DCRP Review: Ricoh RDC-7
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2000
Last Updated: Sunday, August 13, 2000

When you first see the Ricoh RDC-7, you might say "wow, that's a weird looking (but cool) camera!" Personally, it looks a lot like the old 110 film cameras that were once popular. But digital camera veterans (including me) remember this design from Ricoh's first digital cameras -- such as the RDC-2. From that design, Ricoh moved towards the more traditional design with the RDC-5000 and 6000 series. With the RDC-7, they've returned to their roots, and then some.

The $899 RDC-7 is a 3.3 Megapixel camera with features typical of other cameras in its class, but it adds one feature rarely seen: a "Pro" mode which produces 7 million pixel images. It can do this in one of two ways: one is to just take a photo and interpolate up to 3072 x 2304; the other is to actually take two shots back-to-back, and do something called "pixel shifting", which gives the camera more data from which to create the interpolated image.

Of course, when the pixel shifting method is used, you must have the camera on a tripod -- so action shots are out. After the shots are taken, the camera must process the information, so it won't be useful for a bit.

Enough of the technical stuff -- so how does it work?

What's in the Box?

The RDC-7 gets two thumbs up for its bundle. When you crack open the box, you'll find

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Ricoh RDC-7 camera
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
  • Li-ion battery charger
  • AC adapter
  • Soft case
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Serial cable with Mac adapter
  • A/V cable
  • Software including drivers, CameraUtility, PhotoStudio, PhotoPrinter, PhotoFantasy, VideoImpression, PanoramaMaker, and PhotoMontage
  • 115 page camera manual

You might have noticed that I didn't say "SmartMedia" anywhere in that list. Well, that's because they don't give you a card. The RDC-7 does supports SmartMedia, and it also includes 8MB of onboard RAM. When you're working with large images (especially TIFFs or the 7 Mpixel images), the onboard RAM goes really quick -- so buy a large SmartMedia card right away.

The camera includes a nice lens cap and a strap to keep it from going anywhere.

Kudos to Ricoh for including both an AC adapter and a Li-ion rechargeable battery (shown above). This battery may look familiar -- it's the same one used on many Toshiba and Fuji cameras. Ricoh says that a fully charged battery will last for about 50 minutes.

The software used for getting photos off the camera is disappointing, at least on the Mac.

What you get is the CameraUtility software, which was the interface you see above. After choosing "Copy from Camera", you then have to select photos one by one, or all of them. All of this without seeing the thumbnails. Sure, you can look at the LCD on the camera, but I much prefer the interfaces used by Canon, Olympus, and Nikon.

The RDC-7's manual is well done - a rarity for digital cameras.

Look and Feel

The RDC-7 is one of those cameras that catches people's attention wherever it goes. It's unique design makes it stand out from all the other cameras. This is not necessarily good -- I found the RDC-7 to be somewhat hard to hold and use. From a build quality standpoint, the camera is very good, with metal body, and well-attached doors.

While the camera is easy to hold when the LCD display is closed, it's tough with it open. Your right hand has room, but your left hand has nowhere to go. The zoom controls are oddly placed around the mode wheel (see photos below), which can be hard to reach. The shutter release has very poor tactile feedback, which makes it impossible to tell how far down the button is pushed. I'll explain more as we tour the camera.

On the front of the camera (see top picture) is the Ricoh zoom lens, which is equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. There's also another shutter release button on the front, though I never used it.

Here's the back of the camera, where you can see the LCD, mode wheel, and optical viewfinder. The LCD is good quality, and brightness is easily adjustable thanks to a button you'll see below. Nose smudging is (obviously) not an issue. The LCD can tilt and rotate in number of directions, which comes in quite handy.

The mode wheel has the power button in the middle, and the zoom controls around it. The choices on the mode wheel are:

  • Play
  • Record
  • Sound record
  • Text mode
  • Continuous shooting
  • Movie mode
  • Setup

The optical viewfinder is a bit small, though it does have diopter correction. Just to the right of the optical viewfinder is the battery slot. I accidentally opened the plastic door on more than one occasion.

