If a camera comes with the highest price tag in its product line, you'd think it would be the best. The Olympus FE-200, however, proves otherwise. Although it boasts the nicest lens and costs more than other FE-series cameras, this 6-megapixel compact wholly disappoints.
At 187g and just under 30mm thick, the FE-200's metal body comfortably slips into a pocket, though it's somewhat chubbier than other compact cameras. With so few manual settings, the camera's controls are fairly simple -- large, flat buttons and a control pad that's comfortable even for large hands.
The FE-200's biggest selling point is its lens -- a nice, wide 28mm-to-140mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens that gives it the best range of the FE-series. In addition, its digital image stabilisation mode (not to be confused with the more effective optical or mechanical image stabilisation, found in pricier cameras) helps reduce shaking when zooming in. Aside from its decent 5x lens, however, the FE-200 sports few interesting features and even fewer manual controls. Numerous scene presets help you prepare the camera for different shooting situations, but you can't change specific settings beyond exposure compensation and image size. The camera even sets white balance and ISO automatically.
Curiously, the FE-200 lacks the TruePic Turbo image processor found in Olympus' less expensive models, the FE-180 and FE-190. It's a strange omission, although it's clear why the camera suffers from irritating speed and colour issues.
While Olympus positions the FE-200 as the flagship of its FE-series, it performs dismally -- worse, even, than the disappointing FE-170. We had to wait 4 seconds between turning the camera on and taking our first shot. Then the camera paused an excruciating 7.3 seconds between subsequent shots, regardless of whether the flash was turned on or off. Shutter lag was a just-tolerable 1 second in bright light, increasing to 1.3 seconds in dim light. While we can manage with a sluggish shutter, the time lag in between shots renders the camera almost useless.
Image quality also disappointed us. While the FE-180 and FE-190 produced indoor shots with excellent white balance, the FE-200's shots were beige-coloured and dull. With no white balance settings to adjust, the camera is at a major disadvantage when shooting under artificial lighting. Images were also underexposed and over-processed, so most fine details were obscured or lost. On the bright side, the camera's lens operates well, with virtually no distortion at full zoom and slight barrel distortion at the wide angle position. This does little, however, to improve the camera's otherwise mediocre images.
While the Olympus FE-200 should be the most impressive member of the FE-series, its terrible performance places it far behind the FE-180 and FE-190. Combined with a price that's higher than most budget cameras, the FE-200 just doesn't cut it. If you're looking for a reliable budget camera for less, the FE-180 and FE-190 are better options.Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin