding colors the camera reproduced (the circles). The graph’s background represents the entire color spectrum, and shows how the camera’s colors have strayed from the ideal chart colors. Saturation increases as colors get further from the center of the graph. The line connecting the squares and the circles represents the color error. The longer the line is, the more inaccurate the color.

FE250-Vid-3000lux-ColorER.jpg

This is an extremely poor color score, and is an example of what happens when white balance can’t be adjusted. Because the white balance is so off, every color the camera shoots will be shifted. As you can see, the blues have turned purple, the greens have turned yellow, and the yellows have lost saturation.

White Balance*(4.49)

Auto (8.99)*

Preset (0.00)

In addition to testing color accuracy, we test white balance accuracy by shooting the ColorChecker under different types of light. Normally we test both the auto white balance setting as well as the preset white balance settings under four different types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor cloudy, and tungsten. However, the FE-250 doesn’t have white balance presets, so we could only test the auto settings. Additionally, the FE-250 has no auto focus assist light, which prevented us from testing the white balance using flash. We typically test flash white balance without additional light shining on the ColorChecker so it doesn’t throw off the white balance. The absence of an auto focus assist light prevented us from focusing on the chart.

The FE-250 had mixed results under the three different types of light. Under outdoor cloudy light it was very accurate, under fluorescent it was mediocre, and under tungsten it was terrible. The real problem is that if your images are coming out very strange colors, there is nothing you can do about it, because there is no way to change the white balance. This is readily apparent in our still life images further down the page. Notice that a couple of the images have a yellow cast to them. This is because the camera would sometimes change the white balance when the ISO was changed, and would stay that way no matter how many photos were taken. Get used to these sorts of "fun" surprises with the Olympus FE-250.

Still Life

Click to view the high-resolution images.

Resolution*(4.94)*

We tested the resolution of the 8-megapixel Olympus FE-250 by photographing an industry standard resolution chart under bright studio lights. We varied aperture, focal length, and exposure settings in order to find the camera’s "sweet spot", i.e. the settings that produced the sharpest image. We quantify resolution in terms of Line Widths per Picture Height (LW/PH), which indicates the number of alternating black and white lines that could fit across the picture frame before becoming blurred by the camera.

FE250-Res-sm.jpg


Click to view the high-resolution image

Running the images through Imatest, we found that the FE-250 was sharpest at ISO 64, f/4.7, and a 22mm focal length. The camera resolved 1715 LW/PH horizontally with 11.6 percent oversharpening, and 1556 LW/PH with 0.76 percent oversharpening vertically.

These are not very impressive scores, but it is commendable that the camera uses an appropriate amount of sharpening to make the photos as sharp as possible out of the camera without causing undue image artifacting. However, you won’t want to make large prints of images taken with the FE-250.

Dynamic Range*(5.87)

*To test dynamic range - the range of tones a camera can reproduce - we photographed a backlit Stouffer test chart. The Stouffer chart consists of a row of rectangles that vary gradually in tone, from bright white to dark black. The more rectangles the camera can discriminate, the better the dynamic range. We shot this chart with the FE-250 at every full resolution ISO setting, in order to see its performance over the entire ISO range. The graph below shows our results, with dynamic range measured in Exposure Value (EV).

FE250-DynRange-GR.gif

The dynamic range at ISO 64 is solid, at about 6.5 EV. It falls quickly from there, but then unexpectedly rises from ISO 800 to ISO 1600. Dynamic range is closely linked with noise levels, and the reason the dynamic range rises at ISO 1600 is because there is less noise at ISO 1600. But as we explain below, this drop is noise is caused by noise reduction that also smoothes over detail. In other words, just because dynamic range appears to rise at ISO 1600, it doesn’t mean your photos will look better than they do at ISO 800.

Low Light*(4.17)

*We dimmed the studio lights to test the FE-250’s performance in low light. We shot the ColorChecker at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux, which correspond to a softly lit living room (60 lux), down to very low light that tests the limits of the camera. Admirably, the FE-250 could expose properly all the way down to 5 lux at ISO 1600. The problem came, as usual, with the color accuracy. The mean color error rose to an astronomical 33.4 at 5 lux with 130 percent saturation, which visually translated to a very strong yellow-pinkish cast over the images. This was undoubtedly enhanced by the camera’s trouble with white balance. Noise levels stayed low, but not without a loss of detail due to the heavy noise reduction described in the noise section.

We also test long exposures in low light, but the FE-250 only takes exposures longer than half a second in certain scene modes, and then only up to 4 seconds. To standardize our testing and scoring, we always test long exposures at ISO 400, and none of the scene modes on the FE-250 will shoot at ISO 400. However, for ½ second exposures at ISO 400, the camera was very noisy, and had enormous color error and oversaturation. Overall, the FE-250 scored quite poorly in low light.

