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Ricoh RDC-2

Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


Review posted 6/15/1998


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Note: I have added a mini-review of the RDC-2 camera at the end of this review, I traded my 2e in for the RDC-2 model - both are great! (Polaroid has OEM labeled the RDC-2 and calls it the PDC-800)

The Ricoh RDC-2E is a great point-n-shoot digicam that produces decent 768x576 24-bit color images. When you first see the RDC-2E you'll think you're looking at an old Kodak Instamatic 126 camera as its shape and styling is very similar. But that's where the similarity ends--this isn't your father's Instamatic!

The Ricoh RDC family of cameras look alike but each model is very different. The RDC-1 is a top of the line multimedia machine capable of capturing moving video, moving video with sound, stills and just audio alone. It features a 3:1 zoom lens and a rather hefty $1500+ price tag (recently discontinued and being sold for as little as $479 - be aware that the memory cards and batteries are hard to find and when you do they will cost a premium!)

The RDC-2 is a scaled down version of the RDC-1 without the ability to capture moving video. It has a dual focal length lens equivalent to a 35mm/55mm lens on a 35mm camera. It has five recording modes; still image, still image with sound, sound only, document mode, and continuous (aka motor drive) shooting mode. The RDC-2 has a built in flash - the RDC-2E does not. The RDC-2 comes in a variety of what they call "packages" bundled with various flash memory cards, LCD monitor and etc.

The RDC-300 is the least expensive of all of the RDC cameras and its resolution is 640x480 using a 1/4-inch 350,000-pixel CCD. It is designed as an entry-level digicam but it does have many advanced features such as a mechanical shutter, autofocus, auto-exposure and auto-white balance. It uses a 38mm f:4.0 lens and has 4mb of fixed on-board flash memory.

And now on to the Ricoh RDC-2E... It has a 410,000-pixel CCD with a mechanical shutter that records S-VHS quality images (768x576 pixels) in full frame. The lens is a fixed focal length f:3.7 (35mm, in 35mm film format) which allows you to shoot at a wide angle which is ideal for indoor shooting.

The RDC-2E comes with fully automatic focus, center-weighted exposure and auto-white balance functions. One of the more nifty things this camera does extremely well is to shoot pictures in macro mode. Anything as close as 1cm is easily handled with full autofocus. When shooting in macro mode the 1.8" LCD color monitor that comes standard with the RDC-2E, is automatically enabled to ensure that you properly frame your subject.


Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


The RDC-2E has three recording modes; document mode (enhances the dark areas and lightens the bright areas), still mode, and continuous shooting mode up to one frame per second when used with an optional flash memory card. You can play back and edit what you've recorded right on the spot - on the LCD monitor or any TV device thanks to its NTSC video output jack. It makes for an ideal presentation device that can fit right in your pocket!

The RDC-2E can be used with many popular PC memory cards, such as ATA Type I/II and AIMS Type I flash memory cards. If your PC has a PCMCIA card slot, you can easily transfer the images you have created. The RDC-2E's memory copy function also makes it easy to transfer data from the 2mb on-board memory to an optional flash memory card.


Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


The user chooses from three image quality modes; fine, normal or economy mode. The image format is JPEG compliant although Ricoh adds a header to it to hold certain image information and it has a .J6I file extension. This file format is read directly by ThumbsPlus although the current version does not properly scale the aspect ratio properly. Instead of a 768x576 image you end up with a 768x480 image. I already contacted the ThumbsPlus folks and they have put out a patch for the current program and will correct this in the next full release.

The different quality modes vary only in the amount of compression used and of course, the amount of storage required for each. Fine mode uses a JPG quality factor of 90 and each image uses about 190Kb of memory. Using a 10mb flash memory card you can store 52 fine mode images, 105 normal mode or 210 economy mode images.

The RDC-2E comes bundled with PhotoStudio software for Windows or the Macintosh, it has been modified with the addition of routines to import the camera images via the serial port. It can also export images back to the computer so you can compose a custom slide show including fade and wipes and then use the camera as an ultra-portable multimedia presentation tool to impress your boss. Neat huh?



Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


It operates on four AA-size batteries, either alkaline, NiCad or NiMH types can be used. The RDC-2E also runs on household AC voltage with the use of the optional AC adapter. If you're going to transfer the images via the serial port or use the camera as a video camera, the AC adaptor is highly recommended. Because you will be tempted to use the LCD screen often the battery life is not all that great when using alkalines -- I highly recommend investing in a set (or two) of the new rechargeable NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries as they last much longer and of course -- they're reusable!

