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Photographic tests

White balance

The R8 has five white balance presets (outdoors, cloudy, incandescent, incandescent 2 and fluorescent) in addition to the default auto white balance. There is also a 'manual' white balance setting, which allows you to point the camera at a white or gray object and set the white balance manually. The manual white balance setting is remembered even if you turn the camera off.

In normal outdoor shooting we found the auto white balance to work reliably (as confirmed by our outdoor sample shots). Under artificial light it is not quite as good. In Auto White Balance mode incandescent (tungsten) lighting causes an orange color cast, the tungsten preset does not perform significantly better.

Auto WB performance under fluorescent light is average with a visible yellowish-greenish cast. The preset however will produce an almost perfectly neutral result. If white balance is crucial you should always use the Manual White Balance option with a gray card.

During our studio tests we also found that white balance becomes very inaccurate at higher ISO settings. While it is pretty common for the blue sensitivity of digital cameras to gradually deteriorate as you increase ISO, on the R8 this happens very abruptly between ISO 200 and 400, resulting in visibly 'warmer' images at ISO 400 and above. There is not really an easy way to work around this, so be aware when shooting in low light.

Auto White Balance Fluo Preset Auto White Balance Incandescent preset
Fluorescent light - Auto white balance average,
Preset white balance excellent
Incandescent light - Auto white balance average,
Preset white balance average

Flash

The Ricoh R8's built-in flash has a quoted working range of 0.2m - 3.0m at the wide end of the zoom and 0.25m - 2.0m at the tele end using Auto ISO. The flash is a little underpowered for this type of camera. In low light you'll have to stay close to your subjects if you want the flash to illuminate them properly. There are anti red eye, 'soft' flash (low power) and slow synch modes available.

In our real-world tests we found the flash a little difficult to work with. Using Auto ISO will often result in overexposed subjects and the camera does not offer flash compensation. Applying exposure compensation appears to impact the flash output but only marginally. We took some flash test shots with -2.0EV and +2.0EV and where theoretically there should be difference of 4 stops we found half a stop at most. More importantly the results are not really predictable.

Sometimes the soft flash option is the better choice or you can experiment with different ISO settings to achieve decent results. Obviously this is not ideal if you only have one opportunity to 'nail' a shot. The focus can be painfully slow in low light too (even when using the AF illuminator). Last but not least flash white balance occasionally struggles slightly in mixed light, resulting in a color cast on your main subject.

So all in all flash photography is certainly not the R8's forte. If you take a lot of 'social' images, i.e. in restaurants or at parties where flash is a must, you should probably look out for other options.

Skin tone -
Cool tone, slight under exposure.
Flash chart - Good exposure, good color.

Macro

As is common to most compact digital cameras the R8's macro mode is most effective at the wide end of the zoom, where you can get as close as 1cm. In fact the lens barrel almost touches the subject which somehow limits the usefulness of this mode. You have to be very careful to not shade the subject with the camera itself. Thankfully you still achieve quite some magnification even when you zoom in a little.

At the widest setting the camera captures an area of just over 2cm across. At the long end of the zoom the macro performance is still quite useful - 25cm subject distance capturing an area just under 5cm wide. As you would expect there is heavy distortion and corner softness visible when shooting very close up at the wide end. At the long end distortion is less of an issue but corner softness is still visible.

Movie mode

The R8's movie mode is pretty basic. Maximum movie size is 640x480 pixels which fairly standard and enough to fill most television screens at 30 frames per second. However, there aren't any fast frame or time lapse options.

Overall quality is average, the movies are smooth but compression is high and the footage shows some artifacts. The AVI files are comparatively small - at 30fps and a resolution of 640x480 pixels you're burning approximately 1MB every second. You'll be able to squeeze more video footage onto your SD card than with most other compact cameras. Whichever card you use, maximum recording time is 90 minutes, enough for a feature film.

During filming you cannot use the optical zoom. You can however zoom digitally although quality deteriorates quickly and the digital zoom is not stepless, so your zoom action will be far from smooth. Unfortunately (and in contrast to most other compact cameras) image stabilization does not work in movie mode either resulting in slightly shaky videos, especially when filming at longer focal lengths.

Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 6.2 MB, 6 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)

Resolution

The R8's measured resolution is good for this class of camera. The image is reasonably clean although there are visible sharpening artifacts and some CA, neither of which will appear in a standard print. Edge to edge sharpness is excellent.

Crops

Click here for the full resolution test chart

Horizontal LPH

Absolute resolution 1750 LPH
Extinction resolution 2325 LPH *

*moiré visible

Vertical LPH

Absolute resolution 1700 LPH
Extinction resolution 2275 LPH *

*moiré visible

Distortion and other image quality issues

The R8 shows moderate distortion at the wide end of the zoom - 0.3% barrel distortion (click here for test chart), for a 28mm wide angle lens this is a very good value and means you don't need to worry too much about distortion, it will only be visible on straight lines close to the edge of the frame. Our software also registered 0.1% pincushion distortion at the long end of the zoom which is within the error of the test and not relevant for real life shooting (click here for test chart).

General comments

At base ISO the R8's output is sharp (occasionally even a little too much, at a pixel level sharpening artifacts can be visible) and detailed. In good lighting the R8 produces appealing images that can go straight to a printer. When the light becomes more challenging the usual problems appear. Noise reduction artifacts are visible even at low ISO settings (see below) and at higher sensitivities noise and detail blurring get very nasty. As on all small sensor cameras limited dynamic range is also an issue on the R8. In high contrast scenes highlights (such as an overcast sky) clip to pure white pretty easily but it's no worse than on comparable cameras.

While the sensor shows the usual compact camera flaws the R8's benefits from its good lens which delivers on most occasions. There is some corner softness at wider focal lengths but edge to edge sharpness is much better when you zoom in a little and it stays that way up to the long end. There is also very little distortion for a lens covering such a versatile zoom range.

Purple fringing

Purple fringing around high contrast edges is certainly not unique to the R8 but it is more extreme than on most compact cameras we have recently tested. The phenomenon occurs in the usual high contrast areas and can be over 10 pixels wide. Fringing of this dimension will be visible even on smaller prints. Other manufacturers (such as Panasonic) have managed to eliminate purple fringing through in-camera processing, maybe Ricoh should start thinking about implementing some clever anti-fringing algorithm in its camera firmware too.

Unfortunately there is not an awful lot you can do about this (other than getting rid of it in post-processing). Where feasible, apply one or two thirds of a stop negative exposure compensation.

100% crop 38 mm equiv., F2.8

Noise and NR at low ISO settings

While in good light the Ricoh's lens/sensor combination can produce some excellent results, in sub-optimal conditions the story is a slightly different one. You'll find some noise in the shadows and blurring of low contrast fine texture such as foliage (caused by noise reduction) even at ISO 64. The Ricoh R8 is no worse an offender in this respect than many of its competitors but you need to be aware of this if you plan to make large prints from the R8's output.

100% crop 114 mm equiv., F2.8
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