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Ricoh Caplio 500SE - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 02/07/2007
Rating: Recommended

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Introduction:
Announced on the 7th of February 2007, the Ricoh Caplio 500SE is a unique rugged digital camera and features an 8 megapixel sensor, a 2.5" screen, a wide angle 3x optical zoom lens. The camera's main feature or skill is the ability to withstand the elements, it has been designed so that you can use it wearing gloves, and will withstand being dropped from 1 metre, is waterproof upto 1 metre (for 30minutes), can withstand temperatures as cold as -10C, and is dustproof and sandproof. The camera also comes in two flavours, one with Bluetooth, and the other with wireless, this enables you to connect to GPS devices to embed location information into your photos, or to connect to other Bluetooth and wireless devices. The wide angle 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 28 – 84 mm on a 35mm camera. The camera has a 320x240 30fps video mode with sound. The camera is somewhat large with a rubberised body. The Caplio 500SE measures: 133.0 x 78.5 x 74.0mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 430g excluding batteries and media. The camera has an RRP of £549, or £599 for the wireless version.

The Ricoh Caplio 500SE comes in two flavours: the standard version 500SE-B features built in Bluetooth support, while the 500SE-W version features built in Wifi support. Both have support for external GPS devices. The camera has built in GPS software, along with memo support, allowing you to enter details into the EXIF image data. For more information about how the GPS / "Geo-Imaging" Solution work, see Ricoh's 500SE-GPS website here: http://www.ricohsolutions.com/geo/

Ricoh have this to say about the camera:

"Connect Caplio 500SE wirelessly with a Bluetooth® compatible GPS device to add location information to your photo data. This feature is especially useful in disaster situations and when managing building construction data. No complicated settings are required: just wirelessly connect the GPS device. Caplio 500SE automatically recognizes it the next time their power is turned on."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8)


Front - Camera off.


Front view - Camera on - shutter release, flash, AF window, optical viewfinder, flash compensation, focus assist lamp, microphoto, lens.


Back - 2.5" screen, status led, optical viewfinder, on/off button, zoom control, Play, Adjust / Memo, Delete / Self-timer, Display, 4-way controller, Menu / OK button.


Side - lockable USB / AUX connection compartment, strap loop.


Side - lockable memory, battery compartment.


Top: accessory shoe, mode dial, shutter release.


Bottom: metal tripod mount, speaker.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8.

Specifications / Features:

  • 8.0 Megapixels CCD Sensor
  • Wide-angle 3x optical zoom (28mm - 85mm equivalent)
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • Rugged waterproof (upto 1m for 30minutes), dust and sand proof, drop-proof (from 1m), -10c body
  • Large buttons and dials
  • 2.5" LCD, 153,000 pixels
  • Built in flash with a maximum range of 10m (6.5 meters in telephoto shots)
  • 26mb built in memory
  • ISO Auto / 64 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600
  • Video at 320 x 240, 30fps with sound
  • 1cm macro mode wide / 10cm macro mode telephoto
  • Rechargeable battery (DB-43) x 1, AA battery x 2 , AC adaptor (AC-4d)
  • Supports 1gb SD memory cards

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • USB Cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Neck Strap
  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery: DB-43
  • Battery Charger: BJ-2e
  • 224 page Instruction Manual (Camera, Introduction)
  • Warranty Card
  • Software manual on CD

Average box contents. There is a small amount of internal memory provided with the camera - you should invest in a much larger memory card. The camera comes with a rugged, waterproof, dustproof, drop-proof protective case built into the camera, so a case isn't really necessary!

Battery usage: Battery life is above average I managed around 200+ shots and the camera still was showing as having one third of it's battery life left. This is quite good but not as good as the excellent 580 shot battery life of the the Fujifilm FinePix F30.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe top dial selects the camera mode. This allows the choice of the following modes: Photo, CALS Mode, Video, Audio. There is also a playback button on that back that will let you switch between playback and photo mode. CALS mode fixes picture quality and size to normal 1280 x 960 when shooting construction images - these are "suitable to be submitted as official public works pictures (based on Japanese standards)".

Photo mode/menus: The adjust button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Adjust Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has an average resolution of 153,000 pixels, but updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There isn't a live histogram available but the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: The optical viewfinder is quite small and is blocked by the lens surround unless zoomed in to full telephoto.

