Home News Buyers Guide Forums FAQ Links About Advertising
    DIGITAL CAMERA DATABASE | RECENT & UPCOMING REVIEWS | REVIEWS A-Z | COMPARE CAMERAS
 
DCRP Review: Olympus FE-190  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 28, 2006
Last Updated: February 13, 2008

Printer Friendly Version

   

The Olympus FE-190 is a compact, stylish point-and-shoot camera with a street price of around $185. That's pretty cheap for an all-metal camera, in case you're wondering. The FE-190 has a 6 Megapixel CCD, 3X zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, digital image stabilization, and numerous scene modes. If it's manual controls you're after, you'll likely be disappointed with this camera, though -- it has none.

Is the the FE-190 a great camera for the money, or did Olympus cut too many corners to keep the price down? Find out now in our review!

The FE190 is known as the X-750 in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The FE-190 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 6.0 effective Megapixel Olympus FE-190 digital camera
  • LI-42B rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Master
  • 25 page basic manual (printed) plus advanced manual (on CD-ROM)

Like many cameras these days, Olympus has built memory right into the camera instead of bundling a memory card. The FE-190 has 22MB of onboard memory, which holds a grand total of five photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want to get a memory card right away. Like all Olympus cameras, the FE-190 uses xD Picture Cards, and I'd suggest starting out with a 512MB card. There's no need to get a high speed (Type H) card for use with this camera.

The FE-190 uses the familiar LI-42B lithium-ion battery. This compact battery holds a paltry 2.7 Wh of energy, which is about as low as you'll find these days. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD600 160 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z60 180 shots
Fuji FinePix Z3 200 shots
HP Photosmart R827 240 shots
Kodak EasyShare V603 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix S9 190 shots
Olympus FE-190 190 shots
Olympus Stylus 740 200 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX3 320 shots
Pentax Optio S7 180 shots
Samsung NV3 200 shots **
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 * 250 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 360 shots

** Not calculated using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

While not horrible, the FE-190's battery life is still a bit below average.

As you may know, I'm not a huge fan of the proprietary batteries used by cameras like the FE-190. They're expensive (around $38 each), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera. Then again, you'd be hard pressed to find an ultra-thin camera that uses AAs.

Olympus includes the above external battery charger in the box with the FE-190. This charger is pretty slow, taking a whopping five hours to fully charge the LI-42B. It doesn't plug directly into the wall like some chargers -- you must use a power cable.

Like all ultra-compact cameras, the FE-190 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.

Being an entry-level camera, you shouldn't be surprised by the FE-190's lack of optional accessories. There's an accessory kit (priced from $45), which includes a leather case, extra battery, and a metal strap. You can also buy the metal strap on its own (priced from $16), and there are three camera cases to choose from as well, in red, black, and brown.

One thing that appears to not be available: an AC adapter. The camera appears to support one (there's a hole for a DC coupler cable to go through) but I can't find any evidence that such a thing exists.

Olympus includes their very nice Olympus Master software in the box with the FE-190. When you first start it up you'll be presented with the screen above. Options here include transferring images from a camera or memory card or browsing, sharing, and printing photos that have already been transferred. A backup option will save your photos to your hard drive or CD/DVD disk.

Here's the main image browsing screen. In the left pane you can choose how images are viewed: by date or category. Powerful searching features let you find images in a number of ways. The thumbnails in the center of the screen load quickly and you can adjust their size in real time. On the right side you'll find shooting data as well as links to Olympus and their partners.

Items in the toolbar include rotation, editing, printing, and e-mailing. There is also a handy panorama stitching tool that will combine several photos into one.

Here is the editing screen, where you'll find rotation and cropping, "instant fix", redeye reduction, and color balance options.

The Master software can be updated to the "plus version" for $20 more. This adds movie editing capabilities, HTML album creation, improved image e-mailing, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.

While Olympus actually included a full, printed manual with their Stylus 750 camera, FE-190 owners are not as lucky. While there is a printed "basic" manual in the box, the book with the really useful details is found only on a bundled CD-ROM. The quality of the manuals are decent, I just don't like having to load it up on my computer when I need to look something up.

