The Olympus FE-290 offers a 7Mp resolution, 4x optical zoom, starting at 28mm for those hard to reach wide-angle shots, and a 3in LCD screen.
Olympus FE-290 Specification
- Image size: 7.1Mp (3072 x 2304)
- Lens: 4x optical zoom (equivalent to 28-112mm)
- Screen: 3in LCD
- Modes: 15 scene modes (e.g. Landscape and Portrait)
- Movie mode: Yes upto 15fps
- Macro: 5cm
- Interface: USB 2.0
- Size/Weight: 97.7x55.7x26.5mm/142g
Logically, because of its name, the FE-290 should be sat between the FE-280 and FE-300 but in terms of specification it's up and down. The 7Mp resolution is a million pixels lower than the FE-280 and 5Mp lower than the 12Mp FE-300. The FE-290 has a larger zoom and a slightly bigger screen than both. Canon offer the bulkier Powershot A560 at £109 with the same resolution and zoom, but a smaller screen. Also, the Nikon Coolpix L14 at £119 has 7Mp and 3x optical zoom and a smaller 2.4in LCD screen. Both are cheaper than the Olympus which is approximately £170
Olympus FE-290 Modes and features
The Olympus FE-290 looks like any other digital compact with its off-centered lens and small flash complimenting the chrome styled lining at the front and minimal buttons on top. The zoom switch is a small ring wrapped around the shutter release button.
The Olympus FE-290 has a 3in screen bullying its way onto the back of the camera, taking up all the space and breaking all the furniture and comes with a protective cover that displays how big a 2.5in screen would be. The screen is bright enough.
The rest of the buttons and dials should be struggling for space, but the back of the FE-290 still has plenty available to fit in the Camera and Playback buttons.
A Mode dial is also availble and this allows you to choose between Auto, Program, Image stabiliser, Portrait mode, Landscape, Video and Guide options. These are simple explanations of how to overcome problems like shooting into backlight or brightening a subject and I think this is a very useful feature. There's also a Scene mode with 11 options of Night & Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candlelight, Self portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind glass, Cuisine, Documents for taking pictures of paperwork or copy work and Auction.
Below the dial is the navigation pad for moving around in any menus and sub-routines. The space-saving pad also doubles up for Macro, Flash modes, Self-timer and exposure compensation access.
One of the buttons on the bottom of the camera is to access the Menu which has options to adjust the Image quality, Set-up, Silent mode and Reset.
The Set-up has three tabs for Memory options, Language, Pixel mapping, Screen and sound options, Date & time, Video output options and power save feature. Silent mode and Reset are also available whilst in Auto mode.
Moving the dial to Program will allow access to the Camera menu which allows changes to the ISO, a voice recorder and a panoramic mode for stitching images together.
Next to the Menu button is a Screen brightness button which has absolutely no priority as a dedicated button and could have been put to much better use.
The way that the menu is laid out is, quite frankly, stupid. It's higgledy piggledy with no apparent thought. The Silent mode feature could have been condensed into the Set up meaning less options and less confusion from the start. The Camera menu could also have been put into the menu or coupled with some other features to make it more substantial.
Olympus FE-290 Build and handling
Cast in a sleek metal shell, the features of the camera are enough for the market it's aimed at. The large screen is a let down when looked at more closely as there is a serious amount of motion blur. The image on screen looks like a webcam image when the webcam is moved suddenly, like it is only running at 10-15fps
Turning my attention to the bottom of the camera, the battery door slides out from a locked position to open, but does have a little give in it. The tripod bush is plastic, so will wear down eventually. A plastic tripod bush is standard on a camera of this type, though.
The rest of the camera is solid with only enough give in the lens to ensure it zooms in and out smoothly. The Macro facility is not the best I've seen. It goes down to 5cm, but that is on the Close Macro and zoom cannot be used in this mode. Usually the Close macro can get as far in as 1cm, so 5cm is a little disappointing.
Olympus FE-290 Flash options
The standard flash options available including Auto, Red-eye, Flash on and Flash off are available on the Olympus FE-290. This is nothing to write home about, but after some recent reviews it's good to see all the options in one place.
Olympus FE-290 Performance
In a couple of bizarre twists, the Olympus FE-290 has no continuous shooting option, so only a single shot can be taken at a time and the Menu has an access to the Scene mode on the Menu and this can only be accessed when in Scene mode on the dial. The Scene menu automatically pops up when selected, so I can see the relevance of not having to switch out to switch back in, but I cannot understand why this has been disabled in the Auto and Program modes as it would mean another way to get to the Scenes.
