If you want a simple camera, look no further than Olympus's FE-series point-and-shoot models, which have no manual settings but include low price tags and helpful features for photography newbies. The Olympus FE-140 is at the top of the FE series. It's a 6-megapixel digital camera with an extremely average 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens, a 2.5-inch LCD screen, and very few intimidating camera settings.
A little fatter than an iPod, the Olympus FE-140's solid, rectangular plastic body feels reasonably comfortable in the hand. Plus, its thickness gives the camera enough room to use readily available AA batteries instead of a proprietary rechargeable cell. Its matte gunmetal finish is pleasant enough to look at but won't win any fashion awards.
Atop the camera, you'll find the shutter-release button, the power button, the zoom rocker, and four controls: shooting mode, playback, trash, and print. The back panel holds the rest of the controls next to its 2.5-inch LCD. After making your selection on the mode dial, you can change certain settings, such as flash, timer, and macro, through a four-way-plus-OK button cluster and a separate menu button. An additional display/help button cycles through the LCD's settings and brings up tips when you rummage through the camera's menus.
The Olympus FE-140 has a few handy features for camera newbies, but anyone expecting a lot of options will be seriously disappointed. Settings such as ISO sensitivity and white balance are strictly automatic. Once the mode is set, only basic settings, including image resolution, flash, macro focus, timer, and EV compensation, can be changed by the user. A nice handful of shooting modes and scene presets, from basic portrait and landscape modes to special museum and food settings, cover many common shooting situations. You can also select digital image stabilization, which boosts the camera's light sensitivity to ISO 800 and uses faster shutter speeds to help reduce blur in action-filled photos. But be warned--this approach is generally less effective than the optical image stabilization included in many higher-priced cameras these days; in this case, it resulted in pictures that were noisier than normal. Olympus includes a movie mode, but it can capture only 15fps QuickTime clips at 320x240 resolution. The FE-140's menus classify this QVGA video mode to be high quality, but it's inferior to the full VGA (640x480), 30fps video offered by nearly every other camera currently on the market.
The camera includes Guide mode, which steps users through setting up their shots. A simple text menu lets users select choices such as "Shooting into backlight" or "Shooting subject in motion," then walks them through changing the correct settings for that situation.