Look and Feel

The FE-190 has a stylish, ultra-compact metal body that is more commonly found on cameras costing nearly twice as much. The only parts of the camera that aren't metal are the flimsy door over the memory card / battery compartment and the tripod mount, both of which are plastic. Even with those two weak spots, the camera is quite well built for its price.

The important camera controls are where they should be, and there aren't too many buttons to confuse you. The only complaint I have regarding ergonomics is that the zoom controller could be larger.

Now, here's a look at how the FE-190 compares to other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD600 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.4 cu in. 140 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z60 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.3 cu in. 118 g
Fujifilm FinePix Z3 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 130 g
HP Photosmart R827 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8 cu in. 140 g
Kodak EasyShare V603 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 6.5 cu in. 120 g
Nikon Coolpix S9 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 7 cu in. 115 g
Olympus FE-190 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.7 in. 5.8 cu in. 110 g
Olympus Stylus 740 3.8 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 8 cu in. 140 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX3 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 125 g
Pentax Optio S7 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 100 g
Samsung NV3 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 142 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 140 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 127 g

Will you look at that: the FE-190 is one of the smallest and lightest cameras in its class! It can really go anywhere that you do, fitting into your smallest pockets with ease.

Okay, it's time to begin our tour of the camera now, beginning as we always do with the front of the camera.

The FE-190 has a rather slow 3X optical zoom lens. What I mean by "slow" is that the maximum aperture (F3.1 - F5.9) isn't great, which means that the lens doesn't let in as much light as a "faster" lens. Anyhow, the lens has a focal length of 6.3 - 18.9 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. It's not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.

Directly above the lens is the camera's built-in flash. The flash is pretty weak, with a working range of 0.2 - 2.7 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 1.4 m at telephoto (presumably at Auto ISO). For the sake of comparison, the Canon PowerShot SD600's numbers are 0.5 - 3.5 m / 0.5 - 2.0 m, the Nikon Coolpix S9 gets 0.25 - 3.2 m / 0.45 - 2.6 m, while the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX3 has a range of 0.3 - 4.0 m / 0.3 - 2.2 m. You cannot attach an external flash to the FE-190.

To the lower-left of the flash is the FE-190's self-timer lamp. Below that is the microphone. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't have an AF-assist lamp, which doesn't bode well for its low light focusing abilities.

The main thing to see on the back of the FE-190 is its large 2.5" LCD display. Being a low cost camera, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the screen is low resolution. With just 110,000 pixels, the images on the screen aren't terribly sharp, but that's one of the tradeoffs that comes with a camera in this price range. Outdoor visibility was decent, while low light viewing was just so-so. The screen brightens a bit in low light, but not as much as I would've liked.

As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on the FE-190. In fact, you won't find one on most of Olympus' point-and-shoot cameras. Whether this is a good or bad thing sort of depends on you. Some people really like optical viewfinders, and others won't miss them. The majority of the competition don't have viewfinders either, for what it's worth.

Directly above the LCD are buttons for switching between record and playback mode. To the right of that is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about one second. I counted eight steps in the FE-190's 3X zoom range.

Below that is the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Auto record Normal point-and-shoot mode
Movie mode More on this later
Guide mode Camera helps you out in various situations; see below for more
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, sunset, fireworks, behind glass, cuisine, documents, and auction.
Night portrait More scene modes
Landscape
Portrait
Digital image stabilization Boosts the ISO to produce sharper photos; see below for more

As I said in the introduction to this review, the FE-190 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with zero manual controls. Heck, even the ISO sensitivity is automatic. What you will find are thirteen scene modes, plus a unique shooting guide feature.

The shooting guide is a feature unique to Olympus cameras. You can choose from eleven different things that you might need help with -- some of them are shown in the screenshot above. The camera tells you what settings to use, and it'll even set them for you if you want.