Noise – Auto ISO*(1.48)*

We shot our test chart under bright studio lights with the FE-250 set to auto ISO to see how it handled noise. The camera chose ISO 160, a seemingly reasonable choice because it shouldn’t produce too much noise. However, this was not quite the case. Even at ISO 160, the FE-250 still had significant noise levels - 1.59 percent of the image was victim to it.

Noise – Manual ISO*(5.26) *

Under the same studio lighting, we also shot our test chart at every full resolution ISO setting on the FE-250, so that we could see how it handled noise over the entire ISO range. The following graph shows our results, where noise is measured by the percentage of the image it covered.

FE250-Noise-GR.gif

Noise levels are nice and low at ISO 64, and then rise sharply up to ISO 800. To keep noise levels down, use this camera at ISO 64 whenever possible. Interestingly, noise decreases significantly from ISO 800 to 1600. This strongly suggests high sensitivity noise reduction being applied automatically inside the camera. The problem with noise reduction is that while it can remove a lot of splotchy noise, it also smoothes over a lot of detail, resulting in soft-looking images. Without noise reduction, the FE-250 would probably have extremely high levels of noise at high ISO settings. These are common issues for cameras that try to cram too many pixels onto their sensors; more pixels mean smaller pixels, and smaller pixels mean more noise.

Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a 256MB Olympus XD Picture Card.

Startup to First Shot (7.4)

The FE-250 took 2.6 seconds to start up and take a picture. This is quite a delay if you’re trying to capture an unexpected moment.

Shot-to-Shot (1.5)

The FE-250 will only shoot continuously with image size set as large as SQ1, which is a resolution of 2048 x 1536. This means the files are only 15 percent of the size of full resolution shots. At this resolution, the camera took 12 shots in 2.2 seconds, which translates to approximately one shot every 0.2 seconds.

Shutter-Shot (9.0)

With the shutter held down halfway and pre-focused, the camera take shots instantly. Without being pre-focused, it takes 0.7 seconds to take a shot.

Processing (2.6)

The FE-250 takes a very long 3.7 seconds to process one 2.75MB shot at ISO 64. Get used to waiting for that little red light to stop blinking.

Video Performance*(3.13)*

Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux

We shot video of our ColorChecker lit evenly by our studio lights at 3000 lux. As in the still tests, the color accuracy and saturation were very poor, with a mean color error of 25.8, and saturation of 125.1 percent, as you can see in the color error diagram below.

Low Light – 30 lux

In low light, the results weren’t any better. Mean color error was 29.9, and saturation at 133.6. The good news is that noise levels stayed quite low, at only 1.3 percent. To put it simply, color accuracy on the FE-250 is terrible in both still images and video, and the lack of white balance control means you have to take what it gives you.

*Resolution

*We also tested video resolution by recording videos of our resolution test chart. While the FE-250’s video color was poor, its resolution was much better. On the standard 640 x 480 frame size, the camera captured 262 LW/PH horizontally with -11.3 percent undersharpening, and 453 LW/PH vertically with -0.5 percent undersharpening. These values may seem very low compared to the still image test, but that’s because video is recorded at a much lower resolution. The FE-250 scored about average compared to other point and shoots.

(100 percent crops)

Outdoor Motion

To get a look at how the FE-250 handled motion in video, we took it outside to shoot the hustle and bustle of city streets. The camera handled motion quite well, with only a little jerkiness caused by moving objects as they left the frame. The overall contrast and color looked quite good as well. The big problem with the FE-250’s outdoor video was that it kept shifting its exposure, meaning the screen would often flash bright or dark, even when there were no moving objects in the frame. This was extremely distracting, and negated the other good aspects of video performance.

Viewfinder*(0.0)*

With its petite body size and large LCD screen, it should really come as no surprise that the Olympus FE-250 lacks a viewfinder. This may be a shortcoming when the camera is running low on batteries, as the LCD is a battery-drainer. But considering the terrible framing accuracy of real image viewfinders and their tendency toward being absurdly small, this omission really shouldn’t be a huge detraction for potential buyers of the FE-250.

**LCD Screen ***(7.5)*

The Olympus FE-250 comes with a nice 230,000-pixel, 2.5-inch Color LCD that will help users establish a shot with ease. The image quality on the LCD monitor is crisp and clean. Its brightness can be adjusted via the sub-menu located within the Setup menu. Within this sub-setting the user will be able to select between bright and normal settings.

