The Olympus FE range of compact digital cameras has been designed to be chic, lightweight and practical, and the two latest versions – the FE-5040 and the FE-5050 – continue in the same tradition. The FE-5050 differs only minutely from the FE-5040, with the former sporting a 14-megapixel CCD sensor and the latter the 12-megapixel version.
In fact, when you compare the FE-5050 to its immediate predecessor, the FE-5030, the changes again are relatively marginal. Both are about the size of a credit card and are so light you barely notice they’re in your palm (the FE-5050 is the slightly smaller and lighter of the two at just 114g). They both have a solid metal body in a range of attractive (and predominantly feminine) colours including silver, gold, pink, blue and black, feature a 26-130mm equivalent zoom lens, 5x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom.
Likewise, the LCD display remains unchanged at 2.7-inch and 230,000 pixels and there’s the same recessed power button on the top alongside a more elongated shutter. The control layout to the right of the LCD is almost identical, with the rocker-style zoom poised above the playback button and square shaped arrow pad; the only alteration is the combining of the menu button with the menu guide, which was a sensible move.
The main improvement to the FE-5050 is the navigation system via in-display icons on the right of the screen which you can swiftly whizz through using the arrow keys. The iAUTO mode is there for those who want minimal manual management, DIS mode cuts down on camera shake (there’s no mechanical image stabilizer, alas) and Panorama does what it says.
Disappointingly, the Movie mode can still only manage VGA (640 x 480) and XVGA (320 x 240) AVI films at 30fps, with no HD in sight. However the Magic Filters have now been expanded to include Punk (i.e. like block prints in pink and black; great fun!) and Soft Focus as well as the established Pop Art, Pinhole, Fisheye and Drawing. No change to the 14 scene modes, though.
The TruePic III image processing engine continues to ensure impressively sharp and vivid colours in mostly bright conditions but we also noticed a pleasingly even tone quality to the Indoor scene mode photos. The AF struggled at the end of the zoom and in especially poor light and the AF Tracking also frequently failed to live up to its billing. Wisely the ISO 3200 setting from the FE-5030 has been dropped, but there’s still no continuous shooting option until you move into the mju class.
Thankfully the SD/SDHC memory cards are still preferred to the virtually defunct xD cards and you can perform a bit of in-camera editing (such as crop, red-eye fix and backlight exposure compensation) before transferring images to your PC.
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