Olympus FE-5030 Review
Announced at the beginning of the year, the Olympus FE-5030 is a stylish, credit card sized camera featuring an unusually wide, 26-130mm equivalent zoom lens, a 14-megapixel sensor, mechanical image stabilisation, Advanced Face Detection, AF Tracking, four Magic Filters, SD card compatibility and a 2.7" rear LCD screen. Finished with a brilliant Double-Layered Crystal Shell, the FE-5030 is available in a choice of Indium Grey, Aquamarine Blue, Flamingo Pink and Pure White priced at £139.99.
Ease of Use
The Olympus FE-5030 is a neat little digicam that's only marginally wider - though obviously thicker - than a credit card. Upon its announcement, Olympus was making big noise about its Double-Layered Crystal Shell finish - which, in all honesty, sounded like pure marketing blabber at first. However, the camera does indeed have a nacreous shine that makes it very eye-catching when you see it in person.
Apart from that, the design is simple, almost minimalistic. The lens, which sits fully retracted into the body when the camera is not in use, occupies almost the entire right half of the face plate. Spanning a 35mm equivalent focal range of 26-130mm, it goes wider than most compact camera lenses, though not quite as wide as the 24mm of the older FE-5020 model. Its maximum aperture is a fast f/2.8 at the wide end but a disappointingly slow f/6.5 at full telephoto. Upon power-up, the lens extends in barely more than a second, protruding about an inch from the face plate. When you turn off the camera, the lens retracts with similar haste.
The rest of the front plate features a pinprick indicating a built-in microphone top right of the lens surround, a sliver of a window for the on-board flash and AF assist lamp, plus the indispensable Olympus and FE logos. The top panel offers even less in the way of controls, featuring only a small on/off button with a LED power indicator sitting right next to it, and an elongated shutter release.
The back of the camera is dominated by the 2.7-inch LCD screen. This display offers adequate resolution for its size but, alas, rather poor visibility in direct sunlight. There is a "Bright" option in the Setup menu that should take care of this, but all it does is make the live preview look overexposed compared to the final image, so it’s better to leave the screen brightness at its default "Normal" setting.
To the right of the screen, we find a cluster of controls that differ both from the FE-5020 and the current mju series digicams as well (though they have more in common with the latter). In the top right corner - when viewed from the back - we find the responsive if somewhat undersized zoom rocker. The zoom travels from wide angle to full telephoto in less than two seconds, which is excellent for this class of camera. On a less positive note, we haven’t really found a way to completely disable the digital zoom function, and it’s actually very easy to slip into the digital zoom range involuntarily when you are in P mode or one of the scene modes. Oddly, this is a non-issue in iAuto mode.
Below the zoom controls is a slim Playback button that can be configured to act as a secondary Power button too - a good idea as you sometimes only want to turn on the camera to review your shots rather than to take new ones, in which case you do not need the lens to extend (and make noise doing so). A half-press of the shutter release takes you (back) to Record mode when you need it. A square four-way pad with a centred OK button, plus a Menu and a Camera Guide button round off the controls inventory.
Notable by absence is the red movie record button and control wheel found on the more expensive mju series cameras such as the mju 7040 and 9010 we reviewed earlier. Not that they are a huge loss - in fact we have found the control wheel quite pointless anyway. Of more concern is the lack of direct access to exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity, both of which are unfortunately buried in the menu. In this respect, the new user interface is a step back from the FE-5020, where at least exposure compensation had its own dedicated shortcut button.
The main shooting menu, accessible via a press of the self-explanatory Menu button, offers up a set of user adjustable shooting variables, including the shooting mode - P, iAuto, Scene, Magic, Panorama and Movie - and a range of other settings. These are limited to the flash mode, the self-timer and image resolution in iAuto mode, while the full set - available in P mode - includes the macro mode, exposure compensation, white balance and ISO sensitivity as well. The other shooting modes offer varying degrees of user control that fall between these two extremes.