FE250-lcdON.jpg

The image smoothly transitioned even when moving the camera quickly and haphazardly. There wasn’t the oft-encountered stuttering lag time of other point-and-shoots with large LCD screens. Solarization wasn’t a huge issue with this camera either, and shooting outdoors with snow on the ground and a bright midday sun didn't render the monitor useless.

The LCD screen utilizes Olympus's Bright Capture technology to assist in low light shooting. The LCD automatically brightens to allow the user to better see the image they are capturing. 

The LCD screen displays shooting information such as shooting mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, and ISO. Overall, the LCD's tack-sharp quality, ample size, and Bright Capture technology make it a highlight of the FE-250.   

Flash*(6.0)*

FE250-flash.jpg
The Olympus FE-250’s small, horizontal in-camera flash is located near the upper left corner of the front face. Its position is close to where the middle finger of the right hand grips the camera, which may result in it being partially obstructed.

The flash range is 0.98 to 14.1 feet in wide angle and 1.6 to 8.5 feet in telephoto. It is distinctly far away from the lens, which results in noticeable shadows cast across subjects and a strong highlight on the right side of images.

The flash can be adjusted marginally via the right arrow on the four-way control. It is displayed on the screen as a transparent overlay over a live view. The following four flash settings are available: Flash Auto, Red-eye, Fill In, and Flash Off. These settings can either be scanned using the up and down arrows of the four-way controller or by repeatedly pressing the right arrow.

Though there is no control over the strength of the flash, the Fill In setting is a definite improvement from the Auto setting when capturing subjects close to the camera. While the Red-eye setting reduces the number of blazing crimson eyes, its performance was far from perfect.

Zoom Lens*(6.5)*

FE250-lens.jpg
The Olympus FE-250 has an Olympus brand 3x optical zoom lens that telescopes when the camera is turned on. It is composed of six lenses in four groups. The lens has a typical point-and-shoot focal length of 7.4 to 22.2mm, comparable to 35 to 105mm in the 35mm format. This range is good for taking a snapshot of your son at a Red Sox game, but won't do it for close ups of Manny Ramirez.

At the 7.4mm end the lens has a maximum aperture setting of f/2.8, and f/4.7 at the 22.2mm end. With a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 there shouldn’t be any need to boost the ISO levels excessively, which should come as a relief considering the levels of noise encountered at the higher end of the FE-250’s ISO range.

The lens can focus up to 11.8 inches from the subject in the Macro mode and 3.9 inches in the Super Macro mode. However, the zoom is fixed in the Super Macro mode, forcing the user to be nose-to-subject to get the shot.

The zoom ring located on the top of the camera body controls the zoom lens; toggle it to the right to zoom in and to the left to zoom out. Subtle adjustments to zoom were nearly impossible - the lens sped through the focal range too fast. Zooming in on a subject is smoother than zooming out; the lens breathes a bit before its set at the focal length. While it moves about a tad awkwardly, the mechanial noise resulting from the zoom being tweaked won't draw attention at the ballet or grade-school awards ceremony.

In addition to 3x optical zoom, the Olympus FE-250 has 4x digital zoom. The 4x digital zoom is represented on the LCD screen as a red bar located directly above the vertical optical zoom graphic. The camera zoom will pause momentarily when the user reaches the end of the telephoto range before entering the digital zoom. Digital zoom is generally not recommended, as it significantly degrades image quality. There is no way to turn the digital zoom off and users will need to be aware of where zoom levels are at all times.

Overall, the FE-250's lens is typical for a point-and-shoot. Though getting the zoom to stop at precise focal lengths is nearly impossible, the f/2.8 aperture allows for low light shooting without having to bump the ISO into the way-too-noisy zone.

**Model Design/Appearance ***(6.75)*

The Olympus FE-250 is a slim and sleek pocket-sized point-and-shoot primarily constructed of matte silver metal with polished silver highlights. The clean and bright LCD on the back of the camera is definitely its most eye-catching feature. Upon second examination, the low-quality construction of many of the features and controls should make users hesitant to throw this camera into a pocket for a rough day of hiking. Because of the underwhelming construction quality, the camera is not a great choice for the rough-and-tumble or butterfingered photographer. Consider it an option if only looking to capture the occasional moment.

Size/Portability*(7.0)*

The Olympus FE-250 weighs in at a slight four ounces and measures 0.8 x 3.7 x 2.2 inches. This means the FE-250 fits easily into a hand, back pocket, or purse. There is an eyelet on the right side of the body for the included wrist strap. However, portable it is, durable it is not. Users should think twice before placing this camera in a situation that will exert pressure on the camera body. We recommend a camera bag to protect the FE-250.

