Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on September 8 2009

Here’s my review of the Olympus FE5010, Olympus’ latest entry-level camera with 12 megapixels of resolution and a 5X optical zoom lens. Don’t forget to check out the Olympus FE5010 photo gallery as well.

DPInterface Olympus FE5010 Review

Brad Soo – September 8th, 2009

When I got my hands on various Olympus entry-level cameras last year, I wasn’t flattered by any of them; thanks to sub-par performance, image quality and lack of certain features (such as real image stabilization). It’s a new year, 2009, with new cameras and I hope Olympus has gotten their act together with the bunch of latest FE-series cameras this time.

The Olympus FE5010 features 12 megapixels of resolution (up from 10 megapixels last year), a 5X optical zoom lens with sensor shift image stabilization, 2.7 inch LCD, smile shot and an Intelligent Auto mode which detects and chooses a scene mode for you. Sounds promising, huh?

Is the Olympus FE5010 as good in real life as it sounds on paper? Let’s find out!

Box contents

As you would expect from an entry-level digital camera, the Olympus FE5010 comes with an average bundle in the box:

  • LI-42B rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • microSD to xD-Picture card adapter
  • Wrist strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • Camera software CD (Olympus Master)
  • User’s manual

The Olympus FE5010 has 48MB of built-in memory and doesn’t come with a memory card. Sadly, that doesn’t hold a lot of pictures and you will have to get a memory card right away with the camera. The Olympus FE5010 supports xD Picture cards natively, as well as microSD cards via the included adapter. I would suggest getting at least a 2 GB memory card with the FE5010; and to stick to using microSD cards unless you already have some xD-cards on hand.

Yes, I’m beginning to sound like a broken tape recorder here but microSD cards are really more widely used on electronic devices. With xD-Picture cards, their use is limited to Olympus and some Fujifilm cameras only.

The Olympus FE5010 uses the same LI-42B lithium-ion rechargeable battery, as some of Olympus’ Stylus models, and comes with a charger in the box. The camera is rated to last only 180 shots per charge (CIPA Standard), which is below average.

Accessories

The only accessory you’ll be able find for the Olympus FE5010 are various camera cases.


Camera Tour

The Olympus FE5010 is an ultra-compact entry-level camera with decent build quality and ergonomics. Though the camera is made entirely of plastic, it doesn’t feel flimsy (except for the compartment door) or cheap and the camera is easy to operate with one or both hands too. Depending on your taste and hands, you may find some of the buttons on the camera a little small (ie the shutter button) but none of them are particularly hard to press.

The FE5010 comes in your choice of three colors: black, blue or pink. The camera measures 96.1 x 56.6 x 20.6 mm and weighs 130 grams empty.

The first thing you’ll notice on the Olympus FE5010 is the 5X optical zoom lens which has more zoom than your average entry-level camera. This 36-180 mm, f3.5 – f5.6 lens isn’t new, however; it was featured on some of last year’s FE-series cameras. Olympus has finally gotten the message about the need for image stabilization on a small camera with moderate zoom… so they’ve included sensor-shift image stabilization here on the FE5010, which helps counteract the effects of camera shake.

Somewhere to the lower right (4 o’ clock) of the lens is the camera’s microphone. The flash unit and self-timer light are behind a single window to the upper left. The flash has a pretty average range of 30 cm to 3.9 m at wide-angle and 50 cm to 2.5 m at telephoto. Those numbers are at ISO 800, so the range may go down a bit when you use lower ISO settings.

There’s a sharp 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels on the FE5010. And I’ve got some good news: visibility in both low and bright light (outdoors) was both good. You can turn up the brightness of the screen instantly via a button so you can see what you’re framing outdoors.

Next to the LCD are FE5010’s controls. I like the fact the buttons are neatly arranged and clearly labeled. First off is the nicely sized zoom controller followed by the DISPLAY button, used to toggle what you see on the LCD. The DISPLAY button doubles to bring up a help screen/tooltip when you’re using the menu or browsing through scene modes. There’s also an activity indicator light next to that button – it blinks when the camera is reading/writing to the memory card.

