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Design and Handling

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is generally credited as the originator of the phrase 'less is more' and it is likely that at least some of the members of the Ricoh design team are admirers of this master of modern architecture's work. The R8's design can confidently be described as minimalist. It is dominated by straight lines and a distinct lack of any ornamental features.

Its shapes and the distinguished finish of the metal surfaces on the camera body give the R8 a true luxury appearance. The build quality matches the looks. The R8 feels rock solid, no flexing or creaking. It is available in black or silver. The top plate is solid aluminum and especially nice, just be careful you don't scratch it. It might be worth investing in a bag or pouch as well when buying an R8.

The camera is very slim indeed for its zoom range - around 27 mm thick (just over an inch) when powered down (the lens extends by around 28mm when you turn it on). This is achieved by a double retracting system on the lens. Thanks to its protrusion-free design the R8 fits most pockets without any problems. It easily makes the 'compact' camera bracket but is probably slightly too sizable to earn itself the 'ultra' prefix as well.

Handling

Despite the camera's boxy shape and sleek surfaces, one-handed operation of the shutter release and zoom rocker is not a problem. This is largely down to the useful rubberized grip that wraps itself around the camera's edge. The R8 is also weighty enough to never feel unstable in your hand.

Key body elements

The main mode dial sits on the top plate, just to the right of the shutter release/zoom rocker combination. There are five positions (auto, movie, scene mode and two custom settings). To the left of the shutter release is the main power (on/off) button.
The ADJ button (actually it's more like a joystick) is located underneath the review button. A press will take you to the Adjust mode. Here you have access to exposure compensation, WB, ISO, image quality and size and AE/AF target shift. The menu is customizable, so you can swap these functions for others which might be more useful to you. The ADJ button is also used to navigate menus and to change macro and flash settings.
Right below the ADJ controller you'll find the menu button, the combined delete/self timer button and the DISP button. By pressing the latter you can change the amount of information displayed on the LCD.
The built-in flash has a range of around 0.2 to 3.0m (W) or 0.25 to 2.0m (T) using auto ISO.
The optically stabilized lens (CCD shift) uses a double retracting system to squeeze the very useful zoom range of 28-200mm (35mm equiv.) into a fairly compact camera. When zooming or focusing it can be quite noisy though.
The R8' screen is simply superb; razor-sharp, fast and bright enough to see in almost all conditions except direct sunlight. The viewing angle is very wide as well and at 460,000 pixels it's one of the highest resolution 2.7-inch screens currently on the market.
The R8 ships with a rechargeable DB-70 battery that's good enough for about 270 shots (CIPA standard). The SD card slot is under the same spring-loaded door at the camera bottom. There is a small 24MB internal memory.
The USB and AV-Out connectors are hidden under a rubberized door on the side of the camera.

Controls & Menus

The Ricoh R8 is a compact camera and as such has a relatively limited amount of external controls and buttons. Nevertheless the Ricoh designers have managed to create a user interface that allows quick access to all important shooting parameters. The menu structure is clear and intuitive, new users will be up to speed in very little time. An added benefit of the interface is its customizability. You can tailor elements of the menu for your needs and you can even save two sets of shooting parameters and access them via the control dial on the top plate.

As usual there are several options available for the amount of information displayed on-screen - from a totally uncluttered 'live preview only' to full shooting information (as shown here). There is also a grid option which should help avoid crooked horizons. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area(s) used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger.
You can choose a 1:1 format as one of the image size options. Obviously you could simply crop the image on your computer but this way you get the proper '6x6' feeling when framing your shot. There is also a manual focus option. Operation can be a bit cumbersome (the zoom rocker doubles as focus lever) but manual focus can be useful, especially for macro work.
The excellent Adjust menu is accessed by pressing the ADJ button. It gives you a customizable set of quick menus for anything from AE compensation to white balance, ISO and metering. You can define up to four of these mini menus using the setup menu (the fifth - AF/AE target shift - cannot be removed or changed). Settings are adjusted using the ADJ button. It's fast and intuitive. In the shooting settings menu you'll find three pages of options covering everything from file size/quality to focus, metering, bracketing and image stabilization. There's also an interval timer, time exposure and fix minimum aperture option. Here you will also find the settings which can be accessed via the ADJ button.
In playback mode you can choose the level of information by pressing the DISP button, from none to full shooting information and histogram (as here). There is also a blinking highlights play mode which is useful when shooting high contrast scenes.
There is a 4x5 thumbnails option in play mode. To check details in your images you can zoom in up to a 16x factor.
The R8 offers in camera levels adjustment. It works pretty much the same way as in Photoshop or similar imaging applications to get the best result out of the images you've already taken. The in camera white balance compensation is a pretty uncommon feature on a compact camera. If your WB is completely off this feature won't save your images (it works with jpg rather than raw data and therefore only gives you limited leeway) but it's good enough for some ad-hoc color correction on the go.
The Playback Settings menu is pretty basic. Apart from the usual slide show, resizing, printing and copying options it also includes the levels and WB adjustments plus a skew correction function (for photographing documents and white boards, ideal feature for industrial espionage). The 4 page setup menu is home to the usual camera options (screen brightness, date and time etc). There are also a fair amount of customization options in here, plus an unusual 'step zoom' setting. This makes the zoom move in 7 discrete steps (28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm and 200mm).
In the setup menu you will also find the option to save your own custom settings. You can then access them via the mode dial. Last but not least there are a few scene modes (accessible via the mode dial) including face detection mode.
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