OK, OK, enough of the manufacturer's techno-babble, so how does this little camera really work? Unbelievably well is my answer. The more I use it, the more impressed I am by how simple it all is...

After reading the manual, yes, I do actually read those things before I start using a new camera. You'd be surprised how much useful info is actually in one of those manuals when it is written in English and not Nippo-English. The manual is well-written and a few minutes spent here will certainly help you better operate the camera even though most of it is easy to figure out anyway. The camera controls are well labeled and there's none of the usual "while pushing this button, press another button to make it do this alternate function" kind of high-tech BS.

You turn it on, set your picture mode and quality settings (which are remembered from power on to power off to power on again) and point it and shoot it. You use an optical viewfinder for most shooting which is a little small for my tastes but it works well. It is mounted directly on top of the camera lens instead of two inches to one side or the other as is the case on most other digicams. Once you have your subject framed you press the shutter button halfway and wait for a green "OK" light to indicate the camera has focused itself and set the proper exposure. You then fully press the shutter button and snap the picture.


Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


The autofocus is quite quick, usually in one second or less and the picture is stored to memory within one to two seconds depending on the quality mode chosen. The camera makes an audible beep which is very handy to let you know that is HAS indeed taken a picture and this can also be confirmed by looking at the data display LCD as it shows the number of remaining images in memory.

When you move into macro range the green light will start blinking slowly. This tells you to flip up the LCD screen and use it to frame your subject as the optical viewfinder will no longer see what the camera sees. Forget about focusing as the autofocus will do the job for you - right down to 1cm. You can override the auto focus and do it manually but I haven't had the need to do this yet. I've never used a digicam that was easier to shoot macro with except the new Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 which is just as simple.

To playback stored images you push the main switch to the PLAY position and flip up the LCD screen. There is a brightness control on the front of the LCD screen and I have even used it in the bright sun light and still been able to see it! Press the big UP and DOWN arrow buttons to browse through your pictures. As the images are displayed the current image number, total number of images and the time and date of each are displayed onscreen for a few seconds and then go away. You can also playback your images on any TV or video device (more on this below).

The Ricoh RDC-2E does NOT suffer from the "jaggies" that I experienced with the Sony Mavica. The Ricoh uses a real shutter to shoot frames and not field images so it faithfully reproduces even horizontal lines. Check out the picture quality for yourself.



Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


About the only user controls that you can play with are setting the picture mode, the quality, 10-second self timer and for those rare occassions when you need it, the camera allows for changing the EV (exposure value) of the exposure. It can be set for +/- 1.5 in 0.3 increments to lighten or darken the image. When using the LCD screen the EV changes are immediately noticeable in the picture itself. I haven't found many cases where I needed to adjust it as the camera shoots great pictures in average room light and bright sunlight. The RDC-2E does NOT have a flash unit built into it. If you need to use a digicam in extremely dark areas buy the RDC-2 model instead!

I never gave much thought to the need for NTSC video output but using this camera has certainly changed my mind in that respect. It is great to shoot a bunch of photos and then sit down in front of the big TV and show them to all of my friends. Purchase the optional infrared remote control and you can set the camera on top of the TV and control all of the playback functions from across the room. The playback quality on a good TV is simply amazing, the colors are rich and the image sharpness is superb.

There is also other uses for the NTSC video output of this camera, it can be used as a video teleconferencing unit by plugging it into an AC adaptor and hooking it up to a video capture card in your PC. It is always ready to snap a still picture and store it in camera memory even when being used as a LIVE video camera. While your friends are gathered around the TV set watching your little presentation you can press a couple of buttons on the remote and go back into recording mode and snap their picture! Who thinks up this stuff?

I have seen the RDC-2E selling for as much as $600 but I found it by doing a little shopping on the net at NECX (www.necx.com) for the just $459. This price includes the camera, the LCD monitor, PC and Mac serial cables and software, the NTSC video cable, a soft carrying case and several well-written manuals. At a price of less than $500 it puts the Ricoh up against the hord of 640x480 resolution digicams that it easily BLOWS AWAY for overall picture quality and image size!

Optional accessories available are memory cards (Ricoh brand are very expensive, use SanDisk instead), AC adaptor, infrared remote control and a semi-hard carrying case that holds all of the above.

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Pros: Small size, about the size of a TV remote control unit. Easy to use, it's a point-n-shooter with fantastic autofocus and color correction that always seems to get it RIGHT. Exceptional image quality; fine mode images can produce good prints up to 5x7-inch size on "photo" type printers. Great value for the money. Multi-mode device; still camera, NTSC video input/output device, pocket-size multimedia presentation tool. Uses standard PCMCIA Type I/II flash memory cards. Small but incredibly bright and colorful LCD playback screen. Absolutely fantastic macro mode with full autofocus.

