With a small frame and a smaller price tag, the Olympus FE-190 hopes to attract the fashionably frugal. This 6-megapixel shooter doesn't offer the manual controls more advanced photographers desire, but its other aspects make up for its automation.
The FE-190's metal body is thin and pretty. It doesn't have the stylish curves of Olympus' Stylus or Canon's PowerShot SD cameras, but it's still fairly attractive.
At just 18mm thick and weighing only 128g, the camera is small enough to squeeze into most pockets. Despite its small size, the FE-190's controls are large and tactile enough, even for large thumbs.
Its list of features is quite short, but the FE-190 still has enough useful settings to please most casual photographers. The camera's 6-megapixel sensor and 38-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens are identical to its slightly less expensive little brother, the FE-180. The two cameras share the same scene presets, helpful guide mode, and 30 frame-per-second VGA movie mode.
Functionally, the only difference between the two is the FE-190's slim size. The FE-190 also uses a proprietary battery, but since the FE-180 comes with rechargeable AAs, that point is somewhat moot.
The FE-190 automatically sets its sensitivity from ISO 64 to ISO 1,000. Unfortunately, you can't change ISO manually, and since the ISO isn't recorded in the EXIF data, there's no way of knowing what ISO setting the camera is using. It features a digital image stabilisation mode to help reduce blur, but it still isn't very good for low-light shooting, especially if you can't use the flash. Unfortunately, tripod use is extremely awkward, with the camera's plastic tripod mount on the very far-left edge of the body's bottom.
For a budget camera, the FE-190 performed well. This little shooter took 2 seconds from power-on to first shot, with a 1.9-second wait for each additional shot. With the flash enabled, shot-to-shot time was 2.8 seconds. The camera's relatively zippy shutter lagged just 0.7 seconds from button press to shot in bright light, and 1.7 seconds in dim light.
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Time to first shot||
||Shutter lag (typical)|
Like other FE-series cameras, the FE-190 has almost no manual controls. Besides macro, flash and EV compensation, the only way to change the camera's settings is through its various scene presets. It automatically controls aperture, shutter, focus, ISO and white balance. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since even running on autopilot, the camera produced some very attractive pictures.
Colours were rich and saturated and stayed accurate even in indoor lighting. Some automatic white balances yielded severely yellow photos under incandescent light, but the FE-190 managed to produce a very neutral and even image in our tungsten-lit lab. We noticed some lens distortion at the widest end of the zoom lens, but nothing that would seriously damage an image.
Unfortunately, the camera's lack of ISO settings prevented us from running our standard noise tests, though as can be expected, images shot without flash in low light tended to be rather noisy. Other than noise, the biggest problem the FE-190's photos faced were some processing artefacts that softened details, but even they were negligible.
The Olympus FE-190 excels as a budget, ultracompact snapshot camera. It doesn't have many settings to fiddle with but doesn't really need them, thanks to its well-designed automatic mode. This camera is pocketable, affordable and a good choice for any user willing to sacrifice control for other boons.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Nick Hide