Ricoh Caplio GX Review
With a 5.13-megapixel CCD, 28-85mm 35mm-equivalent wide zoom lens, responsive shutter release and a wide range of exposure settings, Ricoh have positioned the Caplio GX as a compact digicam suitable for professionals. More than just a point-n-shoot, it is a system camera that can be expanded with a range of accessories including conversion lenses, tele/microscope adapter, external flash and an external finder. While its advanced features appeal to the experienced user, the Caplio GX has simple Automatic exposure and Scene modes that will allow even the beginner to get great results.
Ricoh have crafted an attractive and ergonomic all-metal body around the Caplio GX. It's small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, but large enough that its controls are well-spaced and logically organized. Easy access is provided to the SD card slot and battery compartment behind a common door. The door is an unusual, but effective, design; slide it half way forward to expose the memory slot, or fully forward to access the batteries. You won't be opening the battery door too frequently; I was able to capture more than 180 images on a pair of 2400mAh NiMH AA's before seeing a low battery warning. I was disappointed, however, that a cover was not provided for the AV-OUT and USB ports, leaving both exposed to the elements.
Despite its small size, the Caplio GX sports a 1.8" LCD monitor; it is used as a viewfinder, for reviewing images, and to navigate the camera's menu system. Although it has no anti-glare coating, the LCD was bright enough to be usable as a viewfinder even on the brightest days. Brightness was also adequate during image review, but magnification is limited to a maximum of 3.4x, not enough for critical examination of your images in the field. The LCD does not automatically "gain-up" the live image in dim lighting, but the Caplio GX offers a High Sensitivity scene mode which does intensify the image; viewfinder ghosting is present in this mode. I found the optical viewfinder somewhat difficult to use because of its small size and because at wide angle the lens partially obstructs its view.
The Ricoh lens is a wide angle zoom, having a range of 28-85mm in 35mm-equivalence. This is quite an improvement over most consumer digicams for landscapes and interior shots, providing a significant increase in field of view at wide angle. The telephoto end of the range is effective for portraits, but won't bring your distant subjects appreciably closer; the 28-85mm range will be appreciated by photographers who like to work close to their subjects. The lens produces sharp images throughout its zoom range, with quite noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle. The lens also produces a fair amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) at wide angle, diminishing at the telephoto end of the range.
The Caplio GX shooting performance is a mixed bag. From power on till the first shot is captured takes just under 2 seconds, fast enough to capture most spontaneous events. Shutter lag was quite impressive, measuring 1/10 second both when pre-focused and including auto focus! The camera's shooting performance fades, however, during rapid shooting. In single shot mode, the Ricoh was able to capture 2 shots in 2 seconds, with subsequent shots coming at 7 second intervals. Using flash, there was a delay of up to 15 seconds as the internal flash unit recharged. Things really slowed down shooting uncompressed TIFF images, with the camera taking about 18 seconds to process the image file before the next shot could be taken. The camera's continuous mode captured 3 images in 3.5 seconds, with a delay of 10 seconds before the next shot could be taken. While the Caplio GX shutter lag is world class, its apparently small and slow image buffer detracts from the camera's overall performance. These measurements were made with 2592x1944 (5MP) Fine images, Auto white balance, and using a very fast SanDisk Ultra II SD memory card installed.
The Caplio GX did not live up to Ricoh's claim of professional image quality; its results were more in line with consumer digicams. JPG artifacts were present, and noise was noticeable at ISO 200, and objectionable at ISO 800 and 1600. While the higher ISO settings produced poor image quality, you'll appreciate them when it makes the difference between capturing the shot and not. Aside from image noise and artifacts, the camera produced well-exposed and richly saturated shots both indoors and out.
Your indoor shooting will benefit from the generous field of view at 28mm, and the range of the flash. You'll be able to capture portraits of moderate-sized groups, but large rooms are beyond the Caplio GX ability. The red eye reduction mode of the flash proved quite effective in our tests. Although not equipped with a focus assist lamp, the camera's autofocus performance in conditions of low ambient light was good. Macro mode performed well, with good control of the flash at close range. The lens is able to focus as close as 1cm, nearly filling the frame with a subject as small as a dime; lighting, however, is always a challenge at such a close working distance.
Advanced users will enjoy the the Caplio GX's flexibility. It offers a choice of metering and focusing modes, and provides settings for auto bracketing of exposure or white balance, exposure compensation, White Balance and ISO. In addition to Programmed Auto, both Aperture-priority and Manual exposure modes are provided; absent, however, is a Shutter-priority mode. The Caplio GX also includes useful Scene modes of Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Night Scene, Text and High Sensitivity. Rounding out the shooting modes is a handy movie mode, able to record your choice of 320x240 or 160x120 moving images with sound.
The Caplio GX is certainly not the professional camera Ricoh represents it to be. It is, however, a competent consumer digicam with features desirable to both the beginner and advanced photographer. The Caplio GX will appeal to photographers who concentrate on landscape or indoor photography, and who don't find the 85mm focal length at full telephoto limiting. While it sports an impressively low shutter lag, its small and slow internal buffer will frustrate shooters with poor shot-to-shot and continuous shooting performance.
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