Ricoh RDC-7 review
My first digicam, had it for about a year, taken thousands of pictures.
A good first camera, small enough to carry everywhere (work, trips to china, evening dinners and parties,
in the car), decent picture quality, most controls available -- but just not enough external controls and
not quite quick enough for my purposes any more.
(I'm playing with my new Sony F707 and definitely very impressed by comparison in all departments except for damn memory sticks (low capacity), continuous shooting buffer (F707 only handles 3 at any resolution, RDC-7 can go at least 24), and size, definitely can't fit the F707 in my back pocket like the RDC-7.)
I do some strange things which might not matter to you, in which case the RDC-7 may be a great choice given
it's small size, flat form factor, ability to interpolate (pro mode) to 7 MP, and 360-swivelling lcd. In
any case, here's a description of my detailed experience with it.
- they have 4 external controls: resolution/quality, timer, flash, and internal/removable memory. This
is a braindead choice of "easy access" controls. I hardly ever vary the resolution/quality, even less
rarely switch between internal and removable memory, and obviously the flash and self-timer are not the
most frequently, or dexterously, controlled things. They should have used these buttons for switching
between manual and auto focus, setting focus to infinity, the "go back to the way you were" function that I
described above, and for an exposure lock. I'd be happy to control *all* of the functions they chose for
these buttons by going into the lcd menus instead.
- I shoot from the car, and the RDC-7 takes *way* too long (and too variable) to focus and get exposure.
Got to the point where I was pressing the shutter button two seconds in advance of when I thought the
subject would be in place, hoping it would be in the shot when the shutter went (it feels great when it
works :-). Also always have to set the focus to manual for this type of work, which requires several
button clicks through the lcd menus, and focusing via up-down arrow keys)
- the "continuous shooting" mode is very useful. I have ended up leaving the camera on that setting all
the time, rather than the "normal shoot" setting, so that when I power it up it's set for multishoot. The
reason is that you can take a shot, and then before the camera's done recording you can push the button and
take another. It's not quite immediate, since it has to interrupt the recording, but it's a lot quicker
than the regular mode shot-to-shot time. It's a frustrating feeling to push the button down and wait and
wait and wait for the camera to actually take the shot, but it's better than having no choice at all.
- camera has choice to "remember" settings after powering off, but doesn't end up quite working -- when
I was riding in buses in Asia for hours, wanting to keep camera at the ready to snap things going by, I'd
have to go back into menus and set 3 or 4 things each time (eg manual focus, zoom, EV adjustments, ISO
setting) but I wouldn't want to freeze these forever since it's useful to be able to just turn the camera
off and then on to reset everything to "normal" -- they need a "go back to the way you were when you
powered off" button instead.
- I've frequently shot lots of pictures from plane windows -- you need more than one battery to
last across the country that's for sure. It's flat form factor and twist LCD are *critical* for plane
windows, because you can lay it up almost vertically against the window to shoot almost straight down (the
most interesting view usually), the lens is as close to the window as possible giving the best angle
(compared to even small point-and-shoot form factor cameras), and you can still see exactly what you're
doing in the lcd. But it'll eat a battery fast, definitely less than one hour.
- I've been the unoffial wedding photographer for a couple weddings now, and had generally good results in terms of getting the shots I wanted, particularly the ability to hold the camera above my head, upside down, with the lcd twisted so I can see what I'm shooting over other people's heads. Of course, lots of patching up on the computer was required for the indoor flash shots since the flash isn't really designed for this sort of thing.
- in trying to shoot candid scenes while travelling (eg in China) the form factor is critical. People can't tell what it is easily, and in particular if you walk down the street holding the camera in your hand at waist height like a walkman, with the lens pointing sideways, and your thumb on the shutter release, you can get pictures from 5 feet away and noone knows you're doing it. Requires guessing whether you're pointing the camera at the right angle, and holding the far-too-sensitive shutter button halfway down before you get there so that you can just go click when the moment is right, so you're likely to walk into lampposts because you're concentrating so hard that you're not paying attention where you're going. But I can't imagine how to get candids like this with a big, obvious camera like the Sony F707.
- you can develop some sort of hand-eye coordination skills to work around these things, (eg memorizing
button presses to navigate menus, and getting focus and exposure set ahead of time, holding shutter halfway down, and then walking by your subject surreptitiously and trying to snap at the right moment) but I'd say that if you're often dealing with relatively time-insensitive situations (both shot-to-shot times and rate of change of exposure/settings) then you probably don't want this camera. If you do want a small, featureful camera for use in situations where you can adjust things in a leisurely way, this might be perfect.
