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Testing / Performance
We tested the FE-230’s ability to reproduce accurate colors by photographing an industry standard GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart. The ColorChecker consists of 24 patches of colors from around the color spectrum. Several of the colors represent commonly photographed colors, such as the greens in foliage, blues in skies, and a couple flesh tones. We ran the images through Imatest, which checks how accurate the camera’s colors are compared to the test chart’s colors. The chart below shows the image of the ColorChecker captured by the FE-230. The outermost part of the square is the color produced by the camera; the overlaid square on each color tile is the color of the chart, corrected for luminance; and the small inner rectangle is the ideal color of the test chart.
The FE-230’s colors stray significantly from ideal shades. This information is quantified in the following graph, which shows the entire color spectrum. The ideal colors of the chart are identified by squares, and the corresponding colors reproduced by the FE-230 are shown as circles. The amount of error for each color tile is represented as a line connecting the circles and squares.
As you can see, a number of colors deviate from their ideal values, especially blues and purples. Blues are often shifted by cameras on purpose to enhance the appearance of skies in photos, but the shift in the purples and reds is unnecessary. Notice on the first chart how the blue tiles seem to have turned purple compared to the ideal colors of the ColorChecker. This color error is exaggerated by the fact that the FE-230 has no white balance control, so it must rely on auto white balance. In this image (and many others, as we will see), the white balance is considerably inaccurate.
Despite its budget price tag, the FE-230 packs a competitive 7.1 megapixels onto its sensor. To test the sharpness of the images it produces, we photographed an industry standard resolution test chart and ran the images through Imatest. Imatest measures sharpness in line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which corresponds to the number of equally spaced alternating black and white lines that can fit in the frame before blurring. We varied the aperture, focal length, and exposure compensation and Imatest chose the sharpest image.
The FE-230 produced the sharpest image at ISO 125, f/4.9, and a 13mm focal length. The camera resolved 1674 lw/ph horizontally with 4.6 percent oversharpening, and 1683 lw/ph vertically with 2.32 percent oversharpening. These results are very good for a 7.1-megapixel point-and-shoot. The FE-230 applies enough sharpening to make the images look crisp out of the camera without causing ugly image artifacting that is symptomatic of too much sharpening. This is a great example of how cameras do not have to have extremely high megapixel counts (8 and above) to produce sharp images.
However, all is not well in the FE-230’s optical system. Notice in the test chart above that the corners are significantly darker than the center of the chart. This is called lens vignetting, and points to optical problems in the camera. Also, the dark line at the very bottom of the image is supposed to be straight, but it bows inward significantly. This is known as barrel distortion, and is caused by the camera’s lenses.
Noise – Auto ISO*(1.24)*
We shot our test chart under bright studio lighting and let the camera pick the ISO sensitivity. The FE-230 chose ISO 80, a reasonable choice considering lower ISO sensitivities almost always produce less noise. However, even at ISO 80, the FE-230 still produced significant noise in the photo. In fact, 1.74 percent of the image was drowned out by the noise, an amount usually associated with higher ISO settings.
Noise – Manual ISO*(0.00)
*The FE-230 has no manual ISO control, so we could not test noise levels under controlled lighting. Considering the amount of noise at ISO 80 (see above), if the FE-230 actually did have ISO control, it would likely score very poorly. This means two things for the user. The higher the ISO setting the camera chooses, the noisier the image will be. Additionally, it will be harder to capture sharp photos in low light, as explained below in the Low Light section.
In order to accurately depict colors in different types of light, a camera needs to know what in the frame is "white." This is called white balancing, and in many cameras it can be done manually with a white card, or by using preset white balance settings which tell what "white" is under different kinds of light. White balancing can also be done automatically by the camera, which, in the case of the FE-230, is the only way it can be done, as there are no white balance presets. We test a camera’s white balance accuracy by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four different types of light: outdoor cloudy, flash, fluorescent, and tungsten.
The auto white balance for the FE-230 did very well, especially under cloudy outdoor, fluorescent, and flash. However, it performed very poorly under tungsten light, and because the camera lacks any presets or manual white balance, users shooting indoors under tungsten light will be stuck with a yellow cast in their photos. In fact, you may have better luck using the Scene modes when shooting indoors.
Still life sequences
Click to view the high-resolution images.
We typically photograph our still life scenes at every manual ISO setting offered by a camera. Since the FE-230 only has auto ISO, we only photographed the still life scenes at this setting.
Low Light* (1.73)*
We shot the ColorChecker under dimmed studio lights to see how the camera performed in dimly lit settings. We took shots at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. 60 lux corresponds to a room softly lit with two lamps, 30 lux approximates the amount of light from a single 40 watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are very low light that test the limit of the sensor.
