Comparing the outer squares with the inner squares, you can see in the image that almost all the color tiles stray greatly from their actual colors. Notice how the blues turn purple and the yellows turn green. Also, many of the colors are undersaturated, meaning your photos will not only have inaccurate colors, but may look quite dull. The graph below shows color accuracy in a more quantitative way. The locations of the ColorChecker’s known colors are shown as squares on the color spectrum, and the colors the FE-300 reproduces are shown as circles. The lines connecting the squares and circles show the amount of color error for each color tile.
The graph reaffirms the amount of color error seen in the image above. Many of the colors are shifted dramatically — especially yellows, greens, and blues. This will turn blue skies purple, green trees blue, and may make skin tones look very pale. The FE-300 doesn’t improve upon the poor color accuracy of its predecessor, the FE-250.
*Megapixels are everything in the marketing of digital cameras, and manufacturers keep cramming more pixels onto their camera sensors. With 12 megapixels, the FE-300, along with the Stylus 1200, is a new landmark for Olympus. We put its resolution to the test by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart at varied focal lengths and exposure settings. We run our photos through Imatest, which evaluates resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which represent the number of equally-spaced, alternating black and white lines that can fit across the picture frame before becoming blurred.
The FE-300 proves to be sharpest at ISO 50, f/4.1, and a focal length of 17mm. The camera resolves 1753 lw/ph horizontally with 1.1 percent oversharpening, and 1898 lw/ph vertically with 1.9 percent oversharpening. These are solid resolution scores, and show that the camera can produce sharp images without significant oversharpening. This means photos will be bereft of ugly image artifacts. Unfortunately, the great resolution only applies to the centers of the photos, which get blurry at the edges. Be aware of this if you plan to crop your photos or print them large.
**Still Life Sequences **
Click to view the high-resolution image
Noise – Manual ISO* (5.15)
*Digital camera photos are subject to ugly grainy or splotchy "noise" that can obscure fine image detail. Noise is an unavoidable product of a camera’s electronics, and is generally more apparent at higher ISO sensitivities. We test image noise by photographing our test chart under bright, even studio lights at all ISO speeds a camera offers at full resolution. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise by the percentage of image detail it drowns out (see graph below).
The FE-300 keeps noise very low at ISO 50 and 100, but the noise becomes much more apparent at higher ISO speeds. At ISO 1600 the camera automatically smoothes over the noise, making it slightly less ugly, but also smearing lots of image detail. The noise itself is very ugly, consisting of small multi-colored splotches that make high ISO images resemble city streets covered in trod-upon chewing gum. The ISO 50 setting is great, so keep it on this whenever you’re shooting in bright light. You won’t want to print large prints of any photos taken at ISO speeds above 200.
Noise – Auto ISO* (2.17)
*We also evaluate image noise with cameras set to Auto ISO, which is what many people looking to buy this camera will set it to. Under the same bright studio lights described above, the FE-300 shot at ISO 125 and kept noise reasonably low. The camera seems to know its lower ISO speeds are better and automatically adjusts, which is great news for shooters who like to keep it simple.
**White Balance ***(5.36)
*As we mentioned in the color section above, accurate white balance is essential in providing accurate color reproduction. The FE-300 has no Manual white balance, so users must rely on the Auto setting or menu of presets. We test white balance accuracy by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test the Auto setting and the presets under each light source. The FE-300 could not focus on the chart in the dark, and thus could not provide accurate results using the flash.
*With white balance set to Auto, the FE-300 is very accurate in outdoor shade, mediocre under fluorescent light, and very poor under tungsten light. It should be fine leaving the camera on Auto white balance when shooting outdoors, but beware of ugly color casts when shooting inside.
*Preset (4.49) *
Using the white balance presets found in the white balance menu, the camera is adequately accurate under fluorescent light, where it has three options, but poor using outdoor cloudy or tungsten. The moral of this story is that it is much easier to leave this camera set to Auto white balance than to bother with the presets.
Low Light* (5.23)
*We test camera performance in less-than-ideal conditions by photographing our test charts at low light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. Sixty lux corresponds roughly to a room lit softly by two table lamps, 30 lux is about the brightness of a room lit by a single 40-watt bulb, 15 lux is as dim as a room lit only by a television screen, and 5 lux is very dim and tests the limits of camera sensors. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.
The FE-300 can’t quite expose properly at 5 lux, showing the camera has a limit in low light. At 15 lux and above color accuracy isn’t much worse than in bright light, but that isn’t saying much. You can see in the images above how muted the colors look. At ISO 1600 the images look very "soft" because of the smoothing the camera has applied. It’s almost enough to make some photos look out of focus.
We also test camera performance in long exposures, but only at ISO 400 so we can evenly compare different cameras. The FE-300 cannot take an exposure longer than 0.5 seconds at ISO 400 (and only 4 seconds otherwise). This is not a camera to buy if you’re dying to capture some star trails at night.
