Ricoh is pitching its latest compact digital camera as a consumer/business crossover model based on fast shutter response, high multiple-frame rate, and close-in macro focusing down to 1cm.
Otherwise, it’s a fairly ordinary 3.1mp (2,048-x-1,536-pixel) camera with a 35-105mm equivalent zoom lens, limited manual controls, and no facility for accessory lenses or external flash. There are six program modes, an auto mode with basic +/- overrides, and a built-in flash with redeye and slow-sync settings. Three exposure settings include spot, while the autofocus uses a hybrid through lens and external system for faster response. There’s a 320-x-240-pixel AVI movie mode with sound, plus voice-only or voice-with-picture memo recording.
The camera has an internal memory of about 8MB in addition to a normal SD/MMC card recording slot. The internal memory allows it to capture multiple images rapidly. There are three Multi-Shot modes: Continuous keeps shooting normal images for as long as you keep you finger on the button, with a rate dependent on the shutter speed, though the memory buffer limits this to about three frames.
SCont automatically shoots 16 mini-frames at a rate of 7.5 frames per second – faster than most professional cameras – with one press of the shutter. MCont is similar to Scont, except that it memorizes frames for as long as you keep your finger on the shutter; as soon as you release your finger, it writes the last 16 frames to the card – handy for when you don’t know exactly when the action will happen.
You can play SCont and MCont back on the camera’s monitor, where they are shown full-screen and in rapid sequence, so they look like a looped movie. However, when you download the multi-image sets, they appear as a single normal-sized 3.1mp frame divided into 16 little frames, each of 500-x-376 pixels. I used SCont for a sequence of a polo pony that that clearly shows how it organizes its legs in full gallop. However, the resolution of the mini-frames is too low for serious print or on-screen use.
The super-fast shutter response works well, provided you half-depress the shutter button first – which primes the electronics. In that case, it will grab action shots very rapidly. However, shooting from ‘cold,’ it doesn’t seem to respond any faster than other compact cameras.
The Caplio G3’s other outstanding feature its ability to focus down to 1cm. This isn’t unique among digital cameras, but the small size and positioning of the lens means it’s easy to place the camera at ‘ground level,’ close to a small subject – in our case, a model autogyro just 110mm long. However, the depth-of-field is limited by the camera’s tendency to shoot wide-open at f/2.6.
Night shots without flash work well, with a good auto white-balance plus presets and manual settings for artificial lights. The automatic electronic shutter has a maximum of 1/30th second, but there are manual settings up to eight seconds, though long exposures show lots of blue ‘noise.’ The sensitivity range is also good, from ISO 125 to 800. A special high-sensitivity scene mode boosts the gain of the LCD preview monitor so it works better in dim lighting.
Software is provided for Mac OS X, OS 9, or Windows, mounting the camera as an external USB drive. My camera refused to mount in OS X 10.2.6, though it worked with the other two systems.
The camera takes two AA batteries with an acceptable life between charges. A long-life rechargeable lithium battery with a claimed 350 ‘normal’ shot capacity is optional, but wasn’t supplied with the test camera. A mains adaptor is also optional.
Image-quality is good for a 3.1mp camera – but the world has moved on, and four- and five-megapixel cameras are now common. Overall, the Caplio G3 is a good effort for the price, but is hampered by a lack of proper manual exposure controls that would let you take full advantage of its clever features.