The issue with the FE-230, as we have seen already, is that there is no manual ISO control. This means that our low light shots could not all be kept to the same ISO level, and thus cannot be compared to other cameras. The practical problem with no ISO control is that the user may often end up with longer exposures in low light than is ideal. Longer exposures are very hard to hold steady by hand, and will often come out blurry unless using a tripod. If you could raise the ISO sensitivity manually, the shutter speed would increase, lessening the chance of blur.
The ColorChecker images are shown above, with the ideal chart colors overlaid. At 5 and 15 lux the color error was tremendous, mostly due to poor white balancing and underexposure. Noise levels were not as bad, at 2.87 percent at 5 lux, and 1.86 percent at 15 lux.
We also test long exposure performance in low light, but only at ISO 400 so that we can compare different cameras fairly. The FE-230 takes exposures up to four seconds in length, but we could not get it to shoot at ISO 400 and still get reasonable exposures.
An important measure of camera performance is how many tonal gradations the camera can discern. Poor dynamic range makes it very difficult to see detail in bright and dark areas of photos. To test dynamic range, we photograph a backlit Stouffer test chart, which consists of a long strip of rectangles, each a slightly different shade of gray. The rectangles vary from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.
Unfortunately, the FE-230 does not have manual ISO control, so we could not test the dynamic range over its whole ISO range. According to Imatest, the FE-230’s calculated dynamic range at ISO 125 is 6 Exposure Values (EV), which is poor for such a low ISO setting.
Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a 256MB Olympus XD Picture Card
Startup to First Shot (7.3)
The FE-230 took 2.7 seconds to turn on and take a shot. This is quite a delay if you’re trying to capture an unexpected shot.
The FE-230 has no Continuous or Burst mode. This camera forces you to conserve your ammunition.
This Olympus will take a shot instantly if the shutter is held down halfway and prefocused. If not prefocused, it will take 0.7 seconds to shoot. Thus, try to have this camera already prefocused when waiting to capture a moment.
The FE-230 takes a sloth-like 3.6 seconds to process a single 3.8MB full resolution image shot at ISO 50. For anyone shooting with this camera, patience will be a virtue.
Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux
*We recorded video of the ColorChecker and an industry standard CamAlign video color test chart to determine the FE-230’s video color accuracy in bright light. The camera did an atrocious job white balancing, leading to a mean color error of 25.6 with 125.1 percent saturation. You can see exactly how the colors were shifted on the graph below.
Low Light – 30 lux
We dimmed the lights and recorded the same color charts at 30 lux. The video in low light was extremely underexposed, leading to extremely undersaturated colors. Mean color error was 28.5 with 55.3 percent saturation.
*We also recorded video of our resolution chart. The FE-230 resolved 315 lw/ph horizontally with -3.3 percent undersharpening horizontally, and 514 lw/ph vertically with 0.2 percent oversharpening vertically. These values may seem very low, but for standard 640 x 480 video on a camera, they are very good. However, the FE-230 did a poor job metering on the chart, and as you can see from the crops, it is quite underexposed.
We brought the FE-230 outside to see how the video handled moving cars and people. The overall picture looked very hazy and washed out, with brightly exposed areas seeming to "bleed" into the rest of the frame. Motion was quite stuttery, especially for cars moving off the frame. The good news is that the exposure stayed constant, unlike the "flashing" we saw in its brother model, the Olympus FE-250.
To save space and manufacturing costs, the Olympus FE-230 lacks a viewfinder. While an optical viewfinder isn’t an especially helpful feature for situations where framing accuracy is necessary, it can help when the camera is low on batteries or when trying to capture images without the attention-grabbing light from the LCD.
LCD Screen*(6.0) *
Although the Olympus FE-230 doesn’t have a viewfinder, it does have a generously-sized LCD screen. This 2.5-inch color LCD is bright but underwhelming with just 115,000 pixels. This falls short of the mark when compared to higher-end point-and-shoots that have similarly-sized LCDs with up to 230,000 pixels. For instance, the FE-250, initially priced at $299.95, has a more impressive 2.5-inch monitor with 230,000 pixels.
Users have the ability to adjust the screen brightness in the Setup menu; there are Normal and Bright settings. Olympus' Bright Capture technology boosts the brightness of a low light scene on the LCD to allow the user to better see what they are capturing. Users have no control over the minimal amount of onscreen information displayed, and features such as a live histogram are not included on this stripped-down model.
Overall, the LCD is average for a point-and-shoot in this price range, but far from a standout. If a large, high-quality display tops your list of must-have features, consider investing a little more in another camera.
