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Ricoh Caplio R4 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 01/06/06
Rating: Above Average
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Introduction: Announced on the 23rd of Febuary 06, the Ricoh Caplio R4 is a new 6 megapixel update to the Ricoh Caplio R3 - it has a 7.1x optical zoom lens - this is impressive considering that the camera is roughly the same size as other cameras with only a 3x optical zoom lens. The camera's wide-angle 7.1x optical zoom lens starts at 28mm and zooms to 200mm equivalent, and has a built in lens-cover. The camera also features a "Vibration Correction" CCD sensor, much like Konica Minolta's Anti-shake technology - image stabilisation is becoming more and more common as an effective way to reduce camera shake and blur in low-light or with long zoom lenses. The Ricoh Caplio R4 is available from £210, which is little more than the R3 costs, this makes it good value for money as an compact digital camera with a big zoom. The camera is enclosed in a black, or silver metal body. The R4 records 320x240 movies with sound at 30fps. The camera is very compact and fits easily into pockets. The camera takes a rechargable lithium-ion battery and measures: 95 x 53 x 26 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs 135g (without batteries and memory card). Nb. As the Ricoh Caplio R4 is so similar to the Ricoh Caplio R3, this review is based on the Ricoh Caplio R3 review.

Ricoh have this to say about the camera:

"Ricoh has announced the release of the new Caplio R4 compact digital camera featuring a 7.1x optical wide zoom, (28–200 mm in 35 mm camera format), the largest in the compact class* and vibration correction function. With a smaller body, the new Caplio R4, has a 7.1x (28—200 mm) wide-angle, high-powered zoom lens, the biggest in its class. Building on the highly successful R3, the new R4 boasts 6 megapixels, longer battery life and a high resolution LCD."

You can find more information on their website.

The Ricoh Caplio R4 improves on the Caplio R3 in the following ways:

  • 6 megapixel sensor (5mp on R3)
  • Higher resolution screen (150,000 pixels, 110,000 on R3)
  • Extended battery life (330 shots verses 310 on the R3)

Apart fom these differences, the Ricoh Caplio R4 is pretty much identical to the Ricoh Caplio R3, so there is little reason to upgrade to the Ricoh Caplio R4 if you already have the R3, but if you have neither then it would make more sense to go with the Ricoh Caplio R4.

The Camera: a visual tour of the camera in silver, have a look at out Ricoh Caplio R3 review to view what it looks like in black: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, focus assist, microphone hole.


Back - 2.5" screen, mode switch, playback button, adjust button, delte / self-timer button, display button, zoom control, 4-way controller with Menu/OK button in centre.


Top: Power button, shutter release, image stabilisation button.


Bottom - battery / memory compartment, plastic tripod mount. The battery is a 3.7v 1150mAh Lithium-Ion battery.


Left Side. (lens at wide-angle position)


USB / Video out, speaker, strap loop. (lens at telephoto position)

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 "ultra-compact" 6 megapixel Nikon Coolpix S6.


Size comparison, compared to the 10x optical zoom lens Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6 Megapixel CCD
  • Vibration Correction (anti-shake CCD sensor)
  • 2.5" screen, 150,000 pixels
  • 7.1x Optical Zoom wide-angle lens (28 - 200mm equivelant)
  • 3.6x Digital Zoom
  • ISO AUTO, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800
  • Video mode: 320 x 240 pixels, 30 fps with sound
  • 1cm Macro mode
  • Pictbridge support
  • Scene modes including: TIFF Text mode, Skew correction etc

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera (with 26mb of memory built in)
  • Lithium-Ion Rechargable Battery
  • Battery charger
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Strap
  • 180 page manual

Average box contents - you will need to buy a larger memory card and a case (as with almost all digital cameras).

Battery usage: Up to 330 pictures with the supplied battery according to CIPA testing - this is good for a compact digital camera. Battery life seemed good, but not as good as the 500-shot Fuji F10 for example.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the back switch - this switches between Audio, Video and Photo mode. There is a seperate Play button on the back.