- definitely takes rather noisy pictures with extended shutter times, over about a second.
- I've managed a 3-day camping trip on a single battery and a single 64MB smartmedia card, shooting
everything in 3.3MP "E" (lowest color quality) mode (which allows about 200 pictures on the 64MB card,
usually ~250KB each). It required trying to *never* use the LCD, or only for seconds at a time to
navigate a menu or delete a bad attempt, and not to carefully check out shots, or bracket. I should have
bought the 2700Mah battery pack long ago (the "unity digital" one that Ricoh resells), but just did a
couple weeks ago. Watch out to make sure you get a 5v version -- it uses a 3.7v battery, but the DC input
is 5v. The are several 3.7v and 6v battery packs out there that you might get offered accidentally.
- the camera doesn't have any lens threads, so can't take filters or addon lenses. This is annoying since I'd really want at least a UV and polarizer, and ideally a 2x or 3x telephoto. But the lens housing is squar-ish anyway to stay flush with the camera body, so really hard to adapt to it I guess.
- people unfamiliar with the camera will frequently put their fingers right across and on the lens, not realizing what it is. So always put the lens cap back on before you hand it to someone to look at the picture you just took ....
- The video capture is useful, but not excellent. It's not limited to 60secs, so it can go on as long as you have memory for, about 5 minutes on a 64MB card. (eg for the best man singing a song at the wedding), but the sound is pretty awful, the resulting .avi file will only play with quicktime codecs, not windows media (even though .avi is associated with windows media by default), and the visual quality doesn't compare to the .mpg which the sony's will produce. Not bad to have video on such a tiny gadget, people rarely suspect i'm recording them.
- using a Zio USB smartmedia card reader is 10x faster than using the direct USB connection from the
camera -- *very* well worth it. Originally I used the serial cable connection, and that's 10x slower
than the direct USB connection, so pretty much unbearable. The camera would run out of battery before
extracting all the pictures. The Sony F707 direct USB connection seems about the same speed as a Zio card
reader, so it must be the RDC-7's slower internal I/O or cpu that bound the USB performance.
I've gotten a fair bit of use from the software which ships with the camera:
- most importantly the "PanoramaMaker2000" program, which does an excellent job on horizontal or
vertical sets if the shots overlap by more than 25%. Both seamlessness and exposure correction are pretty
good. It does a much less good job on a matrix of pictures where it has to match up in two dimensions
instead of one. I find that on my 128MB RAM w2k laptop I can't effectively handle
- the "PhotoSuite SE" program has the best redeye reduction tool I've seen, but otherwise I find it more
effective to use Firehand Ember or Pholix Photophilia for batch correction, resizing, HTML generation,
- bad problem: sometimes powers itself off at random moments, including while writing a just-snapped picture to memory. Appears to be related to the auto-power-off safety feature for the smartmedia slot door -- if you apply any pressure to areas of the camera body near there, it *may* shut itself off. This is particularly bad if it does it just as I'm trying to get a time-sensitive shot because it takes even longer to startup (some reset process involving the zoom/focus of the lens chugging violently) than usual, by
which time the opportunity is usually gone. Tech support has said this is fixable, but I haven't sent it in yet (still a month on warranty), so I guess it's still survivable (I try to avoid touching the left back corner).
- Very erratic flash exposure. I have not upgraded the firmware, which supposedly helps -- I only have a 64MB smartmedia card, and you cannot use one bigger than 32MB to to the upgrade .... it won't support my new 128MB smartmedia card in it until I do the upgrade either.
- LCD occasionally takes on a very dark, dull yellow tint, even when reviewing pictures that were not yellow when originally reviewed (ie not just white balance issue). Virtually impossible to use in this state. Goes away after a few minutes, no pattern discernable yet.
- once: electrically controlled zoom is usually smoothly noticeable on both lcd and viewfinder, but once it whirred till finished, and then suddenly went "clunk" and changed all at once in the viewfinder.
- auto-focus gets fooled easily, esp. in low light. often very hard to manually focus in these situations too.
- the plastic rim of the lens housing came off after a couple months, but I reglued it with plastic cement and have had no problems since. Someone else posted a similar note.
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