The Olympus FE-100 costs about $50 less than Olympus's top FE-series model, the FE-120, but you'll give up significant image quality, a burst mode, a dozen scene modes, and motion-picture capture with sound. This bare-bones digital camera is closer to the Olympus FE-110 in features and image quality.
The FE-100 and the FE-110 have almost identical specifications, from their 2.8X zoom lenses to their compact 7-ounce bodies. Both have tiny 1.5-inch LCDs that are difficult to view in both bright and dim light. Their chief difference is that the FE-100 has a 4-megapixel sensor instead of the FE-110's 5-megapixel chip.
However, newcomers to digital photography may be pleased by this camera's low price tag and easy operation. It has enough onboard memory (28MB) to allow shooting nearly 30 full-resolution images; back in the analog-camera days, most rolls of film offered fewer exposures than that. If you want to save more shots, the compatible xD-Picture Card media is inexpensive. (The two more upscale cameras in the FE series include xD cards.)
The FE-100's controls are logically arranged and easy to access. On top are a shutter release and a power switch. The back panel includes six buttons, a mode dial (for Program Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Self Portrait, and Movie modes), and a four-way cursor pad. The buttons let you delete photos, access the bare-bones menu system, change flash options, and switch between recording and picture-review modes. The cursor-pad keys set exposure-compensation values, activate the self-timer, switch into Macro and Super Macro mode (taking you down to 2 inches), and restore the camera's default settings.
The 2.8X zoom lens extends from 38mm to 106mm (35mm-camera equivalent)--a basic but serviceable range that gives you a little more help shooting faraway subjects than capturing a crowded room at close range. Although you can't specify exposures, the camera will set them for you using shutter speeds from 1/2,000 second to 1 second (or 2 seconds in Night Scene mode). The FE-100's flash provides even exposures out to about 12 feet.
Performance is acceptable if you're a patient soul, but we fidgeted while waiting 8 seconds for the camera to power up and enduring intervals between shots that ranged from more than 5 seconds to nearly 8 with the flash activated. Shutter lag was acceptable, at 0.75 second under high-contrast lighting and 1.2 seconds in low-contrast illumination.
The Olympus FE-100's image quality was only adequate; if resolution is important to you, consider spending a few dollars more for the 5-megapixel FE-110 or splurging on the superior FE-120. Still, this model produced surprisingly good exposures, and in our test photos, defects such as JPEG artifacts, a touch of noise at higher ISOs, and a little color fringing weren't objectionable in smaller prints.