Hands on with Ricoh's RCD-7 digital camera

RDC-7
Sometimes the digital video cameras from Ricoh don't get the respect they deserve. You don't usually hear them mentioned in the same breath as Kodak, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, and their ilk. But that should be about to change.

The last time I had the chance to experiment with a Ricoh digital camera, the RDC-5300, I was impressed, but not enough to switch from my trusty Kodak DC290. But now after two weeks of enjoying the new RDC-7 camera ... well, anyone want to buy a DC290?

The "all-in-one" 3.34 MP (million pixel) RDC-7 camera is capable of hardware-extrapolated resolutions to 7 MP. According to Ricoh, this makes it suitable for the most high-end print or studio photo applications. As a result, the RDC-7 is being targeted to mobile professionals, designers, artists, and photographers. Which may make it more camera than Yours Truly needs, but, man, it's sweet. Just think of the shots I could take while covering the next Macworld Expo.

It has a suggested retail price of US$899.99, but if you're looking for excellent graphic quality and versatility in a digital camera, it would be 900 bucks well spent. In fact, Ricoh prefers to call it an "Image Capturing Device" because it does so much more than "just" serving as a camera.

For instance, it's capable of capturing full motion video and sound as well as ultrahigh resolution stills. And it does all this with an impressively small (5.3 inches wide, one inch thick, a nine ounce weight) form factor. Its ultra-thin design makes it easy to slip into a shirt pocket. Plus, it comes with a carrying case that can be fastened onto a belt, if you prefer.

The RDC-7's body is smooth and curvy. Its design is well thought out. An easy-to-access mode dial lets you switch instantly between still, moving picture, text, and audio capture modes. And the shutter release and other buttons are easy to reach. The styling is smooth and free of annoying protrusions.

It has a dual shutter. Regular digital cameras record portrait view subjects horizontally, so when processing the images on your Mac, you'll need to rotate 'em 90 degrees. The RDC-7's secondary release mechanism, on the front of the camera, eliminates this step by storing subjects in their correct orientation. Plus, it's also easier to see things with using the RDC-7's two-inch, 200,000-pixel active matrix screen, which swivels on two axes. What's more, it's easy to hold either vertically or horizontally, for portrait or landscape photography. You can even fold it flat for slide viewing.

The built-in flash unit offers several modes of operation. In Auto mode, the flash automatically calculates the distance and additional lighting required. The flash prevents overexposure, which commonly occurs with close-ups. You can choose from three manual modes to capture special moods: soft, normal, and strong. A preflash reduces red-eye.

Plus, the RDC-7 uses Ricoh's new multi auto white balance technology to optimize white balance to help you achieve results that are ... well ... balanced, even when using the flash.

The RDC-7 has a 3X optical zoom and one-cm macro capabilities, plus 8MB of on-board memory with SmartMedia expandability. The F2.6 7.3-21.9mm optical zoom lens is equivalent to a 35-105mm focal length on regular 35mm cameras. Macros are what you need when you're after close detail. The RDC-7 lets you get as close as one centimeter (0.4 inch) from a subject without losing the definition you enjoy at a normal shooting distance.

Dogs

Whereas most digital cameras only use CCD autofocusing, the RDC-7 uses both this and external passive. According to Ricoh, the additional use of external passive autofocusing accelerates focusing and enhances performance with poorly lit subjects.

The Time Exposure mode lets you set exposures at one, two, four, or eight seconds. You can customize the settings for specialized photography environments, such as shooting in the dark, action scenes, or lighting effects.

In the auto exposure mode, you can take three shots at three exposure settings just by pressing the shutter button once. You can then review and choose the best of your shots.

The RDC-7 has three "Pro Mode" options, all based on Ricoh's Image Enhancement Technology. Pro-L mode shifts the CCD by one pixel to take two shots that a Ricoh-developed algorithm composes into one image. This boosts resolution and definition by 20 percent without increasing image size. The default Pro Mode uses a Ricoh-developed interpolation algorithm that eliminates "jaggies" when the output resolution increases to 7 megapixels.

The resulting image size is 3,072 x 2,304 pixels. Pro-H mode raises output resolution to a maximum 7 megapixels by simultaneously incorporating both the default Pro and Pro-L modes. The Pro modes work fine, although I can't imagine a time when I'll ever actually need them. But for those of you who might, this is a camera well worth checking out.

And if you need something other than color shots, the RDC-7 also has sepia and black-and-white photo modes.

Sepia

In addition to image capture, the RDC-7 also has a digital voice recorder that lets you capture and playback digital audio in WAV file format, as well as incorporate sound into images. With a 64 MB SmartMedia card inserted (removable SmartMedia cards complement the 8 MB on-board memory), you can capture up to 130 minutes of audio through the RDC-7's built-in microphone. Conveniently, a speaker is also built-in so you can instantly check results. You're not going to make a bootleg copy of a Will Smith concert with it, but it's fine for short messages and photo annotation.

The RDC-7 also supports capture of full motion video with sound in Motion JPEG file format. Record and play back AVI movie clips, which use motion JPEG for superior image quality. You can record up to 5.5 minutes of video onto a 64 MB SmartMedia card. Again, you're not going to make an Academy Award quality film this way, but you can make clips for sharing across local area networks or over the Internet.

A black and white TIFF file format mode purportedly turns the RDC-7 into a portable document scanner. If you really need high end scanning capabilities, don't toss your scanner. But the camera can capture text and graphic images reasonably well using a black and white TIFF file format to capture images of text and graphics.

The RDC-7 offers four language options: English, German, French, or Japanese. You can also switch to show your images on either the NTSC or PAL television systems.

Finally, it comes with cross platform versions of the following applications: PhotoStudio (a photo editing application with MediaBrowser album manager); PhotoMontage (for making montages with thousands of micro-images); PhotoPrinter (a printing program with frame borders and e templates in multiple sizes on a single sheet of paper); PhotoFantasy (an "image entertainment program" that let you create photofantaies by combining personal photos with fantasy background images); PanoramaMaker (which supports automatic horizontal and vertical stitching of multiple images into a single image); and VideoImpression (a video presentation editor for AVI, MPEG-1, and still image formats).

About my only quibble with the camera is that it doesn't come with a SmartMedia card. You'll have to make do with the internal 8 MB of internal memory (which also works overtime as intermediate storage for burst mode shooting) until you pick one up. Along the same lines, it's a shame that the IBM 1 GB MicroDrive isn't compatible with the RDC-7. They'd be a perfect match.

All in all, the RDC-7 performed flawlessly in my daily needs. Though admittedly pro photos will be more demanding than Yours Truly, I really like Ricoh's "Image Capturing Device."

This story, "Hands on with Ricoh's RCD-7 digital camera" was originally published by PCWorld.

  
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