Dynamic Range* (5.73)
*Dynamic range is an important image quality factor that tells how many shades of gray a camera can discern. In practice, this means a camera with good dynamic range will be able to show detail in both the bright highlights as well as the dark shadows in the same photo. This is particularly important for scenes of high contrast, such as weddings or outdoor landscapes in bright sunlight. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer test chart at each ISO speed a camera offers. The Stouffer chart consists of a long row of rectangles, each a slightly darker shade of gray, varying from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles the camera can discern, the better its dynamic range.
The FE-300 has excellent dynamic range at ISO 50, but falls off at higher ISO speeds. Dynamic range is closely related to noise levels, so as we mentioned in the noise section above, keep this camera at low ISO speeds whenever possible. It may be the difference between capturing a magnificent thunderhead on the horizon and rendering the cloud a big blown-out blob of white.
Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using an Olympus 256 MB xD-Picture Card, with the camera set to SHQ, unless otherwise noted.
*Startup to First Shot (7.6)
*The FE-300 takes 2.4 seconds to turn on and fire a shot.
*The 12-megapixel FE-300 has no official Burst mode at full resolution, most likely due to the extremely long time it takes to process one photo. The camera does, however, include 3-frame sequential shooting in Auction or Smile Shot scene modes, which reduces resolution.
*Shutter-to-Shot (9.0) *
The camera has no measurable lag when the shutter is held halfway down and prefocused, and has a lag of 0.5 seconds when not prefocused.
*The FE-300 takes a sloth-like 4.2 seconds to process one 4.5 MB SHQ photo shot at ISO 50.
Video Performance* (3.42)
Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux*
We shoot footage of our color charts under bright studio lights set to 3000 lux. Under these bright tungsten lights, the FE-300 has extreme color error but low noise.
*Low Light – 30 lux
*We also record footage in low light, with the studio lights dimmed to 30 lux. In low indoor light the color accuracy is just as poor, and the noise is a bit higher. Still, the performance isn’t as poor as other cameras we have tested.
We record footage of our resolution test chart to see how well the camera’s resolution is in Movie mode. Video resolution is much more strongly affected by processing and compression than still resolution is. In Movie mode, the FE-300 resolves 255 lw/ph horizontally with 18.6 percent undersharpening, and 328 lw/ph vertically with 1 percent undersharpening. This is solid resolution for a digital camera’s Movie mode, and you can see the lack of image artifacts in the crops below.
*We take cameras outside to capture footage of moving cars and pedestrians on the street. The FE-300’s video looks good overall, with nice color and contrast, showing the huge difference in color accuracy between indoor light and outdoor light. The video is by no means flawless however, with some apparent moiré, bleeding highlights, and jerkiness to objects moving out of the frame.
Like the rest of the current FE-series product line, the Olympus FE-300 lacks an optical viewfinder, assumingly to cut down on production costs for this entry-level camera. Most beginner shooters won’t mind the missing viewfinder too much, since point-and-shooters are likely to use the LCD to frame photos. Having an optical viewfinder conserves battery life, however, which should be a consideration for travelers. Instead, FE-300 users will be resigned to using the monitor.
**LCD Screen ***(7.5)*
The Olympus FE-300 is fitted with a modest 2.5-inch TFT color LCD screen with 230,000-pixel resolution. The monitor size and resolution specifications are typical nowadays, borrowed from the earlier the FE-250 model introduced in January 2007. One would hope the screen specifications would have been upgraded, like the overall (imager) resolution, but instead the same specs apply to the newer model.
The LCD does not have the HyperCrystal label like some Olympus Stylus and EVOLT SLR cameras, meaning the FE-300 does not possess the anti-glare coating for wide viewing on the LCD, as found on the higher-end Olympus products.
For outdoor shooting, the camera includes an interesting Backlit Boost button that adjusts the brightness of the monitor to compensate for extremely bright or dark situations. While other manufacturers typically bury monitor brightness settings in the menu system, Olympus elected to assign a specific external button for adjusting the LCD for easy access. The Backlit Boost button, which doubles as the trash button is located toward the bottom of the back of the camera. Users needn’t be concerned about accidentally erasing pictures when increasing monitor brightness, though. In Playback, the button acts as a trash button; in Record mode, the button functions as the Backlit Boost button. Users can then adjust screen brightness in two steps.
The FE-300 includes a multi-frame live preview called Perfect Shot Preview. Users can set the mode dial to Guide, "Shoot w/ effects preview," to display a four-frame window, allowing users to view zoom, exposure, color, and movie smoothness before applying the effect to the image. For instance, if users want to adjust EV exposure, the LCD displays four real-time thumbnails with 0.0, +0.3 +0.7, and +1.0 on the first page for selection. On one hand, advanced point-and-shooters will appreciate the Perfect Shot Preview. On the other hand, novice users might be overwhelmed with the multiple choice questions and multiple steps it takes to execute the Perfect Shot Preview.
Instead of gearing this camera toward traditionalists who shoot through an eye cup, the Olympus FE-300 is without viewfinder, leaving framing to the LCD. With the live multi-frame preview (Perfect Shot Preview) and dedicated Backlit Boost button, Olympus leverages the design with a selection of innovative features. We give them credit for experimentation, but the screen lacks the versatility of competing models.