Cons: Fixed focal length lens, wide angle only, which tends to distort the outer edges of the pictures when shooting real close. Small optical viewfinder that could be difficult for people using eyeglasses. I might find more wrong with camera as I use it longer but so far that's it guys...

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Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


Ricoh RDC-2 mini review:

Well, I sent the RDC-2e back, not because I didn't like it but because I did find a few times that I wished that I had a flash. Everything I stated above for the RDC-2e holds true for its bigger brother the RDC-2 as well. The RDC-2 has a builtin flash unit as well as a bifocal lens, both wideangle and normal focal lengths which are equivalent to a 35mm camera's 35mm and 55mm lens.

Besides having the flash and 2-position lens the RDC-2 also has the ability to record sound, either with pictures that you take or like a cassette recorder. It has 2 more recording options; still picture with 10-seconds of audio or audio by itself and can be used like a tape recorder or memo machine. The still picture with 10-seconds of audio is nice for annotating the image with the actual sounds taken at the time of the picture or you can use it to make verbal notes like "the guy in this picture's name is Joe Blow, the Executive Vice President of Acme Nut & Bolt, Inc."

The RDC-2 has the same macro ability (with autofocus) as the RDC-2e plus the normal lens position also allows for shooting close up pictures without any wideangle distortion. In normal focal length you can shoot as close as an inch and a half from the lens. Wideangle is even closer and works right down to 1cm!

The flash unit gives the camera the versatility to work in any light conditions, even total darkness. Its range isn't as good as Ricoh claims but it performs admirably from a few inches out to about eight or nine feet. The flash unit is on the extreme left side of the camera and does cast some rather harsh shadows on close subjects because of the offset distance it is away from the lens. It does provide good subject illumination and brings out the colors in shots that otherwise might be dark and muddy looking if taken without it. The flash provides good coverage for both wideangle and normal focal lengths. Both the RDC-2e and RDC-2 perform well in low light conditions without the flash.

The RDC-2 has the same video out capability as the 2e plus it also lets you output the camera's audio as well. I found that the images on the TV (and the LCD monitor) were always close to perfect but usually required a little tweaking of brightness for computer viewing or printing. This is no big deal as the software lets you do this very easily by simply sliding the brightness up a few points.


Ricoh RDC-2 digital camera


The RDC-2 package #2 comes with the RDC-2 camera, the DM-2 1.8" color LCD monitor (which is the same as the monitor on the 2e except that it has an On/Off switch for the display itself plus a builtin speaker and a volume control), soft carrying case, video/audio output cables, PC and Mac serial cables plus the PhotoStudio software. I've seen it retailing in most places for around $700 or more but NECX (www.necx.com) has it for just $540 - a real bargain. This price is for the full package #2 including the Ricoh factory warranty - no gray market goods here!

To further improve your Ricoh picture quality I have a Win95 utility program for download called RDCRepair that fixes several problems that are common to Ricoh J6I (JPeG) images. This is a simple but powerful program that does the necessary "fixes" to the images and then saves them back to disk as a JPG file with a quality factor of 90. The author of this program has given me permission to make it freely available for download at no charge. It DOES require several common Win95 DLL library files (MFC40.DLL and MSVCRT.DLL) these are Microsoft C++ runtimes and you may already have them. The author is Steve Perrin (SRP@southpeak.com).

The authors of ThumbsPlus (the best graphic viewing/cataloging/manipulating software ever made for Windows) have just released a patch that now allows it to import the Ricoh *.J6I camera images and properly adjusts the aspect ratio so you end up with 768x576 pixel images instead of 768x480 pixels. The next full release of ThumbsPlus (3.02) will have this fix incorporated into it -- ThumbsPlus is still the best program in my arsenal of image manipulation software. Check it out yourself by downloading a shareware version at:

http://www.thumbsplus.com

Pros: Same as stated above for the RDC-2e plus the ability to add audio clips to your pictures or use as an audio recording device. Nice to have a 2-focal length lens to choose from when needed. Best digicam value for the money ($540) I've seen yet!

Cons: Same small optical viewfinder that people with glasses might find difficult to use. Nothing else bad to say about it!





Ten pounds in a five pound case?

RDC2 in SC2

Here's how to get it all into a SC2 soft case. Leave the LCD on the
camera, put the DR-2 remote and AC-2100 adapter in the space made for
the LCD monitor and your AV cables in the normal place. The AC-2100
helps prop the case up off of the LCD and it all fits nice and snugly!





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