• Price: 92

  • Company: Olympus

  • Pros: Low cost. 21 scene modes.

  • Cons: No manual controls. Poor output.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

The eight-megapixel FE-280 costs under £100 – which looks like a bargain. However, the camera offers few manual settings, and its image quality was mediocre.

Our test unit was lightweight and easy to hold. It had a metallic-blue case, though the camera is also available in silver, black, or red.

The design incorporates a 2.5-inch LCD, which becomes extra bright when you hold the shutter release halfway down, though the real-time preview can look grainy. In playback mode though, images appear cleanly.

You’re unlikely to need all of the FE-280’s 21 scene modes – but that list is more manageable than the 41 options presented by the competing Casio Exilim EX-S880. The modes include Under Water Wide 1, Under Water Wide 2 (locked focus for quicker shutter release), and Under Water Macro; but since this isn’t a waterproof model, you’ll need underwater housing.

If you expect to be able to switch from scene modes to manual settings, you’ll find the FE-280 limiting. Its Program mode provides only white-balance presets, ISO settings, and autofocus modes.

The FE-280 captures AVI video, and has three quality settings. The highest, 640-x-480-pixel resolution, produced accurately coloured, well-contrasted video with a slight grain; but the FE-280 can record only a 10-second clip.

Overall, the FE-280’s performance is best described as average. It didn’t excel at any point in our testing, whether in simple or complex situations, indoors or outside. Pictures of a still life and a female mannequin looked drab but had good contrast. In our black-&-white line-art tests, its sharpness was unimpressive.

One setting on the mode dial, called Guide, offers a Color Effects preview, which gives you a four-way split window to show the results of different white-balance settings.

The FE-280 is cheap and cute, and it fits easily in your pocket. Anyone with serious photographic ambitions, however, will outgrow it quickly.