The Ricoh Caplio RX is the successor to the Caplio G4wide, with Ricoh claiming that the new model is quicker, slimmer, lighter and even easier to use. The Caplio G4wide was released in September of 2003, so it has effectively been replaced by the Caplio RX after only 6 months. Such is the nature of the digital camera market at the moment, with newer and better models being released at least twice a year. The Ricoh Caplio RX stands out from the rest of the market because of its wide-angle 28mm lens, and because it has the world's fastest shutter response and start-up times (at least according to Ricoh when it was first announced in March 2004). Other features, such as the 3 megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom, are standard for this class of camera, so does the Caplio RX have what it takes to catch your attention? Find out in my review.



Features
The Caplio RX has a 3.24-megapixel CCD that includes a vastly improved image processor, making colours look sharper and cleaner even in large printed formats. It has a 3.6x optical plus 3.4x digital zoom that delivers a combination of 12.2x zoom (equivalent to a telephoto range of 28-340mm on a regular 35mm camera). The Caplio RX's 28mm-100mm optical wide zoom lens gives an angle of view of 75 degrees, compared with just 62 degrees in conventional 35mm digital cameras. The Caplio RX has added 64 and 100 to its ISO speeds for a total ISO light-sensitivity range of 64-800.

In one second or less the Caplio RX is able to turn on and snap a photo. The shutter response is the world's fastest in its class at just 0.12 seconds (March 2004). This time is calculated from the time the user presses the shutter button, rather than the time when focus lock is achieved. It also has the world's fastest start-up time of a mere 0.9 seconds, a 50% improvement from the Caplio G4wide's 1.8sec start-up ability.

The Caplio RX comes equipped with six scene modes (portrait, sports, landscape, night scene, text and high-sensitivity) that are intended to help the photographer capture various shooting situations in their best light. In high-sensitivity mode, the screen automatically illuminates subjects to aid in framing the picture in dim lighting environments.

In tricky lighting situations, the convenient auto-bracket function allows you to take three individual shots at one time at three different exposure settings. White balance bracket, on the other hand, applies tones of red, normal white, and blue to three separate images.

The Caplio RX has various continuous modes. In M-continuous mode, with the shutter button held down the camera memorises the last 16 shots in one file for two seconds of footage. In S-continuous mode, it can take a series of 16 shots in one file for two seconds of footage with just one press of the shutter button.

The Caplio RX has the ability to capture objects of 18mm(H) x 24mm (W) at a distance of just 1cm. Keep the camera still at this distance and take advantage of its auto-focus target functionality that allows you to conveniently pan around the image in order to find the desired focus point. There is a built-in flash for shots as close as 9cm that highlights objects while protecting against any unwanted whiteout effects.

The Caplio RX allows you to take up to 400 shots between recharges when using the optional rechargeable lithium-ion battery, or you can take advantage of a nearby power source and use the optional AC adapter. The Caplio RX also has the ability to switch to two AA alkaline (included) or nickel metal hydride batteries and a synchro monitor mode that conserves energy by turning the monitor on automatically only when the shutter button is pressed to preview a shot or operate the zoom.

At just 29mm thick, the Caplio RX's curved aluminium-alloy body is designed to fit perfectly in a shirt pocket and perfectly in the hand. The Ricoh trademark "Quick Review" function, positioned next to the bright 1.8 TFT LCD monitor, conveniently displays the most recent picture taken at a simple press of a button.

The Caplio RX captures up to 120 seconds of AVI video action clips in a video size of 320x240 or 160x120 and can add "voice memo" stamps of up to eight seconds to photos. Caplio RX can also be used as a multipurpose voice recorder.
The Caplio RX comes equipped with an 8MB internal memory chip and can use optional Secure Digital memory cards. The Caplio RX is also compatible with Multimedia Cards. Transferring files to a PC is extremely easy. Simply turn off the camera and link the Caplio RX up via a USB cable. The Ricoh Gate software installed on the computer will then instantly start transferring images to an automatically created folder at a rate of three megabytes per second.
The Caplio RX kit that I reviewed contained very little in the way of accessories. In addition to the camera, there is a USB cable for downloading photos to your PC/MAC, a CD containing the Caplio RX software, a Video cable, 2 Alkaline batteries and a User Guide. There is no memory card supplied, which is pretty annoying as you can only fit 5 images on the camera's built-in 8Mb memory at the highest quality setting.

