Olympus FE-230 Digital Camera Review
Read a digital camera review of the Olympus FE-230.
Testing / Performance
We tested the FE-230’s ability to reproduce accurate colors by photographing an industry standard GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart. The ColorChecker consists of 24 patches of colors from around the color spectrum. Several of the colors represent commonly photographed colors, such as the greens in foliage, blues in skies, and a couple flesh tones. We ran the images through Imatest, which checks how accurate the camera’s colors are compared to the test chart’s colors. The chart below shows the image of the ColorChecker captured by the FE-230. The outermost part of the square is the color produced by the camera; the overlaid square on each color tile is the color of the chart, corrected for luminance; and the small inner rectangle is the ideal color of the test chart.
The FE-230’s colors stray significantly from ideal shades. This information is quantified in the following graph, which shows the entire color spectrum. The ideal colors of the chart are identified by squares, and the corresponding colors reproduced by the FE-230 are shown as circles. The amount of error for each color tile is represented as a line connecting the circles and squares.
As you can see, a number of colors deviate from their ideal values, especially blues and purples. Blues are often shifted by cameras on purpose to enhance the appearance of skies in photos, but the shift in the purples and reds is unnecessary. Notice on the first chart how the blue tiles seem to have turned purple compared to the ideal colors of the ColorChecker. This color error is exaggerated by the fact that the FE-230 has no white balance control, so it must rely on auto white balance. In this image (and many others, as we will see), the white balance is considerably inaccurate.
Despite its budget price tag, the FE-230 packs a competitive 7.1 megapixels onto its sensor. To test the sharpness of the images it produces, we photographed an industry standard resolution test chart and ran the images through Imatest. Imatest measures sharpness in line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which corresponds to the number of equally spaced alternating black and white lines that can fit in the frame before blurring. We varied the aperture, focal length, and exposure compensation and Imatest chose the sharpest image.
The FE-230 produced the sharpest image at ISO 125, f/4.9, and a 13mm focal length. The camera resolved 1674 lw/ph horizontally with 4.6 percent oversharpening, and 1683 lw/ph vertically with 2.32 percent oversharpening. These results are very good for a 7.1-megapixel point-and-shoot. The FE-230 applies enough sharpening to make the images look crisp out of the camera without causing ugly image artifacting that is symptomatic of too much sharpening. This is a great example of how cameras do not have to have extremely high megapixel counts (8 and above) to produce sharp images.
However, all is not well in the FE-230’s optical system. Notice in the test chart above that the corners are significantly darker than the center of the chart. This is called lens vignetting, and points to optical problems in the camera. Also, the dark line at the very bottom of the image is supposed to be straight, but it bows inward significantly. This is known as barrel distortion, and is caused by the camera’s lenses.
Noise – Auto ISO*(1.24)*
We shot our test chart under bright studio lighting and let the camera pick the ISO sensitivity. The FE-230 chose ISO 80, a reasonable choice considering lower ISO sensitivities almost always produce less noise. However, even at ISO 80, the FE-230 still produced significant noise in the photo. In fact, 1.74 percent of the image was drowned out by the noise, an amount usually associated with higher ISO settings.
Noise – Manual ISO*(0.00)
*The FE-230 has no manual ISO control, so we could not test noise levels under controlled lighting. Considering the amount of noise at ISO 80 (see above), if the FE-230 actually did have ISO control, it would likely score very poorly. This means two things for the user. The higher the ISO setting the camera chooses, the noisier the image will be. Additionally, it will be harder to capture sharp photos in low light, as explained below in the Low Light section.
In order to accurately depict colors in different types of light, a camera needs to know what in the frame is "white." This is called white balancing, and in many cameras it can be done manually with a white card, or by using preset white balance settings which tell what "white" is under different kinds of light. White balancing can also be done automatically by the camera, which, in the case of the FE-230, is the only way it can be done, as there are no white balance presets. We test a camera’s white balance accuracy by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four different types of light: outdoor cloudy, flash, fluorescent, and tungsten.
