Life may be all about choices, but the Olympus FE-115 certainly isn't. This clunky 5-megapixel shooter sports a 3X optical zoom lens, seven shooting modes, and not much else. Sure, it's inexpensive and takes decent pictures, but its extremely slow performance and lack of basic image settings make the FE-115 a dud.
The Olympus FE-115's chunky plastic body is about the size of a large bar of soap. It won't win any beauty contests, but it feels reasonably solid, and it fits well in the hand. The top side of the camera holds a large shutter-release button and a recessed but accessible power button. The back panel holds a puny 1.5-inch LCD and the rest of the camera's controls. Don't expect many options here, but the few settings you can change are accessible through the camera's mode dial; four-way-plus-OK pad; and five additional control buttons for shooting, playback, trash, menu, and flash. A large indentation between the zoom buttons and the mode dial gives you a comfortable place to rest your thumb when shooting one-handed.
Olympus has taken the bare-bones feature set to new highs--or lows--with the FE-115. Even basic image settings such as ISO sensitivity and white balance are absent from this camera. Once you've selected one of the six still-image modes, the only image options are resolution, flash, macro focus, time, and exposure compensation. The image modes are extremely basic but cover most situations. Besides full auto mode, the FE-115 includes presets for portrait, landscape, night-time shooting, and even self-portraits where you hold the camera facing you. The camera also includes a separate digital image stabilizer for reducing blur. Video fans will likely be disappointed with the FE-115's movie mode, which shoots choppy 15fps, 320x240-resolution QuickTime clips.
Surprisingly, the Olympus FE-115 includes one handy feature now standard on Olympus's cameras: pixel mapping, which analyzes the camera's sensor and records any bad pixels that might come out too light or too dark. Once the FE-115 records these pixels, the camera can compensate for them when it processes pictures. It's a capability rarely seen on low-end cameras.
In a word, the Olympus FE-115 is slow. After a wake-up time of 3.7 seconds, the camera's shutter lags 1.5 seconds even in bright light and 1.9 seconds in dim light. Our lab tests displayed a whopping shot-to-shot time of 8.6 seconds, and in the field, we could fire off a shot, at best, about once every 4 seconds.
After all that waiting, the Olympus FE-115 produces uneven image quality. Its automatic white balance manages to neutralize incandescent lighting accurately, without the yellowish pall produced by many cameras. Unfortunately, heavy JPEG compression artifacts ended up obscuring fine details from many of our field-test images. Our lab shots seemed noise-free, but since we couldn't manually select the ISO, we couldn't run it through our usual gamut of noise tests.
The Olympus FE-115 is strictly for patient, forgiving photographers willing to sacrifice performance and image quality for simplicity. Unless you're truly afraid of choices, you can find much better cameras in the same price range. Canon's far more flexible, slightly lower-resolution PowerShot A430 is a fine example.