Reviewing budget cameras is tricky. Add in a brand name that is synonymous with another product category like light bulbs and appliances and taking the camera seriously is even more difficult. Such is the case with the GE X5.
During the 2010 holiday season I received a few reader e-mails asking me about the X5, and frankly I knew nothing about it. There are so many point-and-shoots released each year that brands like GE don't generally show up on my radar because reader interest is low. (The cameras are actually made by a company called General Imaging, but it licenses the GE brand.) But since readers took the time to e-mail me about it, I figured I should check it out.
It turns out that the X5 has several features that are important to what seems like a fairly large group of consumers: a wide-angle lens with a 15x zoom; an electronic viewfinder (EVF); semimanual and manual shooting modes; and power from AA-size batteries. There are other models with these features from more-recognizable camera brands, but not at the X5's price; it starts at $180, but can easily be found for less than $130.
It's that price and its feature set that helped earn the camera its above average rating. The X5 is capable of taking some nice photos, too, under the right circumstances. Pixel peepers will likely be disappointed, but its photos should be satisfying for many, especially considering the financial investment. It does not compete with a digital SLR, and something like the Canon PowerShot SX130 IS produces better photos (though it costs a little more and doesn't have an EVF). Its shooting performance is slow, too, so if you're considering this for photos of kids or pets, you'll probably want to look elsewhere (and, unfortunately, spend more money).
|Key specs||GE X5|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4 x 2.9 x 2.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||15.8 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/Electronic|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||15x, f3-5.2, 27-405mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/Motion JPEG (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Mechanical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||AA (4, alkaline or NiMH rechargeables), 300 shots (alkaline)|
|Battery charged in camera||No|
|Bundled software||Arcsoft Photo Impression 6 (Windows)|
While the photo quality from the GE X5 isn't spectacular, it is good for a point-and-shoot and actually a bit better than expected given its specs and price and, frankly, its brand. Like most in its class, it's good up through ISO 200; above that you get more noise, softness, and off colors, making photos only suitable for small prints and Web use. Even still, you probably won't want to go above ISO 800. So despite the availability of ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 settings, I wouldn't use them. Basically, the more light you have, the better off you'll be. If you do a lot of indoor shooting in dim lighting and don't want to use the flash, I would not buy the X5. The Auto ISO setting actually goes down to ISO 64, which resulted in some very nice photos suitable for 8x10 prints or slightly larger. But, in general, its photos are best suited for use at small sizes--either as prints or for computer/Web use.
There is some visible barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens and some very slight pincushioning when then lens is extended. Center sharpness is fairly good, and the lens is consistent for the most part, softening slightly out at the edges and in the corners. I've seen far worse on more-expensive cameras, though. Fringing can be very bad at times around high-contrast subjects. However, in most of my photos, it was faint enough where it didn't pose a problem and was only visible when photos were viewed at 100 percent on a computer screen.
Color was very good from the X5 at or below ISO 200. Above that, colors get washed out and dull-looking. White balance outside was spot on, but indoors both the auto and presets were off. There is a manual option that's easy to set, and I recommend using that whenever possible under unnatural light. Exposure is inconsistent, or at least it was on my review sample. One shot would be correct, but then I would get a string of shots that were black or severely underexposed. However, this only seemed to occur when using the camera's aperture priority and auto scene recognition modes. As I could not regularly reproduce the issue and could find no user complaints expressing a similar issue, my guess is that it was just an issue with my review camera.