*The small, horizontal in-camera flash for the Olympus FE-230 is located to the left of the lens at the top of the camera. This position results in an uneven dispersion of flash that illuminates one side of the frame more than the other. This uneven lighting can lead to unflattering portraits and lost detail in the shadows of the non-lit portion of the scene. This is especially apparent when the flash fires at subjects in close range. Since the camera has a maximum aperture of f/3.1 and longer shutter speeds often result in blurred images, the FE-230 tends to fire off the flash to compensate for low light scenes. While often acceptable for environments such as clubs or at night, the flash will be obtrusive during a romantic dinner.
The flash range for the FE-230 is from 0.33 to 12.8 feet in wide-angle and 2.0 to 6.6 feet in telephoto, typical for an entry-level point-and-shoot. The flash has a full Auto mode that engages each time the camera is turned on, as well as three additional shooting options. The flash settings are accessed by pressing the right arrow on the four-way navigation control when the camera is set to capture still images. The flash options appear as a graphic overlaying a live view of the scene. They are: Flash Auto, Red-eye, Fill in, and Flash Off. While the Red-eye mode helped reduce the unappealing appearance of brilliant red eyes in portraits, it wasn’t able to eliminate the occurrence entirely. Fortunately, the red-eye correction tool in the software program performs accurately and without compromising image quality.
The Olympus FE-230 is equipped with an Olympus brand 3x optical zoom lens with a focal length of 6.3 to 18.9mm, equivalent to 38 to 114mm on a 35mm camera. It is constructed of six lenses in five groups.
The lens telescopes in three segments away from the camera body when the camera is turned on. It retracts when not in use and then re-extends when power is restored. The lens is protected by an automatic lens cover set slightly in front of the lens surface. The FE-230 has an unimpressive maximum aperture of f/3.1 when shooting at full wide angle and f/5.9 in telephoto. With this maximum aperture the camera will have to rely on a long shutter speed in low light (which results in blurred images if hand-held) or on a noise-plagued high ISO setting.
The zoom level is adjusted with the zoom ring control surrounding the shutter button. The zoom ring on this camera allows for inferior control that results in the camera either shifting at breakneck speed from wide angle to telephoto or in halting jumps when attempting to slow the transition speed. With no Setup menu option to slow the zoom, users find themselves futzing with the zoom often.
In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the FE-230 comes with 4x digital zoom. A zoom indicator located vertically along the right side of the LCD screen transitions, after a slight pause, from white to red to indicate the shift from optical to digital zoom. Digital zoom should be avoided if possible and, if unavoidable, used quite sparingly. The higher the digital zoom level, the more compromised the image quality becomes.
While the FE-230's 3x optical zoom range is typical for budget point-and-shoots, its lens overall isn't one of the camera's stronger points. Its unimpressive maximum aperture and erratic movement through the zoom range are an inconvenience to the shooter.
Design / Layout
The Olympus FE-230’s design is clean and smooth and its petite frame won't protrude much from a back pocket. The camera body is primarily matte silver metal with polished metallic silver highlights. The external design, stripped of extraneous controls and features, will definitely appeal to the point-and-shoot photographer. The sleek design falters, however, when the quality of the construction is taken into consideration. The FE-230's beauty is more commendable than its brawniness. It's not likely to withstand a tumble down a hill or someone accidentally sitting on it. Other manufacturers, such as Sony with its Cyber-shot series, have designed cameras that are durable, have a sleek external interface, and, unlike the FE-230, seem capable of withstanding at least some mishandling and abuse.
This slender point-and-shoot digital camera is definitely pro-portability, and users will find they are able to slip the FE-230 into a purse, back pocket, or jacket pocket without any trouble. Dangling it from your wrist with the included wrist strap won't cause much discomfort and it can also be comfortably carried in-hand without strain or discomfort. The Olympus FE-230 measures 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.65 inches and weighs just 3.7 ounces without a battery or memory card. However, while the physical size and weight of the camera will not restrict portability, the quality of the construction may keep users from taking this camera on an outdoors adventure . With components that appear likely to break or crack, the FE-230 is a delicate digital contraption that suffers from the low-quality materials used in its design.
The petite Olympus FE-230 is slender, sleek, and slick. A small horizontal ridge on the front of the camera aids fingers of the right hand. It is otherwise devoid of grips that help the user firmly grip the camera. The small camera body helps ease any strain that may come shooting one-handed. That said, its small size makes it hard to really get a good and steady grip when shooting, and users may find their images are blurred due to the camera shake that inevitably results. I often found myself first trying to capture an image holding the camera in my right hand, only to find it necessary to recapture the shot using both hands with my elbows braced on a stable surface. If shooting in well-lit scenes this will be less of an issue, since the shutter speed will be a fraction of a second, but when shooting in low light the blur becomes unavoidable. Another possible handling problem involves the placement of the in-camera microphone near the often shifting and rustling fingers of the left hand.
