Ricoh Caplio 500G Wide digital camera

Six months after it was first announced, Ricoh has finally released the 500G in the UK.

Ricoh has a lineage of tough cameras and the 500G is the latest and an update of the very similar 400G. Key spec on this model is a very nice 28-85mm, 3x optical zoom lens that focuses the light onto a 8.1-megapixel sensor.

A more obvious thing you’ll notice out of the box is it’s clunky looking bodywork, but given this camera’s raison d’etre, what is essentially a compact digital camera, sits inside its own toughened housing. Thus it becomes waterproof to JIS class 7 waterproofing, which means it can be submerged up to a depth of 1 metre for up to 30 minutes.

It is also JIS class 6 dustproof, the highest possible rating on that scale. Ricoh also made the 500G compliant with the US Department of Defense's MIL 810F drop test. This is a standard for shock proofing equivalent to dropping the camera onto 2-inches of concrete backed plywood up to 26 times (to ensure landing on differing portions of the body). In the case of the 500G this most damaging of tests was passed from a height of 100 centimetres.

So, without a doubt, the 500G is designed to be used in a forbidding environment or by those who may give it a knock or two. But what else do you get for your money? There’s a nice 2.5-inch colour screen that provides the usual array of information but is backed up by a rather blurred to use optical viewfinder, which is also and rather annoyingly, partly obscured by the lens’s protective bodywork.

You also get an unusually powerful built-in flash unit that can illuminate up to 10-metres at the wide end of the lens, typical compacts get to about 3 metres and give up the ghost, so this gives an idea of the extra oomph. However, the flash takes a while to charge up and proves an extra drain on the lithium-ion battery pack that powers the camera. However, Ricoh say you still get up to 400-shots per charge, so not bad at all.

An anti-blur mode raises the camera’s ISO setting to bring into play faster shutter speeds but on the downside increases the amount of noise that enters the images. A CALS setting means the camera’s image data, stills, audio or movies can be used across dissimilar computing platforms making it ideal for those architects, builders, firemen, police or soldiers out there that need the ability to share the information collected on the camera across a variety of outlets and systems.

But one of the nattiest features of the 500G is its simplicity of use. Large grippy, rubberised buttons and a large mode dial are designed for easy use with gloves on. But a benefit of this is it makes it great to use for the youngsters in a family. My daughter is 2.5-years-old and she worked out how to turn it on and take pictures in about 10 minutes, with no coaching from me.

Then, placed in that light, the rugged build, dust and waterproofing make the camera ideal not just as a builders work horse but as a family snapper ideal for beach holidays or for outdoors types such as hikers, climbers or cyclists out in all weathers.

Verdict

The Ricoh Caplio 500G Wide provides a tough package in terms of build, ease of use and versatility. Image quality is good thanks to a nice lens, fast, accurate focusing and good metering with the caveat on image noise at higher sensitivities.

The optical viewfinder leaves a bit to be desired as does the overall clunky look of the camera, but when you bear in mind this camera is more tool than tasty-looking technology.

However its £400 price tag makes it seem expensive compared to some of the similarly equipped but non-ruggedised competiton on the market.