The 3.2 megapixel Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide was announced back in March 2004 and has been available since mid-May. It falls into the waterproof category of digital cameras - you can use it underwater at a depth of 1m or less for up to 30 minutes. As a digital camera it closely resembles other Ricoh cameras in terms of design and features, but it does have the added bonus of a wide-angle 28-85mm lens. The Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide also inherits the speed of the Ricoh Caplio G4, with a shutter response time of just 0.14 seconds, exceeding the speed of a conventional 35mm camera, and a very fast start-up time of 1.9 seconds, which allows you to capture the moment with a minimum of delay. There aren't too many digital cameras that can match this unique combination of speed, wide-angle lens and waterproofness, so does the Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide live up to its billing? Read my review to find out.
The 3.2 megapixel Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide is primarily designed to withstand outdoor use. It is both water- and dust-resistant, durable, portable, and easy to operate. A reinforced glass dust protector is used in front of the lens, and rubber packing on opening parts and buttons provides JIS protection grade 7-equivalent water resistance and JIS protection grade-6 dust resistance. The camera can be washed with water and used in the rain, and is capable of photography in highly dusty or sandy environments. The 400G Wide can even take pictures under water at a depth of 1m or less, for up to 30 minutes. The camera is lightweight, easy to handle and has padding protection on either side and around the lens to provide superb durability when being used outdoors.
The Caplio 400G Wide's 3x zoom lens ranges from 28mm to 85mm (equivalent on a 35mm camera). A unique lens arrangement and use of highly refractive low-dispersion, aspherical lenses, allows it to perform at the level of conventional 35mm film cameras. The 3x optical zoom and 3.4x digital zoom can be combined to enable up to 10.2x zoom photography. The new wide 28-85mm zoom lens allows you to capture a wider image with sharp focus and not compromise on any detail.
The Caplio 400G Wide has a very quick release time lag of 0.14 seconds. It achieves this speed via its hybrid auto-focusing system, comprising both external and through-the-lens focusing. From 1/2000th of a second to long exposures of 8 seconds, the shutter speed gives you the ability to capture a vast range of shooting possibilities. The Caplio 400G Wide also has a fast start-up time of 1.8 seconds.
The Caplio 400G Wide has a long battery life and a choice of different power sources. You can use the optional high-capacity lithium ion battery to take up to 3,500 continuous shots, which reduces the hassle of changing batteries in adverse weather conditions. The camera also supports readily-available AA batteries (alkaline, nickel, and NiMH). An optional AC adapter is also available for indoor use.
There are 6 scene modes to choose from - portrait, sports, landscape, night scene, text and high-sensitivity. All these modes help to optimise results in varied shooting situations. A 256-point light sensor scans the subject area to determine optimal exposure settings; it also offers centre weighted and spot metering that incorporates auto-bracketing. When challenging lighting situations such as heavy sunlight arise, the handy auto-bracketing function allows you to take three individual shots, at different exposure settings, at one time. The same functionality applies to the white balance bracket setting by applying tones of red, normal white and blue to three separate images.
In M-continuous mode, with the shutter button held down the camera memorises the last 16 shots, taken at 0.13-second intervals, in one file. This comes in handy when you are uncertain about the start or finish of a particular action. In S-continuous mode, it can take a series of 16 shots - at 0.13-second intervals, for two seconds of footage - in one file with just one press of the shutter button. When reviewing the 16 shots in playback, each frame can be enlarged individually and quickly skimmed back and forth, creating a sense of animation. In normal continuous mode, the intervals are 0.3 seconds while the button in being pressed.
The Caplio 400G Wide takes macro shots as close as 1cm from a subject, allowing you to capture every small detail. You can also take advantage of the tele macro function, which provides the same magnification but allows the user to move the camera 4cm away in order to prevent the shadow of the camera from creeping into the shot.
There is an external Adjust button on the camera body, so that you do not have to go into the Menu system to adjust exposure, white balance and ISO. One of the more attractive features of the Caplio 400G Wide is its ability to capture 180 seconds of AVI video without sound.
The Caplio 400G Wide has 8MB of internal memory and can also use optional Secure Digital memory cards. These exceptionally compact devices do not need a power source to store information and permit fast and simple downloads of images. The camera is also compatible with Multimedia cards.
In Synchro monitor mode the camera conserves power by turning the monitor off before shooting. The monitor comes on when the shutter button is pressed to preview a shot or operate the zoom, and remains on for several seconds after a picture is taken. Most cameras require users to switch modes if they want to review results. With the Caplio G4, however, users can take advantage of the "Quick review" capability in any shooting mode. All they have to do is press a button to display the most recent image.
The Caplio 400G Wide kit that I used didn't contain too many accessories. In addition to the camera, there is a USB cable for downloading photos to your PC/MAC, AA Alkaline batteries (2), Neck strap, LCD hood, a CD containing the Caplio 400G Wide software, an AV cable and a Instruction manual. 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 400G Wide is essentially a water-proofed version of the Ricoh Caplio G4 that I reviewed last year, so all of the comments that I made about that camera apply to the 400G Wide as well. It is an exceptionally easy to use digital camera that will not be too intimidating to new users, whilst being very intuitive to use for anyone who has picked up any digital camera before. Its secret lies in not being too different from other brands on the market. The Caplio 400G Wide 's interface, both software and the camera body, employs options and concepts that are an accepted part of the photographic industry. The main thing that you will literally have to get to grips with is the waterproof, rubberised external controls, which have been designed to be easily used underwater.
The Caplio 400G Wide 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 400G Wide 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 little on the small side, but the optical viewfinder is perfectly usable. Due to its waterproof design, the camera really need to be operated with two hands. The memory card, battery and the USB connections are all housed behind very secure covers that are closed by using large plastic switches. The lens itself is protected by a clear glass screen. The Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide is very well-built and looks as if it will withstand the kind of abuse that Ricoh claims it can withstand.
Ricoh's claims about the speed of the Caplio 400G Wide in terms of starting up the camera and shutter-lag do seem to be accurate. With a lot of 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 400G Wide seems to have solved both these issues, an example that will hopefully be followed by other manufacturers.
A lot of the Caplio 400G Wide's accessibility stems from the camera's inherent simplicity, in 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 400G Wide in the semi-automatic category of digicams.
Overall image quality
The image quality of the Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide is perfectly acceptable, but not outstanding. Its biggest achilles heel seems to be purple fringing, with more in evidence than other digital cameras that I've reviewed. The images aren't too noisy at the lower ISO speeds, but you will only want to use ISO 400 and 800 in an emergency. At the default sharpening setting of "Normal" the images are fairly sharp and won't require too much sharpening during post-processing. All-in-all an adequate but rather underwhelming performance.
As a digital camera, the Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide is a neat and tidy kind of product. It's not very different from the 100's of other 3 megapixel digital cameras on the market, either in terms of design or features. It doesn't create photos that will take your breath away - indeed, they suffer a bit too much from purple fringing and noise at the higher ISO speeds. Having said all that, the Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide does have a few tricks up its sleeve, principally the speed at which it operates, that very useful wide 28mm lens, and the fact that it is water and dust proof. If you're looking for a digital camera that will take a lot of abuse, either above or below water, then the Ricoh Caplio 400G Wide should find a place on your shortlist.