|DCRP Camera Review: Ricoh RDC-4200
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Webmaster [10/26/98]
I still shudder when I think about how much I paid for my Olympus D-600L a year ago-- $1199. After all, for less than five-hundred dollars, you can get several mega-pixel cameras of the same quality. One of those is the $499 Ricoh RDC-4200, which I'll review today.
Some raw stats, to start off: The CCD captures 1.32 million pixels through a relatively small lens. The resolutions available are 1280x960 and 640x480--each of those is broken down into fine, normal, and economy quality. The RDC-4200 also includes a 3X optical zoom (35-105mm equivalent) and a 2x digital zoom as well, which can be used together. It also features a handy macro function for close-up photos, and everything is automatic. It's ISO sensitivity is 80-100.
Inside the small white box, you'll find the camera, serial cables, a soft carrying case (good thinking, Ricoh!), batteries, a video-out cable, AC adapter (again, nice), software, manuals, and even a videotape (which I did not look at). It came with a 4MB SmartMedia card, and it supports up to 16MB cards.
The camera itself is much smaller than my D-600L, and almost as easy to hold. The buttons are well placed, and everything is easy to reach. I did prefer the D-600L's placement of the zoom buttons better though. One thing that really stood out when I started using the Ricoh was just how slow everything was. Whether it's powering on, changing modes, writing to the SmartMedia card, or zooming, it's slow.
What annoyed me the most was the lack of an optical viewfinder. The 1.8" LCD is all you've got. The picture is smooth but grainy. It's nearly impossible to see in the sunlight (as I learned at the airshow I went to with it), and it drinks the juice right out of your batteries. I would never buy any camera without an optical viewfinder, though considering how well the Sony Mavica cameras sell, I guess many people don't care.
The menus on the camera are pretty intuitive. You can change between auto and manual focus, plus exposure control (in +/- 0.5 increments), white balance (more on this in a second) and more. The white balance controls have some cool features, including black and white mode, and even a sepia mode which gives you the look of old-time pictures. Another nice feature is the time lapse mode, which you can use to take photos every thirty seconds (or longer if you want).
The RDC-4200 also support for an optional remote control, which could be interesting. Another neat feature is the ability to hook the camera up to a NTSC television. This is a great way to show your photos off to family and friends, in stunning quality. With the optional remote control, you can do it from the couch.
Taking photos is a snap (no pun intended). It's much more of a point and shoot camera than my D-600L is. One nice thing is that when it needs to have a longer exposure time, it tells you, so you won't move and blur the picture. It also has something called "S Mode" which helps in low light situations as well. The 4200 did an impressive job of taking lower-light photos, something which the D-600L is terrible at. The autofocus did a pretty good job as well.. it's not temperamental at all, like my Olympus. The 190-degree rotating lens is neat, for self portraits especially.
The camera can hold six to twenty-three 1280x960 photos on its included SmartMedia card, depending on which quality is chosen. The camera can even do an uncompressed TIFF mode-- taking one photo which fills up the card.
The software included with the camera is kind of a mixed bag (at least the Macintosh versions). The Arcsoft PhotoStudio software was respectable.. kind of a simpler version of Photoshop.. not as dumbed-down as Adobe PhotoDeluxe, so that was nice. It also includes a nice photo catalog/browser. What was disappointing was the TWAIN software, and also the DU-4 software that is a separate application. The user interface was terrible, and it was very hard to use. I ended up using my FlashPath adapter, which has even a worse interface, but that's not Ricoh's fault. It was also faster, as the Ricoh software is limited to 115,000bps. The cameras' manuals were very complete, a nice plus if you've ever seen an Olympus manual. There's even a Project Activities Guide in the back of one of them, which was a cool extra.
So enough about using the camera -- what kind of photos does it take? Below, you'll see the 4200 go up against my Olympus in several photos. These are all un-retouched, though some were cropped. Don't forget you can click on the thumbnail to see the full size image. The RDC-4200 takes excellent photos-- sharp and fairly accurate. Sometimes the colors seem a little dull, though, as you'll see below. This comparison isn't completely fair, of course, as the D-600L costs several hundred dollars more, so keep this in mind.
The Ricoh (left) seemed to get the colors a bit more accurately than the Olympus (right) in this shot of my guitar, though it's kind of green.
Some more photos I've taken with the camera.....
Clockwise from top left: Blade, F/A-18 Hornet, unknown plane, MiG-17, Blue Angels, DC-3, F-16 Falcon, P-51 Mustangs.
The Bottom Line:
Pros: Very good photo quality, lots of features, decent software bundle. Up to 6x zoom, 16MB SmartMedia support. Rotating lens is cool. Great value at less than $500.
Cons: Miserable photo acquisition software (at least on the Mac), no optical viewfinder. Lackluster battery life. Colors could be brighter.
More information on this camera can be found on our RDC-4200 page in our Reviews section, including other users' opinions, pricing information, and more.
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