Olympus places the moderately-sized built-in flash to the left of the lens on the FE-300. The flash is located too close to where the right hand fingers rest, and may cause index fingers to block the flash or assist lamp. Poor flash placement can result in spotty flash coverage.
The flash reaches 0.98 to 20.0 feet in wide shooting and 1.6 to 11.8 feet in telephoto shooting at ISO 800. Photos produced at such close range are terribly illuminated with uneven coverage. Images tend to have a bright spot where other spots are dark.
Users can switch between four flash modes: Auto, which decides for the user which mode will be enabled; Red-Eye, for portraiture; Fill In, for outdoor photography; and Flash Off, which suppresses extra light. The camera lacks a Soft Flash mode or a flash output setting, which other manufacturers include to allow users to control how much light is emitted. Otherwise, as in the case of the FE-300, photos of persons are often cast with harsh shadows and overexposed in different regions of the frame.
Flash cannot be enabled during movies, which limits how videos can be shot in evening weddings or nightclubs. Flash is allowed in most expected preset modes, but is purposely disabled during low light presets such as Candlelight.
**Zoom Lens ***(6.5)*
The Olympus FE-300 is fitted with a 3x optical zoom lens, constructed of 6 lenses in 4 groups, including 4 aspherical lenses. Unlike its big siblings, like the 4x optical zoom FE-290 or 5x optical zoom FE-240, the FE-300 doesn’t carry the longer zoom abilities. The 3x optical zoom is basic for point-and-shoots. With a focal length of 7.4 - 22.2 mm, the Olympus FE-300 has an equivalent focal range of 35 - 105mm in film terms. That range allows enough flexibility for wide group shots, but close-up shooting will be limited in terms of other longer-zoomed cameras in the same price range.
Users can adjust zoom by toggling the zoom lever surrounding the shutter button. Zooming is relatively smooth and easy to use. The zoom lever’s position, however, is pushed toward the center of the camera, which makes blocking the flash with the index and middle fingers a problem. If the shutter and zoom lever were moved over just a centimeter, users could save more flashed photos from deletion.
The lens has an aperture range at a wide f/2.8 when zoomed out and f/4.7 when zoomed in, with a minimum f-stop of f/13.
Like most point-and-shoots, users can enable the 4x digital zoom for up to a 12x magnification. Users should beware of this option, though; digital zoom degrades the image quality by decreasing resolution. Instead of using digital zoom, users can get closer to a subject using the Fine Zoom function, which combines optical zoom with cropping. Fine Zoom allows users to magnify up to 19x at full resolution so as to not degrade image quality. Fine Zoom is a good idea, but it’s a cheap way of not including longer zoom capabilities on the lens.
Overall, the zoom lens is average (at best!). The positioning of the flash and zoom lever interfere with the zoom capabilities, but the lens offers a standard focal length and aperture range. The lens also lacks optical image stabilization, which can be found on other cameras for the same price.
Design / Layout
**Model Design / Appearance ***(6.75)*
The Olympus FE-300 fits the mold for trendy digital cameras. The point-and-shoot has a tiny, flat body with an exterior made from a metal plate mixed with a plastic backing. It’s not the most expensive-looking camera. Its small stature is the most eye-catching feature of the camera’s design.
**Size / Portability ***(7.0)*
At 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.87 inches, the camera is small enough to sneak into a concert in your pocket. Weighing only 4.1 ounces without memory card or battery, the camera is certainly lightweight enough to be strapped to the wrist for long periods of time. The ports are sealed well enough so users can confidently shove the camera in their purse or pocket. Portability is definitely one of the FE-300’s strong suits.
**Handling Ability ***(5.0)*
Handling is nothing to brag about on the Olympus FE-300. The camera suffers from the curse of tiny, flat point-and-shoots that are often difficult to handle because there is, simply said, so little to handle. The slippery camera body lacks texture for extra grip, although the front includes a relief-like band for added support. Because the camera is so light, users can use their left hand to further stabilize the body. The right hand often gets in the way of proper flash usage, since the index finger and middle finger tend to block the assist beam and flash unit.
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size ***(7.0)*
The control layout of the FE-300 is nearly identical to the rest of the current Olympus FE line, characterized by modest-sized geometric shapes in an overall uniform design. While aesthetically pleasing, the button control panel could be improved.
The multi-selector employs a square four-way controller instead of the circular one commonly used by other manufacturers. The four-way controller is a single button piece, rather than four separate controls. Without those spaces in between the four directions, users with larger fingers might misstep and accidentally push the wrong button control for Exposure, Focus, Drive, or Flash.
Some controls could also gain some size, particularly the record button and the playback button, which are disproportionately small when compared to the other controls.
The mode dial is sufficiently sized and positioned by the right thumb for easy switching between shooting modes.
The major drawback to the controls is the poor positioning of the shutter and zoom lever, which leaves a gap between the button and the edge of the camera body. Shutter buttons are traditionally flush with the edge so users won’t have to stretch their fingers to shoot. In addition, when users zoom in and out, they may find their fingers block the flash and assist lamp because the zoom lever is pushed too far toward the center.
