Want a digital camera that offers broader creative flexibility than your phone’s tiny built-in lens, yet don’t have much more than two beans to rub together? Topping a trio of recently released FE-series point and shoots from Olympus is the attractive FE-5050, a 14-megapixel, 5x optical zoom pocket model available in metallic champagne/gold finish and other assorted colours.
With a weight of 114g, with battery and SD/SDHC card inserted, and business card-like proportions of a mere 92 x 55 x 18.8mm it’s one of the slimmer devices around the £100 mark. The build feels solid and less plasticy than expected at the price. Current rivals include the Samsung ST70, Pentax Optio M900 and Nikon Coolpix S5100 to name but three almost identically featured examples.
Like those, the Olympus’ lens, which offers a 35mm focal range equivalent to a wide angle 26-130mm for landscapes and group portraiture, retracts within the body when not in use and doesn’t protrude by much when it is. With the camera powering up in a speedy second or so, this is supported by Digital Image Stabilisation, which translates as ISO and shutter speed boosting software to compensate for external hand wobble, a real possibility with slender dimensions as there’s no dedicated grip. Manually selectable light sensitivity otherwise stretches from ISO 64-1600.
But how to differentiate yourself from the competition? Well, here Olympus is again deploying its “Magic Filters” digital effects, a junior version of the Art Filters on its Pen series of hybrid cameras. Thus we again get pinhole camera, Pop Art, “drawing”, and fish eye lens options, nestling alongside two newbies in soft focus and, wait for it, punk. Yup, as in punk rock.
Selecting this option and taking a snap re-produces the effect of a crudely photocopied photo - think of the fanzine Sniffin’ Glue and others of that late 70s ilk - complete with a DayGlo pink/purple background. They mean it, ma-an.
Pictures - normal or punk infused - are composed via standard issue 2.7-inch, 230k-dot resolution 4:3 aspect ratio rear LCD. Where the user’s thumb would most comfortably rest at the rear, Olympus has positioned a rocker switch for controlling the zoom. Perhaps because of this then, said switch is on the stiff side, thus avoiding accidental activation as you grasp the camera in your right palm. Give it a nudge and the lens buzzes wasp-like through the entirety of its range in just over 2 seconds. Because of said noise the zoom is frozen when recording “movies” - the lens merely stays “parked” where you left it.
Another penalty of the smaller proportions is that fingertips can stray in front of the built-in flash top left of the faceplate. Still, a half press of the lozenge shaped shutter release button and focus/exposure is determined near instantly, a full resolution JPEG written to card in around two seconds. So generally the FE-5050 is faster than we’d expected at the budget end of the market.
Once you’ve recharged the battery - in-camera, as there’s no separate charger, just USB cable and compatible mains plug provided - and inserted the optional yet essential media card, you can just pick up the FE-5050 and begin shooting straight away. Though if you want to deviate from its factory settings it will take a few button presses to hunt down where the shooting modes are hidden, since there’s no regular mode wheel or even button thus marked.
Bizarrely these are instead summoned up with a press of the “OK” button which sits in the middle of the camera’s multi directional control pad at the rear. We are provided with a toolbar running down the right hand side of the screen from which options are highlighted and selected. It’s here at the top we have the pleasure of choosing from program auto, iAuto (intelligent or “smart” auto) which automatically adjusts settings dependent on the subject matter, image stabilised mode, scene mode, panorama mode and video capture. The latter only offers standard definition 640 x 480 pixels clips, though the frame rate is 30fps.
The feeling that the FE-5050 is almost a bit of a toy is compounded with a quick review of the images produced over our test period, which reveal soft shots even in broad daylight, a variable white balance performance betraying itself with odd colour casts, and burnt out highlights and pixel fringing on other occasions. That’s not to say naturalistic colours and usable results aren’t possible straight from the camera. They are, but you just have to take several shots to get there.
This is a modest snapshot camera for photographers of equally modest ambition, though admittedly a punk rock filter is great fun for 5 minutes and surely marks a first of sorts on a digicam. It does feel like it’s been constructed to hit a certain price point though, and that has had a very close bearing on the feature set. It’s therefore hard to get overly excited about the Olympus FE-5050. You get your money’s worth, and the price ensures it has obvious gifting potential, but it would be wise to spend a little more.