**Handling Ability ***(5.0)*

Handling isn’t really an area where the Olympus FE-250 shines. It can be held with one hand, but probably for only a few shots. If you're planning on capturing something like a wedding day unfold, it's just not the best option - you'd likely spend as much time fiddling with the camera as tugging on your nylons. The FE-250 is missing textured pads or grips that aid in handling. It includes a small, horizontal, polished silver bar on the front of the camera for fingers of the right hand, but it doesn’t really help.

Control Button/Dial Positioning/Size*(7.0)*

FE250-buttons.jpg
Buttons are quite limited on the Olympus FE-250's small surface. The mode dial utilizes both black icons and text, the four-way controller's functions are engraved, and the rest are either red or green icons.

The only control that could be radically improved is the mode dial on the back of the camera body. It’s too smooth and isn’t raised far enough from the camera body to allow for easy adjustment. The zoom ring surrounding the shutter button would also benefit from a better design; it provides minimal variations in zoom speed and stutters as it traverses the entire 3x range. The little nub that protrudes from the zoom ring is likely to cause a sore pointer finger after an extended shoot. Other controls are well-sized and spaced so users won’t need to worry about accidentally pressing multiple controls at once.

**Menu ***(7.0)*

The Olympus FE-250's menus are both text- and symbol-based. The initial screens for the Shooting and Playback modes display are made up of icons with text label overlays users can scan with the four-way control. Once a sub-menu option is selected a list-style screen opens. Switching between the two layout systems may be confusing for beginning photographers - while the menus have a simple layout, the interface is not the most intuitive.

The Camera and Playback menus open (depending on mode) when the menu button on the back of the camera is pressed. The Setup menu can only be accessed once the Shooting or Playback menus are open and the Setup sub-menu is selected from the screen of options. Access to the menu system would be greatly improved with better labeling

The Olympus FE-250's Shooting menu is called the Camera menu in the user manual and can be accessed by pressing the menu button located on the back of the camera. The Camera menu provides quick access to settings like image quality, since only one sub-menu has to be accessed, but reaching options listed deeper within the Camera menu requires a significant amount of navigation. If trying to make quick adjustments, the FE-250 menu system is going to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Unfortunately, the Shooting menu lacks live preview. Access to a live preview for the ISO settings is only possible by exiting the Shooting menu and pressing the OK/Func button located in the center of the four-way control. The function display will appear as an overlay on the LCD with a live preview shown beneath.

The Playback menu can only be opened when the camera is set to the Playback mode. Once in Playback mode, the menu is accessed by the same menu button used to access the Shooting menu system. The Playback menu provides an identical initial interface to the Shooting menu system. Athough it takes some getting used to, it is reasonably easy to navigate.

The Setup menu is entered either through the Shooting or Playback menus. The Setup menu has a list structure interface. Adjusting camera settings and selecting sub-menu options is accomplished via the four-way control and the OK/func button. Users can choose to scan through the entire Setup menu item by item or press the left button on the four-way control, which will highlight one of three numbers listed on the left side of the LCD screen. Then the user can scan up or down to select the appropriate menu section.

**Ease of Use ***(7.5)*

Handling the Olympus FE-250 is a bit hairy, but it is pretty straightforward to use and photographers confused by complicated interfaces will find it a welcome relief. With the inclusion of Olympus's Shooting Guide mode, the novice can get immediate answers to a number of frequently asked questions without having to peruse the user's manual. The stripped-down-to-the-basics body makes it ideal for beginners. The two-tier menu system that starts as a graphic interface and switches to a list structure is unnecessary and a bit off-putting at first, but can be used easily with a little practice.

Auto Mode*(7.0)*

The Auto mode automates the shooting process but allows users to adjust flash settings, exposure compensation, ISO and Burst modes. These options are located in both Function menus as secondary controls of the four-way navigation system as well as the Shooting menu system. When accessed through the Function menu, the exposure compensation and ISO settings can be adjusted with a live onscreen view. Of course, users can choose to ignore all these features. Having control over the in-camera flash is especially helpful since the FE-250 flash is a bit too aggressive and tends to be fired when the camera should instead open the aperture or lengthen the shutter speed. In either case the photographer can expect several seconds of delay between the time the shutter button is pressed, the camera focuses, and the image is captured.

Movie Mode*(7.25)*

The Olympus FE-250's Movie mode is accessed by turning the mode dial to the film camera icon. It records AVI Motion JPEG files with monaural audio at a 640 x 480 resolution 30 fps high quality setting. There is a lower-quality option of 320 x 240 at 15 fps, but this setting shows drastic degradation when reviewed on an external monitor. The user can pick the frame rate and resolution through the image quality setting located in the Shooting menu. Other parameters such as exposure compensation can be adjusted. The zoom lens is enabled during capture. The shutter button is pressed again to stop recording. If the memory card or internal memory becomes full before the shutter is pressed the camera automatically stops recording and saves the video file to memory.

