Ricoh Caplio R7 review
Image © DPreview.com
When my trustworthy (?) Canon Powershot S1IS died, I had no real every-day camera anymore, except the prehistoric Fujifilm DX-10. With a DSLR at hand, my take-anywhere compact camera no longer needed to have everything I wanted in a camera. So in my choice, I concentrated on the take-anywhere aspect.
So, what did I look for in a compact camera?
- As small and flat as possible
- Wide angle zoom lens, 28 to at least 100 mm
- Takes SD cards
- Mechanically stabilized image, either by sensor or lens element movement
- Responsive, fast shot-to-shot
I'm a frequent reader of camera reviews, and it gets very annoying: most of them complain about image noise. Get over it, people! A few exceptions aside, every compact camera suffers from image noise, many of them even at the lowest ISO setting. Having said that, the R7 has the same noise problems as most other compact cams, but it seems to do a very good job at suppressing chroma noise (color speckles in laymens' terms). The R7's noise actually looks a lot like film grain, and it's actually one of the reasons I picked it.
This is a consumer driven problem. It is we who want smaller cameras, it is we who are not prepared to take the time to learn how to use a camera, and it is we who measure the quality of a camera by its number of pixels, so it is the camera companies who design cameras that take high auto-ISO pictures on tiny high pixel count image sensors. It's our own fault.
But let's not forget that noise really isn't that much of a problem for the intended purpose of a compact camera: point, shoot and print at 4" by 6". An image that's properly processed for printing at 4x6 is reduced to around 2 million pixels and most of the noise simply vanishes at this size.
Enter the Ricoh Caplio R7. The R7 is in a large number of ways, a fantastic little camera. It's incredibly small, very responsive, the screen is bright and clear (with reservations), the lens has good reach, and operation is very intuitive. It's not without drawbacks, however, but most of the drawbacks are inherent to almost every small consumer digicam: high image noise, no manual or priority modes and annoyingly large depth of field. Bokeh however, when you do get it, is very pleasant looking.
The first time I turned it on, I was a bit startled by the size of the lens barrel. Did that just come out of there? It's quite an achievement to put a zoom lens, extending 36 mm, into a body as thin as 25 mm. Especially considering the lens sits opposite the LCD. Unfortunately the lens isn't very fast at f/3.3 at 28 mm to a 1.5 stops slower f/5.2 at 200 mm, but you can't have everything, right? The reach is enormous and highly practical. 28 mm wide angle is fabulous, and in my opinion, camera companies are picking up way too late on this. One downside of wide angle is people tend to use it for portraits, which really isn't a good idea. The perspective of a wide angle isn't very flattering for a portrait. Ideally you zoom in a bit to get decent portrait worthy perspective. I'm afraid most people will not realize this and come up with unsatisfactory portraits (entirely their fault of course, but it's probably the way it is).
The R7 is almost entirely made of aluminium, and feels solid. The few parts on the exterior that are plastic, are the buttons, the lens shutter, the USB lid and the battery lid. The LCD is pretty much unprotected and will probably scratch easily. I have a screen protector on its way, but nevertheless I keep the camera in a pouch; a tight fitting CaseLogic DCB16.
Handling of this camera is problematic, which is to be expected. It's not much bigger than a credit card, really, and people with big hands will probably block the flash or push a button inadvertently at some point. I have long slender hands and I'm having no trouble at all. The thumb pad is a neat idea, probably even invaluable in hot sweaty weather.
Now, on to the picture taking. The R7 is said to be one of the speedier compacts. I find this to be true, however, to use all that speed you have to live without the image stabilizer, which is disabled in continuous shooting mode. Furthermore, as with most compacts, the viewfinder image freezes completely during focus and image capture, leaving you with a guessing game as to where your subject has moved during the (admittedly short) blackout. Resorting to the slower non-continuous mode gets you a live image in between shots. You need to refocus with every shot, giving you two blackouts per shot. All this makes the R7 totally unfit for action shots.
