Conclusion - Pros
- Very compact body for the zoom range
- Good lens with a very versatile zoom range
- Sharp and detailed results at low ISO (although some artifacts visible 'up close')
- Effective macro mode
- Good responsiveness and overall speed (although focus slows down a lot in low light)
- Superb user interface and menus - intuitive and customizable
- Excellent high resolution screen
- Good build quality and attractive design
- AF/AE target very useful for macro work
- In-camera levels and white balance correction
- Good flash recycling times
- Good resolution and little distortion even at the wide end
- Many manual controls
- 'Time Exposure' and 'Fixed min. Aperture' options (although real 'A' and 'S' modes would be preferable)
Conclusion - Cons
- Very slow focus and focus hunting in low light
- Face Detection unreliable and only available as a shooting mode
- Ineffective image stabilization system, not available in movie mode
- Zoom and focus pretty noisy
- White balance under artificial light not brilliant, very unreliable at ISO 400 and higher
- Heavy purple fringing on high contrast edges
- The usual small sensor highlight clipping
- Noise reduction smears very fine detail even at base ISO
- Generally slightly over-processed appearence when viewed up-close (lots of sharpening and artefacts)
- Poor flash performance, flash not adjustable
- Some corner softness at wider focal lengths
- Very basic video mode, Image stabilization not available in video mode
- High video compression with visible artifacts
I can honestly say that I very much enjoyed using the Ricoh R8 while working on this review but I'll also quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who once wrote: 'There is strong shadow where there is much light'. So, if you are thinking about purchasing an R8 I recommend you make an effort and read this entire review to make sure the camera matches your requirements and does not shade your photographic ventures with one of its shortcomings.
Ok, let's get started with the light then and there is plenty of it on the R8. The camera is beautifully built to start with and the minimalist design makes the R8 stand out visually from the usual Ixus/Lumix/Coolpix mish mash.
The user interface - controls and menus - is superb. It allows for quick access to the camera's rich feature set, it is intuitive and most importantly is customizable. This ensures easy modification of the shooting parameters which are most crucial to you - you can even save two sets of settings and access them via the mode dial on the camera's top plate. The R8 generally also reacts pretty swiftly to your input, it is fairly responsive although in low light the focus can get almost painfully slow, especially at the long end of the lens.
While it can certainly be classified as a compact camera the R8 is not a point and shoot and to leave no doubt about that Ricoh has not included a 'Full Auto' mode. Even when the mode dial is set to the green camera symbol (which on most compacts indicates the 'Auto Pilot') you still have quite a number of parameters to play with (there are some scene modes though). It is certainly useful to have some basic understanding of photographic controls (or at least to read the manual) when working with the R8.
The feature list also includes some interesting stuff such as a movable AF/AE spot (very handy for macro work on a tripod), in-camera levels and white balance adjustment and a manual focus mode. You don't get proper 'A' or 'S' modes although there is a 'Time exposure' option for long exposures and an option to set the minimum aperture (or more likely maximum defraction, the usefulness of this setting on a compact camera with only two aperture settings is certainly questionable).
The Ricoh engineers deserve some credit for designing a lens that covers a very versatile zoom range and still fully retracts into a fairly compact camera body. Is is even more remarkable that the lens produces sharp output at all focal lengths with only some corner softness at the wide end. The lens contributes a good deal to the R8's good results at low sensitivities. Images are detailed and usable 'out of the box' and produce excellent prints at standard sizes, especially daylight shots.
Let's move to the shadowy bits of this review then. There are a few of them, flash performance probably being the darkest one. If you are looking for a camera to take flash pictures at the pub or at parties you better stop reading now and start looking for alternatives. The R8's flash performance is pretty poor to say the least. The flash is quite underpowered to start with but even when subjects are actually positioned within its reach the flash exposure gets it wrong more often than not. Unfortunately the R8 does not offer any flash compensation either, so the only solution for this problem is to play with subject distance and ISO and hope for the best. Not ideal if you only have one opportunity to nail your shot. To add insult to injury flash white balance is pretty unreliable as well. We were also slightly disappointed by the obvisous heavy noise reduction at lower ISO settings (though unless you're pixel peeping it's not a massive problem; as mentioned, at normal print sizes / low ISO the images look very good).
Everybody, including Ricoh, knows that in 2008 you cannot sell a camera that hasn't got a Face Detection feature. At DPReview we have never really been too sure how valuable this is, but on the R8 the feature does not even serve as a novel party trick. The detection rate is pretty low and decreases even more in low light. On the other hand the camera detects quite a few faces where there definitely aren't any to be found. Annoyingly Face Detection on the R8 has not been implemented as a function but as a mode. You have to set the camera to Face Detection scene mode and by doing so lose a lot of control over other features.
Movie mode is another weak point, it is very basic, the output is heavily compressed and image stabilization is not available when filming. The latter is not that much of a loss though, the effectiveness of Ricoh's IS is way below of what we've seen on other manufacturers' cameras anyway.
So, coming back to the introductory paragraph of this conclusion, you see lots of light but also some quite dark shadows when looking at the Ricoh R8. If you want a point and shoot to take pictures in full auto mode, if you take lots of flash pictures of your mates on nights out or if your mode dial is set to 'video' all the time forget about the R8. You'll find much better alternatives in one of the more established manufacturers' catalogues. If you however are looking for a compact camera with a true wide angle and a long zoom range that offers good image quality at low sensitivities and a large number of parameters to play with go and get one now, you'll enjoy working with it.
All in all, depending on your photographic requirements, the R8 can be a very powerful tool that is well deserving of our 'Recommended' badge and if the Ricoh engineers manage to sort out some of the flaws described above we will be very much looking forward to the announcement and review of the R9.
Great for: a pocketable 'walkaround' camera for use in daylight
Not good for: low light, indoors (social snaps), movies, producing big detailed enlargements.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|
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