The last icon is invariably a >> sign, which takes you to the Setup menu. It is here that you can adjust the file quality settings, the autofocus mode and the image stabiliser, for instance. (The latter is a novelty on the FE-5030 inasmuch as the FE-5020 lacked any form of mechanical image stabilisation.) You can't, however, change the metering mode, and you don't get Shadow Adjustment Technology, either - these are saved for the more expensive mju series. The Setup menu is always accessible, regardless of which shooting mode you are in, but you sometimes get a "Conflicting Settings" message if you want to change something, without the camera bothering to elaborate on what settings it thinks are in conflict and why.
Overall, I have found the menu system of the Olympus FE-5030 easy to get used to, but painfully slow to navigate. It takes too much time - and, often, too many button presses - to access important functions and change settings. As I have said above, one-button shortcuts to exposure compensation and ISO speed would really have been useful - these functions could easily have been mapped unto the Left and Right buttons of the four-way pad, for example. I also find it a bit frustrating that you cannot pick an AF point manually - you either entrust the camera with this task (in iESP mode) or use the central AF point only. There is a third auto-focus mode as well, called AF Tracking, but I did not find it particularly useful in real life. Finally, I couldn't get the camera to display a histogram, either pre or post capture - apparently, the designers didn't think that the target customer would ever want to use this tool.
The FE-5030 has four so-called Magic Filters - Pop Art, Pinhole, Fish-eye and Drawing. Olympus' Magic Filters made their début on the E-30 digital SLR camera of 2008 under the name "Art Filters". That's what Olympus still calls them when they appear in a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera, but ever since the introduction of the mju Tough 6010, they have been calling them Magic Filters on their compacts. The Olympus FE-5030 has essentially the same Magic Filters as the FE-5020, and they work the same way as on that model. To wit, the Pop Art filter boosts saturation and contrast, the Pinhole filter alters the colours somewhat and adds a very obvious vignetting effect, the Fish-eye filter causes straight lines to bend outwards as if the picture was shot with a fish-eye lens (it does not recreate the ultra-wide angle of view though), while Drawing does exactly what it says on the tin and converts your photos into black-and white drawings.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The movie mode of the Olympus FE-5030 seems a bit pedestrian for 2010. There is no HD option - the resolution choices are VGA (640x480 pixels) and QVGA (320x240 pixels), while the frame rate can be either 30fps or 15fps. The optical zoom can be used while filming, but only if you turn off sound recording. Put another way, if you want video with sound, you'll have to make do with digital zoom. The clips are stored in AVI format.
A big novelty on the FE-5030 - and all Olympus models in the Class of 2010 - is the presence of an SD card slot. While Olympus offered SD card support for its Micro Four Thirds cameras from day one, it had hitherto stuck with xD-Picture cards in its compacts. It appears that xD is officially dead now, though owners of older Olympus compacts wishing to trade up can probably use their existing xD-Picture cards via an adapter. New users are advised to purchase an optional SD or SDHC card for the camera - while the Olympus FE-5030 does have some built-in memory, it will only hold about eight images at the highest resolution.
The Olympus FE-5030 is powered by a proprietary Li-ion battery - the venerable LI-42B - which shares its compartment with the memory card. You can charge the battery in the optional LI-41CAB mains charger or in-camera, via USB.
Camera performance was something of a mixed bag. Power-up, power-down and zooming were all very fast for this class of camera, but focussing - especially in low light at the telephoto end of the zoom range - was a bit slow, though this was to be expected given the f/6.5 maximum aperture, and is not unusual in this market segment. What's more worrying is that the camera would often give false focus confirmation at the telephoto end, which sometimes resulted in blurry pictures that had to be retaken. Once focus and exposure lock is achieved, shutter lag is a non-issue. As far as continuous shooting goes, well, there is no such option on the FE-5030 at all. Shot-to-shot times are simply miserable - you can take a photo every five seconds or so. Compact cameras have never been a great choice for sports and action, but most of them can do better than this.
This concludes our evaluation of the handling, features and performance of the Olympus FE-5030. Let us now move on to the image quality assessment!
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5.5Mb.
