The Olympus FE-170 is one of the cheapest digital cameras you will find from a leading brand. The camera sells for under £100. It has six megapixels and a three times optical zoom lens. In terms of features the FE-170 is fairly basic, as you would expect for the price. The upside to this is it makes the camera easy to use.
Taking these points into consideration the camera is likely to appeal to anyone who is looking for a value for money camera, that you can be quickly up and running with and comes from a trustworthy company.
90 x 62.5 x 30.5mm
Despite having limitations in certain key areas the FE-170 manages to perform better than I had expected it to in others. Without doubt it is best suited to standard outdoor scenic shots in good light. When the light gets low the FE-170 starts to struggle quite quickly.
Plus points showing up in the outdoor scenic shots include levels of sharpness and the way the camera handles light coloured areas. When it comes to sharp images this camera manages to outperform many more expensive digital cameras. The images are not pin sharp, but they are good enough to produced crisp 7 x 5" prints. The FE-170 also does a fairly good job of retaining sharpness up to the edge of a photo.
With the sun getting lower in the sky at this time of year I have noticed a number of more illustrious cameras struggling to come to terms with the amount of glare this can produce from light or white areas of a picture. Although not perfect I was impressed by the way the FE-170 was able to cope with this problem. This means the camera is able to show a higher level of detail in reflective areas such as the boats in the first picture.
The camera does find it harder when the zoom lens is not being used at all. My second test shot looking down the river shows up a couple of problem areas. The most noticeable is the amount of darkness that creeps into the corners of the photo. There is a swan in the bottom left hand corner of the shot that helps to highlight the loss of light. The second problem in this shot is a lower level of overall sharpness compared to pictures where the zoom lens is at least being partially used.
In the third test shot a small amount of purple fringing shows. Purple fringing is where a thin purple line is added to the edge of light objects where they are caught by the sun. This is something I see on a regular basis with super zoom digital cameras, but is rare in a camera with a standard 3x optical zoom lens.
I like the colours the FE-170 manages to produce. They are deep and many of the pictures take on a warm glow. The dedicated test for colours underlines the strength of the colours the camera is able to capture. Although blues are strong I would not go as far as to say this or any other colour is overly dominant.
The outdoor portrait is about average. The FE-170 could have been better in the areas where light falls on the face. This leads to those areas being a bit washed out. Elsewhere the skin colours have a pleasant, natural look to them.
It is indoors where I use lowlight to take my test shots where the camera really struggles. In both the portrait shot and the shot of beer bottles the FE-170 is unable to lock on to the subject well enough to focus properly. The result is disappointing, out of focus photos. This is an area where less expensive digital cameras can hit problems and perhaps it is expecting too much for the FE-170 to rise above many of the other cameras available for around this price.
For close up photos the FE-170 produced an acceptable macro test shot. There is a strange red circle showing up. I have not seen this before in any of the cameras I have managed to test. There is also a slight, blue colour caste to the shot.
You cannot adjust the ISO settings of this camera. Therefore I am unable to carry out my test for shooting at higher ISO settings.
Shutter Lag and Recycling Times
I was able to take a single shot in 1.62 seconds and five shots in 15.11 seconds. These are slow times.
You can compare this camera to other models by taking a look at the Shutter Lag Comparison Table.
The 3x optical zoom lens has a focal length equivalent to 38 - 114mm in 35mm format. The maximum lens aperture is 3.1 (wide) - 5.9 (tele). There is also a 4x digital zoom feature. For close up work the FE-170 is able to focus from 5cm.
The LCD screen is 2.5". It is made up of around 154,000 pixels. For a digital camera in this price range that is a very large size. There is no viewfinder.
To help you take the best possible shot are ten scene modes. When opting to use a scene mode the camera realises the type of photo you are about to take and will use what it considers to be the optimum settings. The scene modes available are: Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Behind Glass, Cuisine, Documents and Auction. In addition there is also a panorama assist mode. To be able to take advantage of this you need to use an Olympus brand memory card.
The built in flash unit has a maximum range of 4m. This falls to around 2.1m when the zoom lens is in use. The flash modes are automatic, always on, always off and red eye reduction.
Almost all the more advanced features such as white balance, shutter speeds (1/2 seconds - 1/2000 seconds (up to 4 sec. in night mode)) and ISO sensitivity (64 - 400) are set automatically by the camera. You do have control over exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV 1/3 EV steps).
Movies can be recorded at a maximum resolution of 320 x 240 and a top speed of 15 frames per second. Sound is not available and zoom cannot be used whilst recording is in progress. The duration of each movie is only limited by the capacity of the memory card.
When you would like to appear in a photo there is a self timer. The delay time is approximately 12 seconds.
Olympus provides all the necessary cables and software to connect the FE-170 to a computer, television set and PictBridge compatible printer.
Ease of Use
In terms of features you will be hard pushed to find a digital camera with less than the Olympus FE-170. The upside of this is that it makes the camera very easy to use indeed. Almost all the key control can be found on the back and top of the camera. This means that you rarely need to use the menu system. When you do there is so little in there that you should be able to find the setting you are looking for without a problem.
There is also a guide available. This gives you tips on how to improve the quality of your photos and overcome some typical problems.
You can pick up an Olympus FE-170 for around £85. This compares to around £95 for a Fuji Finepix A600, £115 for a Sony DSC S500 and £125 for a Kodak EasyShare C663.
There is a fair amount of choice when it comes to entry level, six megapixel digital cameras. The FE-170 is one of the cheapest you are likely to find. Based on this I would say it offers fair value for money.
Compared to many other digital cameras at the cheaper end of the market the FE-170 appears to have a fairly good build quality. It may not have the looks or feel of more expensive and stylish models, but I have no complaints about the design. In many ways it looks like a typical digital camera - shiny, silver, rectangular box. It also has a small grip or raised area on the front to help hold it steady when taking a shot.
The camera weighs 124g and has dimensions of 90 x 62.5 x 30.5mm.
Batteries and Memory Cards
Two AA batteries are required to power the camera. I must admit I found the camera quite battery hungry. Therefore it is likely to pay to pick up some rechargeable batteries and a charger. If you do decide to do this I would recommend buying batteries with a mAh rating of around 2500 or preferable above.
Although the camera is compatible with xD picture cards a card is not supplied as standard with the camera. This is because Olympus has built 10mb of storage into the FE-170. I was only able to take seven shots before the memory became full.
Click here to save money on xD cards..
Points I like:
Ease of use
Where it is not so hot:
Indoors in lowlight
The Olympus FE-170 is priced about right. It can take decent pictures when the light is good, but struggles more in lowlight. Shutter lag is also an issue with the camera. If you can pay more there are better cameras to be found, but if this camera fits into your budget then I would say go ahead and buy as long as you are prepared to accept its limitations.
Olympus FE 170 Front View
Olympus FE 170 Back View
Olympus FE 170 Top View
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