**Drive/Burst Mode ***(5.0)*

The Olympus FE-250's Burst mode is accessed either through the Shooting menu or the Function menu. Both allow the user to switch from a single frame capture to a Burst mode that allows for up to 12 shots to be captured at a maximum image quality of 2048 x 1536. This reduction in image resolution is rather drastic considering the highest stated image resolution is 3264 x 2448. Olympus claims it can capture images at a rate of 5 fps for 12 images, but the camera appeared to be shooting at a more conservative 3 or 4 fps. It takes about as long to write the images to a memory card as it does to take a hearty swig of iced coffee, so be prepared to wait before firing off another burst.

Playback Mode*(6.5)*

The Playback mode is entered by pressing the play button located directly above the upper-right corner of the LCD. The Playback mode allows users to engage features like Resize, My Favorite, Erase, and Slide Show, which are all found in the first menu interface. The only features listed in the Playback menu are Protect, Audio Clip, Rotate 90 degrees clockwise and 90 degrees counter-clockwise.

Images can be viewed in single, four-up, nine-up, 16-up and 25-up displays. These views are navigated by pressing the zoom toggle. Users can engage up to 10x playback zoom. Once the appropriate level of playback zoom is set the user can navigate through the captured image by pressing the arrows of the four-way control. The following information is displayed with the image: size, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, date, time, and file number.

Movies can be reviewed in the Playback mode with audio included. Audio attached to still images plays immediately after the image is opened. It is only possible to re-review the audio by scanning to another image and returning to the image with the audio file.

Custom Image Presets*(7.25)*

Most of the Olympus FE-250’s custom image presets are accessed by turning the mode dial to the Scene mode setting. The Scene modes found in this menu system are Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Pet, Cuisine, Documents, and Auction. These options are all useful, and with graphic- and text-based interfaces, users will be certain to choose the proper setting even when shooting quickly. There are four additional options located on the mode dial; Night + Portrait, Landscape, Portrait, and DIS (Digital Image Stabilization) mode.

OlympuFE-250-scene-1.gif

**Manual Control Options

**With a price tag of $299.99, the marginal level of manual control on the Olympus FE-250 may come as a surprise, considering cameras by competing manufacturers like Panasonic and Sony allow at least partial control over these parameters. ISO and exposure compensation can be manually controlled. That’s it. No preset white balance settings, no auto focus shooting options, and no long manually engaged shutter speeds. To be frank, it’s pretty pathetic. Even if it is intended for the beginner or snapshot-only consumer, having such a limited camera is absurd. Add in the low-quality construction and the $300 price tag is outrageous.

Focus

Auto Focus*(4.0)*

Auto focus is an area where the Olympus FE-250 struggles. Photographers can expect a delay of more than two seconds when shooting in well-lit environments and an even longer pause in low light. Auto focus is as limited as other areas of control on the FE-250, and users have to rely entirely on the single focus iESP auto CCD contrast system for all shooting situations. It would be beneficial to have a three, five, or nine-point Auto Focus system for users to select from in order to compensate for backlit or multi-source lighting situations.

The Olympus FE-250 has both Macro and Super Macro shooting modes for capturing subjects at close range. Both modes are accessible when in still and video modes by pressing the left arrow on the four-way control. The Macro mode enables the user to shoot from 0.3 feet to infinity in wide angle and 19.7 inches to infinity in telephoto. The Super Macro mode allows the user to capture from 3.9 inches to infinity.

An odd little Olympus-specific handicap appears in Super Macro mode. Users will quickly realize the zoom control can no longer be used, and instead the user must shift the camera and repeatedly hit the shutter button to find the appropriate distance and subject for capture.

Manual Focus*(0.0)*

Considering the overall lack of manual controls it should really come as no surprise the $299.95 Olympus FE-250 has no control over manual focus.

**Metering ***(5.75)*

Metering, like white balance, focus, shutter speed, and aperture is a control that is entirely automatic and uses a digital ESP metering system to make adjustments.

**Exposure ***(7.0)*

When the camera is set to Auto mode, exposure can be altered using the up arrow on the four-way controller. Changes to exposure can be previewed via a live view on the LCD. The exposure compensation range is listed horizontally along the top of the screen, and users can make adjustments to the setting by pressing the left and right arrows of the four-way control. The exposure compensation range is the standard +/- 2 EV with 1/3 step increments.