Control Button/Dial Positioning/Size*(7.25)*
The controls for the Olympus FE-230 are minimal, and Olympus wisely took advantage of their stripped-down design and provided users with large, comfortably-sized buttons that are well-labeled and easy to use. However, the mode dial is a bit too close to the camera body, and the textured edge isn’t rough enough to provide the user with the ability to switch modes quickly and cleanly. Besides this setback, the external interface for the Olympus FE-230 is one of the better-executed parameters of this camera.
The menu system for the Olympus FE-230 is a pared-down layout when compared to more expensive models in this series. Olympus engages a straightforward, icon-based layout with parameters listed for each sub-menu. The first page of the Shooting and Playback menus are composed of opaque blue displays with both icon and text content, while the Setup menu is laid out as a three-page list of options.
The Shooting menu for the Olympus FE-230 lacks the secondary shooting menu structure found with the pricier FE-250, which should prevent potential confusion novice users might get with such a feature. The Shooting menu is accessed by pressing the menu button on the bottom right back side while the camera is in any Shooting mode. The menu is a series of seven icons with overlaid text users navigate using the four-way navigational controls. To enter a sub-menu, press the OK button after highlighting the selected icon in the menu. Each sub-menu is short and easy to navigate.
The Playback menu system is identical in overall structure to the Shooting menu, with an icon and text menu interface and single topic sub-menu options.
The Setup menu skips the icon and text interface found with the Playback and Shooting menu and immediately delves into a list-based structure users can scan page by page or by individual settings. Either way, moving through this menu is a pain-free procedure that, while quick, could be greatly improved if text were used for some of the less-obvious icons as descriptors for sub-menus. But with a bit of time users should become familiar with these icons. To enter the Setup menu, open the Playback or Shooting menu and select the Setup sub-menu using the OK button in the four-way control.
Ease of Use*(7.75) *
The Olympus FE-230 is certainly easy to use, there’s no doubt about that. Its simplicity is a derivative of its lack of features. The menu system lacks the confusing mélange of sub-menus many other point-and-shoot cameras fall victim to - including, in part, the Olympus FE-250.
The external layout is all-around intuitive. It even includes a Shooting Guide mode, accessed using the mode dial, that gives users quick tips on improving photos and eliminates the need to consult the manual. Transferring images to a computer and printer was simple, and the installation and navigation of the included software program expedited image editing and organization for even the novice user. The zoom ring is an area that could be improved; it falls short when subtle adjustments to the zoom are necessary.
The FE-230 is perfectly suited for snap shooters who want to capture the occasional memory without consulting the instruction manual.
The Auto mode for the Olympus FE-230 is engaged by rotating the mode dial on the back of the camera to the AUTO setting. Auto mode provides the user with access to exposure compensation levels and flash settings while dictating parameters of camera performance. The user can also choose to not adjust these features and use this model strictly as a point-and-shoot camera. The Auto mode performed adequately when shooting in well-lit situations, with the focus time being reasonable while not speedy. When switched to a situation with low or no light, however, the camera often took several seconds before struggling to produce an in-focus image.
If shooting in scenes overwhelmed by the camera’s flash, the ability to adjust flash settings is invaluable. This is definitely the case when shooting portraits in Auto mode, since the Auto Flash setting will almost always produce subjects with flagrant red-eye. The Red-eye Reduction and Fill Flash settings greatly improve the range of situations the camera can be used in, and allows the photographer to capture photos they’d like to keep forever. And since both are accessible through the right arrow of the four-way control when in a Shooting mode, there is no need to enter a confusing menu system.
The Movie mode is accessed by turning the mode dial to the film camera icon. Movie clips are captured as AVI Motion JPEG files and include audio. Users have the choice of capturing video clips in either a full resolution of 640 x 480 at 30fps or 320 x 240 at 30fps. Both options are listed within the image quality setting of the Movie mode’s Shooting menu. The only other in-menu option allows videos to be captured with or without audio. Exposure compensation is still manually controllable outside the menu system. Access this feature by pressing the up arrow in the four-way control when the camera is not in a menu system. The horizontal exposure compensation scale is a graphic overlaying a live view of the composition on the LCD. Users can adjust the exposure levels +/- 2 EV in 1/3-step increments with the left and right arrows of the four-way control.