The FE-190 has what Olympus calls digital image stabilization, which is not the same as the optical image stabilization systems on many other cameras. Other names for this feature are anti-blur, natural light, and high sensitivity mode. Regardless of the name, all of these features work in the same way: by boosting ISO sensitivity. When you increase the ISO, the camera is able to use a faster shutter speed, which results in a photo that's less likely to be blurry. With those higher ISOs comes noise, which reduces the quality of the photo as well as the maximum (acceptable) print size. Here's a quick example:


Taken in auto mode


Taken in digital image stabilization mode

When I took the top shot in auto mode, the camera used a shutter speed of 1/4 sec, which will almost always result in a blurry picture. For the second shot, the DIS system boosted the ISO to nearly 600, which allowed for a shutter speed of 1/15 sec -- just fast enough for a sharp photo. Unfortunately, the image is pretty noisy (look at the screen on the phone), which limits what I can do with the photo. Normally I'd recommend just raising the ISO manually to minimize noise, but the FE-190 doesn't let you do that.

Below the mode dial is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation and also:

  • Up - DPOF print marking
  • Down - Self-timer (on/off)
  • Left - Macro mode (Off, normal, super)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off)

The last two things to see on the back of the FE-190 are the Menu and Delete Photo buttons.

On the top of the FE-190 you'll find the microphone, power button, and shutter release button.

Nothing to see here.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the USB + A/V out port (one for both functions), which is under a rubber cover. Sadly, the FE-190 does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so transferring photos to your Mac or PC will be slower than they could be.

At the bottom of the photo is a "hole" through which you'd thread the power cable for the non-existent AC adapter.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here. Even so, the FE-190 is still quite thin.

On the bottom of the FE-190 you'll find the battery and memory card compartment as well as a plastic tripod mount. The battery and memory card slots are covered by a flimsy plastic door. Thankfully, you can swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included LI-42B battery is shown at right.

Using the Olympus FE-190

Record Mode

It takes about 1.8 seconds for the camera to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's about average.

In normal lighting, the FE-190 turned in average focus times. At the wide end of the lens that means a delay of between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds, while at telephoto you can double those numbers. Low light focusing was lousy: the camera spent an awful lot of time trying to focus before finally giving up. An AF-assist lamp certainly would've helped in this department.

I did not find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it often pops up.

Shot-to-shot speeds were average, with a delay of about 2 seconds before you can take another shot.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it. You'll have to enter playback mode for that.

Being a pretty basic camera, I wasn't surprised to see that the FE-190 has just four image quality choices available:

Resolution Quality # images on 22MB onboard memory # images on 512MB card (optional)
2816 x 2112 SHQ 5 116
HQ 15 344
2048 x 1536 SQ1 28 648
640 x 480 SQ2 127 2900

See why you want to buy a memory card right away? The difference between the SHQ and HQ settings is the amount of compression applied: the HQ files are more compressed, and thus smaller in terms of file size. The quality will be slightly lower as well, but most people won't notice the difference.

The FE-190 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to.

Olympus' file naming scheme is a little different than on most cameras. Files are named PMDD####.jpg, where M = month, DD= day, and # = 0001-9999. The numbering is maintained as you swap memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

To put it mildly, the FE-190 has a minimalist record menu. It's really just one screen, with just six available options. They include:

  • Panorama assist - helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching; requires an Olympus-branded xD card
  • Reset - back to default settings
  • Image quality (see chart)
  • Setup - see below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Silent mode - quickly turns off the all the blips and beeps that the camera makes

And that's it! You can't even adjust white balance on this camera, believe it or not. And that's a pretty serious omission, as auto white balance does not always work reliably. Here's a real world example:


Straight out of the camera

I took this shot in my dining room which was lit by a mixture of natural light and track lighting. As you can probably tell, there's a strong yellowish cast here. Normally you'd just use one of the WB presets to get around this, but since there aren't any on the FE-190, this is all you can get. I ran this photo through the Auto Color function in Photoshop and the results were much more realistic:


Same image after Photoshop

The box is now white, as it should be. Leaving out white balance presets is one corner Olympus should not have cut.

