Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies. Better yet, ask me no questions, and I won't have to think too much about how to take pictures. That's the philosophy behind Olympus' FE-series of cameras. Rather than offering manual settings and complicated exposure options, the FE-cameras almost completely automate their shots, making them literal point-and-shoot cameras. Square in the middle of these cameras is the FE-230, a nondescript camera with a tiny form and few options.
The compact FE-230 weighs a mere 4.3 ounces with card and battery, making it the lightest member of the FE-series. Its slim, metal body fits easily in most pockets and feels comfortable in your hand. Despite its small form, the camera's controls are quite large and responsive; even large thumbs can easily manipulate its mode dial and control pad.
The camera's small size is its biggest attribute; unlike the high-resolution FE-250 or the 5x optical zoom-equipped FE-240, the FE-230 is a more cookie-cutter point-and-shoot with a 7-megapixel resolution, a 38mm to 114mm-equivalent 3x zoom lens, and a 2.5-inch LCD screen. Besides its automatic mode, the FE-230 has 18 shooting modes, including a 30 frames per second (fps) VGA movie mode. It also comes with 20MB of built-in memory so you can take a small handful of shots without using an xD memory card. Of course, 20MB isn't a lot of space, so we recommend getting a memory card anyway.
As with all Olympus FE-series cameras, the FE-240 almost completely lacks any manual settings. Besides flash and macro shooting, preset scene modes, and exposure compensation, users can't make any image adjustments. The camera completely automates white balance, ISO sensitivity, and other settings, giving a very literal sense to the phrase "point and shoot." This isn't necessarily a bad thing; automation can be beneficial as long as the images look good in the end.
The FE-230 performed poorly in our tests, taking an irritatingly long amount of time between shots. After a 2.5-second start-up time, the camera took a shot once every 2.4 seconds. With the flash enabled, that time increased to 3.2 seconds. The shutter also performed sluggishly, lagging 0.9 seconds with our high contrast target and 1.6 seconds with our low-contrast target. In fairness, the FE-230's shot-to-shot time was better than the other FE-series cameras we've tested; the higher-end FE-240 and FE-250 respectively take 5.1 and 4.8 seconds between shots. Like nearly all FE-series cameras, the FE-230 lacks a burst mode.
The camera's images excelled in some areas but disappointed in others. On one hand, the FE-230's automatic white balance reproduced accurate colors even under incandescent lighting (a feat difficult for most automatic white balance settings). The photos enjoyed relatively low noise, and most grain remained unobtrusive and subtle. On the other hand, softness obscured many fine details and made text difficult to read. Also, because the camera sets ISO settings automatically, it's almost impossible to know just how much noise and grain will show up when you shoot in low light.
The Olympus FE-230 is an extremely simple, relatively decent point-and-shoot camera. It doesn't have any significant manual settings to fiddle with, but its automatic mode is pleasantly reliable, even in indoor light. Unfortunately, its sluggish performance and soft pictures leave the camera somewhat lacking. If you really want a camera that won't ask you any questions, the FE-230 can be a decent choice. Otherwise, a more manual-oriented budget camera such as the Kodak EasyShare C875 or the Canon PowerShot A550 offer overall better image quality and stronger performance for about the same price.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance.)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|