The major benefit to turning the audio recording off when capturing video files is the switch from digital to optical zoom. When capturing video with audio the camera only allows digital zoom, while video files without audio clips can use the optical zoom range. It’s a trade off, but I’d rather have non-synchronous audio and a better quality video recording than audio and video captured together.
**Drive/Burst Modes ***(0.0) *
Another area where the FE-230 fails to bring any sort of feature comes with the vain search for a Burst mode. The more expensive FE-250 comes with a Burst mode option, another reason it's priced higher. Considering the sluggish focus and capture times, the lack of a Burst mode means users need to set aside several seconds before a shot can be captured. Cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 are priced for around the same amount as the FE-230 and come equipped with a Burst mode option.
The Playback mode for the Olympus FE-230 enables users to review and, to a certain extent, edit or adjust captured photographs. The Playback mode is accessed by pressing the play button above the upper right corner of the LCD screen
The Playback mode allows for users to view images as single frames or multiple thumbnail images in four, nine, 16, or 25 image formats. The formats can be switched by toggling the zoom ring to the left toward wide angle. Thumbnail images can be scanned in any of these displays with the four-way navigation control, and individual images can be selected by pressing the OK button. This camera is able to view single images at up to 10 times its original size by pressing the zoom ring to the right toward the telephoto setting. The Playback mode viewing and editing options are listed within the Playback menu system, opened using the menu button on the back of the camera. These options are Slide Show, Resize, Print Order, My Favorite, Playback menu, Setup, DIS edit, Erase, and Silent mode. The Playback menu option opens an additional screen that allows users to protect an image, add an audio file of four seconds to a still image, and rotate the image 90 degrees clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Playback mode allows users to review video clips and audio files captured by the camera or on the memory card. The audio component of the audio + still image files plays when the file is selected and once complete will not repeat again. Repeating the audio file playback is only possible by switching to another image and then returning to the file with the attached audio clip.
Custom Image Presets*(8.0)
The plethora of options provided on the Olympus FE-230 outdoes the more expensive FE-250 with 19 preset scene settings. Four of these preset-Shooting modes are located on the mode dial, while the rest are in a sub-menu off the Scene setting on the mode dial.
The Scene modes accessible on the mode dial are Night + Portrait, Landscape, Portrait, and Digital Image Stabilization mode. Located within the Scene mode menu on the mode dial are; Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents, Auction, Under Water Wide 1, Under Water Wide 2 and Under Water Macro. Because this camera is neither water-proof nor water-resistant, all three underwater modes can only be used when the camera is encased in the optional underwater housing.
A final preset Shooting mode can be accessed if an optional xD-Picture card and Olympus software are used. The Panorama mode allows users to shoot images in either Panorama Up/Down or Panorama Left/Right. This mode is found within the shooting menu under "Panorama.'
The abundance of Scene modes are definitely point-and-shooter friendly and are a strength of the FE-230.
Manual Control Options
The Olympus FE-230 is explicitly a point-and-shoot camera. Consumers looking for partial or full manual controls should consider another camera. The only manual control included in the Olympus FE-230 is exposure compensation. Other settings such as ISO, White Balance presets, Custom mode, and Shutter Speed control photographers are used to seeing on lower-priced point-and-shoot models are entirely automatic on this model. The more expensive Olympus FE-250 offers control over ISO, but with the ridiculous inclusion of a High Sensitivity setting that maximizes at ISO 10000 and is plagued by more noise than a Merzbow concert.
***Auto Focus (4.25)
*The Olympus FE-230 comes with a CCD Contrast Detection iESP single-point Auto Focus system that struggles with both low light and fast moving subjects. It took the camera several seconds to settle on a focal length. Other camera manufacturers with auto focus focusing systems will at least provide their users with the ability to select between a variety of focal patterns and areas from three to nine points.
The FE-230 also comes with Macro and Super Macro shooting modes, located using the left arrow of the four-way control. The Macro mode enables users to capture subjects from 0.3 feet to infinity in wide angle and about 2.0 feet to infinity in telephoto. In Super Macro mode the camera has a focus range of 0.2 feet to infinity. It should be noted that zoom is disabled in Super Macro mode. So, for instance, when photographing a bee buzzing around a flower, the user will have to get within stinging distance to capture the image.
Overall, the FE-230's auto focus options are lackluster. Most of its competitors give the user more control.
*Manual Focus (0.0)
*The Olympus FE-230 has no control over manual focus, so users must rely on the camera's iESP single-point Auto Focus system. Manual focus of quality is hard to find with digital point-and-shoot cameras in this price range, but for slightly more money some models by manufacturers like Sony allow users to adjust the focal distance via a series of pre-determined lengths displayed in the menu system.
