The 8Mp Olympus FE-280 costs £135 - a pretty low price. It comes with a good user guide for beginners but offers few manual settings. Image quality is merely average.

Our test Olympus FE-280 was lightweight and easy to hold. The model we received had a metallic-blue case, but it also comes in silver, black, or red. Its 2.5in LCD becomes extra bright when you hold the shutter release halfway down. The real-time preview can look grainy, but in our tests a regular preview that the Olympus FE-280 shows looked fine.

You're unlikely to need all of the 21 scene modes (but that list is certainly more manageable than the 41 options presented by the competing Casio Exilim EX-S880).

If you're a snorkeler or scuba diver, you'll like the Under Water Wide 1, Under Water Wide 2 (locked focus for quicker shutter release), and Under Water Macro modes; but since this isn't one of Olympus FE-280's waterproof models, you'll need an underwater housing to use them. The Cuisine mode did a good job of giving proper exposure to a scene of food on a white plate.

We had a good laugh with the Olympus FE-280's Smile Shot mode, which automatically takes a picture of a subject when he or she smiles. Olympus says that this mode employs the FE-280's face-detection technology and then uses an algorithm to look at the subject's jaw line, neck, and teeth to recognise a smile.

In our experience, the Olympus FE-280's Smile Shot mode sometimes failed to recognise a solo smiling subject (and we're not talking faint Mona Lisa lip twitching here), and it never recognised the smiles of multiple subjects.

Then, when the camera did recognise a smile, it needed a second or two to take the picture. Honestly, you'd be better off pressing the shutter release and taking the picture yourself.

If you expect to graduate from scene modes to manual settings, you'll find the Olympus FE-280 limiting when you're ready to work at the more advanced stage.

the Olympus FE-280's Program mode provides only white-balance presets, ISO settings, and autofocus modes. For video bloggers, the FE-280 takes AVI video, with or without sound, and has three quality settings. The highest, 640-by-480-pixel resolution, produced nicely coloured, well-contrasted video with a slight grain; but the camera can record only a 10-second clip. At 320-by-240-pixel resolution, you can roll for up to 29 minutes if your xD Picture Card (not included with the camera) has sufficient capacity.

The Olympus FE-280's performance is average. It didn't excel in any of our five image-quality tests, although it did earn a second-place score on exposure quality. Pictures of a still life and of a female mannequin looked drab but had good contrast. In our black-and-white line-art tests, it definitely wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed.

One setting on the Olympus FE-280's mode dial, called Guide, gives you instructions for experimenting with different zoom, exposure, colour, and effects settings. We found the 'Color effects' preview the most useful. It gives you a four-way split window to show the results of applying different white-balance effects, so you don't have to try each one from the regular camera menu. 'Zoom effects', however, just shows your subject in four different levels of zoom; you could do that on your own.

NEXT PAGE: software, guides and verdict

The guide that asks you whether you want to take pictures to send via email, add to a postcard, edit on the PC, or use in some other way does a nice job of describing what you can expect with the Olympus FE-280's different image-quality options.

The Olympus FE-280 comes with Olympus Master 2 photo organising, editing, and sharing software - a reasonably strong-featured tool for a freebie. (You'll need it to stitch together panoramas.) Our test unit's box came with four 67-page printed manuals in Italian, French, Portuguese, and English; the explanations in the English version were clear and useful. You'll need it to find out about some features buried in the camera's menus.

Olympus FE-280: Specs

  • 8Mp
  • max resolution: 3264 by 2448
  • 3x optical zoom
  • zoom range: 36mm-108mm
  • highest shutter speed: 2000, lowest shutter speed: 0.5
  • max wide-angle aperture: 3.1
  • max telephoto aperture: 5.9
  • 2.5in screen
  • image-stabilisation software
  • xD-Picture Card slot
  • rechargeable li-ion battery
  • 21 scene modes
  • ISO 50 to 1600
  • 91x56x17mm
  • 0.1kg
  • 8Mp
  • max resolution: 3264 by 2448
  • 3x optical zoom
  • zoom range: 36mm-108mm
  • highest shutter speed: 2000, lowest shutter speed: 0.5
  • max wide-angle aperture: 3.1
  • max telephoto aperture: 5.9
  • 2.5in screen
  • image-stabilisation software
  • xD-Picture Card slot
  • rechargeable li-ion battery
  • 21 scene modes
  • ISO 50 to 1600
  • 91x56x17mm
  • 0.1kg

OUR VERDICT

The Olympus FE-280 is cheap and cute, and it fits easily in your pocket. Anyone with serious photographic ambitions, however, will outgrow it quickly.

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