Olympus elected to prioritize form over function; the button controls weren’t thought out for usability. Even a few minor changes, such as increasing the playback button size or moving the shutter a centimeter over, would greatly improve the user shooting experience.
Navigating though the menu system of the Olympus FE-300 is like trying to win all the gold coins in Super Mario Brothers – possible but at times irritating. While the menu system is attention-grabbing, with eye-popping colors and multiple routes, the menus – and there are many of them - are complete eye assaults on the shooter. There are simply too many choices and submenus to dig through.
When users select the menu button, the screen draws up multiple choices in a cross-like layout: Image Quality at the top, Camera menu at the center, Setup on the right, Reset on the left, Scene on the bottom, and an oddly placed Silent mode in the right bottom corner.
Image quality options are easy to navigate through, since the pixel resolution is spelled out for the user.
The Camera menu has some important controls, including white balance and focus settings. There are also white balance live previews so users can conveniently see the effect before applying it to shooting.
The Setup menu is simple, with limited Yes/No prompts for the standard set of volume, format, and timestamp functions.
There are additional Silent and Reset menus that really don’t require a separate menu category. The Silent mode and Reset could have just as easily been lumped with the Setup menu.** **
Going through the Olympus FE-300 menu system is like trying to navigate through a complicated maze. People don’t like to have to sort through menus within menus. While the Olympus does bring a certain novelty to the menu system, it lacks practicality. The menus will most likely have new users keeping the camera on default settings.
**Ease of Use ***(7.0)*
For a camera that stands for "Fun & Easy," the FE-300 leaves much to be desired. Portability is certainly its strength, but difficult handling, a slightly misplaced zoom/shutter button, and an ill-conceived menu system are particular cons with the Olympus camera. Have "fun" figuring it out.
**Auto Mode ***(7.0)*
The Olympus FE-300 has two automatic modes, Auto and Program, located on the mode dial. In Auto mode, the camera automatically adjusts settings so the user doesn’t have to dig through menus. Users can change flash (Auto flash, Red-Eye, Fill In, Flash Off), Macro focus (Off, Macro, Super Macro), and Exposure (+/- 2 EV in 1/3 steps) using the Perfect Shot Preview multi-frame live view. Users can not, however, change white balance, ISO, or autofocus type; the camera sets those functions.
The Program mode is an automatic mode with some adjustments permitted. In Program mode, the camera automatically sets aperture and shutter speed, but users can change more functions than permitted in Auto mode, including white balance, ISO, and autofocus. That allows users to control a few more settings if they don’t trust the automatic modes, but getting to white balance, ISO, and autofocus types requires a few more steps in the Camera menu.
**Movie Mode ***(7.25)*
The Olympus FE-300 records color AVI Motion JPEG video with or without sound at three resolutions: SHQ 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second (fps), HQ 320 x 240 at 15 fps, or SQ 160 x 120 at 15 fps. The lower resolution files are likely to look choppy, but they are ideal for Web posting. The resolution and frame rate is average among entry-level point-and-shoots, but users should note that the FE-300 has a limit on how long continuous video records. The Olympus manual states that with the fastest 30 fps rate possible, video records at a reported 40 seconds on a 1GB memory card. We found that on a 256MB card, video lasted up to 1 minute and 44 seconds. That’s still not much. Users are then forced to record smaller files at a choppy 15 frames per second for up to a reported 29 minutes on a 1GB card.
To keep track of how much video is possible, the FE-300 includes a counter displayed on the LCD. Although it resembles a green ticking time bomb countdown, the movie timer is extremely convenient, especially since space is limited.
One of the major drawbacks with the Movie mode is that optical zoom cannot be enabled, a vice of many point-and-shoots. Optical zoom is locked, but users can enable digital zoom at lower picture quality. This inhibits users from shooting movies from afar; it is recommended that video only be shot within close distance of the subject.
Users can play back videos at normal speed, in reverse, or frame-by-frame.
For movie editing, the FE camera offers two post-capture functions: Frame Index creates a 9-thumbnail index for print, and Movie Edit enables portions of the clips to be spliced together within the camera. Some cameras offer Color modes that allow users to shoot, for example, a black-and-white silent film. The FE-300 does not have such color functions, but the index print and splicing action contribute to the built-in video functions.
In general, the Olympus FE-300 Movie mode is a bit disappointing with its locked optical zoom, time restraints, and few internal editing options. Those limited functions are expected for an entry-level camera, but not one that retails for $299.99.
**Drive / Burst Mode ***(5.0)*
The Olympus FE-300 does not have a Burst mode, per se. Most point-and-shoots offer some kind of continuous sequential shooting mode for action sequences. The FE-300 has a Burst mode, but a low-quality version that cuts down on resolution for sequential shooting of 3 frames per second, permitted in the Smile Shot or Auction scene modes.
Smile Shot is similar to Sony’s Smile Shutter, introduced just days before the Olympus version. Accessed through Scene mode, Smile Shot supposedly takes 3 frames per second in automatic high speed sequential shooting that detects smiling faces. For the full burst, the camera shrinks resolution to SQ1, 2048 x 1536 pixels. Users can also manually hit the shutter for a three-frame burst regardless of who is smiling. We found the Smile Shot mode is not all that effective in capturing smiles automatically. Most often, we have to hit the shutter for the sequential shooting.