Olympu-FE-250-exposure-1.gif

Users who are less familiar with the manual controls on digital cameras will be pleased to find an onscreen description for the exposure compensation settings that states, "For manually making fine adjustments to the exposure when taking pictures." Further help is provided with the inclusion of the live view screen beneath the overlays. This allows users to visually gauge exposure levels without having to exit and reenter the menu system.

**White Balance ***(0.0)*

Don’t get excited. Seriously, don’t. Why expect there to be control over white balance? There isn’t even a whiff of a preset. Instead, the photographer who chooses to shoot with this little point-and-shoot will have to rely entirely on the Auto ESP system which, while competent most of the time, struggles with harsh fluorescents.

**ISO ***(8.0)*

Along with exposure compensation, the ISO settings for the Olympus FE-250 are manually controllable. The ISO settings can be accessed either through the Shooting menu or by pressing the OK/Func button for several seconds when in Auto mode. Either option will allow the user access to the full ISO range, although the Function menu is easier and quicker to access and provides a live view display as changes are made.

OlympusFE-250-iso-1.gif

The ISO settings are expansive; from ISO 64 to ISO 10000. The FE-250's Digital Images Stabilization mode raises the ISO up to 3200 to compensate for camera shake and moving subjects.

Considering most point-and-shoots peak out at ISO 800 the inclusion of an ISO 10000 could be viewed as ludicrous. After initial testing at the maximum setting in low light scenes that included interior and exterior scenes at night, the results displayed the unsurprising presence of overwhelming levels of noise and digital glitches. Red and yellow aberrations were apparent in a number of places in the image, and the general noise was hard to overlook. An additional downside for both the ISO 10000 and the ISO 6400 settings is the reduction in image quality to 2048 x 1536 resolution. The high end of the ISO scale might be tolerable if needed in a pinch, but photographers are better off finding a better light source or using the in-camera flash. If shooting with this camera in low light and determined to boost ISO rather than seek an alternative scene or lighting, consider not exceeding ISO 400 where noise begins to overtake the image.

Shutter Speed*(0.0)*

There is absolutely no control over shutter speed, and users must rely on the automatic shutter range of 1/1000th of a second to four seconds for all shooting situations.

Aperture*(0.0)*

Like shutter speed, the aperture for the Olympus FE-250 is not manually controllable. Although the maximum aperture of f/2.8 will help in low light situations, the camera seemed to prefer boosting the ISO or engaging the flash over opening the aperture further when shooting in Auto mode. At the telephoto end, the aperture shrinks to f/4.7

Picture Quality / Size Options*(6.5)*

The Olympus FE-250 has a number of picture size options. Access the Image Quality menu by pressing the menu button on the back of the camera and selecting the image quality graphic. The image quality settings for the camera are listed as a text interface that can be scanned vertically via the up and down arrows of the four-way control. The image quality settings for this point-and-shoot camera are: SHQ (3264 x 2448), HQ (3264 x 2448), SQ1 (2048 x 1536), SQ2 (640 x 480), and 16:9 (1920 x 1080). If shooting with sensitivity settings of ISO 6400 or ISO 10000 the maximum image resolution is 2048 x 1536. When shooting video the camera provides resolution settings of 640 x 480 at 30 fps or 320 x 240 at 15 fps.

Olympu-FE-250-quality-1.gif

**Picture Effects Mode ***(0.0)*

The picture effects settings for the Olympus FE-250 are, well, non-existent, just like manual controls and other features many consumers would assume were included on a digital camera priced at just under $300. Consider another camera like the PowerShot series by Canon if in-camera picture effects are desired.

Connectivity

Software*(8.5)*

The Olympus FE-250 comes with included software for both Windows and Macintosh computers. The camera comes with Olympus Master 2 and a trial version of the Olympus muvee theaterPack, which is only compatible with Windows operating systems.

The Olympus Master 2 software is surprisingly easy to use, with an interface that allows beginners to easily engage in image-editing features beyond crop and print. Users can scan current and previously imported photos in album or folder setups along the left side of the computer screen. The edit menu options are displayed along the right side of the screen. Editing options are displayed with icons and text labels for Resize, Crop, Insert Text, Brightness & Contrast, Color Balance, Tone Curve, Gamma, Auto Tone Correction, Hue & Saturation, Monochrome & Sepia, Sharpness & Blur, Distortion Correction, and Red-eye Reduction.

When an individual editing option is selected the display screen is split in half, and the original and edited images shown side by side allow users to see the effect the adjustments have on the image. The red-eye reduction editing option isn't the most exciting feature, but is probably the most useful. It really helps with a camera like the Olympus FE-250 that struggles to produce portraits without blazing red devil eyes.

