Review: Ricoh RDC-i500
Don Bradbury looks at Ricoh's latest offering to the world of digital photography.
|We don't like|
Size matters, shape matters, ergonomics matter, and it goes without saying that picture quality matters. Digicams come in several varieties, and each manufacturer has his own idea of what suits best. Of course your intended application matters, too, and in recent times Ricoh has come up with some neat all-singing, all-dancing designs, as with the RDC-i500.
Looking superficially like an old 110 camera in that the camera is flat, with a thin edge facing the subject, this camera brings to bear, as does the i700, on-line connectivity. That means you can squirt pictures down the phone lines without having to be at your PC. There are those who will value that function.
Such facility aside, the i500 offers general photographers a wealth of capability; sufficient, in fact, to make us drool at the prospect. With a 3.34 megapixel CCD, 2048 x 1536 maximum resolution, and sharp 3x optical zoom lens supplemented by 3.2x digital zoom, the basics of an excellent camera are right there.
Chrome finish might not be to everyone's taste, but the overall design is swish, and the camera is easy to use once you've mastered the on-screen menu cum on-camera button control system - which some may think not quite as intuitive as certain others.
Be that as it may, all of the usual facilities are there, including, interestingly, a default auto mode for ASA selection (as well as 200 up to 800 fixed). Flash strength can be adjusted, which is just as well as I found full brightness just a trifle over-powering. In other words, the gun was being quenched slightly too late (for my personal taste) when the default full power mode was engaged. Some loss of highlight detail results.
Any permanent changes you want to make to the system menu settings were fixable to survive a power-down. Flash, though, was one of those 'should I/shouldn't I' options as the reduced power mode sometimes allowed ambient lighting to have too much influence.
The pin sharp, and quickly refreshing, 2 inch LCD could be swivelled for best viewing and shooting angle, and it just takes a little while to get accustomed to the camera's shape when using the LCD. The optical viewfinder, complete with eyesight adjuster, was eminently usable, and - with the exception, of course, of inviting close-up parallax problems - accurate.
Twin shutter release buttons cater for landscape or portrait shooting, though I was conscious of the lens being just a little susceptible to stray fingers leaving their damaging imprints. A lens cap is included for protection at other times, as is a soft, blue, carrying pouch. Shame there are no strap lugs, though, for the more professional look. One lug would do; this camera should dangle flat against the chest rather nicely.
Lower resolutions of 1024 x 768 and 640 x 480 cater for the less demanding user, perhaps with an eye on memory capacity - for which none is supplied beyond 7 MB of internal memory. However, this camera will accept a mechanical IBM Microdrive, and that will be worth a lot of points to a dedicated photographer.
My own 340MB Microdrive gave ample shooting capacity without unduly influencing the life of the camera's Lithium battery, for which a neat charger is included in the pack. And in this camera's case, the shots counter coped admirably. When I set 640 resolution mode, the counter was registering something approaching 4000 shots available on the Microdrive! Even in the default 2048 resolution mode, with medium compression, the Microdrive was offering around 600 shots capacity.
Auto-focusing was, for once, reliably accurate, even in low light situations. A surprising number of digicams fail to find accurate focus in low contrast lighting. With the i500, if focus could not be found I was left in no doubt of the fact as the camera produced a way-out-of-focus setting that was very obvious on the LCD screen. There was no 'has it or hasn't it' about auto-focus on the i500.
Focusing was pretty quick, too, although macro mode has to be pre-engaged and that results in a degree of gear noise and slower focusing. Speaking of which, ridiculously close focusing is possible with the i500, down to the point at which it's difficult to squeeze some light in between the subject and the lens cowl. Impressive! The Petunia shot craftily used backlighting, but in this case the lens was far enough back for front lighting to be usable in any event.
Short bursts of continuous low res video output was possible at 15 frames per second, as was split screen shooting for some interesting effects, plus multi-mode light metering, voice memo, and a text shooting mode where recording was in B&W, with tone gradations eliminated (what you might refer to as 'spy camera mode').
The camera's main control wheel at the rear makes for quick selection of shooting or viewing mode. The power on/off button was at the centre of this wheel, and zoom control conveniently at the periphery. Neatly integrated function control, then.
Communications is the novel offering, and for that you need to add a Type II CF modem for Internet connection or emailing. All of the necessary leads were supplied, together with no less than four perfect bound manuals (difficult to make lie flat open on a table), each dealing with its own aspects of the camera, plus quick start and battery guides. It's quite an evening's work getting up to speed with this very versatile camera. The effort is worth it, though.
With the slight flash reservations I mentioned, the all-important picture quality I judged to be great overall. Few will be disappointed with the RDC-i500, and at £700 it's well in line with current values, though remember the memory card (and modem?) you will probably have to buy. One for the short list then? Certainly!