If you choose the setup option in the previous menu, you'll arrive at the setup menu, which has these options:

  • Format (memory or card)
  • Backup - copies files from internal memory to memory card
  • Language (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese)
  • Pixel mapping - removes hot pixels
  • Rec/Play buttons (on/off) - whether these buttons can be used to turn the camera on
  • LCD brightness (Normal, bright)
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • Warning sound (Off, low, high)
  • Shutter sound (Off, low, high)
  • Volume (0-5) - in playback mode only
  • Movies w/sound (on/off) - if you turn this off you can use the optical zoom during movie recording
  • Set date/time
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)

Everything up there should be self-explanatory, so let's move on to our photo tests now! Since the ISO is not adjustable on the camera, I was not able to do any noise testing.

Even if the FE-190 had white balance presets, it most likely would've still had a color cast, since custom WB is almost a requirement for accurate color in my studio. Anyhow, there's a nice reddish cast here (which can be fixed in Photoshop very easily), which is a shame, since the rest of our macro test subject looks pretty good. The subject is nice and sharp, and noise levels are quite low.

There are two macro modes on the FE-190. In regular macro mode, the minimum distance to your subject is 10 cm at wide-angle and 60 cm at telephoto, which is just okay. However, put the camera into super macro mode and the minimum distance drops to a more reasonable 5 cm. Do note that the lens is locked at wide-angle in super macro mode.

Since the FE-190 has no control over shutter speed, you're at the mercy of the camera's brain when it comes to getting a good night scene. In the above shot, the camera took in plenty of light, but the image is quite noisy, since the camera automatically boosted the ISO to 274. Purple fringing levels were low.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the FE-190's lens. If you want to see what this does to your photos in real life, have a look at the building on the right in this shot. The FE-190 definitely has a problem with edge blurriness -- many of the photos in the gallery have this issue. I saw some mild vignetting (dark corners) in a few shots as well.

Compact cameras almost always have big redeye problems, and the FE-190 is no exception. This can be cleaned up in software fairly easily, including with Olympus Master. And remember, you may or may not have a redeye problem -- it really does vary from person to person.

I wasn't overly impressed with the photos produced by the FE-190. First, the good points: the camera took photos with good exposure and color, though the latter became a problem if lighting fooled the auto white balance. Purple fringing was controlled fairly well. The bad news is that there's a lot of corner blurriness (this shot is a prime example), fuzzy details due to heavy noise reduction, and high noise levels if the ISO (which the camera boosts automatically) gets up too high. While many modern 6 Megapixel cameras perform well at ISO 400, the FE-190 isn't one of them.

As always, I must point to you our photo gallery. If you can swing it, try printing a few photos at the sizes that you'd normally use. Then you should be able to decide if the FE-190's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The FE-190's movie mode isn't worth writing home about. You can record video at 320 x 240 (30 frames/second) with sound until you run out of memory. Most of the competition out there supports 640 x 480. The internal memory holds a little over thirty seconds worth of video, so you'll want to pick up a larger memory card for longer movies. A 512MB xD card holds about thirteen minutes worth of video.

Another way to get longer videos is to use the SQ recording mode, which has a low 160 x 120 resolution and a sluggish 15 fps frame rate. This boosts recording time by a factor of eight, but I don't think you'll be thrilled with the video quality.

If you want sound with your movie then you cannot use the optical zoom during filming. You can use the digital zoom if you want, though. There is an option to disable sound recording, which allows for the use of the zoom.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (6.1 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The FE-190 has a pretty basic playback mode. It offers slide shows, image protection, DPOF print marking, and zoom and scroll. This last features lets you enlarge your photo by up to 10X, at which point you can scroll around the blown-up image.

The camera lets you rotate and resize images at the push of a button. You can also delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.

The camera doesn't tell you much about your photos, and there's nothing you can do about that I'm afraid.

The FE-190 moves through photos at a sluggish pace. You'll wait two seconds between shots, which is pretty darn slow.

How Does it Compare?

