GE E850 Review
Review Date: August 13th 2007
Author: Mark Goldstein
General Imaging caused quite a stir back at the PMA show in March when they unveiled a completely new range of digital cameras, to be sold under the venerable General Electric (GE) brand name. Nearly 6 months on cameras are finally shipping, and today we take a look at the mid-range GE E850 model. This camera has an amazing specification given its budget price tag. An 8 megapixel sensor, a 28mm wide, 5x optical zoom lens, large 3 inch LCD screen, Face Detection mode and a stylish design should be enough to make most people sit up and take notice of the GE E850. But as we all know, what looks good on paper can prove to be terrible in practice, so does the E850 deliver on its promise? Mark Goldstein subjected the GE E850 to a few weeks of in-depth testing to find out...
Ease of Use
At first glance the GE E850 is certainly a very good looking compact digital camera, with a pleasing silver and black two-tone all-plastic body that's finished with a high gloss. Note that this does lead to almost permanent fingerprints appearing on the camera body. The GE E850 is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, weighing 155g without the battery or memory card fitted and measuring 99mm(W) × 60.1mm(H) × 25.7mm(D). Most aspects of the camera's design and build quality are fine, with a couple of exceptions. The zoom rocker switch and Mode dial both suffer from a spongy, slightly unresponsive action. The battery compartment cover is a little stiff to open. And seemingly my favourite complaint these days - the plastic tripod mount is positioned in the extreme left-hand corner of the bottom of the camera, making it virtually useless. Otherwise the build quality of the GE E850 is fine.
The GE E850 has relatively few external controls, just 9 in total, reflecting the fact that this is strictly a point and shoot camera in functionality terms. You can directly access the various flash, macro and timer options by clicking on the navigation pad, and the Up position is dedicated to Exposure Compensation, which is a commonly used feature. There is also a sub-menu accessed via the Func/OK button in the middle of the navigation pad, which allows you to set ISO speed, white balance, image effects, colour and image size/quality settings. This system is a good compromise given the small size of the camera, the large size of the LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls. GE have included a second dial on the rear of the camera which is used to access all the main shooting modes and play back images. All 9 external controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology. Overall the camera body feels well-designed and not at all cluttered, despite the presence of the large 3 inch LCD screen. As a result there is no room for an optical viewfinder, which would have been welcome for moments when it is difficult to use the LCD screen i.e. in very bright sunlight.
GE have followed Panasonic's lead by implementing a lens that starts at 28mm wide, which is great for indoor group shots when you can't step backwards any further. It's also a 5x zoom equivalent to 28-140mm on a 35mm camera, which is a very versatile focal length that will cover the majority of subject matter. With a maximum aperture range of f3.3 - 4.8, it's not a particularly quick lens, although perfectly fine for use in good lighting conditions. The GE E850 does offer electronic image stabilisation, but as with most of these systems it simply increases the ISO speed to compensate for poor light. And as you'll see on our Image Quality page, this isn't a particularly good idea with the GE E850.
|Rear Controls||Menu Screen|
The Manual mode setting on the GE E850 may make you think that this camera offers full photographic control, but sadly it doesn't. Manual mode is just GE's way of giving you access to more "advanced" features, like setting the ISO speed and White Balance. The E850 is purely a point and shoot camera with absolutely no control over aperture or shutter speed. It does offer Face Detection via a dedicated button on the rear of the camera, which provides quick access to a useful feature for beginners. This system worked well if the subject was looking face on at the camera, although it struggled to detect more than a few faces at once. The face detection feature won't make a great deal of difference for the more experienced photographer, however, as there's the tendency for the user to pre-focus on the subject – and obviously a face if taking a portrait – before fully pressing the shutter button.
The menu system on the GE E850 is very straight-forward to use and is accessed by a dedicated button underneath the mode dial and above the navigation pad. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually too complicated. Two icons along the top of the LCD screen provide access to the Photo and Setup menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. Due to the very large and bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea, although there's no index and it doesn't go into any great depth.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The start-up time from turning the GE E850 on to being ready to take a photo is very slow at around 5 seconds, and it takes about 4 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest, and back again. Focusing is quick enough in good light, but the camera struggles to consistently focus indoors or in low-light situations, despite the presence of a focus-assist lamp. The visibility and refresh rate of the 3 inch LCD screen are perfectly acceptable, and the resolution is also fine. It takes about 3 seconds to store an image, during which the camera locks-up, preventing you from taking another picture. In Continuous mode the camera takes 1.8 frames per second at the highest image quality for up to 5 shots, which is a about average for this class of camera. Overall the GE E850 suffers from sluggish performance.
Once you have captured a photo, the GE E850 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 8x magnification, view slideshows with lots of different user settings, delete, protect, resize and rotate an image. You can also add a sound clip to an image, set the print order and the transfer order. There's a useful red-eye correction option for post-capture correction, and you can choose to view shooting information for each photo, including a small histogram (which is also available when taking a photo).
In summary the GE E850 is a stylish and fairly well-built camera that's straight forward to use but which suffers from sluggish performance.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the GE E850 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.