Price: £595 plus VAT
Latest in a series of very flat, cleverly packaged digital cameras from Ricoh, the RDC-7 manages to combine style with practicality and some advanced features. It uses the same Sony 3.34 megapixel CCD as most of its competitors, but with the added refinement of a couple of image enhancement features to boost quality and resolution. The maximum optical resolution is 1,536-x-2,048 pixels (9MB), but optionally this can be interpolated to 3,072-x-2,304 (7 megapixels, occupying 20.3MB) by the ‘Pro’ mode, producing a marginal quality increase. Another quality-enhancing feature takes two images in quick succession and merges them to remove random noise. This works with both normal and up-interpolated high resolutions. A text mode captures high contrast B&W images. This is the only camera in its class with internal memory for image storage. The camera has an 8MB internal drive that cannot be expanded, but it’s enough for six shots at Fine quality, up to 153 shots at low-res (640-x-480) Economy setting. There’s also a slot for a SmartMedia removable memory card, although cards are not supplied. The 3:1 zoom lens is equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. It’s sharp enough, though not as good as the Nikon CoolPix 990 and Olympus 3030Z. It also seems more prone to flare than others we’ve tried. As with previous Ricohs the macro (close-up) ability is excellent – it will focus on objects down to 10mm away. The flip-up monitor seen in the photograph here can be angled and rotated to give a viewpoint from above, behind, both sides and in front. It also flips down flush with the body for storage, when the camera will easily fit into a shirt pocket. The monitor has four brightness levels, but still can’t really cope with bright sunlight, so the angling ability comes in useful too. The optical viewfinder is small but useable, though it doesn’t give the true through-lens view of the LCD monitor. Unfortunately neither does the LCD. Unlike any other digital camera we’ve tried, this one displays a significantly smaller preview area (about 25 per cent) than it captures, making tight framing a matter of guesswork. Beneath the monitor are 11 function buttons that control set-up, exposure and playback. Four more chrome buttons on the top panel are dedicated to flash, self-timer, quality and memory functions. There are two shutter buttons, one on the top and another beside the lens, which is for when you hold the camera vertically for portrait-format shots. These lack traction – so it’s difficult to judge when you’re pressing hard enough to trigger them. The main mode control dial on the back panel is well designed, with a central on-off button and an outer lens zoom ring. You can capture stills or short video clips, both with optional sound. A continuous shooting mode captures bursts of stills at a rate of about one per second. The flash has several levels including a slow-sync for fill-in use, and anti-redeye. My two major reservations about the camera are the lack of exposure information and the crude exposure override controls. Where nearly all competing cameras show live readouts of the camera’s current shutter speed and aperture, the RDC-7 never shows this. Exposure overrides are confined to overall +/- exposure values and unlike similarly priced rivals there’s no way to independently set aperture or shutter speed. This is a serious drawback for keen photographers who need proper manual exposure control. The image quality is generally very good, though I noticed a greater tendency to highlight burnout than the other 3.34 megapixel cameras tested this year. The battery is a small rechargeable Li-ion pack, and a separate recharger is provided. The trial camera’s battery life was better than the Ni-MH batteries used by most of the competitors. Downloading to Mac or PC is via USB or serial cables supplied. I found the process temperamental when trying to select between internal memory and cards. Six cross-platform image applications are also included: PhotoStudio (stills editing), VideoImpression (video presentation), PhotoPrinter, PhotoMontage, PanoramaMaker and PhotoFantasy. These were not included with our review copy, so remain an unknown quantity. This camera has some very good points including its high res abilities, but the inaccurate LCD and the lack of exposure information or proper overrides let it down.