Back in the intro to this review, I posed this question: did Olympus cut too many corners to keep the price of the FE-190 down? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Although it's the cheapest camera in its class, it's also the most unimpressive, with its mediocre image quality and lack of even the most basic features (white balance, anyone?). You'll have to shell out anywhere from $15 to $50 more for a better camera, but trust me, it'll be worth it.

Despite its low price, the FE-190 has a very stylish design and pretty good build quality. It's as small and light as you'll find these days, and its metal body makes the FE-190 look a lot more expensive than it really is. The only weak spots can be found on the bottom of the camera, namely the plastic tripod mount and flimsy plastic door over the battery and memory card compartment. On the back of the camera you'll find a large 2.5" LCD that's easy to see in all conditions, though the screen resolution is quite low. Like all of Olympus' point-and-shoot cameras, the FE-190 lacks an optical viewfinder. The camera has a rather slow 3X zoom lens that has big problems with corner blurriness -- but more on that in a second.

The FE-190 is probably the most stripped-down camera that I've used in some time. It's one thing to not offer manual controls, but taking away things like white balance and ISO sensitivity is just too much in this reviewer's opinion. With no white balance controls at all, there's a good chance that you'll end up with the strong color casts that I showed in the previous section. The camera does have several scene modes to choose from, plus a unique shooting guide that tells you which setting to use (though most of them just point you to a scene mode). The camera offers a digital image stabilization mode, which boosts the ISO in order to obtain a sharp photo, but the end results are quite noisy. The FE-190's QVGA movie mode is unimpressive in 2006.

Camera performance was average in some areas, and below average in others. The camera starts up fairly quickly, taking 1.8 seconds to boot up. While the camera's focus times were average in good light, in low light they were downright awful -- and even after all that waiting the camera rarely locked focus. On a more positive note, I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot times were fairly good. Battery life was a bit below average, and the FE-190 lacks support for the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so file transfers will be slow.

Photo quality on the FE-190 was not great. The good news is that photos were well-exposed, with minimal purple fringing. If you're in "normal light" that the camera's auto white balance system can figure out, then colors should be very nice as well. However, I took quite a few shots in what I'd call standard indoor lighting and ended up with a strong color cast. Since there's no way to adjust white balance on the camera, you're out of luck when this happens. You can't control the ISO either, and noise levels can be pretty high when the camera cranks it up automatically. The FE-190's lens creates quite a bit of blurring around the corners of the frame, as well. Last but not least, redeye appears to be a significant (but unsurprising) problem on this ultra-compact camera.

There are a few other negatives about the FE-190 that didn't fit in anywhere else that I want to mention. The camera's flash is quite weak -- and worse than on most of the competition. I found photo playback to be rather sluggish, with a two second delay between shots. And finally, the FE-190's full manual is found only on an included CD-ROM.

Unfortunately, the old adage "you get what you pay for" applies to the Olympus FE-190. Despite its nice design and low price, it's just too stripped down for me to recommend. Do yourself a favor and spend a little more on a better camera -- I've listed some of them below to get you started. You'll be glad you did.

What I liked:

  • Remarkably stylish and well built for the price (though see issues below)
  • Big 2.5" LCD display; decent outdoor and low light visibility (though see issues below)
  • Easy to use, with plenty of scene modes
  • Unique shooting guide feature
  • Good bundled software

What I didn't care for:

  • Lots of corner softness; occasional vignetting as well
  • Redeye a big problem
  • Lacks even the most basic controls (like white balance), which can cause many image quality problems (see examples in review)
  • Low LCD resolution
  • No optical viewfinder
  • No AF-assist lamp; unreliable and very slow low light focusing
  • Digital image stabilization produces noisy photos
  • Weak flash
  • Dated movie mode
  • Flimsy door over memory card / battery compartment; plastic tripod mount
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Full manual only on CD-ROM

Some other cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD600, Casio Exilim EX-Z60, Fuji FinePix Z3, HP Photosmart R827, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S9, Olympus Stylus 740, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX3, Pentax Optio S7, Samsung NV3, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 and DSC-W50.

As always, I highly recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FE-190 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review of the FE-190 at CNET.com.

Buy it now

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.