A massive zoom lens and a low price tag. Is GE's X5 a celeb-botherer on a budget?
If you're after a long lens camera for paparazzi-style ranged shots, there's one distinctive feature of the GE X5 that will catch your eye. It's not the SLR-like shape of this glossy black (or white) snapper. It's the price.
All of the big camera players have got compacts out for less than £100. Aside from price, these cameras have one feature in common – a short zoom lens. Superzoom compacts like the Canon SX210 are at least twice as expensive, so this is where the £120 X5 and its optically stabilised 15x zoom lens comes in.
Despite the X5's small size, it sits comfortably in the palm thanks to the large rubberised grip. It's too light to feel really stable, but all the basics are in the right place.
The operational controls and menu, though, are a bit of a mess. There are manual controls and priority settings, but using them is so convoluted you're better off leaving the camera in scene mode. Standard options for changing the metering points are conspicuous by their absence.
It's a tragic list of photography failures: a small LCD screen, which is invisible in sunlight, a low-res electronic viewfinder that will make your eyes swim, slow autofocus and a reliance on triple AAA batteries for power.
The continuous shooting mode runs at less than one frame per second and, to top it all, movie mode is limited to VGA quality. We use the word quality with some reservation. Suffice to say, first impressions are not great. It's the camera time forgot.
There is salvation for the X5, though, because despite everything, GE's budget-buster takes decent photos.
For a start, there's barely a trace of barrel distortion along the entire length of its zoom range except for at the widest angle. While the picture quality isn't what we'd consider HDR (high dynamic range), there is more information captured in highlights and shadows than many similarly priced compacts.
Off the camera, shots lack saturation and have a distinctly blueish tinge, but this is easily fixed in post processing without blowing out details.
If there's a problem, it's that like most compacts the sensor is a tiny 1/2.3in from corner to corner. That means no matter how many megapixels there are, you can't capture the same level of fine detail as a proper SLR. As a result, at 100% zoom there's a bit of visible noise at all ISO values and loss of detail.
Scaled down for the web or printed at A4, though, shots look fine, and really that's all you could want or expect at this price. You aren't going to get into Magnum with pictures from the X5 and it'll frustrate anyone who wants to do more than just point and shoot. But if you accept it for what it is – a cheap camera with a very long lens – you won't be disappointed.
GE X5 review
Confused controls, but the image quality and long-range lens are much more than you'd expect for the price
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