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

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 150,000 pixels is slightly better than average, and has a live histogram. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Photo menu options: Picture quality / size, Focus (multi, spot, manual, snap, infinite), Photometry (multi, centre, spot), Sharpness, Continuous mode, Colour depth (vivid, normal, neutral, black and white), Auto bracket (off, on, white-balance bracket), Time exposure, Interval, Image with sound, Date imprint, Exposure compensation, White balance, ISO setting, Slow shutter limit, Restore Defaults.

Photo adjust button menus Setup menu

Photo adjust button gives you quick access to: Exposure compensation, White Balance, and ISO settings, by default. You can customise a 4th option, I chose Focus in this instance. In macro mode there is a 5th option that allows you to choose the area of focus for the macro photo.

Setup menu options: Format card, Format internal memory, LCD brightness, Adjust button setting 1, setting 2, Auto power off, Beep sound, Volume, LCD confirm, Sequential number, Date settings, Language, Video out mode, Step zoom, Shooting Settings Change Warning, USB connection, Enlarge Photo icon, Register my settings (Settings 1, 2), Start settings (Off, Settings 1, 2).

Scene modes Audio recording screen

Scenes: Normal shooting, Portrait, Sports, Lanscape, Nightscape, Skew correct mode, Text mode, Zoom macro, High sensitivity (LCD monitor becomes easier to see).

Audio recording - the screen can be switched off with the display button.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick, although initial display can seem a bit sluggish. The zoom is quick, and allows you to zoom up to 8x.

Playback menu options: Slide show, Protect, DPOF, Resize, Copy to Card (from internal memory).

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 26mb memory card provided with the camera:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
 
Ratio
Fine
Normal
6mp 2784 x 1856
3:2
12
N/A
6mp 2816 x 2112
4:3
11
19
3mp 2048 x 1536
18
36
1mp 1280 x 960
33
63
0.3mp 640 x 480
N/A
277

As shown in the table above, you can fit a small number of images on the 26mb memory - a large memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a fairly good choice of image sizes and aspect ratios, and a good choice regarding image compression.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, 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 go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Ricoh Caplio R4:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £6.59, 512mb: £10.55, 1gb (1000mb): £23.40, 2gb (2000mb): £49.95
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?

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Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in just over one second - with a shot taken in 1.6 seconds from off to on. Focusing seemed very quick even in low-light (when set to spot focusing), and was generally quite successful, although it was slower in macro mode. The camera shutter response seemed almost instant and felt VERY quick, (taking the photo in under 0.1 seconds) when pre-focused. Shot to shot time was quick, with a delay of around 1.1 seconds between shot without flash or 2.4 seconds with flash. The flash recharge time was quite quick. The cameras menu's seemed fairly quick. Continuous shooting is very quick, taking 0.3 - 0.4 seconds between shots, roughly 2.5 - 3 fps (without flash). The playback mode is also fairly quick displaying a thumbnail version first, and then a sharper version half a second later.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in AUTO mode, or one of the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straight forward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the right number of dials and buttons on the camera (the adjust button making it especially easy to get to regularly used options - this can be customised so that you have access to the option you most frequently use). Most functions can be worked out without having to refer to the manual. The mode switch and play button make it very easy to switch between the different modes.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be the right amount of buttons allowing easy access to the most commonly used functions and features. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small - the vibration correction button is a bit difficult to press. The shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well - the buttons on the black version of this camera stand out better. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, although there is very little in the way of a hand grip. The vertical zoom control is a bit unorthodox, but functional. The camera feels fairly solid with a curvy metal body, however the plastic battery cover felt quite fragile with only one clip / hook holding it in place when closed. The layout of the buttons mean they can be used with one hand. The camera is on the small size, but can still be held with two hands should you feel like supporting the camera with both hands.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, 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 R4 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO64) Group photo (ISO400)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo, although there is some red-eye in the group photo. It has a fairly decent flash (despite its small size), and copes fairly well with group photos, although on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting is often increased, which in turn increases noise to quite a high level and due to noise reduction detail is often lost - as visible in the group photo. The group photo above was taken from the other side of the room using the zoom, and appears under-exposed, most likely because it was outside the flash range of the camera. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light.

ISO Noise Test: 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, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800).

