The Ricoh Caplio R1 is a slim (25mm thick) and lightweight (150 grams) camera that is easily carried in your pocket or handbag. Small as it is, is feels good and solid in your hands, which may be partially due to the large rectangular sliding power switch that takes up about one quarter of the brushed aluminium (or black) face. It's such a simple detail, yet it serves to anchor the fingers on your shutter hand which seems to stabilise your grip while snapping your shots.
The back of the camera incorporates a 1.8-inch colour LCD, four vertical control buttons and a multi-functional command dial. Along the top of the back of the camera sit a zoom button as well as a tiny optical viewfinder and the playback button/mode selector (movie/still/sound recording). It sounds like a lot, but the design actually incorporates it all quite cleanly.
The battery and SD memory card compartment is on the side of the R1 (note that there is 12MB on-board memory as well). It can sometimes be difficult to close this side cover, but unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem. Underneath this compartment are A/V-out and USB ports. With its clean design, there is only the shutter button on top, and the base handles a tripod attachment and a concealed microphone.
The R1 comes with a long-life rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger, which Ricoh claims will take over 500 photos in 'normal' conditions. As a back-up, you can also power it with two AA batteries, if necessary. The camera has a Power-Save Mode and Auto Power Off to prolong its impressive battery life. It comes with an AC adapter and a USB cable for transferring images to a PC -- unfortunately the R1 only supports the slower USB 1.1 standard, not 2.0 -- however the camera is PictBridge-enabled allowing you to bypass your PC for photo prints.
This camera suitable for those who want an easy, fully automatic camera, yet it will satisfy those who also want a step up from the limitations of a basic point-and-shoot. The R1 takes good images in fully automatic mode, but for those who understand a bit more about photography and are interested having some control to get optimum results, it has many manual adjustment options.
You access the menu through one of the four control buttons next to the LCD. Navigating it is fairly simple by using the circular four-way control pad next to it. The OK button is in the centre of the control pad, so you shouldn't press it unintentionally. In each capture mode there are two main tabs or sub-menus, Shooting or Playback Settings and Setup.
The separate 'quick adjust' button lets you customise frequently used settings by short-cutting access to the exposure compensation, white balance and ISO settings. Images are stored in JPEG format, with two compression choices available - Normal and Fine, but there is no shortcut to this setting.
As is common with cameras in this segment, you can choose from fully automatic operation, or opt for one of six scene modes: portrait, sports, landscape, night scene, text and high sensitivity (low light). Using one of its three high-speed continuous shooting modes, you can also capture up to 16 images on a single file.
Small though it is in size, the 4-megapixel R1 is equipped with a 4.8x optical zoom lens giving it an impressive 28-135mm focal range (35mm equivalent). There are a couple areas where the R1 stands out from the crowd.
The first you'll notice is how fast the camera powers up when you slide on its groovy power bar - it's ready to shoot in under a second.
We took this camera to a wedding, where its wide-angle capabilities in taking family group shots shone through. People are conditioned to squeeze in to the center, but that's no longer necessary, as the R1 doesn't cut off those on the fringes.
Also of interest for photo-enthusiasts, the Caplio R1's macro function lets you take sharp wide-angle images as close as 1cm.
The images taken in fully automatic mode had pretty good colour and contrast, but we had to watch out for over-exposure in sunny settings. An adjustment in exposure compensation solved the problem.
As mentioned previously, the design of the camera facilitates a good grip and steady shooting, but you can focus manually if you want to forego the automatic option. The ISO values can be set manually from ISO 64 to ISO 800, but above the ISO 400 mark, noise becomes a problem.
And beside automatic, the camera has various settings of the white balance including daylight, overcast, tungsten light, fluorescent light and manual. While the preset settings are generally good, for those that can bother, setting the manual white balance will yield better results.
Video clips are not the Caplio's forte, but they can be shot at 30 frames/second. Movie resolution is 320 x 240 pixels, which doesn't keep pace with the increasingly common 800 x 600 capabilities of many other cameras.
But if you want great video, buy a camcorder. The R1 is designed to quickly take great wide angle still shots, and that squarely hits the mark for the mainstream market in digital cameras.