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The Ricoh i700 is one of the first of a new breed of cameras appearing that do far more than just take pictures. Several are available like the i700, that also shoot moving pictures, capture text and record sound, but the i700 goes a few stages further. There's a built-in notepad with a stylus that lets you record and send e-mail messages and a mode to upload pictures direct to your web site using FTP software.
Features like this are bound to make the design of the camera different to the typical compact camera styling that's adopted by most digital companies. And Ricoh have reintroduced a design that was used on their first digital cameras. This flat style makes the camera look more like an electronic organiser than a camera and some will find it uncomfortable, and unfamiliar to use. I have never been a fan of this shape, but Ricoh have added a few things to make it more acceptable. For one the shutter can be fired from a release on the top or on the front. If you hold the camera at waist level, using the LCD, it's really comfortable to use the front release. If you hold the camera at eye level you would probably use the top release.
The camera has front and top releases to fire the shutter
The i700 is powered by a special Ricoh DB-30 Lithium Ion 3.7V battery, which lasts for about 30 or so pictures using the LCD in each occasion to compose and review images. It can then be recharged. A battery and charger are included in the box.
The camera is turned on using a power button on the back. It takes about six seconds before you can take a photo, which means the only way you'll get a grab shot is if it's switched on a ready for action. When turned on you have the choice of viewing using the LCD or optical finder. The optical finder has no markings and is quite dim to look through. It also has dioptre adjustment which is fiddly to set, but can't easily be knocked off the spot once set up. The LCD is large and very practical. It can be seen easily in brighter conditions and swivels and rotates making it idea for shooting from low down in horizontal or vertical format. Cameras like the Nikon Coolpix and older Agfa designs can only be used easily in horizontal format from waist level.
The monitor can also be locked back into the camera reversed so it's facing outwards making it easier to use the stylus when writing e-mails etc.
Buttons under the fold out LCD are used to set modes and navigate through menus.
When it's opened out a series of buttons are revealed. These are used to set some of the modes and navigate through menus on the LCD. In most cases you use arrows to go up and down the menus and buttons to set and adjust modes.
A smaller LCD panel to the side of the screen shows battery condition, shooting mode and number of pictures remaining.
Below this are four buttons to select self-timer, picture resolution, flash mode and storage place.
To the side of the four mode buttons is a zoom rocker that takes the lens through the 3x optical 7.3-21.9mm (35-105mm 35mm equivalent) range and extends to the 3.2x digital zoom when active. This gives an extended telephoto setting of over 300mm which you would think is a very versatile combination. The trouble is with this, like most digital zooms, you can only use it on a 640 mode, so it's often just as well to crop in on a high resolution picture later. The result will be better, but you have to record a bigger file size. The advantage of using digital zoom is that you only record and store what you want.
The zoom lens is sharp and versatile, but it doesn't have a filter thread so filters have to be held over the front.
Because of its oversized body the camera controls are all spaciously laid out and large enough to adjust with ease. To take a photo you simply turn the mode dial to the green camera icon select the resolution using the PIC button and shoot. Exposure and focusing are automatically adjusted, but you do have many manual overrides that can be set up using the Menu button on the backplate.
From here you can select auto or manual focus, date imprinting mode, flash strength, ISO speed, exposure bracketing, red-eye reduction, Tiff mode, monochrome mode, interval time, soft focus, b-setting and add a signature.
The usual mode wheel, offering various shooting modes is below this along with the shutter release.
The mode dial also has various other recording options including text mode, e-mail, sound recording, continuous shooting, movie recording and set up for overall camera conditions such as language, your dial-up ISP account settings, and it's here where you format the card/s.
This camera accepts CompactFlash, but the area also has a second slot for a PCMCIA card which means you can not only use Type II cards but also adaptors and any memory card formats that are made, making it very versatile.
Getting at the cards is quite fiddly because you have to raise one of two pins and then depress this to release the card. If you're in a rush it's troublesome, especially if you don't have fingernails.
The camera has a stylus that's used to input data or select modes on the LCD panel.