We've moved our view up a bit so you can see the buttons just below the LCD. There are several buttons for navigating the menus, as well as buttons for macro mode, LCD brightness, display on/off, exposure compensation, white balance, and macro mode.

Moving a bit to the right, you can see the LCD info display, and a few more buttons. The LCD info display shows all the usual stuff, like photos remaining, size, quality, flash settings, etc. There are two choices for where photos are stored -- internal RAM (IN) and SmartMedia (CARD).

I'll now explain Ricoh's photo size and quality system. It's a bit confusing, especially in Pro mode.

There are four sizes available:

  • 640 - 640 x 480
  • 1024 - 1024 x 768
  • 2048 - 2048 x 1536
  • Pro - 2048 x 1536 or 3072 x 2304

Within each of these modes you can choose from four quality settings:

  • E - Economy (lots of JPEG compression)
  • N - Normal
  • F - Fine (little JPEG compression)
  • NC - Uncompressed TIFF mode

And now, here's the somewhat confusing language for the "Pro" mode:

  • Pro - 3072 x 2304 (This mode takes just one shot, and interpolates up to this resolution)
  • Pro-L - 2048 x 1536 (This mode takes two shots and does the pixel shifting thing to improve photo quality)
  • Pro-H - 3072 x 2304 (This mode also takes two shots and then interpolates)

I'll talk more about Pro mode in the next section.

Here's the side of the camera, complete with a port for the AC adapter, as well as the plug for USB and serial cables. There's a rubber cover which safely protects these when not in use.

And finally, the bottom of the camera, where you can see the metal tripod mount.

Using the Ricoh RDC-7

Keeping with our more detailed reviews, I'll talk about the following in this second: Record mode, Text Mode, Movie Mode, and Playback Mode.

Record Mode

The RDC-7 is about average in startup time, taking about 5 seconds before it's ready to go. Composing a picture is easy, using either the LCD or the optical viewfinder. The zoom controls, though awkwardly placed, are smooth and precise.

One area where the RDC-7 is well below average is auto focus and shutter lag. It can take one or two seconds before the camera locks focus, and a little less than that for the shutter to actually open. This is not a camera for action shots, folks. To make matters worse, the shutter release button is very touchy - just when you think you're pressing it halfway (for the focus to lock), it takes the picture.

While there are choices for longer shutter speeds available (see below), there's no real shutter or aperture priority mode on this camera. I'd often get the "slow shutter" message, even with indoor lighting.

Night shots were noisier than other 3Mpixel cameras. While the city itself is well lit, it's not very sharp. But If you blow up the picture above, you'll see multicolored dots in the sky. Those aren't there in real life -- that's CCD noise. I found this in the Golden Gate Bridge night shot in the gallery as well.

My usual macro test shot didn't come out, though the yellow flower in the gallery did. The macro range, according to the manual, is 0.4 to 9.4 inches.

Now onto what everyone wants to know -- how does Pro mode work? The only other camera that I know of that does this pixel shifting interpolation is sold by JVC. I can't help but wonder if they're the same camera. Below you'll see the same photo taken in four different modes, 2048/Normal, Pro/Normal, Pro-L/Normal, and Pro-H/Normal.


2048 x 1536, Normal Compression (524k)
 

2048 x 1536 Pro-L, Normal Compression (512k)
[Pixel shifting, no interpolation]

3072 x 2304, Pro, Normal Compression (1MB)
[Interpolation only]

3072 x 2304, Pro-H, Normal Compression (1MB)
[Pixel shifting and interpolation]

The photos above aren't the best test of the Pro mode, but you can get some idea of what you'll get. The main point of Pro mode is for still-life shots taken in a studio on a tripod. If you look closely at the large Pro mode photos you can see why -- anything that moves becomes garbage in the final picture. While you can get 7 million pixel images, it will be of fruit in a bowl, rather than the kids running down the soccer field. [Updated 8/8/00]

A big issue with the Pro modes is the long wait while the camera processes and records the photos. You can expect to wait for anywhere from 35 seconds to two minutes for a single photo to be recorded in Pro mode, depending on the settings!