From there, the remaining buttons become a tad smaller (but still easy to press). Directly below the DISPLAY button are the buttons for shooting mode and entering playback respectively. Next is the square five-way navigation pad where each direction offers quick access to a shooting function:

  • Up – Exposure compensation (+/-2 exposure in 1/3 step increments)
  • Down – Self-timer (Off, on – 12 seconds)
  • Left – Macro (Off, normal macro, super macro)
  • Right – Flash setting (Auto, auto with redeye reduction, on, off)
  • Center – Function menu/Set

The function menu

The function menu on the camera is brought up by pressing the center button on the navigation pad:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent 1,2 & 3)
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, high auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Image size and compression

Two more buttons are located to the very bottom of the FE5010. The left one brings up the camera’s MENU while the one on the right is the Backlight Boost button. Press the button and the LCD brightness gets turned up so you can see the screen image outdoors/in bright light. The Backlight Boost button doubles as a “delete photo” button in playback.

The top of the Olympus FE5010 is simple: all you’ll find are a power button and shutter button.

This side of the camera is blank, while there’s the speaker and wrist strap loop on the other side of the FE5010.

At the bottom of the Olympus FE5010 is a plastic tripod mount and memory/battery compartment door. The compartment door is of average build quality. There’s also a single port used for both USB and A/V Out connectivity here.

Taking pictures (Shooting mode)

Shooting screens (from Olympus Stylus 6000 review)

The Olympus FE5010 displays a good amount of on-screen information. You’ll get to see exposure and shooting details, 3 X 3 gridlines and a simple battery indicator.

The image resolution options available on the FE5010 are 12 MP, 5 MP, 3 MP, 2 MP (normal and widescreen), 1 MP and VGA; along with two image compression options; Fine and Normal.

The FE5010 has your standard issue Olympus menu system:

  • White balance and ISO – I’ve talked about these when discussing the Function menu
  • Fine zoom – Crops your photos to lower resolutions in order to extend zoom reach
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization (On/off)
  • Sound memo (On/off)
  • Panorama mode setup
  • AF mode – iESP (multiple point), spot, face detection/li>

The Olympus FE5010 has a panorama mode which allows you to take up to 10 pictures in a row and then later stitch them into a single, large panorama using the bundled software Olympus bundles with the camera.

Perfect Shot Preview

The camera has a Perfect Shot Preview feature which comes up when you’d adjusting exposure compensation. The camera basically splits the screen into four separate previews to show you the effects of different exposure compensation values.

Face and smile detection
The Olympus FE5010 has a pretty straightforward face detection system that can find up to 16 faces in a frame. There’s also smile detection where you press the shutter button and go – the camera will automatically take three pictures in a row when it detects a smile.

Scene modes and macro
The Olympus FE5010 has two macro modes. Normal macro mode allows you to go as close as 10 cm to a subject at wide-angle and 60 cm at telephoto. Super macro is much better as it lowers minimum focusing distance down to 3 cm, though the lens is fixed at wide-angle in this mode.

The Olympus FE5010 has no manual controls, only a bunch of scene modes which include portrait, landscape, night scene, night + portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, sunset, fireworks, cuisine, documents, beach and snow.

The camera also has an Intelligent Auto mode which selects one of five preset scene modes automatically (portrait, landscape, night portrait, macro or sport) so all you need to do is press the shutter button.

Video Recording

The Olympus FE5010 has a standard-issue VGA movie mode which should be fine for most people. You can record VGA (640 x 480) movies with sound at 30 FPS – the catch here is you MUST use an xD-Picture card, otherwise, you’re forced to stick with other settings (either by reducing frame rate to 15 FPS, lowering resolution to QVGA (320 x 240) or both).

Exposure is automatically adjusted as expected, but you cannot use optical zoom while recording a movie. Overall movie quality was just average.

Performance

All performance testing of the Olympus FE5010 was performed using a 1 GB Olympus xD-Picture card.

The Olympus FE5010 starts up in a decent 2 seconds. Autofocus with decent lighting around averaged 0.3 to 0.6 seconds but low-light focusing was a lot poorer, taking over one second while trying to lock focus. And unfortunately, the camera rarely managed to lock focus without good lighting around.

  • Shot-to-shot speed – 1 shot every 2.5 seconds, so-so
  • Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery – 5 seconds on average

The Olympus FE5010 doesn’t have any burst mode – that’s not very nice of Olympus!

The Olympus FE5010 isn’t a fast camera, but not a slow one either. In areas such as shot-to-shot and focusing in good light, things turned out to be just ‘average’. I was disappointed with two aspects of performance however – the lack of a burst mode and poor low-light focusing.