Similarly, users can enable a drive mode through the Auction scene mode, which captures 3 frames in a row for exposure bracketing, but again, at reduced resolution. Auction mode slashes resolution to SQ2, 640 x 480 pixels.
Where the Burst mode is traditionally located, the south directional of the four-way controller, is the Self-timer. The Self-timer can be set to Off or On for a 12-second delay from the time the user hits the shutter. Most cameras offer faster 2- or 10-second self-timers so subjects won’t have stiff faces by the time the picture is taken.
Playback Mode ***(6.5)*
Like the Main menu, Playback mode is swarmed with many options that can overwhelm a new user. The screen draws up nine separate menus when users hit the menu button while in Playback mode. Not all of the menus necessarily need to be separate menus, like the Slide Show function that doesn’t even allow for any duration or transition changes. Even though the Slide Show menu lacks setting options, having the Slide Show function early in the menu screen allows for quicker access if users frequently view their pictures in presentation form. **** **Users can change how they view their pictures in playback with rotate, protect function, and adding audio.** **** **Users can edit their still images and video by resizing, cropping, and splicing.** ** The FE-300 also includes the Olympus standard set of internal editing: Digital Image Stabilization, Lighting Fix, and Red-Eye Fix. Users can apply one or more of these functions to captured images. Users can tag their favorites or preset printing volume and date information before going to print.**
**** **** **Many competing entry-level camera manufacturers, such as HP and Casio, offer many more built-in editing functions, such as Color modes or borders. The FE-300 covers the basics for rotation and trimming pictures, but consumers might want to see more flexible built-in editing.
Custom Image Presets *(7.5)*
Users can easily access custom image presets via the dedicated "Scene" function located on mode dial. There are a couple modes worth mentioning. The Olympus FE-300 carries an Auction mode that records at a reduced SQ2 resolution (640 x 480 pixels). Sound familiar? The Olympus version is a take on Casio’s signature eBay mode that records stills for Web posting. The Olympus Auction mode, however, captures 3 frames sequentially for exposure bracketing. In addition, there is an interesting Smile Shot mode that is supposed to automatically shoot three frames after detecting smiles. Refer to the Drive mode section for a Smile Shot evaluation. For more frequently used presets, Olympus separated three Scene modes from the menu and placed them on the mode dial: Landscape, Portrait, and Digital Image Stabilization (DIS). The DIS mode compensates for blur associated with camera shake and moving subjects by boosting ISO and shutter speed. Since the camera lacks optical or mechanical image stabilization systems, the DIS mode is the only method for reducing blur. The FE-300 doesn’t have Beach & Snow or Underwater modes like the more advanced Stylus cameras, but the Olympus entry-level camera offers a full set of presets that consumers can comfortably shoot in, without being overwhelmed with 30-plus modes found on Casio cameras. Having a complete list, including Landscape, Portrait, and DIS, would be helpful had they been also listed under the Scene menu.
**Manual Control Options
**As a strictly automatic point-and-shoot, the Olympus FE-300 doesn’t offer many manual controls. As expected, there isn’t aperture or shutter control, or control for manual focus or metering. The most "manual" option is the Program auto mode, which isn’t saying much for manual control freaks.
*The FE-300 uses contrast detection autofocus. Users can change the focus through the Focusing mode via the Camera menu. In Face Detect mode, the camera detects front-facing portraits for autofocus - occasionally. The face detection system is weak and often misses faces.
The camera represents the area of focus, or AF target mark, with a white bracket that moves around the screen except the edges of the frame, meaning focus areas are concentrated toward the center. In iESP mode, the camera autofocuses on the subject regardless of whether it is in the center of the frame. Spot focus uses the AF target.
Users can also adjust focus distance using the four-way controller marked by the flower icon, representing autofocus types. When the macro focus is set to Off, i.e. normal distance, the lens can focus from 23.6 inches to infinity in wide shooting or 23.6 inches to infinity in normal telephoto.
For closer objects, users can select Macro mode to focus on subjects at close range. Macro mode focuses from 11.8 inches to infinity in wide shooting or 19.7 inches to infinity in telephoto.
There is an additional close-range focus mode called Super Macro. Point-and-shoots commonly have trouble focusing on subjects within a few inches of the camera. The FE-300, however, enables the Super Macro mode to focus within 3.9 inches to infinity. The Super Macro mode does a sufficient job shooting short distance objects like wedding rings, but the zoom is fixed. The Super Macro mode also disables flash so subjects won’t be blown out.
Manual Focus (0.0)
The Olympus FE-300 is not capable of manual focus. Users are resigned to trusting the various automatic focus modes. The lack of manual focus is expected for an entry-level camera, but not one priced at nearly $300.