During the test, the Olympus FE-5030 turned out average quality images. The lens may have a very versatile focal range, but its performance is rather uneven. At the wide end, the central part of the frame is usually tack sharp - but the edges and, especially, the corners are quite blurry. Zoomed in a little, sharpness becomes more even across the frame, but once you are in the telephoto range, it starts to deteriorate again. As far as the colours are concerned, they are generally true to life, but strong reds often suffer from over-saturation, poor tonal separation and an orange shift. This is less of a problem in the Portrait and Self-Portrait scene modes, where the camera automatically goes for a more neutral colour rendition. Noise can be an issue even at base ISO, and reaches completely unacceptable levels at the highest setting of ISO 1600. On a more positive note, chromatic aberrations are very well controlled across the entire zoom range.
In P mode you can set the ISO speed yourself, while in the other shooting modes, the camera picks the right sensitivity setting at its own discretion. The Olympus FE-5030 has a sensitivity range of ISO 64 to ISO 1600. The 100% crops below demonstrate what you can expect from the camera at the various settings.
ISO 64 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
The lens has a versatile focal range equivalent to 26-130mm in 35mm terms.
The Olympus FE-5030 shoots JPEGs only. At the highest resolution of 14 megapixels, there are two file quality settings, Normal and Fine.
|14M Fine (100% Crop)||
14M Normal (100% Crop)
Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting. You can't change the in-camera sharpening level.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Olympus FE-5030 handled chromatic aberrations excellently during the review.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
Example 2 (100% Crop)
The Olympus FE-5030 has a Super Macro mode in which the lens is fixed at the 47mm equivalent setting. The following example demonstrates how close you can get to the subject, in this case, a Compact Flash memory card.
The available flash settings include Auto, Fill-In, Redeye Reduction and Off. These shots of a white ceiling were taken at a subject distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (26mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (26mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (130mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (130mm)
And here are some self-portraits. Redeye was a problem, but the Redeye Reduction setting managed to eliminate most of it.
|On (100% Crop)|
Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)
The Olympus FE-5030 does not allow you to set the shutter speed manually, and in P mode, it will never pick a value slower than ¼ second. In the Night Scene mode, it will go as far as 4 seconds, which is still disappointing news if you are seriously interested in night photography. The following example was taken at a shutter speed of 3.2 seconds, aperture of f/2.8 at ISO 200. I have included a 100% crop to show what the quality is like.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
Unlike the Olympus FE-5020, the FE-5030 has real sensor-shift image stabilisation. This allows you to take hand-held shots at slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible, although we have found it to be a little less effective than with other cameras sporting this feature. These crops are from two photos taken at 1/13th of a second at the 60mm equivalent setting. The one taken with image stabilisation enabled is a lot sharper, but still not perfectly sharp.
Shutter Speed / Focal Length
Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)
Anti Shake On (100% Crop)
|1/6th / 27mm|
This is a selection of sample images from the Olympus FE-5030 camera, which were all taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
Sample Movie & Video
Front of the Camera
Front of the Camera / Turned On
Rear of the Camera
Rear of the Camera
Top of the Camera
Bottom of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Side of the Camera
Front of the Camera
|Memory Card Slot|
Mating an unusually wide and versatile 5x zoom lens to a high-resolution sensor, the Olympus FE-5030 is one of the more interesting credit card sized cameras around. When used as a strictly point-and-shoot camera, it does not really disappoint, either - the iAuto mode works surprisingly well. Some of its performance indicators, such as start-up and shut-down times or the speed of zooming, are in fact above average for its class. However, once you try to assume control of the shooting process, the camera's shortcomings quickly become obvious.
From a user interface point of view, the biggest issue with the Olympus FE-5030 is a lack of quick access to exposure compensation and ISO speed. Olympus could easily have mapped these functions onto the Left and Right buttons of the four-way pad, which would instantly have made the FE-5030 a lot more intuitive to operate. Other handling-related issues include slow menu navigation, the lack of a histogram to check exposure, and a propensity of the camera to slip into the digital zoom range once you reach the telephoto end of the optical zoom range. On the performance front, while some of the indicators - as noted above - are excellent, others - such as shot-to-shot speed - are rather disappointing for a 2010 model. Auto-focus lag is average for this class of camera, whereas pre-focused shutter lag is a non-issue. The biggest AF-related problem is a recurring false indication of focus at the telephoto end, which sometimes results in blurry photographs.