Enough about all that stuff - just one more item before I move on to Text Mode. While the options changed the most often are available as buttons on the camera, occasionally you'll have to use the menu system. I found the menus to be hard to navigate. If you want to change a setting, you have to press up or down to get there, and then left or right to move through the choices. When you're done you can't forget to hit Enter or else it won't remember it.

The menu choices are :

  • Image with sound (up to 10 secs per photo)
  • Focus - Auto or manual
  • Flash strength - soft, normal, strong
  • Redeye reduction - on/off
  • ISO sensitivity - 100, 200, 400
  • Date imprinting
  • Soft mode (kind of a sharpness adjustment)
  • Monochrome/sepia mode
  • Interval shooting - take a photo every 30 seconds to 3 hours, or somewhere in between
  • Auto-bracketing - takes three photos at -0.5EV, 0EV, and +0.5EV
  • No Compression Mode (TIFF)
  • Pro Mode (Pro, Pro-L, Pro-H)
  • Time Exposure - sort of a shutter priority mode (0, 1, 2, 4, 8 secs)

Text Mode

Just a quick mention of this one. Text Mode takes a photo in black and white, and saves it as a TIFF file. What better than a newspaper article mentioning the DCRP for a test shot!

If you blow it up, you can see that it did a pretty good job with the text, and not with the images.

Movie Mode

Again, another quick mention. The movie mode records AVI video as well as sound - up to 41 seconds of it on the 8MB of internal RAM that it comes with. If you get a 64MB SmartMedia card, you can get almost 6 minutes of video. All movies are recorded at 320 x 240.

The RDC-7 is one of those cameras where you cannot use zoom at all in movie mode -- I just don't understand why.

I must confess that I need more interesting things to video tape, as you'll see in the sample below.


AVI format - 1.5MB

Playback Mode

This mode isn't very exciting, and not very feature-packed either. You've got thumbnail mode (via the menu system) and zoom mode too, but it's really hard to use. You can do slideshows, rotate, protect, and copy photos, and DPOF support is there too.

Speed between photos is just OK. The camera displays a thumbnail before the full photo replaces it. There is no way to view the settings the camera used to take the picture.


This is all the info you get to see in playback mode

I don't like the choice of colors Ricoh uses for information on the LCD - it's hard to read in many situations.

How Does it Compare? (updated 8/8/00)

The Ricoh RDC-7 finds itself in the most competitive field in digital photography right now - 3 Megapixel cameras. It is indeed loaded with many of the useful features for both enthusiasts as well as consumers, but these features just aren't implemented well. I honestly feel that your $900 could be much better spent on another camera.

What I liked:

  • Lots of features
  • Good outdoor photos
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Good bundle
  • Pro mode useful for still-life shots

What needs work:

  • Pro mode limited to situations without movement; Slow processing speeds when saving or viewing Pro photos.
  • Noisy night shots
  • Auto-focus lag longer than average
  • No zoom (optical or digital) in movie mode
  • Poor tactile feedback from shutter release button
  • No real shutter/aperture priority modes
  • Clumsy Mac software

While the RDC-7 is a good camera, I cannot recommend it as your best choice in this price range. Some other cameras to consider (and there are lots of them) are the Olympus C-3000Z and C-3030Z, Nikon Coolpix 990, Fuji FinePix 4700, Canon PowerShot S20, and Sony DSC-S70.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try these cameras yourself before you make any purchases.

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Check out Megapixel.net's review of the RDC-7, and Steve's Digicams First Look at it.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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