The FE-300 does a good job offering different ways for users to change exposure. Although there aren’t options for Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual, as expected for an entry-level point-and-shoot, the FE-300 offers exposure compensation in +/- 2 EV stops in 1/3-stop steps. Users can select the exposure directional on the four-way controller that will display a four-thumbnail screen of different EV stops, the Perfect Shot Preview for exposure. Users can also access this though the Shooting Guide menu, which is a round-about way of adjusting exposure. The Perfect Shot Preview is helpful for displaying the effects before having to apply them, although shooters who are used to the EV sliding scale might have trouble adjusting to the new exposure controls.
The FE-300 has a pseudo-exposure bracketing function. Exposure bracketing is possible, but only at reduced resolution (640 x 480 SQ2 resolution) through the Auction scene mode. The Auction mode takes three consecutive frames at different EV stops.
The Olympus FE-300 uses an automatic Digital ESP system as the default metering. Most cameras include three types of metering: Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot, to accommodate high contrast lighting. The FE-300 does not. Users can’t manually control metering, but they can adjust it to Face Detection AE when Face Detect AF is enabled.
**White Balance ***(5.5)*
When it comes to white balance, the FE-300 is a mix between its Stylus cousins and other FE-siblings. While many of the budget FE cameras do not have any white balance settings, the FE-300 offers a full range of seven presets: iESP2 Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and Fluorescent 1, 2, and 3.
Unfortunately, the FE-300 is not capable of Manual white balance, which is common in entry-level cameras. Users won’t be able to set custom white balance using a white card for a more accurate setting.
There are two ways of accessing the white balance, through the Camera menu or the Shooting Guide. Camera menu is the more direct way to access the function, selected by the menu button. White balance highlighted tabs overlay the live preview, which allows users to see the setting before applying it.
The other, less-direct route is through the Shooting Guide, geared toward beginners. Users must first set the mode dial to Guide, then "Shoot w/ effects preview," then hit the inappropriately named "Color Effects" tab, meaning white balance. Most cameras title black and white conversion (which the FE-300 does not have) as "Color Effects;" instead, the FE-300 calls white balance "Color Effects," which can be misleading. Users are better off accessing white balance through the Camera menu.
The FE-300 is capable of the following ISO sensitivity settings: Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200 and 6400 equivalents. The Olympus FE-300 reduces resolution at high ISOs settings, a common tactic manufacturers use to glamorize the high sensitivity settings for seemingly improved low light shooting. At ISO 3200 and 6400, the camera automatically cuts resolution to a reduced SQ1 2048 x 1536 pixels. Full resolution is only possible up to ISO1600.
The FE-300 cap of ISO 6400 is less sensitive than the predecessor model, the FE-250, that could reach ISO 10,000 at a reduced SQ resolution. The ISO 10,000 sensitivity setting on the competing model isn’t all that useful; neither is the ISO 3200 and above settings on the FE-300. At those high ISO settings, the camera introduces noise that makes pictures look grainy. The FE-300, however, automatically applies internal noise reduction to scene preset images at half a second or longer shutter speeds.
Accessing ISO settings through the Camera menu is the most direct route. Like white balance, users can also adjust ISO setting via the beginners Shooting Guide, under the "Reduce Blur" tab, then "Increase ISO sensitivity."
ISO is adjustable in most settings except Auto shooting mode. The FE-300 offers a sufficient ISO range, but users should be wary of the high ISO 3200 and 6400 settings.
**Shutter Speed ***(0.0)*
Users cannot manually control shutter speed on the FE-300. Shutter speed is automatically set, depending on the Scene mode, for a duration of 1/1000 of a second to 1/2 second. In Night scene mode, shutter speed slows down to 4 seconds. Beyond half a second, the camera automatically applies noise reduction that smoothes over image detail to prevent grainy images.
Like shutter speed, users cannot manually control aperture. Aperture is automatically set, ranging from an open f/2.8 when zoomed out. When users zoom in, the aperture shrinks to f/4.7, like the FE-250 predecessor. Minimum aperture is f/13.
**Picture Quality / Size Options ***(6.5)*
The FE-300 is equipped with a 1/1.72-inch CCD image sensor that can capture the following resolutions: 4000 x 3000 (SHQ/HQ), 2048 x 1536 (SQ1), 640 x 480 (SQ2), and a wide 1920 x 1080 in 16:9 aspect ratio. At full resolution, the camera can capture up to 8 SHQ pictures on the 48 MB of internal memory.
At 12 megapixels, the camera is certainly geared toward printing large format images for display. Users should beware, though; as discussed in the Testing section, large format images taken with the FE-300 are sharp, but noise can be a problem at high ISO settings. The lower resolution size option (including the Auction scene mode) is suitable for Web posting and e-mailing.
For novice shooters who are not familiar with the appropriate size resolution files for printing versus e-mailing, the Shooting Guide provides text-based explanations under "Shoot w/ effects preview" and then "Adjusting image quality." It is a round-about way to change image size, but the Shooting Guide literally spells it out for the user.
**Picture Effects Mode ***(0.0)*
This entry-level camera doesn’t offer many picture effects. While the Olympus Stylus cameras offer Color modes to record in, the FE-300 does not. Playback adjustments are limited to rotating and cropping images. All other edits, such as saturation, contract, and sharpness, have to be made after the user uploads the photos to the computer and opens up editing software.
