GE E850 Review

“Avoid this one just like Lindsay Lohan should stay away from LA nightlife and Cosmopolitans.”
  • 8MP point-and-shoot with 5x zoom
  • Everything else; poor quality
  • noisy pictures; sluggish; poor battery life
MSRP $179.00

Summary

Digital cameras are a funny thing. Every year experts predict the market has peaked, that consumers are loaded up to their eyeballs with digicams. Then analysts look at the numbers as the year unfolds and realize—whoops!—sales keep growing. This year is no different as the “experts” have once again raised the final numbers (close to 30 million). Everyone’s an expert in hindsight but one of the key reasons for this never-ending flood is the fact repeat buyers keep coming back for better, more responsive cameras. And falling prices certainly don’t hurt. This brings us to the GE E850, an intermediate model from a new player in the game. Note this GE is not the one that makes jet engines and MRI machines; it’s a company called General Imaging that licenses the GE name. The company first introduced themselves in the spring, then began shipping affordable point-and-shoot digicams this summer like the E850, an 8-megapixel camera with a 5x optical zoom and a 3-inch LCD screen for less than 200 clams ($179 USD to be exact). Compare this to the recently review 8MP Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH with a 3.8x zoom that goes for twice as much. DigitalTrends.com readers know I really like Canon point-and-shoot models even though they tend to be more expensive than the competition. It’s simple enough—they take good photos without a lot of the baggage of other brands. Also of note is the fact the E850 has a 28mm wide angle setting, one of my favorite features, and also found on the SD870 IS. Now can the new GE E850 win my affections? Let’s check it out.

Features and Design

The GE E850 is a feathery camera—a D-SLR it’s not—but it looks better than many of the silver-bodied digicams out there. The one tested had a black finish; the body is anodized, with polished aluminum, not totally plastic like other low-priced models. The camera is also available in red, blue, white and silver if you’d like to be a bit fashion conscious. The E850 has nice rounded edges and about the size of the proverbial Altoids tin it looks decent enough. It measures 3.9 x 2.37 x 1 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 5.46 ounces without battery.

The front has a clean look without many annoying logos and decals. The largest is the “5X” touting the zoom power which ranges from 28-140mm in 35mm terms. The lens pops out of the body when you power up and a built-in cover protects it when you shut down. Also on the front are the flash, tiny pinhole mic and an AF Assist lamp. This is in a weird spot—on the lower right-hand corner—so you better make sure your fingers don’t block it when framing your shots. Why companies make these boneheaded design moves escapes me.

On the top you’ll find the power and shutter buttons as well as a poorly designed rocker wide/tele zoom switch. This is one of worst I’ve ever used and it’s really hard to make slight adjustments. Take off another point. The edges are plain other than a DC-in jack and speaker on right side.

The rear is dominated by a 3-inch LCD rated a solid 230K pixels. Next to it are three small buttons for delete, menu and a smiley face for the obligatory Face Detection circuitry that’s 2007’s feature du jour for almost every point-and-shoot digicam. There’s also a main mode dial that easily switches between auto, playback, movie, stabilization mode (only digital not optical), access to a dozen scene modes, a separate setting for Portrait mode, panorama and manual. The specific Portrait mode gives you a good idea who the camera is for—aim-and-forget shooters who will be taking photos of friends and family. Manual options are really sparse. Basically you can change white balance, ISO (1600 maximum), shutter speed between 2-30 seconds, type of metering and exposure compensation. Forget anything like aperture and shutter priority modes. This is really a snapshooter’s camera. There nothing wrong with that as long as it does the job it’s supposed to handle. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The E850 has the typical four-way controller with center Function/OK button. The four points give access to exposure compensation, macro, flash modes and self timer settings. The menu system is very rudimentary and definitely needs to be polished for the next generation of cameras.

On the bottom is the battery/SD card compartment, plastic tripod mount and combo USB/AV out port.

The GE E850 comes with the basics including strap, battery/charger, USB and AV cables, nicely done Quick Start guide and 82-page User Manual as well as a software CD-ROM with ArcSoft PhotoImpression software for basic editing. After charging the battery and loading a card it was time to hit the streets.

GE 850
Image Courtesy of GE

Testing and Use

The GE E850 starts a bit slower than other digicams but it’s nothing too wring your hands about. Other things will get your hands wringing so read on. In about three seconds you’re good to go. This 8MP camera takes 3264 x 2448 pixel images at three compression levels. I set it to maximum resolution with least compression, started in Auto then moved to various scene and manual modes.

You certainly can’t call this one a speed demon as it takes time to save the 8MP files to the card. Putting it into continuous mode to give it a little more juice (5 shot maximum) the poor thing labored like a geriatric running a marathon. There was a delay of about 5 seconds as the camera attempted to recharge. To give it a break, I disabled the flash and it still choked. Folks, this is the difference between good cameras and bad. What this delay means is you’ll miss the shot of your child smiling, running or whatever. The bad ones simply don’t have enough processing power to function quickly. By buying off-the-shelf components from those nameless factories in China, companies can hit a low price. This makes cameras seem attractive on the surface but in the real world, it’s like tossing your money away. Phooey.

GE E850
Image Courtesy of GE

Although I knew where this review was headed, I still had to put the camera through the rest of its paces—no matter how slow. Overall the camera is easy to use as the main mode dial switches from the various options. I found the zoom scroll wheel to be a pain as you had to develop a fine touch to make small adjustments in focal length. As mentioned earlier, the E850 has a 28mm setting, a favorite of mine for portraits and landscape vistas. Taking shots indoors and out—of some vibrant fall foliage and mums—it was time to make 8.5×11 prints with no tweaking whatsoever, either from editing software or the printer itself.

The photographic results of the GE E850 were as plain as the prints I held in my hand. They were really bad. Indoor shots taken in available light were so noisy that I found it hard to believe. This was with the flash off. I took some additional shots and the results were the same. Turning the flash on, the images were a little better but the flash cast an uneven light. Photos taken outdoors were O.K. but they were noisy as well. To its credit, colors of the outdoor foliage were accurate but again, loaded with noise. The focus tended to grab outdoors in bright sunshine too. On the plus side, the LCD screen held up in direct sunshine, so it wasn’t a complete disaster. Still…

Conclusion

There are many reasons I recommend Canon cameras when anyone asks which point-and-shoot camera they should buy. Competition like the GE E850 is one of them. Sure you can buy it on the cheap but since it’s slow, takes bad photos and filled with more noise than the New York City subway system, you can do much, much better. Avoid this one just like Lindsay Lohan should shun LA nightlife and Cosmopolitans. Note: this 5 rating is the lowest I’ve ever given a digicam. At least that’s a point of distinction.

Pros:

• Cheap
• Nice-looking case
• That’s about it

Cons:

• Takes poor, noisy photos
• Sluggish
• Poor battery life

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