The trouble with most gadgets is that even the slightest knock, the tiniest grain of dust or the smallest drop of water can potentially render them inoperable. But what if you need to use your camera in a harsh environment? One answer might be to opt for the rugged Ricoh G700. At around £500, it's expensive, but Ricoh claims the G700 is built to last.
The G700 certainly doesn't look like most of the cameras you're likely to have encountered so far. There's no svelte metallic design to coo over here. Instead, the G700 is built like a brick outhouse, or rather a toughened plastic outhouse.
The body of the device is fashioned from some kind of dense, yet yielding, moulded polymer, with protectors added at strategic points. The lens is of the non-extending variety and is protected by a layer of toughened glass. The USB socket, AV-out, SD card slot and battery bay are all protected by sealed covers.
According to Ricoh, the G700 is able to withstand drops from up to 2m. The camera is also rain-, splash- and water-resistant to a depth of 5m, at which point it can be used for up to 2 hours at a time. It's impervious to dust and sand too, and it's safe to clean the device using chemical disinfectants, such as ethanol and bleach. Finally, the G700 is built to resist cold temperatures, and can used right down to -10°C. The large, simple buttons are even designed to be used while wearing gloves.
The G700 is larger than the average compact camera, but it's by no means a behemoth. The sombre-looking black body is somewhat offset by the big yellow and grey buttons. The overall visual effect is somewhere between that of a serious piece of industrial kit and a child's toy.
In addition to its hardened outer shell, the G700 offers a decent selection of internal specs. It has a 5x optical zoom lens with a wide-angle equivalent of 28mm, and a 12.1-megapixel sensor. It can record videos too at a maximum, high-definition resolution of 720p. The G700 lacks an optical viewfinder but comes with a large, 3-inch LCD display, with a high resolution of 920,000 pixels.
A powerful, 10-metre flash is built in, although there's also an accessory shoe for adding a third-party flash, should the need arise. Sensitivity settings can be pushed up to ISO 3,200, although the top setting results in picture-noise overload.
The camera's default mode is fully automatic but there's a handy 'adjust' button on the rear of the unit that allows you to fine-tune exposure, ISO, white balance and more. There's also a dial for quickly selecting a specific preset or customised shooting mode. Overall, the camera is very easy to use, with simple controls and intuitive menu systems.
The camera powers up in under 3 seconds, and there's a brief pause between shots. The provided power pack lasts for a claimed 360 shots but it can be replaced with AAA batteries should you run out of juice in a place that lacks charging facilities.
On top of its more standard features, the G700 also provides a number of unusual abilities. It can read bar codes, for example, and save them as memo files. It also has a password-protected locking system, which can be used to restrict all camera functions or to prevent unauthorised access to the contents of a memory card. The G700 is compatible with tamper-proof storage media too, such as SanDisk's 'Write Once, Read Many' SD cards, providing a further layer of security.
We'd be lying if we said that the G700's picture quality matched its resilience. Colours can be wildly off the mark, with a distinctly pinkish hue affecting many of our test shots, and some deeper tones appearing overly dark. Detail is hard to make out in darker areas too, and an overall softness detracts from the general image quality. Picture noise is visible even in well-lit shots.
The Ricoh G700 is almost certain to attract some fans, due to its durability. But, unless you often find yourself accidentally dropping your camera in wet, dusty, sandy or chemical-infested environments, this camera is almost certainly an unnecessary expense. If you do decide to buy it, don't expect fantastic pictures.
Edited by Charles Kloet