Other image adjustments located horizontally along the top of the Olympus Master 2 interface are rotate 90 degrees clockwise and counter-clockwise. Other settings include Back, Save, Undo, Redo, Edit Palette, Slide Show, Print Menu, RAW, Panorama, Options, Quick Guide and Help.

The Print menu setup is an easy-to-use interface that allows users to select both the print layout and the photo order and size by double clicking thumbnails listed horizontally along the bottom of the Master 2 display window. Although direct printing is helpful when needing to transfer digital images to paper quickly, the editing options and layout choices provided in the Olympus software make a good argument for taking your photos a step further in post-production.

Jacks, ports, plugs*(4.0)*

FE250-ports.jpg
There are two port covers on the body of the Olympus FE-250 although, only one of them actually covers ports. Both covers are located on the right side of the camera body. The cover located near the bottom edge of the camera isn't labeled, and when pried open will reveal absolutely nothing besides show the FE-250 is a lower quality version of another model by Olympus that does include ports in this area. Sure, it’s saving Olympus money by not having to manufacture different camera bodies for highly similar models, but this fake port cover could lead to water getting into the battery and memory card slots located directly underneath this area.

The only real ports and port cover are located near the top of the right side. This cover is opened by flipping a tab on its bottom edge. It conceals a dual purpose port that allows the user to connect the camera to a computer or printer via the USB cable or to a monitor with the included RCA cable.

Direct Print Options*(6.0)*

Direct printing with the Olympus FE-250 is a simple process that starts with the photographer selecting the appropriate image in Playback mode and plugging the camera into the USB port of a PictBridge-compliant printer.  The user can then press the up arrow of the four-way control to initiate printing. Once the photograph is printed the user can switch to other photographs by pressing the left and right arrows of the four-way control.

There are a number of options to prepare images to be printed directly from the camera. Users can select which images to print, set the paper size, print order, and the number of prints for each image. 

*Battery (6.5)

*

FE250-battery.jpg
The battery slot is positioned alongside the memory card slot on the bottom of the camera. It is masked by a low-quality cover. The Olympus FE-250 uses a slim Lithium Ion battery that has an approximate 300 shot capacity per charge.

Memory**(3.75)*

FE250-memory.jpg
The Olympus FE-250 comes with an included 20MB of internal memory - enough to hold six full resolution images. In addition to this internal memory the user can purchase xD-Picture cards from 16MB to 2GB. Access both slots by slightly pressing on the cover and sliding it to the right. It should be noted again that the cover that "protects" both the memory card and the battery is flimsy and could easily snap off if mishandled.

**Other Features ***(6.5)*

Digital Image Stabilization – The Digital Image Stabilization mode is found on the mode dial on the back of the FE-250. This mode boosts the camera's sensitivity up to ISO 3200 and increases the shutter speed to lessen the effects of hand shake and moving subjects. The problem with making the image stabilization feature a separate mode from other shooting modes is that it can’t be used in tandem with the Scene or Auto modes. While digital stabilization is better than no stabilization, it will marginally compromise image quality and produce less impressive results when compared to an Optical Image Stabilization system.

Shooting Guide Mode – The Shooting Guide mode is an Olympus-specific feature that enables users to quickly scan 11 frequently asked questions and answers. This is presented in a quick in-camera format that eliminates the time-consuming process of searching manuals for the appropriate solution. The Shooting Guide mode is accessed by rotating the mode dial to the Guide setting.

Olympu-FE-250-shooting-1.gif

Bright Capture Technology - Bright Capture is meant to improve low light shooting. It automatically brightens the LCD screen and the recorded image.

*My Favorites *- This feature allows the user to store up to nine images to the cameras internal memory.

*Pixel Mapping *- This feature is the camera's built-in checkup system. It reformats the pixels on the CCD with a touch of a button, a process usually performed by the manufacturer. Olympus recommends performing this process once a year.

Value*(5.5)*

Initially priced at $299.99, the FE-250 is not an inexpensive camera. It has some impressive features that include an 8-megapixel CCD TruePic Turbo Image Processor, 3x optical zoom lens, a nice 230,000-pixel, 2.5-inch LCD, a simple external interface, and a slim design that ensures this camera will be able to travel just about anywhere in any pocket. Other features include 20MB of internal memory and 16 shooting modes. There are some problems with this camera, though. It has unimpressive construction, a lack of manual controls, a menu system that could confuse the beginner, struggles in low light, and has a persistent red-eye problem.