The colour testchart has produced some lovely colours especially in Blue and the Purples. The tones on the bottom are acceptable, but the skin tone is a little off and Yellow is muted.
The canal image has distinct fringing on the building roof to the right and due to the wide angle lens, barrel distortion is enhanced to uncomfortable levels. A pleasing image has been delivered though, despite my retching due to the dead duck just out of shot.
The canal shot displays bad barrel distortion and testing this in a different image doesn't highlight it as much. The wall in front of the church does have a slight curl which is inconsistent with the actual wall.
Portrait mode was used with flash and without and interestingly, this mode doesn't boost the warmer tones as I would expect it to so the colours are duller than usual.
The Program mode is the most amusing as it's designed to select the perfect aperture and shutter speed, yet has suffered from camera shake. There's still room for the camera to move as the ISO rating is relatively low. It is a simple case that the camera must use all three exposure tools at its disposal to get the right shot and the Olympus FE-290 has failed on this occasion.
Olympus FE-290 Noise test
The colour testchart image gives a good overall result, but warmer colours like Yellow are muted giving way to cooler blues.
The Macro is pretty standard on the FE-290 at 20cm but the option of Super macro is available with no zoom down to 5cm.
The wide shot shows some barrel distortion due to the 28mm wide lens.
The small zoom is quite deceiving as this zoomed image is quite good.
The Portrait mode with flash flattens colours.
The Portrait mode gives a flatter result than is normally seen in this mode.
The Program mode is like Auto, selecting the correct exposure. So this image shouldn't have camera shake.
The canal image shows barrel distortion and fringing on the rooftop, but doesn't show the dead duck at my feet.
If any of the other weird things happening with the Olympus FE-290 spooked you, then another unusual thing is the ISO ratings. They start from a fabulous, low ISO64 and go all the way to a mediocre ISO640. Today when most compacts of this class are pumping out ISO2000 and similar numbers, would this go against the FE-290? Well, that depends on the way you look at it.
High ratings on cameras can be misleading. The higher ISO usually ties in with the nightshot to avoid using flash, but the resulting noise can destroy the image.
Manufacturers have also started to incorporate the high ISO into the Image stabiliser as the camera can then use a faster shutter speed to steady the image. Technically this means it is not an image stabiliser at all, so look out for that kind of thing.
So going back, I think that this is actually a good thing as the camera will be able to cope in most situations with these ISO settings and if not, that's what the flash is for.
ISO64 gives understandably lovely results with no noise even on low key areas. ISO100 shows a difference in colour, but this could be down to the AWB as the FE-290 has no White balance override feature, but the detail is still good.
Slight blobs of Green and Purple are already starting to show on the black card at ISO200, so it may be a good thing that the rating doesn't go higher than ISO640.
ISO400 has started to sharpen the noise that is now more evident in the low key areas and also is starting to show on the Grey card.
Finally, ISO640 has truly dire results, for such a low rating, with lots of noise and image decay all over. The petals have retained detail, but are starting to deteriorate.
The ISO64 test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO640 test.
Olympus FE-290 Verdict
All through the review, I have been thinking of good things to say about the FE-290 and it does have some nice touches, but each one seems to have a stronger alter ego to bring it back down.
For instance, I like the low ISO ratings, but the noise shown at these lower settings is worse than other cameras. The 28mm wide lens is great, but it suffers from barrel distortion.
The Menu is a mess and while I was using the camera, I discovered that once a setting is chosen, you cannot just press the shutter release button to set the preferences and take a picture. Instead, the Menu button must be pressed until the Menu has been exited otherwise the camera will put you back into the Menu until you do it this way.
The Olympus FE-290 is also missing some basic features such as a continuous shooting mode and White balance override.
I found it difficult to like the camera as it just feels as if it was made in a hurry. The large screen has terrible motion blur and no other features are innovative or better than anyone else.
Olympus are starting to turn themselves around in the DSLR market, so it's a shame to see such a weak camera in their ranks.
28mm wide-angle lens
Large 3in screen
No pretentious ISO offerings
Barrel distortion at 28mm
Motion blur on the screen
ISO has noise even at lower settings
The Olympus FE-290 costs around £170 and will be available soon.
Take a look at the ePHOTOzine shop for other cool Olympus products.