Ease of Use
The Ricoh Caplio RX is a solidly built yet pocketable camera that instantly feels "right" as soon as you pick it up and start using it for the first time. I really enjoyed using the RX during my 2 week review period from a handling point of view and was quite sad to have to send it back! It easily fits into a trouser or coat pocket, yet doesn't have tiny controls that you can't operate properly. For such a small and slim camera it actually feels quite heavy, but I prefer this to a lighter camera that feels more flimsy.

The Ricoh Caplio RX is an exceptionally easy to use digital camera that will not put off new users, whilst being very intuitive to use for anyone who has picked up a digital camera before. Its secret lies in not being too different from other brands on the market. The Caplio RX's interface, both software and the camera body, employs options and concepts that are an accepted part of the photographic industry.

Having said that, the Caplio RX does have a couple of neat touches of its own. The Adj. button on the rear of the camera is a particularly nice feature that allows you to quickly adjust 3 different settings that are commonly used. Press it once and you can alter exposure compensation; press it again and you can change the White Balance setting; press it once more and you can adjust the ISO speed.

The other thing that I liked was the Power button. Unlike many digicams, the Caplio RX has its very own button which lets you turn the camera on and off, regardless of which setting (Play, Camera, Movie) the camera is currently set to. Not the most radical feature in the world but a nice addition nevertheless.
Both the camera body and its menu system are logically laid out. The rear LCD screen is a good size and the optical viewfinder is small but perfectly usable. The most fiddly aspect of the camera's design is the Card/Battery cover. The memory card and the battery are both housed within one large cover on the right of the camera, which is very fiddly to fully open and then close again. This was an issue with the Caplio G4 and one that I wish Ricoh had fixed by now.
Ricoh's claims about the speed of the Caplio RX in terms of starting up the camera and shutter-lag do seem to be accurate. With other digicams you can often wait 4 or 5 seconds for the camera to turn itself on, extend the lens and get ready to take a shot. And you often miss the shot anyway because the of the slow shutter lag. The Caplio RX seems to have solved both these issues and even improves on earlier Ricoh models like the Capio G4.

One of the reasons that I enjoyed using the Caplio RX so much is that it is largely automatic. Whilst you can alter settings like White Balance, ISO speed and exposure compensation, you can't actually set the aperture or shutter speed yourself - this is all handled by the camera. I would place the Caplio RX in the semi-automatic category of digicams. For many people this will allow them to get on with composing and taking photos. Just don't expect to be able to control depth of field and blurring/freezing motion. The Caplio RX borrows a lot of features from the Caplio G4 that I've previously reviewed, whilst slimming down the camera body, adding a wide lens and making it even quicker to use. I enjoyed using the Caplio G4 and I enjoyed using the Caplio RX even more.
Overall Image Quality
The image quality of the Ricoh Caplio RX is quite disappointing. It's biggest achilles heel seems to be purple fringing, with more in evidence than other digital cameras that I've reviewed, even in photos where the sun is not in the frame. The images aren't particularly noisy at the lower ISO speeds of 64 and 100, but at faster speeds there is too much noise to be acceptable and I can't imagine ever using ISo 800. At the default sharpening setting of "Normal" the images are fairly sharp and won't require too much sharpening during post-processing. So overall not a great performance, which is doubly disappointing because the camera is so nice to use.

Verdict

The Ricoh Caplio RX builds on the strengths of the Ricoh Caplio G4 and G4wide, resulting in a camera that is exceptionally easy to use and which instantly feels "right". The 28-100mm wide lens makes it stand out from the crowd of digital cameras that only go as wide as 35mm, and the sheer speed of its operation means that the Caplio RX will never leave you waiting around. The major thing from a features and handling point of view that I would like to see added is full control over aperture and shutter speed.


Unfortunately Ricoh don't seem to have made the same strides in terms of the Caplio RX's image quality. Whilst the camera is a joy to operate, the actual images themselves are merely adequate and very similar to those from the Caplio G4. Large amounts of chromatic aberrations are present in high-contrast situations and the colours are a little on the dull side.
So although the Ricoh Caplio RX is great to use and would make a very nice pocketable camera, its lack of full photographic control and average image quality turns a potentially great camera into a near-miss for me. If you're happy with the sample images in this review, and don't mind not being able to set the aperture and shutter speed, then the Caplio RX is definitely worth considering.