Olympus FE-5040 review: With a slim, metal body and a fuss-free design, what's not to like about the FE-5040?
The Olympus FE-5040 is a model that doesn’t hold quite the same weight as the company’s ‘bulletproof’ TOUGH series or ever-expanding PEN range – but the FE-range certainly caters for the novice photographer. The FE-5040 is one of the most recent additions to the series, combining a basic feature set with a handful of up-to-date technologies, and manages to deliver the result in a slim metal body for just £100.
The Olympus FE-5040’s 12MP CCD sensor contains an effective 12MP, while the 5x optical zoom lens starts from a useful 26mm wideangle and travels up to 130mm at the long end (in 35mm-equivalent terms). Image stabilisation comes courtesy of a sensitivity-altering function (i.e. it forces the ISO up and diminished image quality), which in turn raises the camera’s shutter speed to help freeze any movement. There’s also an iAuto function that instructs the camera to automatically adjust settings to match a scene, as well as Program and Scene mode options.
The Olympus FE-5040 also has six Magic Filters, similar to the Art Filters found in Olympus’s PEN models and E-system DSLRs. Easily accessible for instant creative effects, including Punk, Pin Hole and Fish Eye flavours. Face Detection, meanwhile, claims to find up to 12 faces in a scene, and adjusts focus and exposure accordingly, while AF tracking is also thrown in to help keep a lock on any moving subjects.
A 2.7in LCD with a 230k-dot resolution can be found on the rear of the FE-5040, in addition to the standard collection of buttons and controls. Olympus has even found space for a dedicated ‘?’ button to explain any menu settings, which is useful when considering the target market. Charging the camera is also helpfully possible via USB, which is ideal for those on the move, and all images and movies are whisked away to the user’s choice of SD or SDHC media.
Starting up the FE-5040 takes around a second and a half, which is neither terrible nor particularly impressive, although powering down happens much quicker. There’s little to confuse in both the menu system and on the main shooting screen, and the camera is pleasantly responsive in both shooting and reviewing modes, and when various options are selected.
The previews for exposure compensation and the various white balance presets also make light work of selecting the most appropriate settings, should you choose to venture out of the more automated exposure modes, although the lacklustre quality of the LCD screen means that finer details can’t always be made out too well.
While focusing isn’t lightning fast it’s perfectly reasonable for a £100 camera, although even when the subject is centrally placed the FE-5040 often fails to place the focusing point over it, often choosing some insignificant peripheral detail instead. This doesn’t always mean the subject is captured out of focus, however,as there can often be enough depth of field to keep everything sharp, but switching to spot AF is advisable nonetheless.
Sadly, even for a budget compact the FE-5040 produces images to a less than a satisfactory standard. In good light it’s capable of turning out reasonable results, and if you’re not looking at images at their full size you may not actually require anything better, but otherwise the flaws are easy to spot.
Exposures are fine when scene details are balanced, but the metering system seems extraordinarily sensitive to darker and lighter scenes, easily causing over- and under-exposure respectively. Furthermore, while the worst colour noise is reserved for the top end of the camera’s sensitivity range there’s a surprising amount of luminance noise on even the lowest ISO setting, which gives images a coarse texture.
There’s refreshingly little distortion from the camera’s lens, although purple fringing around contrasting areas proves to be distracting. The relatively small maximum aperture of f/6.5 at the tele end is also a hindrance, as the camera frequently requires the flash to be used which isn’t exactly conducive to maintaining accurate tone and colour. Otherwise colour is fine in good conditions, but an often unpredictable Auto White Balance system together with a tendency to rely on flash means that sometimes it’s hard to know quite what the camera will do.
The FE-5040 ticks some of the right boxes for a budget compact, but sub-standard image quality and a poor LCD screen means it falls short of the competition.