Olympus FE-4000: It's slim, cheap and shiny, but is it any good?
Buying a digital camera for under £120 is a risky business. While there are a few genuine bargains available, most of the available choices will be cheap plastic point-and-click devices with limited features, slow performance and inferior image quality. Even buying a camera from a respected brand such as Olympus is no guarantee of quality, as this frankly disappointing FE-4000 demonstrates.
The FE-4000 is a budget-priced ultra-compact featuring a 4x zoom lens with a wide angle equivalent to 26.3mm, a 2.7-inch LCD monitor and a 12-megapixel CCD sensor. The camera body is all plastic, with a “Double Layered Crystal Shell” finish available in a range of five colours including dark grey, pure white, magenta, Arctic blue and the Tangerine orange shown here. The build quality is pretty poor even by budget camera standards. The body panels creak alarmingly under even a light squeeze, and the battery/card hatch is extremely flimsy. That shiny metallic finish looks great straight out of the box, but it attracts finger marks like a magnet and quickly looks grubby. It is also very slippery and hard to grip.
The controls look and feel cheap. The transparent plastic buttons are hard to see in low light and provide little tactile feedback, and the on-screen menu text is poorly anti-aliased and looks slightly blurred. The built-in flash is inconveniently located under the knuckle of the right middle finger when holding the camera in any normal one-handed grip, causing big shadows on most flash-lit shots.
The FE-4000 has only the most basic set of features. The main menu has only one page with just five entries. User input is limited to image size and quality, white balance, AF mode and ISO setting. There is no colour adjustment, spot metering, continuous shooting or any of the other small refinements found even on other cheap cameras. Even the self-timer is limited to 10 seconds only. It does feature digital image stabilisation, tracking AF and face detection, but none of these work particularly well.
Other severely limited features include the video mode, which is restricted to 640 x 480 resolution at 30fps with mono audio, although in this mode clips are limited to just 10 seconds in length. Needless to say the optical zoom cannot be used while recording.
The FE-4000 has two image quality modes; Fine and Normal, but in practice this makes little difference to the image quality, which is shockingly bad in both modes. Even in Fine mode shots show chronic over-sharpening, compression artefacts and very poor colour rendition. The lens quality is terrible, with poor contrast, severe chromatic aberration, corner blurring and so much haze that I thought there must be a fingermark on the lens. There wasn’t, it really is that bad.
The image quality is matched by the performance, which is slower than any camera I’ve seen in maybe five years. Even in Normal quality mode the shot-to-shot time is nearly nine seconds, but this isn’t really a problem because the glacially slow AF system and shutter lag of nearly two seconds means that you’ll inevitably miss the shot you wanted anyway. Low light performance is almost non-existent, with the camera often failing to focus even in a room lit with a normal 60W bulb.
The Olympus FE-4000 is a shockingly bad camera even by budget compact standards. It has inferior build quality, appallingly slow performance and image quality worse than most mobile phone cameras. In short, avoid.