Olympus FE-180 review: Olympus FE-180

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MSRP: $179.99

The Good Great white balance; comes with batteries and charger.

The Bad Softens details; awkward tripod mount; no manual controls.

The Bottom Line This inexpensive shooter won't wow you with features, but its price and pictures are nice.

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6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Lack of control isn't necessarily a bad thing in cameras. If the camera does its job well, the automatic mode should be all you need to take a good snapshot. Unfortunately, cameras tend not to do their jobs well without user tweaks. Thankfully, Olympus's 6-megapixel FE-180 is a rare example of a camera with a well-built automatic system.

The FE-180's small, curved plastic body is a microcosm of the camera itself; comfortable and simple, but unimpressive and not intimidating. The right half of the camera is fatter than the left half to make room for two included rechargeable AA batteries. The batteries come with a separate charger and even come precharged so that you can start shooting as soon as you take the camera out of the box.

The FE-180 has almost no manual controls. Besides macro, flash, and EV compensation, the only way to change the camera's settings is through its various scene presets. It automatically controls aperture, shutter, focus, and even ISO and white balance. Basically, the camera runs almost completely on autopilot.

The FE-180 automatically sets its sensitivity from ISO 64 to ISO 1,000. Unfortunately, you can't change ISO manually, and since the ISO isn't recorded in the EXIF data, there's no way of knowing what ISO setting the camera is using. It features a digital image stabilization mode to help reduce blur, but it still isn't very good for low-light shooting, especially if you can't use the flash. Unfortunately, tripod use is extremely awkward, with the camera's tripod mount on the very far left edge of the body.

The FE-180's automatic white balance was generally very accurate. We noticed some slight yellowing in other lab tests, but our basic scene produced an impressively neutral image. Shots tended to be slightly warm under tungsten lights, but far more neutral and balanced than many cameras. The camera's 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens produced mild distortion at the far wide and telephoto positions but didn't really hurt the pictures. The camera's biggest weakness is a marked softening of details. While the FE-180 handles color and exposure beautifully, it doesn't do a very good job at reproducing fine details such as text.

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