*The Olympus FE-230 uses an entirely automatic digital ESP Metering system. There is no manual control over metering when shooting with the FE-230. Manual metering control is possible with other point-and-shoot cameras in this price range, and can be found with cameras like the Canon PowerShot A560.
The Exposure Compensation setting is the only area users have manual control over when shooting with the Olympus FE-230. Users can access the Exposure Compensation display by pressing the up arrow of the camera's four-way control when the camera is in Auto, Scene, or Movie mode. The Exposure Compensation scale is displayed horizontally along the bottom of the LCD screen, with a live view display to allow users to see the effects of the adjustment. The Exposure Compensation scale for the FE-230 is +/-2 EV with 1/3 step increments adjusted using the left and right arrows of the four-way control.
The Olympus FE-230 offers no manual control over white balance. Users must solely rely on the Automatic white balance to get the colors right. As shown in the testing section, the FE-230's Auto white balance struggled to produce accurate results, especially in low light settings. White balance presets and manual controls are offered by a number of other manufacturers. If color accuracy is a primary concern, definitely consider another camera.
The FE-230's ISO levels are completely automatic. The Automatic ISO range for this camera is ISO 50 to 1250. Manual control over ISO is standard in a number of cameras in this price range from manufacturers like Fujifilm, Sony, and Panasonic. Like white balance, if manual control is of any concern, this isn't the camera for you.
Continuing down the list of fully automatic settings, the Olympus FE-230 provides an Automatic shutter range of four seconds to 1/2000th of a second. If manual control over shutter speed is needed, consider any number of options, including the slightly more expensive Canon PowerShot A570 IS with optical image stabilization.
The Olympus FE-230 does not allow manual control over aperture. It has an automatic aperture range of f/3.1 to f/5.9. With a maximum aperture of just f/3.1 the camera has to rely more heavily on high ISO levels or longer shutter speeds when shooting in low light situations, which makes for noise-polluted photos.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(6.5)*
The image quality and size options for the Olympus FE-230 are located within the shooting menu. When opened, the image quality sub-menu displays a list of options navigable with the four-way control. The FE-230 has the following size options: 3072 x 2304 SHQ, 3072 x 2304 HQ, 2048 x 1536 SQ1, 640 x 480 SQ2, and 1920 x 1080 16:9. There is a Resize option in the Playback mode that reduces images to either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, sizes suitable for quick e-mailing or posting on the Web. In the Movie mode there are 640 x 480 at 30fps and 320 x 240 at 30fps.
Picture Effects Mode*(0.0)*
There are no in-camera picture effects options when shooting, and only rotation and size reduction when in Playback mode. For control over hue, saturation, red-eye correction, tone, balance, and features like sepia and monotone, the user will need to transfer images from the camera to a personal computer with the included Olympus Master 2 software package.
Connectivity / Extras
The Olympus FE-230 comes with one complete software package compatible for Windows and Macintosh operating systems, with one trial program for Windows only. The Olympus Master 2 software system is both an organizational and editing system. Installation was simple and the program is intuitively laid out. Users can choose to import files either as albums or through a folder system on the left side of the interface, where users can open photos from the camera or different folders within the personal computer.
Listed along the top of the Master 2 display are the following navigational and control options; Back, Save, Undo, Redo, Edit Palette (On/Off), rotate +/–90 degrees, Slide Show, Print menu, RAW, Panorama, Options, Quick Guide, and Help. These options are displayed using large, clear text and icons that enable fast scanning and selection without hassle.
The Edit Palette option is a series of editing features that enable the user to alter photographs without having to load them into a third party editing program. The edit palette options for this software include; 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. All have a basic and logical interface, allowing the user to adjust settings manually and automatically for many of the options.
Although this camera includes the ability for direct printing from the camera itself, users may find the printing options included in the software to be advantageous. With the Print menu, users are able to select from a series of preset printing layouts, with anywhere from one to nine images placed on the page. Adding images to a layout is a simple process, done by double-clicking image thumbnails displayed along the bottom of the screen.
Where the FE-230 lacks in in-camera editing options, it makes up for in the software. There are a number of advanced editing options offered in a simple interface.
Jacks, ports, plugs (4.0)
All ports for the Olympus FE-230 can be located on the right side of the camera beneath a light gray rubber port cover. Like the more expensive FE-250, this camera has an odd non-port port cover that, when forced open, reveals the interior body of the camera and connects directly to the area that houses the memory card and battery. This design shortcut is obviously an attempt to save money by manufacturing one camera body for multiple models.