Connectivity / Extras
*The Olympus EF-300 comes with Olympus Master 2 software and a free trial version of Olympus muvee theatrePack. Master 2 is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh systems.
Installation of the Master 2 software takes about 10 minutes. Before you open the Master 2 software, the computer prompts you to choose what color skin you would like to view Master 2 in and how you would like to view your images, either in an album or with folders.
The Olympus Master 2 software is very easy to navigate. There are 12 large icons that make up the browser tool bar, including Transfer, Slideshow, Muvee Theatre, E-mail, Print, Edit, RAW, Panorama, Options, Update/Language, Quick Guide, and Help. The Update/Language button allows users to get the latest camera updates sent directly to the camera. Users are prompted with instructions on how to complete the procedure and what requirements they may need to execute it. Under Quick Guide, users are given step-by-step instructions on everything from how to transfer photos from your camera onto a computer to how to make a muvee.
There is no scarcity of tools when editing pictures on the Olympus Master 2 software. On the left is a drop-down menu that allows users to view and select pictures from an album, folder or by date, through a timeline and calendar option. Once you see your pictures in the middle of the screen, you just have to click on one image to edit, and the software automatically opens it for you in the Edit menu.
Other images from the selected Album/Folder appear on the bottom size-adjustable tool bar, with the selected image right above that can also be viewed in a large format. Users can choose to crop, resize, add text to photos, correct red-eye, adjust color balance, brightness/contrast, hue saturation, sharpness, and blur and distortion using tone curve and gamma. The original image and the image being edited appear in the center side-by-side, along with a histogram on the top left edit palette menu. This is a great way for users to review their work and to instantly see the effects of the editing tools.
Jacks, Ports, Plugs (4.0)
The Olympus FE-300 has a single USB 2.0 jack that also doubles as A/V output, located on the right side of the camera and hidden under a plastic terminal cover. With the sole port, users can connect to computers, printers, and television sets for viewing.
*Direct Print Options (6.0)
*Users can directly print from the camera via PictBridge-compatible printers. In Playback mode, under the Print Order menu, users can select single images to be printed from 1 to 10 copies each. Users can also select all images with date and time information.
*The FE-300 uses a lithium-ion rechargeable battery (LI-42B) with an output of DC 3.7 volts. The camera box comes with an included charger (LI-40C). Olympus specifications state charging time takes 5 hours. We found battery life was relatively short compared to other point-and-shoots, with the battery lasting roughly less than two hours per charge.
*The Olympus FE-300 has 48 MB of built-in memory, enough space to store eight full-resolution images. The camera accepts xD media of up to 2 GB, made by Olympus, Fujifilm, and others. Users should note, though, that if they plan on using the Panorama mode on the FE-300, users must purchase an Olympus proprietary xD memory card. [Refer to Other Features section.]
**Other Features ***(6.5)*
Panorama - The Olympus FE-300 is also capable of wide panoramic shooting, but users should note there are a few conditions. Panorama only works with Olympus xD memory cards. That means not only do FE-300 users need to purchase xD memory cards, FE-300 customers who want to use the panoramic shooting have to buy Olympus-brand xD media. Accessed through the Camera menu, users can shoot up to 10 pictures, and open the included Olympus Master software to stitch the photos together into a composite. Some cameras offer built-in panorama stitch. The Olympus panorama process takes extra steps.
Perfect Shot Preview – The Perfect Shot Preview is a multiple-frame live preview. Users can see four items on the LCD screen at one time before applying effects such as exposure adjustments.
Shooting Guide – Aimed at beginner point-and-shooters, the Olympus FE-300 carries a dedicated text-based shooting help guide, located on the mode dial. The shooting guide is useful for users who are learning about photographic technical aspects, but some of the menu items are confusing, particularly the ISO menu that is labeled "Color Effects." Most other items are logically spelled out for the user.
This year marked the epoch of the 12-megapixel-ers, that is, point-and-shoots that reached the record-breaking resolution for non-SLRs. The market currently carries a batch of 12 MPs, but all 12-megapixel cameras are not alike. The Olympus FE-300 has a few things going for it, including face detection, a built-in shooting guide, Perfect Shot Preview, and a low price tag. At $299.99, the Olympus FE-300 is certainly on the less expensive side of the 12MP spectrum, that goes up to nearly $450, like the Canon SD950 IS. Consumers should note, however, that they can also get more advanced features like upgraded face detection, mechanical or optical image stabilization, wireless image transfer, HD output, and manual controls in a different camera for the same price.
**Casio Exilim EX-Z1200 – Priced at $399.99, the Casio Z1200 has a comparable 12.1-megapixel count. Both the Exilim and Olympus FE-camera have 3x optical zoom lenses, but the Casio camera features CCD-shifting image stabilization, while the Olympus camera simply carries digital image stabilization. Users of the Exilim camera will also gain Aperture and Shutter Priority and Manual modes, while the FE-300 lacks manual functions. The Casio Z1200 also has a larger 2.8-inch, 230,400-pixel LCD, compared to the 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel screen of the Olympus FE-300. Both have face detection systems.