The auto white balance for the FE-230 did very well, especially under cloudy outdoor, fluorescent, and flash. However, it performed very poorly under tungsten light, and because the camera lacks any presets or manual white balance, users shooting indoors under tungsten light will be stuck with a yellow cast in their photos. In fact, you may have better luck using the Scene modes when shooting indoors.
Still life sequences
Click to view the high-resolution images.
We typically photograph our still life scenes at every manual ISO setting offered by a camera. Since the FE-230 only has auto ISO, we only photographed the still life scenes at this setting.
Low Light* (1.73)*
We shot the ColorChecker under dimmed studio lights to see how the camera performed in dimly lit settings. We took shots at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. 60 lux corresponds to a room softly lit with two lamps, 30 lux approximates the amount of light from a single 40 watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are very low light that test the limit of the sensor.
The issue with the FE-230, as we have seen already, is that there is no manual ISO control. This means that our low light shots could not all be kept to the same ISO level, and thus cannot be compared to other cameras. The practical problem with no ISO control is that the user may often end up with longer exposures in low light than is ideal. Longer exposures are very hard to hold steady by hand, and will often come out blurry unless using a tripod. If you could raise the ISO sensitivity manually, the shutter speed would increase, lessening the chance of blur.
The ColorChecker images are shown above, with the ideal chart colors overlaid. At 5 and 15 lux the color error was tremendous, mostly due to poor white balancing and underexposure. Noise levels were not as bad, at 2.87 percent at 5 lux, and 1.86 percent at 15 lux.
We also test long exposure performance in low light, but only at ISO 400 so that we can compare different cameras fairly. The FE-230 takes exposures up to four seconds in length, but we could not get it to shoot at ISO 400 and still get reasonable exposures.
An important measure of camera performance is how many tonal gradations the camera can discern. Poor dynamic range makes it very difficult to see detail in bright and dark areas of photos. To test dynamic range, we photograph a backlit Stouffer test chart, which consists of a long strip of rectangles, each a slightly different shade of gray. The rectangles vary from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.
Unfortunately, the FE-230 does not have manual ISO control, so we could not test the dynamic range over its whole ISO range. According to Imatest, the FE-230’s calculated dynamic range at ISO 125 is 6 Exposure Values (EV), which is poor for such a low ISO setting.
Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a 256MB Olympus XD Picture Card
Startup to First Shot (7.3)
The FE-230 took 2.7 seconds to turn on and take a shot. This is quite a delay if you’re trying to capture an unexpected shot.
The FE-230 has no Continuous or Burst mode. This camera forces you to conserve your ammunition.
This Olympus will take a shot instantly if the shutter is held down halfway and prefocused. If not prefocused, it will take 0.7 seconds to shoot. Thus, try to have this camera already prefocused when waiting to capture a moment.
The FE-230 takes a sloth-like 3.6 seconds to process a single 3.8MB full resolution image shot at ISO 50. For anyone shooting with this camera, patience will be a virtue.
Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux
*We recorded video of the ColorChecker and an industry standard CamAlign video color test chart to determine the FE-230’s video color accuracy in bright light. The camera did an atrocious job white balancing, leading to a mean color error of 25.6 with 125.1 percent saturation. You can see exactly how the colors were shifted on the graph below.
Low Light – 30 lux
We dimmed the lights and recorded the same color charts at 30 lux. The video in low light was extremely underexposed, leading to extremely undersaturated colors. Mean color error was 28.5 with 55.3 percent saturation.
*We also recorded video of our resolution chart. The FE-230 resolved 315 lw/ph horizontally with -3.3 percent undersharpening horizontally, and 514 lw/ph vertically with 0.2 percent oversharpening vertically. These values may seem very low, but for standard 640 x 480 video on a camera, they are very good. However, the FE-230 did a poor job metering on the chart, and as you can see from the crops, it is quite underexposed.
We brought the FE-230 outside to see how the video handled moving cars and people. The overall picture looked very hazy and washed out, with brightly exposed areas seeming to "bleed" into the rest of the frame. Motion was quite stuttery, especially for cars moving off the frame. The good news is that the exposure stayed constant, unlike the "flashing" we saw in its brother model, the Olympus FE-250.