Direct Print Options (6.0)
The FE-230 has two direct print options. Print orders can be sent directly to a PictBridge-compatible printer by attaching the camera to the printer with the included USB cord. The Direct Printing function allows users to select images and dictate the number of prints for each image while reviewing photographs on the camera’s LCD screen. The second option is an Easy Print setting that allows the user to print the currently displayed photograph with the default settings of the printer. Users can select other images with the Easy Print mode once the initial printing is complete by pressing the left and right arrows of the four-way control. The FE-230's print options are quick, and more importantly, hassle-free, a definite plus for its intended market.
The Olympus FE-230 uses a slim lithium-ion battery inserted into a slot on the bottom of the camera underneath a weak-kneed cover. The battery has a reported charge length of approximately 300 minutes. The longevity of the battery is definitely a benefit over camera models that require AA batteries, which often last only a short period of time before needing to be replaced or recharged.
The Olympus FE-230 is equipped with 20MB internal memory, and users also have the option to use xD-Picture memory cards from 16MB to 2GB. The memory card slot is located beneath a flimsy sliding cover on the bottom of the camera. Open the cover by pressing down slightly and sliding to the right. Once open, users can easily insert and replace memory cards. The positioning of the tripod mount on the far left side of the camera bottom allows the photographer to replace both memory cards and batteries without having to remove the camera from the tripod head.
Other Features (7.0)
Shooting Guide Mode –
The Shooting Guide mode is an Olympus-specific feature that can be accessed by rotating the mode dial to the GUIDE setting. The Shooting Guide provides the photographer with 11 frequently asked questions on general shooting situations and their answers. The format is easy to interact with, and fast answers can be found without having to search through the user's manual.
DIS mode - This mode is accessed through the mode dial setting represented by a shaking hand icon. The Digital Image Stabilization (DIS) mode functions separately from other Shooting modes and cannot be used in tandem with other modes. It is intended to reduce operator-induced camera shake and the blur of moving subjects. Digital stabilization, while better than no stabilization, will still not provide the level of clarity found when shooting with an optical system like those found with the Panasonic line.
DIS Edit- The DIS Edit feature is an option listed within the Olympus FE-230’s Playback menu. The DIS Edit option allows the user to select an image and, if the photo is approved for processing, will make further image stabilization adjustments. The camera supposedly refuses images that are corrected or already stabilized and will cannot be further processed.
*Bright Capture Technology *- This feature automatically brightens the LCD and image captured in low light situations.
My Favorites - This setting allows the user to designate their favorite photos and store them to the FE-230's internal memory.
*Pixel Mapping *- This feature reformats the pixels on the CCD with the touch of a button, a process that usually requires the user to send the camera to the manufacturer. Olympus recommends performing this process once a year.
*Underwater housing *- The FE-230 has three Underwater scene modes: Under Water Wide 1, Under Water Wide 2, and Under Water Macro. Users will need to purchase the optional housing from Olympus to use them, as the FE-230 isn't waterproof. Its $169.99 retail price is close to that of the camera. If you have some extra cash, it might be a fun investment, but cameras such as the Pentax Optio W30 and the Olympus Stylus 720SW are waterproof without additional housing and retail for approximately $299.95 and $399.99, respectively.
*With a 7.1-megapixel CCD, 2.5-inch LCD screen, 3x optical zoom, and 19 preset shooting modes, the Olympus FE-230 makes a strong initial claim in the value market with a retail price of $199.99. The shortcomings of this camera are pronounced, however. Lacking manual controls beyond exposure compensation will definitely ostracize a large section of the consumer market, and with questionable construction quality and features like a false port cover that opens onto nothing, users may question just how well designed this product is.
Further downfalls include the FE-230's slow focus in low light situations. And with the flash turned off, the camera is forced to rely solely on long shutter speeds and high ISO due to the underwhelming f/3.1 maximum aperture. Sure, it’s easy to use, and snapshot photographs in perfect lighting will look pretty good. But with little room to learn and grow and such limited performance in poor lighting, the Olympus FE-230 turns in a mixed performance that brings the $199.99 price tag into question.