Image quality is also a mixed bag. While the lens can produce sharp results especially at medium focal lengths, blurry corners and edges can also be noticed at the extremes of the zoom range, particularly at the telephoto end. Colours are more or less true to life, but strong reds can turn partially orange, and generally suffer from over-saturation / poor tonal separation. As expected from a tiny, 14-megapixel sensor, the images often exhibit visible noise even at base ISO, and the highest sensitivity setting of ISO 1600 is pretty much useless due to a combination of high noise levels, the adverse effects of in-camera noise reduction and a loss of saturation. On a more positive note, chromatic aberrations are very well controlled across the entire zoom range.
Having said all that, the Olympus FE-5030 is at least competitively priced, and people trading up from a camera phone or a run-of-the-mill 3x zoom compact will surely appreciate things like image stabilisation or the super wide angle and versatile focal range of the lens. More advanced users looking for a pocket-sized camera will, however, probably want to look for other options.
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||4.5|
|Effective pixels||14 Megapixels|
|Filter array||Primary colour filter (RGB)|
|Full resolution||14.5 Megapixels|
|Type||1/2.33 '' CCD sensor|
|Optical zoom||5 x (WIDE)|
|Focal length||4.7 - 23.5 mm|
|Focal length (equiv. 35mm)||26 - 130 mm|
|Maximum aperture||2.8 - 6.5|
|Structure||7 lenses / 5 groups|
|Aspherical glass elements||5|
|Enlargement factor||4 x / 20 x combined with optical zoom|
|Monitor size||6.9 cm / 2.7 ''|
|Brightness adjustment||2 levels|
|Method||TTL iESP auto focus with contrast detection|
|Modes||iESP, Face Detection AF, Spot, AF Tracking|
|Standard mode||0.6m - ∞ (wide) / 1.0m - ∞ (tele)|
|Makro mode||0.15m - ∞ (wide) / 0.6m - ∞ (tele)|
|Super Macro mode||Closest focusing distance: 7 cm|
|Modes||ESP light metering, Spot metering|
|Shutter speed||1/4 - 1/2000 s / < 4 s (Night scene)|
|Enhancement function||Mechanical Image Stabilizer
Shadow Adjustment Technology
Advanced Face Detection Technology
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps|
|Modes||i-Auto, Programme automatic, Scene Modes, Magic Filter, Panorama, Movie|
|Number of scene modes||14|
|Modes||Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night Scene with portrait, Sports, Indoor, Candle, Self-portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach and Snow, Pet|
|Pin Hole||2.3 (ISO 1000)|
|Auto||AUTO / High AUTO|
|Manual||ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|AUTO WB system||Yes|
|Preset values||Overcast, Sunlight, Tungsten, Flourescent 1, Flourescent 2, Flourescent 3|
|Modes||AUTO, Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Off|
|Working range (wide)||5.4 m (ISO 1000)|
|Working range (tele)||2.3 m (ISO 1000)|
|Black & White||No|
|Modes||Single, Index, Zoom, Slide show|
|Index||4x3 / 6x5 frames|
|Zoom||1.1 - 10 x|
|Image protect mode||Yes|
|Frame by frame||Yes|
|Still Image Recording|
|Movie Recording System|
|Recording format||AVI Motion JPEG®|
|Movie quality||640 x 480 / 30 fps Recording time: no limit
320 x 240 / 30 fps Recording time: no limit
Note: maximum file size 2GB
|Sound Recording System|
|Sound recording||Yes , format: WAV|
|Image footage||4 s|
|Internal memory||46 MB|
|Removable Media||SD / SDHC|
|14M||4288 x 3216|
|8M||3264 x 2448|
|5M||2560 x 1920|
|3M||2048 x 1536|
|2M||1600 x 1200|
|1M||1280 x 960|
|VGA||640 x 480|
|16:9||1920 x 1080|
|Menu languages in camera||39|
|Perfect Shot Preview||Yes|
|Self timer||2 / 12 s|
|Battery||LI-42B Lithium-Ion Battery|
|DC input||Yes (CB-MA3 required)|
|Combined A/V & USB output||Yes|
|USB 2.0 High Speed||Yes|
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||94.1 x 55.8 x 19.9 mm|
|Weight||124 g (including battery and memory card)|