**Comparisons

**Panasonic DMC-TZ1S – This 5-megapixel model by Panasonic doesn’t skimp on the zoom. It has 10x optical zoom with Optical Image Stabilization for the same price as the FE-250. This camera isn’t going to beat out the FE-250 in terms of portability, but what it lacks in pocket-friendly design it makes up for in features and control. Users will find the paltry offerings of the FE-250 to pale in comparison to the manual controls found on the Panasonic that include exposure compensation, auto bracketing, ISO, metering, white balance in both presets and custom, comparable scene modes, and backlight compensation via the Simple mode. Other notable features include five Auto Focus shooting systems, four Color modes, three picture adjustment settings, and a long shutter speed of 60 seconds. Other unique features include a true 16:9 Still Image Capture mode and a pseudo 16:9 Movie mode. The DMC-TZ1S also comes with 13.4MB of built-in memory, the ability to record 10-second audio clips and real-time histograms. This model by Panasonic also has a lower LCD pixel count, but only by 13,000 pixels. For users disappointed with the FE-250's lack of control, the DMC-TZ1S is a welcome alternative.

Casio Exilim EX-S770 – This model by Casio is bound to give the FE-250 a run for its money. It has a sleek, slender profile and a smooth, seductive design in three colors. This camera has dropped dramatically from its initial MSRP of $379.95 since its release in late August 2006. It can now be found for slightly more or the same price as the FE-250. The S770 has a 7.2 megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom, and a slightly larger 2.8-inch wide-view LCD screen. Surprisingly, this small camera provides manual control over settings like white balance, metering, exposure compensation, and manual focus. Other features include the ability to store data uploaded from a personal computer, such as documents or maps, for easy reference.

Canon PowerShot SD1000 - Announced this spring by Canon, the PowerShot SD1000 has an identical retail price to the Olympus FE-250 and boasts a clean and unfettered design, a 7.1 megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom, and 2.5-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD screen. This compact digital camera isn't as portable as the Olympus, but includes features like long shutter speeds and manual control over exposure compensation, metering, ISO, white balance presets, and Custom modes, as well as a host of flash settings. This camera comes with a number of preset shooting modes and in-camera digital color effects. The SD1000 also has video capture at 640 x 480 at 30 fps with audio recording.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T20 – Sony's T20 is available in four colors and had an initial MSRP of $329.99. This camera will definitely be a strong contender for consumers who prize portability in their digital products. It measures 7/8th of an inch thick and weighs in at a slightly heavier 4.8 ounces. While it doesn’t have as many manual controls as other cameras found in this comparison section, the DSC-T20 allows for control over white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. Other benefits include control over auto focus areas, exposure bracketing, and Color modes. This camera has fewer Scene modes but includes a high-speed shutter and high sensitivity in its list of options. This camera, like the FE-250, comes with a Digital Image Stabilization system, Burst modes and a default multi-pattern metering setting. One surprising area where the Cyber-shot DSC-T20 fails to impress is the maximum aperture setting of f/3.5. It also relies on the proprietary media formats Sony is famous for.

**Who It’s For

***Point-and-Shooters* – The FE-250 may appeal to the point-and-shooter unconcerned with construction quality. It has an attractive slim body that performs best in well-lit situations. But don't be seduced by its looks. The FE-250's performance and design is sub-par and it has a surprisingly hefty price. It might be wise to choose a more practical alternative for half the price.

Budget Consumers – The budget consumer will have a number of lower-priced cameras with more control options and features than the Olympus FE-250. These cameras may be bigger and thus less pocket-friendly, but will hold up better to abuse and provide features and settings for customization as the novice user advances their skills.

*Gadget Freaks *– The Olympus FE-250 doesn’t have features, controls, or other options that would impress the gadget freak.

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Manual Control Freaks* – There is no reason for the consumer searching for manual controls to consider the Olympus FE-250.

Pros/Serious Hobbyists – Like the manual control freak, the pro/serious hobbyists will have no reason to consider this camera.

Conclusion

The Olympus FE-250 packs an 8-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom, and 230,000-pixel 2.5-inch LCD into a petite metal frame. The camera improves on the manual controls of lower-priced "FE" models by including control over ISO. It comes with a wealth of preset shooting modes and helpful features for the beginner such as the Shooting Guide. However, while an improvement within the Olympus line, the FE-250 falls short of other manufacturers' offerings in this price range. Cameras by Casio and Kodak either offer the same or more features at a lower price.

Noticeably absent from the FE-250 are white balance presets. The camera instead relies on its mediocre Auto White Balance setting, so what you see is what you get, odd colors and all. The FE-250 will suffice for the consumer looking for a point-and-shoot that looks slick and is easy to use. However, users seeking manual control, color accuracy, handling confidence, or a more durable design should consider another camera. 

Sample Photos

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Specs Table

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James Murray

James Murray

Editor

James Murray is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

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