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, Olympus SP-320 - chosen for it's identical ISO range of ISO64 - ISO800.

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Ricoh Caplio R4 on the left, Olympus SP-320 on the right. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance / lighting.

Ricoh Caplio R4 (6mp) Olympus SP-320 (7mp)
ISO64 - Actual Pixels ISO64 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels

The Ricoh Caplio R4 has low noise at ISO64. At ISO100, and 200 noise is quite high, and at ISO400 noise is very high. I would recommend using ISO200 or lower. Compared to the Olympus SP-320 - a 7 megapixel digital camera, noise at ISO64 appears similar. At ISO100 and above the Ricoh Caplio R4 clearly shows more noise, and the noise appears coarser i.e. it's made out of larger dots. The Ricoh's noise seems more like film grain in that the dots aren't multi-coloured, whereas the SP--320's noise (especially as ISO800) is multi-coloured noise. Detail from both cameras remains good regardless of the ISO setting. As long as you stick to the lowest ISO settings, good results should be achieved from both cameras, however, if the ISO setting is left on automatic then you may end up with a number of photos taken at the higher ISO settings resulting in higher noise - It may be best to try and manually set ISO to ISO64 or ISO100, and avoid AUTO ISO and the higher ISO settings for best results.

Further information on the Caplio R4's noise: The Ricoh Caplio R4 generally has lower noise than the Panasonic Lumix LZ3, especially at the lowest ISO setting. To see the Ricoh Caplio R4's noise compared with the Canon Digital IXUS Wireless - have a look at the Canon Digital IXUS Wireless review.

Anti-shake / Optical Image Stabilisation effectiveness: Here are some test photos taken with Vibration Correction on and off - these photos were taken without flash in low light. The Ricoh Caplio R4's anti-shake system moves the CCD sensor to counter any camera shake. These photos were taken at full optical zoom, set to macro.

Vibration Correction On Vibration Correction Off
1/23 second, f4.8, ISO200, 200mm 1/24 second, f4.8, ISO200, 200mm

As you can see - image stabilisation is effective for low-light / high zoom, slow shutter speed photography helping acheive blur free photos.

Outside:

Shops (ISO100) Super Lamb Banana (ISO100

Outside, the camera had good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail although images did seem slightly soft. There seemed to be good dynamic range. Noise seemed fairly low, especially on sunny days when set to ISO64 or ISO100. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: The camera has a 7.1x optical zoom lens, and a 3.6x digital zoom - I've included examples below to show what the zoom range of the camera is. Using the digital zoom degrades image quality and is best avoided - digital zoom will also make any slight camera shake more obvious. An example of digital zoom is available in the gallery.

Wide-angle 3x optical zoom 7.1x optical Zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems very good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible. There is some purple fringing on the clock tower. The wide angle photo has impressive depth of field.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is quite noisy, slightly louder than average - and doesn't sound like other camera lenses which has occassionally resulted in other people commenting on how strange the lens sounds. The shutter is very quiet. There are roughly 36(!!) steps between wide and telephoto giving you very good control on how you frame your subject. Step zoom can be switched on to make the camera lens usable at the following settings, which are displayed on screen, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm and 200mm.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing seemed slightly higher than average - especially noticable when the clock tower photos were viewed at full size.

Macro: You can use the flash in macro mode, although this has a tendancy to wash out the picture when the subject is too close. The camera can be roughly as close as 1cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in wide setting, when set to macro mode. You can also zoom in and use the macro mode. I used the zoom for this photo below.

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO64)

The macro mode is VERY good - colour and detail is very good, although noise is visible and removes detail when higher ISO settings are used. Images did seem a bit soft - and may benefit from sharpening. You'll need to be careful when / if using the flash, to ensure the picture is correctly exposed. Custom white balance helps acheive better colour accuracy under artificial (and natural) lighting.