Before you take a photo you should decide on the resolution and quality. You have a choice of three resolutions 2048x1536, 1024X768 and 640x480. If you need maximum quality you would obviously choose the highest setting but for those who only need smaller prints or for web use you can save space and take more pictures using the lower resolution settings. Space can also be saved by the method of compression used. You have a choice of non compression which saves pictures as TIFFS or Fine, Normal and economy JPEG compression. The Fine is hardly different to the TIFF mode so you save space but still achieve high quality.
Here are some figures to give you an idea of how many pictures can be taken in each combination.
|Still picture (number of images)||2048||F||13||26||40||53||80||107|
|(number of images)||1024||138||278||417||557||835||1117|
|Motion picture (minutes)||1:20||2:42||4:03||5:24||8:07||10:50|
|Voice memo (minutes)||33:06||66:29||99:46||133:10||199:40||266:50|
The camera records subtle hues and gives a good tonal range.
Photo taken at the telephoto setting with a pair of 10x binoculars held over the lens. This was shot at the telephoto setting (not digital) and the image was cropped in the computer and sharpened.
Distant detail is recorded well with good edge definition and contrast.
A close up of a painting on ceramic tiles shows the fine detail. This needed adjustment to brightness and contrast using Auto Levels in the computer editing software and is now a very accurate reproduction of the actual artwork.
A shot heavily shadowed by backlighting - flash activated to fill in and prevent a silhouette. Flash can be made stronger or reduced depending on the effect you require.
Having exposure compensation is useful if the subject is backlit and you don't want to use flash. Here the vase taking using the normal auto exposure appeared dark so I adjusted the setting to +1.5 to allow more detail in the shadow areas. You can adjust up to two stops over or under the suggested exposure.
Setting exposure compensation is really easy because an instant preview on the LCD shows what the result will look like and a scale up the right shows you the setting you have made. When you are happy press okay and the compensation appears on the LCD info as a reminder.
Some straight shots lack contrast and saturated colours. But all the detail is available to bring out using an image-editing program.
Plenty of detail recorded at close range.
Similarly going even closer and detail is still fine. The Ricoh can go down to an amazing 1cm when the macro button is pressed. Focusing is accurate, at close range but it's slow at reaching the sharp point. Every time you press the shutter release to activate focus the motor drives the lens beyond the correct point of focus and then back again, resulting in battery drain, slow speed and very frustrating. I'm sure the reason it does this is to gauge the distance of the subject accurately, but many AF SLR cameras such as the Canon EOS don't do this so a leaf out of their books would be good.
A straight infrared shot, taken with a R72 infrared filter held over the lens, gives a warmish brown image when shooting in colour.
This can be modified in Photoshop to produce a pleasing infrared mono image
The lens is sharp and bright colours are accurate.
The movie mode can be used to record action sequences.
Playing pictures back
The Ricoh, like several of the latest breed of digital cameras, can play back images at a magnified size so you can check for sharpness. This is essential if you're relying on the LCD as a proofing tool. The 2.7x magnifier is enough to inform you whether to delete the picture and retake it or save and move on. You can also play images back in thumbnail size and see nine on screen at once. Pictures can then be marked to be copied, moved or deleted and in-camera editing can be done. Pictures can be organised in separate folders or cropped, rotated or image size changed. Voice or Note memos can be attached and images can be protected.
Images can also be played back as a slide show or set ready for auto printing using the Digital Print Order Formatting (DPOF). Business users will find the presentation mode ideal. A presentation can be made that includes images and text files. Using the macro mode you could also copy slides from previous film-based presentations and merge the whole thing.
The i700 is big and comparatively heavy so you may not even give it a second glance on the dealer's shelf. But look again because you'll find this Ricoh has a fantastic range of features in a very versatile body. If you're a business user and need a multifunction device it's well worth a look, also I you're a web developer and want a camera that can be used to upload or e-mail pictures it's also worth considering. It does however require someone who's comfortable with computer style menus to set up many of the more advanced multimedia functions. The hardcopy manual that comes with it is an excellent aid here, but you may just need a digital camera to take great still pictures and, if so, there are better choices such as the Nikon Coolpix 995 or Fuji Finepix 6800.
Test by Peter Bargh