Image Quality

Moving on, we’ll be taking a look at the Olympus FE5010’s image quality:


ISO 64 (f3.5, 1/4 sec)


ISO 100 (f3.5, 1/6 sec)


ISO 200 (f3.5, 1/13 sec)


ISO 400 (f3.5, 1/30 sec)


ISO 800 (f3.5, 1/50 sec)


ISO 1600 (f3.5, 1/100 sec)

The Olympus FE5010 produces nice and clean images at ISO 64 and 100. Pictures start looking a tad grainy at ISO 200 and even more so at ISO 400. Despite that, image quality remains very usable at ISO 400 with good center sharpness and color saturation.

Color saturation drops slightly along with more grain at ISO 800 and this will be the most you’d want to go. ISO 1600 retains quite a bit of detail and sharpness, but with the noise levels here, the most you can make here is a 4 x 6 print.

Both lens distortion and edge softness were prominent issues with the FE5010’s lens. In contrast, however, chromatic aberration (color fringing) levels were quite low and the camera easily identified and removed redeye in people photos.

The Olympus FE5010 brings about a nice improvement in terms of image noise with good image quality till ISO 800. The two main gripes about pictures here are edge softness and distortion.

Photo gallery

Have a look at full-sized photos in the Olympus FE5010 photo gallery!


Playback

The Olympus FE5010 has a very good playback mode. The usual basics are all here: print marking, slideshow, voice clip attachment, image cropping, resizing and rotation. Photos can be magnified by 10X so you can inspect the little details in them.

Pictures can be played back as individual photos, by date in calendar view or in sets of 4, 9, 16 or 25 thumbnails. The camera also has a few editing functions, which include redeye removal, lighting fix (brightens images) and the option to turn your pictures into sepia or black and white ones. An expression edit feature turns frowns upside down, which is a little gimmicky to me. There are no movie editing features on the Olympus FE5010.

The Olympus FE5010 tells you pretty much everything about your photos (shooting and exposure information) minus a histogram.

Conclusion

12 megapixels, 5X optical zoom, a 2.7 inch LCD with good visibility… and now, sensor-shift image stabilization, the Olympus FE5010 is an improvement in the FE-series (though not leaps and bounds better).

The Olympus FE5010 is a pretty simple, straightforward camera that’s fully automatic and doesn’t cost a bomb. There are good points such as simple operation, Perfect Shot Preview and a small handful image editing tools but also a few negatives such as poor battery life, lack of a burst mode and below average low-light focusing.

Probably one of the biggest improvements the FE5010 brings since the start of the FE-series ‘entry-level’ line is in terms of image quality. I’m pleased to report that the Olympus FE5010 produces much sharper and cleaner images than any other FE-camera I’ve previously reviewed. Images are now usable up to ISO 800 (or even ISO 1600 for 4 x 6 prints) with a good amount of detail preserved. The only downsides here are poor edge sharpness and noticeable distortion with its 5X lens.

Bottom line is, the Olympus FE5010 is a decent pick if you want a compact and affordable point-and-snap camera for shooting outdoors/in good light. There are plenty of scene modes, simple operation and good image quality (see the two exceptions I noted), that will satisfy most of its target market. The downsides you might want to note include poor low-light focusing, crummy battery life and no burst mode.

What’s hot:

  • Plenty of optical zoom in a compact body
  • Easy to use; Intelligent Auto picks a scene mode for you
  • 2.7 inch LCD with good visibility
  • Perfect Shot Preview and playback editing tools
  • Good image quality (low noise, good sharpness and details) till ISO 800

What’s not:

  • No manual controls
  • Crummy battery life
  • Poor corner sharpness and lens distortion
  • No burst mode
  • So-so movie mode, memory card requirement
  • Below average low-light focusing

Recommended Accessories:

  • 2 GB xD-Picture or microSD card


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One Comment

  1. jeu September 19, 2009 Reply

    I have an advanced camera Sony Cybershot DSCR1 10.3MP Digital Camera with 5x Optical Zoom. I wanted a light substitute for occasional photos. Olympus FE-5010 fits the bill. Using the two cameras, I took pictures outdoors under the same good lighting conditions, and the difference was barely noticeable. Almost the same resolution (with 7 MP) and almost the same color quality. Of course, under low light the output from Olympus can’t compare to that from Sony (horrible noise). Another thing that I don’t like is that xD cards are limited to 2GB. You can use larger microSD but then the movies are limited to 10 sec. Olympus has two things missing from Sony: the movie mode and ability to take macros. And the image stabilization really works!

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