Fujifilm FinePix F50*fd* – The Fujifilm FinePix F50*fd* is a strong rival to the Olympus FE-300. Carrying the same 12-megapixel count and affordable $299.95 price (for a camera of this resolution), the two cameras are natural competitors. Both cameras feature 3x optical zoom lenses, but the Fuji camera touts CCD-shifting mechanical image stabilization, while the Olympus point-and-shoot only carries digital image stabilization. Among other advanced features, the FinePix camera includes wireless image transfer, while the Olympus does not, and a faster 2 frames per second burst rate at full resolution for up to three images, which the FE-300 lacks. The Fuji camera is fitted with a larger 2.7-inch LCD versus the 2.5-inch FE screen of the same 230,000-pixel monitor resolution. Both cameras feature face detection. The Fuji second-generation face detection promises to recognize angled profile faces, while the Olympus Face Detect claims to detect smiling faces. Both the FinePix and FE camera reach ISO 1600 at full resolution, with options for 3200 and 6400 at reduced resolutions. The Fuji F50*fd* also has Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, while the FE-300 does not.
Kodak EasyShare V1253 – At the same introductory price of $299.95, the Kodak V1253 shares the 12-megapixel title with the Olympus FE-300. Both carry 3x optical zoom lenses with digital image stabilization. Sensitivity ranges are comparable since both the EasyShare and FE camera can reach ISO 1600 at full resolution and ISO 3200 at reduced resolution. The Kodak V1253 has a noticeably large 3.1-inch LCD, compared to the 2.5-inch Olympus monitor. EasyShare V1253 users will also gain HD output for stills and videos, three types of metering systems, a built-in Panorama mode, and Color modes, whereas the Olympus FE-300 has limited options in these areas.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100 – For about $100 more at $399.95, the Panasonic Lumix 100 carries a comparable 12.2-megapixel resolution. For those extra bucks, Lumix customers gain longer and wider zoom capabilities with its 3.6x optical zoom and wide 28mm lens with optical image stabilization, compared to the Olympus FE-300’s 3x optical zoom lens that reaches only 35mm with digital stabilization. Both cameras have equally-sized 2.5-inch LCD screens, but the Panasonic Lumix downgrades to 207,000 pixels versus the Olympus FE-300’s 230,000-pixel resolution.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 – At a current $349.99 ($399 original price), the Sony W200 carries a comparable 12.1-megapixel resolution and equally-sized 2.5-inch LCD. Both the Olympus FE-300 and Cyber-shot W200 are fitted with 3x optical zoom lenses, but for about $50 more, users gain Sony’s Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization. Sony customers of the W200 also gain HD output, which the FE-300 lacks, and a full resolution burst rate of 2 frames per second for 100 consecutive shots, while the Olympus camera is not capable of full resolution bursts. Other included W200 features include an optical viewfinder and Color modes the FE-camera does not include. Both are equipped with face detection systems.
**Who It's For? **
Point and Shooters – The Olympus FE-300 is marketed toward beginner point-and-shooters. With mostly automatic settings and built-in help guides, the FE-300 is made for novice users as a first-time camera.
Budget Consumers – At nearly $300, the camera isn’t so much a budget camera when compared to other 3x optical zoom cameras. Compared to other 12-megapixel cameras, however, the Olympus FE-300 is certainly one of the least expensive of the bunch.
*Gadget Freaks – *Technophiles won’t be too impressed with the limited functions on the FE-300. The Olympus camera has basic specifications. The gadget-loving crowd would more likely get a rise from touch panel or wireless photo transfer cameras.
Manual Control Freaks – Shooters who want to flex their muscles in manual control wouldn’t give the FE-300 a second look. The entry-level point-and-shoot is strictly an automatic camera with little room to experiment photographically.
Pros / Serious Amateurs – Professional photographers won’t give the Olympus FE-300 the time of day, even as a backup vacation camera.
**2007 is the year manufacturers thrusted 12-megapixel resolutions into point-and-shoots. With hopes that the alluring high megapixel count would be enough to win over consumers, competing cameras came from every major manufacturer. But the 12-megapixel Olympus FE-300 entered the market with something more intriguing – its price. At $299.99, the entry-level camera is one of the least expensive of the 12 MP crop.
After putting the FE-300 to the test, we found the abundance of pixels does help image resolution. In turn, though, it yielded very high noise levels. The noise is so extreme at ISO 1600 that the camera applies severe smoothing, making photos look almost out of focus. The resolution performance has a qualifier; the images are only sharp at the centers. The fact that image quality is good at ISO 50 and 100 hardly makes up for the difficulty you will have at higher ISO speeds or when you want to display a large photo. Additionally, the FE-300 has no full resolution Burst mode and takes longer than four seconds to process one photo.
The FE-300 makes some solid strides with its lightweight design, Perfect Shot Preview, and shooting guide aimed at new shooters. Even with the sharp resolution and affordable price, however, there is a long laundry list of problems that cannot be overlooked. Customers should consider looking elsewhere.
**Sample Photos **
Click the thumbnails to view the full-resolution images
Specs / Ratings
Meet the tester
Karen M. Cheung
Karen M. Cheung is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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