Video quality is OK; it's good enough for nondiscriminating Web use, but really nothing else. Panning the camera will create judder; that's typical of the video from most compact cameras, though. The zoom lens does function while recording and it has continuous autofocus. The AF is a little slow to respond, but at least it and the lens movement are quiet, barely picked up by the mono microphone.
|General shooting options||GE X5|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Fluorescent CWF, Incandescent, Manual|
|Recording modes||Auto, ASCN, Manual, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Movie, Scene, Portrait, Panorama|
|Focus modes||Center AF, 13-point multi AF, Face Detection AF|
|Macro||2 inches (Wide); 6.6 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Black & White, Sepia, Vivid|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
It's rare that you find a sub-$200 camera these days with aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual shooting modes, but the X5 has them. At the wide end, the apertures are: f3, f3.3, f3.8, f4.6, f5.8, and f7.3; in telephoto you have a choice of f5.2 or f6.6. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 30 seconds. What's nice is that the X5 has graphics on the aperture and shutter speed onscreen controls, giving you an idea of what setting to use for a subject (e.g. fireworks at the 30-second shutter speed position). If you need manual focus, though, you're out of luck; the X5 has autofocus only.
Of course, it does have a fully automatic mode as well as an automatic scene recognition mode that determines the appropriate settings based on the conditions of what you're shooting. It wasn't that reliable on my review sample, but the plain Auto mode turned out good results. You can also pick one of 12 scene modes for when you have time to let the camera know what you're shooting. There is a Program Auto, too, if you want to set things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation, but leave shutter speed and aperture to the camera.
For those who like to shoot close-ups, the X5, like a lot of megazooms, is very good for macro shots. It can focus as close as 2 inches from a subject and produces nice fine detail if you have plenty of light.
Lastly, the camera has a more advanced panorama shooting mode than I usually find at this price. You press the shutter release with the camera aimed where you'd like to start your panorama shot and it puts a circle and a target on the screen. Put the circle in the center of the target by moving the camera to the right and it'll take the next shot when it's centered. Do that once more and it'll take your three shots and stitch them together in-camera into a single photo. It takes some practice (I kept moving the camera too fast, for example), but once you get the hang of it, it works nicely.
Shooting performance is slow, which is typical for its class. From off to first shot takes 2.5 seconds. Shot-to-shot times without a flash averaged 4.2 seconds, which is painful; turning on the flash extends that to 4.7 seconds. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is long, too, at 0.7 second in high-contrast scenes and 0.9 second with low-contrast subjects. Those times might be fine if your subject is inanimate, but for portraits or moving subjects like kids and pets, the X5 is just too slow. That's not to say you won't get action shots, but it'll be a matter of luck and practice. The camera does have a continuous shooting setting for capturing photos at up to 0.8 frames per second.
On the other hand, if you don't mind the slow response, actually using the camera is a nice experience. You might expect a camera this inexpensive to feel cheap, but it doesn't. Part of that is the weight from the AA batteries, but the rest of the camera feels good, too. The battery/memory card compartment door can be tricky to close, but that's the case with most AA-battery cameras. It looks decent as well, with the exception of the big, white GE logo etched above the lens.
Its controls are fairly easy to master and they're well spaced and clearly labeled. There are two menu systems: one that's shooting-mode specific accessed by the Func/OK button and the main system menus reached by the Menu button. They aren't very attractive and might be difficult to read at times, but the menus themselves are easy to understand. The camera comes with an abbreviated printed manual with a full digital manual on the included CD.
As mentioned several times before, the X5 takes AA-size batteries--four of them--and can use alkaline, lithium, or NiMH rechargables. It's CIPA-rated for 300 shots on alkalines, but that really depends on usage. You're better off buying some NiMH batteries, which are rated for 500 shots and are rechargeable.
If you want to connect the X5 to a computer there is a Micro-USB port on the right side of the camera. It can also be used as an AV-out should you want to play back on a monitor or TV, but you'll need to buy a Micro-USB-to-AV cable; all that's included is a USB cable for transferring files to a computer.
The GE X5 is a competent budget megazoom camera. If you want a wide-angle lens with a 15x zoom, an electronic viewfinder, semimanual and manual shooting modes, and AA batteries for power for less than $200, this is your camera. Its shooting performance is slow, which is on par with other cameras in its class. And its photos are nice, as long as you understand its limitations. GE isn't the first name that comes to mind when camera shopping, but I was surprised to see that the X5 delivers a lot of value at an ultra-affordable price.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
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