I won't and can't comment on the performance of the flash, as I don't use built-in flash (Except for the fiber optic ring light, of course). The cold, unflattering, bleak white flood of harsh light from your typical in-built flash ruins any chance of getting an acceptible shot, so in situations where every other guy would use in-built flash, the camera stays in my pocket.
The LCD on this little gem is of exceptional quality. It's bright, accurate and easily as good (though smaller) as the highly praised iPAQ 3970's LCD. There's one thing that bugs me, however. Maybe it's because it's so sharp and maybe that's why it catches the eye all the more, but images look jaggy. In both live view and playback. It must have something to do with how the camera's firmware reduces images in size to fit onto the screen. The simplest algorithm is truncation, and that's the algorithm that seems to be employed by the R7. With all the processing power in a camera nowadays, they could have make it look smoother by using a resampling algorithm like bicubic, or, better still, the Lanczos 3 algorithm.
The above flaw also makes the smaller-than-maximum resolutions on this camera completely useless, save the 3:2 option. The size reduction of the original 8 MP image to smaller sizes is done so badly, it's something Ricoh should be ashamed of. The VGA output is worse than a webcam and comparable to a cheap, plastic lens camera phone.
For the R7 I have a Sandisk 2 GB Ultra II SD card and will probably buy another as gigabytes cost next to nothing nowadays. It's a fast card that will not ever slow things down and is blazing fast to transfer to the PC, even when you use the camera for the transfer.
Macro capabilities are also something worth mentioning. In AUTO mode, there's a macro button (the "down" directional button) that lets you focus closer. This in itself is great, because the closest focus distance is about 1 cm, and as with all compact cameras, depth of field is enormous. But filed under the SCENE setting is a special macro setting that will let you shift the focus target by means of a crosshair.
Because of the beautiful LCD on the R7, I often use it to show processed shots, including shots from my DSLR camera. Digital cameras can't do this by default. You have to trick them into playing back processed images and ones from other cameras, or any source for that matter. It's a bit technical, but it boils down to converting the images from standard JFIF-type JPGs to DCF-type JPGs. Most image processing software won't let you save the DCF type. But Panasonic made a little tool, Image Creator 1.5, actually made for projectors, that can do this for batches of images. It's free software and can be found here. Convert the images using any file and directory name (the R7 isn't critical), and transfer them back to the camera, or save directly to the camera's memory or SD card.
The good points
- Size: extremely pocketable at almost credit card size.
- Wide angle: 28 mm is great for landscapes, cityscapes and interiors
- Tele zoom: 200 mm is great for candids and zoo
- Stabilized sensor gives very noticable improvement at slow shutters
- Exemplary noise handling. Instead of trying to cover it up and smearing detail, Ricoh make it look like film grain. I love it!
- Well though out macro function
- Large, bright LCD with great viewing angle
- Good options for whitebalancing
- AF assist works like a charm
- Configurable ADJ button
- It failed after two years of very light duty
- 8 million pixels. Who needs those? My 6 megapixel SLR catches vastly more detail, even with a cheap lens at ISO 800.
- Some barrel distortion at wide angle (28 mm)
- No manual or priority exposure modes, manual focus only in 1 single mode
- Viewfinder freezes during focusing
- Jaggy display rendering and image resizing
- Noisy lens mechanism. Might turn heads in a quiet room, otherwise not a problem
- Although menus are well-organised, they are slow to operate. Why didn't they put the ADJ button to good use?
- When you want to only view images, turn on the camera by pressing the play button for 3 seconds
- If you messed up the image file numbering somehow, you can reset the file number to any desired number with this simple procedure:
- Wipe the memory card
- Place back one original image in the most recent directory
- Rename that image so it contains "9999" in the 4 last digits
- Take one shot
- Using your computer, delete the "9999" picture and rename the remaining shot to the number preceding the one you need
- Take one shot. This shot now has the number you wanted it to have
- Comparison, specs and links for all Ricoh R series cameras
- Photography Blog review
- Trusted Reviews review
- CNET review
- What digital camera review
- Les Numériques review (French)