Photo adjust menu: this gives quick access to the most commonly used features / options, such as exposure compensation, white balance (including manual), anti-blur, ISO, and macro focus area (when in macro mode). The last two options can be customised with a choice of ISO, Quality, Focus, Sharpness, Metering, Continuous mode, and Anti-blur.

Photo menu Scene menu

Menu options: Picture quality / size, Antiblur, Focus (Multi AF, Spot AF, Manual Focus, Snap, Infinite), Photometry (Multi, Center, Spot), Sharpness, Continuous mode, Colour depth (Vivid, Normal, Neutral, Black and White), Time Exposure (Off, 1, 2, 4, 8 seconds), Interval, Image with sound, Date Imprint, Exposure compensation, White Balance (including manual), ISO (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600), Restore defaults.

Scene modes: (shown on the right, above) Normal, High sensitivity, Firefighting, Skew correction mode, Text mode, Zoom macro.

Playback mode Playback thumbs

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick, although the camera shows a thumbnail quality image initially then a second later it shows a sharper image. The zoom is quick up to 8x.

Playback menu Setup menu

Playback menu: Slide show, Protect, DPOF, Resize, Copy to Card, Print, File Send (allows you to setup a Bluetooth device to send photos to).

Setup menu: (shown on the right, above) Format, Format (internal memory), LCD Brightness, ADJ Button 1 Set, ADJ Button 2 Set, Auto Power off, Beep sound, Volume settings, LCD confirm, Sequential Number, Date settings, Language, Step zoom (28, 35, 50, 85mm steps), Shooting Settings Warning, USB Connection (Original, Mass Storage), Enlarge Photo Icons, Register my settings, Start settings.

Sending via Bluetooth GPS Menu

Bluetooth Transfer and GPS Menus: Sending images via Bluetooth is as easy as it is with most new mobile phones, you simply select the photo you want to send, search for bluetooth devices, and then click OK to send. Unfotunately I wasn't able to test the GPS functions as I didn't have a GPS device to pair with the camera. The menu options are: GPS Datum, GPS Display mode (Lat / Lon, UTM, MGRS, ALL), GPS Lock, Pass Key, Search Count, BT Auto Conn, BT Serial, Master/Slave, Image File Size, Auto Del, Quick send mode.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number will fit in the memory provided:

Size
Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Fine
Normal
8mp (3264x)
8
14
5mp (2592x)
N/A
22
3mp (2048x)
N/A
36
1.3mp (1280x960)
33
63
VGA (640x480)
N/A
276
Video 320x240 30fps
39 seconds

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. You can fit a very limited number of 8mp Fine images on the built in memory, and you will definitely need to buy a larger memory card.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 512mb memory card, and preferably a 1gb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Ricoh Caplio 500SE:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £1, 1gb (1000mb): £3
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera's switch on time is very quick and takes around 1.7 - 2.5 seconds to switch on and take a photo. Focusing is quick at around 0.3 seconds - shutter response is quick at less than 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time is around 2 seconds (with review on), with flash on this stays the same at 2 seconds between shots for the first 2 shots, then slows to around 4 seconds between shots. Playback mode is quick, and its easy to zoom in on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is quick but you can also get an overview of 3 or 12 shots at a time if you zoom out further. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. Continuous shooting is very quick at 8fps for 16 shots - this creates 800 x 600 thumbnail sized photos in one frame, flash is not available and the screen is blank while shooting.

Ease of use: Using the camera is fairly straightforward, simply switch it on and start taking photos, and the camera's controls and menus are logically layed out so that using the more advanced features is relatively straight-forward (even the manual focus option seemed easy to use following the on screen display). Switching between the modes is easy thanks to the mode dial on the top of the camera and once you find all the options the camera becomes easy to use, and it is very easy to use the more basic functions of the camera - the adjust button gives quick access to the most regularly used features without needing to go into the menus. There is a limited number of scene modes, which could put off beginners.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The camera feels very solid, with a robust and chunky rubber covered body. The camera has been designed to withstand the elements, and as such, has overly large button compared to other digital cameras meaning the camera can be used when you're wearing gloves. There is a very good sized grip on the front, and a texted thumb grip on the back making it easy to hold the camera, even if it's wet. The zoom control is very easy to use. The shutter release button feels good, although it was sometimes difficult to pre-focus. The size means it's unlikely to fit in pockets. The camera labels are clear. The buttons and controls are all positioned so that the camera can be operated with one hand. I found the mode switch easy to use with my thumb.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Ricoh Caplio 500SE Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO295)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo with natural colour - there is no red-eye in the photo, and some redeye in the group photos. The colour is very natural looking and detail is good. It has a strong flash, that works well in dark situations, and should cope well with group photos. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light thanks to the focus assist lamp, and focusing was generally quick.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 64 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 7 megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 and 8 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F40fd.