Fujifilm Finepix A800 – This camera, while not slender, provides a number of control features not found on the Olympus FE-230. This camera comes with a 8.3 megapixel 1/1.6-inch CCD and manual controls over ISO and exposure compensation, an aperture range that will perform well in a variety of light levels, an adequate list of White Balance Preset modes, and a host of flash options that will suit most users' needs. Features similar between the two models include a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 115,000 pixels, a Digital Image Stabilization mode and automatic shutter, aperture, and photometry settings. It isn’t all roses with the A800, however, with features like the Movie mode and the Scene modes falling short of the offerings found with the FE-230. The FinePix A800 has an initial retail price identical to the FE-230, but can now be found online for less.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 – The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 is available in four colors, including standard silver and black as well as light blue and pink. The DSC-W55 is available for $199.95 on the Sony website. This 7.2-megapixel camera is suited for the beginner who wants a point-and-shoot camera that allows them more control as they improve their skills. The DSC-W55 improves upon the offerings of the FE-230 by providing 56MB of internal memory, a Burst mode, In-camera Color modes, Preset White Balance settings, manual control over ISO, control over Auto Focus parameters, and a larger maximum aperture. Comparable components include the 3x optical zoom lens, in-camera guide menus, 2.5-inch LCD with 115,000 pixels, and manual control over exposure compensation. Shortcomings found with this Cyber-shot model include the lack of Digital Stabilization mode, no full resolution Movie mode when capturing to internal memory, fewer Scene modes, and proprietary media formats.
Canon PowerShot A560 – With a pronounced right hand grip and larger body, the Canon PowerShot A560 is definitely easier to handle than the FE-230. The retail price slightly exceeds that of the Olympus FE-230, but can now be found online for around the same price. This 7.1-megapixel model comes with a plethora of manual control options that should be quite appealing to the more advanced user looking to expand their shooting abilities. Users can control ISO, exposure compensation, metering and white balance in addition to a large list of flash settings, a Burst mode, and a handful of preset Scene modes. This camera also has a larger maximum aperture of f/2.6 and comes with a 4x optical zoom, a 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel LCD and a real-image optical zoom viewfinder. Other features that outdo the Olympus FE-230 are found in the settings of the A560's Movie mode. The Movie mode allows users to shoot anywhere from 640 x 480 at 30 fps to a reduced resolution of 320 x 240 at a brisk 60 fps. With these features the A560 provides a strong counter-argument to the FE-230’s major claims of portability and ease of use.
Panasonic DMC-FX10 – This Panasonic model comes in three colors and features a smaller 6-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom lens, and comparable 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel LCD screen. The DMC-FX10 is available in blue, silver and pink for approximately the same retail price as the Olympus FE-230. The DMC-FX10 continues the trend of more manual control found with many of these comparison cameras, allowing users to adjust white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO settings from 100 to 3200. The DMC-FX10 also comes with optical image stabilization, multiple auto focus metering areas, video recording in 848 x 480 (16:9 aspect ratio, although technically not true 16:9), backlight compensation, 27MB of built-in memory, unlimited consecutive shooting, and a larger maximum aperture. This low-slung model, while sleek and cleanly designed, isn’t going to fit into the back pocket of your tightest jeans. Again, in terms of portability the FE-230 has the advantage over all comparison cameras in this price range. But considering the features and options these other models offer, it's important to put that one major benefit into perspective.
Who It’s For
Point-and-Shooters – If anyone is going to be interested in the Olympus FE-230 it will be this crowd. It's a good place to start if you just want to point and click, but if you're looking to advance your skills, look elsewhere.
Budget Consumers – Initially priced at $199.99, the Olympus FE-230 isn’t inexpensive. Sure it’s sleek and easy to carry, but the budget-conscious consumer will find many other models for the same price or less that allow for more manual control, more image adjustments, and more in-camera effects without breaking the bank.
*Gadget Freaks *– The gadget freak is unlikely to consider the Olympus FE-230 with its simple, straightforward point-and-shoot layout and lack of controls, features, and innovation.
*Manual Control Freaks *– As emphasized elsewhere in this review, the Olympus FE-230 is nearly devoid of manual controls, with users only able to make adjustments to exposure compensation and flash settings.
Pros/Serious Hobbyists – There is no reason for the pro or serious hobbyist to consider the Olympus FE-230 as an option.
While the FE-230 debuted with a $199 price tag, it can now be found online for about $150. Its reasonable price and slim, attractive body will entice some consumers. However, the fact that it's more portable and perhaps better looking than its competitors should be put into perspective.
The good: it's skinny jeans pocket-friendly, and has some impressive specs that include a 7.1-megapixel CCD, all-metal construction, a 2.5-inch LCD screen with Bright Capture technology, in-camera help guides, and 19 Shooting modes. But for almost every good there is a bad. While it is constructed of metal, the camera isn’t any sturdier or more ready for rugged use than its plastic counterparts. The body has poorly-designed seals and a pointless port cover that may allow water and dirt to enter the battery and memory card slots.
With the exception of exposure compensation, the FE-230 lacks manual controls. This is a disappointment as its competitors certainly step it up in this area. Overall, it will suffice for the novice snapping the occasional outdoor vacation photo, but it won't do it for aspiring shutterbugs.
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Specs / Ratings