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GE X5 review: GE X5

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The Good The GE X5 offers a lot for its low price, including a 15x wide-angle zoom lens and semimanual and manual controls.

The Bad The X5's shooting performance is really slow, and it's not good indoors without a flash and in low-light conditions.

The Bottom Line The GE X5 megazoom is a very good value, as long as you understand its photo and performance limitations.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 6

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
Price (MSRP) $179.99
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
Storage media SD/SDHC
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.

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