Panasonic Lumix FZ8 (7.2mp) Ricoh Caplio 500SE (8mp) Fujifilm FinePix F40fd (8mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Ricoh Caplio 500SE in the middle, Panasonic Lumix FX30 on the left, Fujifilm FinePix F40fd on the right. The Panasonic was chosen as a comparison as a recent digital camera, and the Fujifilm was chosen due to the camera's low noise, and same number of megapixels. Any tonal difference is due to automatic white balance or metering differences.

Panasonic Lumix FZ8 (7.2mp) Ricoh Caplio 500SE (8mp) Fujifilm FinePix F40fd (8mp)
   
ISO80 - N/A ISO64 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - N/A
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1250 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
 
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels ISO3200 - N/A ISO2000 - Actual Pixels

Slight noise is visible in photos taken at ISO64 and ISO100, especially in darker areas. Noise increases, and becomes more coarse, as the ISO setting increases, and the noise levels of this camera are high when compared to other cameras - however the camera does seem to maintain detail / edge sharpness fairly well even at the higher ISO settings, whereas a lot of other cameras have much less detail at the higher ISO settings due to high noise reduction. The best results are acheived by sticking with the lowest ISO settings, such as ISO64 and ISO100. Compared to the other cameras, the Ricoh has much higher noise. The Fujifilm FinePix F40fd and it's impressive SuperCCD sensor are able to produce low noise images that retain detail much better than other cameras as the ISO setting is increased, while the Panasonic Lumix FZ8 tends to loose detail as the ISO setting is increased due to "heavy handed" noise reduction.

Image Stabilisation: The Ricoh 500SE features a digital anti-shake mode, this boosts the ISO level automatically so that a higher shutter speed can be used to avoid image blur. This is a fairly effective method however, images do suffer from high levels of noise.

Outside:

Liverpool shops Super Lamb Banana

Outside: The camera has good colour - accurate and natural lookin with good contrast and good detail, with no noticeable corner softness. Some noise was noticeable even in ISO100 photos when viewed at full size. I turned up the quality to maximum to avoid jpeg artefacts. Exposure seemed very good, although there did seem to be a slight blue-ish tint to some of the photos.

Zoom: This camera has a wide angle 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the optical zoom and 4x digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Optical and Digital Zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower seem to be very well exposed, with good detail in the dark areas, and good detail in the clouds, however this could be improved by altering the exposure compensation.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes very little noise in operation. There are around 19 steps between wide and telephoto zoom, this gives you very good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was very low and difficult to detect in any normal photos, and shouldn't cause any problems in the majority of photos.

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO154)

The macro mode lets you take photos with the camera roughly 1cm away from the subject - this means macro photos can be very good - with good detail and colour. I used this camera for a number of photos of other cameras, and using custom white balance, the camera produced great results. There is a macro zoom scene mode that zooms in slightly to get even closer macro photos. The only problem with such a close focus distance is the available light - this can end up being blocked by the lens itself.

Video mode: The camera features an average video mode - it records 320 x 240 videos at 30fps with sound as AVI files. Compared to other digital cameras the Ricoh can't fit very long videos on the memory card, as it doesn't use very high compression, such as MPEG4. The video mode doesn't let you use the optical zoom whilst recording. The resolution is low compared to nearly all other current digital cameras, as they now tend to provide 640x480 videos.