Movie: The movie mode on this camera is the same as the Ricoh Caplio R3s, and is average with a 320x240 resolution video mode recorded at 30fps with sound. The camera did well even in low light. Videos are recorded as .AVI files.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is good, I was impressed by the accurate and rich colours - the images have good colour with rich saturation, contrast and detail - although with higher than average noise (on indoor photos or when ISO is left on AUTO), and slightly higher than average purple fringing. Images are slightly soft and could benefit from sharpening - there are options in the camera to alter sharpness. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light. Macro performance was very impressive. I did noticed some vignetting in one photo, however this was not the norm and I didn't notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options. The macro mode is excellent, and provides good detail and colour. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good the majority of the time. Red-eye was a problem in some of the photos. The movie mode choices are average, providing 320x240 and 30 frames per second with sound. "Vibration Reduction " means more photos should be blur free even when taking photos with zoom or in low-light. The most noticable image quality problem was high noise in most photos, however if you can set this camera to ISO64 then the majority of results should be noise free. If you need to use the higher ISO settings then noise is noticable and could be a problem for you. (7/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is extremely compact for an "ultra" zoom digital camera, with a 7.1x optical zoom lens, the camera is quite stylish with a good sized screen, and fits very easily into trouser pockets. The camera feels well built. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a very good layout of buttons and controls, with the majority on the outside of the camera (rather than hidden in menus). The camera speed is good - very good, with a good switch on time, fast focusing time, very fast shutter response, good flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and very quick continuous shooting. The camera has a lot of options and controls, such as manual focusing, customisable buttons, auto bracket, time exposure, custom white balance, scene modes etc. The video mode is slightly disappointing. (8/10)

Value for Money: The Ricoh Caplio R4 is good to very good value for money for an ultra compact 6 megapixel digital camera, with a wide angle 7.1x optical zoom lens. There are very few other digital camera this small with such a big zoom range! The only alternatives that come close are the Kodak Easyshare V570 (wide angle 5x), V610 (10x), Ricoh Caplio R3, Ricoh Caplio R30 (same size but with 5.7x optical zoom lens), Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 / LZ5 (6x optical zoom lens), Nikon Coolpix L1 (5x optical zoom), and the HP Photosmart R817/R818 (5x optical zoom) and the somewhat large in comparison Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 (10x). (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Ricoh Caplio R4 is a minor update to the Ricoh Caplio R3, with a higher resolution 6 megapixel sensor, a higher resolution screen, and longer battery life. I suspect that there have been more improvements made in the background as the camera seems quicker in operation, and I've been more impressed with image quality this time, particularly with the rich colours and good exposure. The Ricoh Caplio R4 is a stylish digital camera with a wide angle 7.1x optical zoom lens packed into a very compact metal body. The 6 megapixel camera features a 2.5" screen and built in vibration correction - this helps produce blur free photos in low light or at full zoom. When using the camera you do need to be careful that ISO isn't set to AUTO, otherwise you'll end up with high noise in photos, but if you can manage to stick to ISO64 or IS100 then you should end up with some great photos - despite the camera having more megapixels - noise doesn't seem higher than the R3. If having a lot of zoom power in a very compact camera is a priority then this is definitely worth considering. Ricoh are to be commended for innovation in providing such a large amount of zoom with image stabilsation in such a small and speedy camera. The Ricoh Caplio R4 is well worth considering as there are very few alternate digital cameras that offer so much, at such a competitive price.

Ricoh Caplio R4 Rating: Above Average (7/10)
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What I like:

  • Very compact and stylish with a solid metal body (will easily fit in pockets)
  • Built in Vibration Reduction image stabilisation helps acheive blur free low-light / zoom photos.
  • 2.5" screen, with 150,000 pixels
  • 7.1x optical zoom lens
  • Very fast focusing (Spot AF) and shutter response,
  • Fast continuous shooting mode
  • Rich, accurate colours
  • Low-ish noise at ISO64
  • Full printed manual
  • Adjust button gives quick access to WB, ISO, Exposure compensation, Focus etc
  • Very good macro mode

What I don't like:

  • Resets settings (eg Macro, Self-timer) when switching between photo/playback modes
  • High noise when set to ISO100 or higher (ISO400 and above very noisy)
  • Flash can over-expose images
  • Small memory card
  • Purple fringing slightly higher than average
  • Slightly soft images

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the Ricoh Caplio R4 Sample Photo Gallery.

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