Conclusion

Image Quality:  The camera has good image quality - the camera has good detail and very good colour (accurate, and quite natural) and there was little to no noticeable corner softness in the images - despite the wide-angle lens. Images have good saturation and contrast, although with fairly high noise even at the lower ISO settings. The higher ISO settings of ISO400 and above are probably best avoided as detail is noise is very high. Indoors photos were good, although noise was noticeable in some shots and red-eye occurred occassionally. Purple fringing was very rarely noticed, and wasn't a problem in the majority of shots. The camera was good at focusing indoors thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice any vignetting, barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and compression options, although no choice regarding aspect ratio. Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be very good. The camera gives you good control over image quality with custom white balance, sharpness, colour depth, manual focus etc, although it would be nice to see a few more options. The video mode is average and lags behind other cameras. The macro mode is excellent, allowing you to be 1cm away from the subject, 5mm away from the front of the camera! There was a slight blue-ish tint to some photos, although a quick auto levels in Photoshop quickly fixes this. (7.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera has a large chunky rugged body, and is designed to withstand water, dust, sand, freezing temperatures and being dropped. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen. The camera feels very sturdy and is comfortable to hold thanks to the large hand grip. The camera is very easy to use, thanks to the mode dial and easy to use menus. There is a good layout of buttons and controls, and a good adjust button and a few scene modes to make it easier to use. The camera speed is very good, with a good switch on time, very rapid focusing time, very quick shutter response, quick playback mode, and quick menus. The camera offers more than any other rugged digital camera that I'm aware of by providing a wide-angle lens, built in bluetooth or wireless support, and built in GPS location support. There is an optical viewfinder, alghouth this is partically obstructed by the lens on the wide-angle setting. Battery life is very good and the camera provides a number of power options such as readily available AA batteries should they be needed. (8.5/10)

Value for Money: The Ricoh Caplio 500SE is available for £550 for the Bluetooth version, and £599 for the Wireless version, this is expensive compared to other point and shoot cameras, and expensive compared to even budget Digital SLRs, however there are few that offer this combination of features. If you want a rugged waterproof digital camera then the Olympus Mju Stylus 770SW is currently the best value for money although doesn't feature a wide angle lens or bluetooth or wireless support. If you want a rugged waterproof digital camera with a wide angle lens then you could have a look at the Fujifilm FinePix Big Job HD-3W although it doesn't feature bluetooth or wireless support. The uniqueness of this camera makes it difficult to compare with others on value for money, for this reason I've let this figure out of the equation when calculating the final score. (7/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Ricoh Caplio 500SE is unique in that it's the only rugged waterproof digital camera that I'm aware of with a wide angle lens and Bluetooth or wireless support. There are a very small number of rugged waterproof digital cameras, the Olympus Mju Stylus 770SW being one, and the recently announced Fujifilm FinePix Big Job HD-3W being the other, and only the Fuji has a wide angle lens. Image quality is good with good colour and detail although noise causes some concern even at the lower ISO settings. The lens produces sharp, crisp, image with no noticeable corner softness and little to no purple fringing. The camera is easy to use and the adjust button makes it easy to change settings, although there are few scene modes.

The camera is very solidly built, as you would expect from such a rugged camera, and will survive water, dust, sand, -10C temperatures, and being dropped. It should be usable even when wearing gloves thanks to the large buttons and good hand grip. If you need something capable of working in poor conditions, and support Bluetooth, wireless and GPS then there is very little else to choose from. Ricoh are one of a few digital camera manufacturers that produce unique digital cameras and they are once again to be commended for this. They are obviously making money by producing unique digital cameras, so it's surprisingly and disappointing that other companies don't follow suit, although it's a shame the price is so high. For the consumer who wants an easy to use point and shoot that will survive a dip in the pool or the sea then the Olympus Mju Stylus 770SW makes much more sense financially, but if you're requirements are more unique, then the 500SE is a good choice simply because it provides a number of features that no other camera does. If the camera fits your requirements, and the price doesn't put you off, then the Ricoh Caplio 500SE is recommended.

Ricoh Caplio 500SE Rating: Recommended (8/10)
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What I like:

  • Good image quality - natural colour
  • High quality wide angle 3x optical zoom lens
  • Very good 2.5" screen, clear and easy to use, with bright mode
  • Adjust button provides quick access to commonly used features such as Custom White Balance etc
  • Rugged waterproof body with good hand grip
  • Dust proof, Sand proof, Freeze proof (upto -10 C)
  • Available with Bluetooth or Wireless built in
  • GPS support built into the camera (optional GPS device required to use this feature)
  • High strength flash (upto 10m)
  • Excellent macro mode

What I don't like:

  • Expensive!
  • Quite large.
  • Some noise noticeable even in ISO64 / ISO100 photos.
  • Optical viewfinder view blocked by lens.
  • Low resolution video mode (only 320x240).
  • High noise levels - best to use ISO200 or below.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Ricoh Caplio 500SE Sample Photo Gallery.
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