DCRP Review: Ricoh RDC-5300
by Alex Dunne [DCRP Contributing Editor]
Last revised: Monday, November 1, 1999

Not too long ago, Ricoh came out with an entry in the 2.3 Mpixel digital camera market, the RDC-5000. Jeff Keller reviewed it in June, and already the folks at Ricoh have come out with its successor, the RDC-5300. The 5300 has apparently supplanted the 5000 as the company’s standard — the 5000 is no longer being sold by Ricoh. I found it curious that the company decided to rev its hardware so rapidly — most software companies can’t turn things around this fast!

But the changes to this camera are certainly in the realm of evolutionary, not revolutionary. Essentially little has changed on the outside of the camera, save for the grip (Ricoh increased the size of the black grip, making the camera easier to hold, especially when your hands get a little slippery like they did when I took it sailing on San Francisco bay), and a longer lens housing. Outside of these two structural changes, Ricoh stayed with the same basic design as the 5000.

Above: Note that larger handgrip and lens barrel.

Since Jeff reviewed the RDC-5000 in June, and there aren’t too many significant differences between the two models, I’m going to concentrate on what’s changed in the camera since then. If you want to know more about the basics of the RDC-5300 beyond what I’m covering, read Keller’s review of the RDC-5000 here.

Upgraded Opticals

Possibly the most significant upgrade in the 5300 is a more powerful lens. The camera sports a 3X optical zoom (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera), compared to the 2.3X zoom that the RDC-5000 had. It’s not a giant difference, but it does keep the feature set of the camera on par with competitors like the Olympus C-2000Z, Nikon Coolpix 950, Toshiba PDR-M5, etc., which also have a 3X optical zoom. You can see the difference between the maximum zoom on the 5000 and the 5300 in figures 1a and 1b, which were both taken about 7-8 feet away from the subject. Ricoh also offers a 2.5X digital zoom on the 5300 -- though I really don’t care for that feature in digital cameras and camcorders. It strikes me as a feature that software like Photoshop should be concerned with, not something built into hardware.

Fig 1a: RDC-5000's 2.3X zoom

Fig 1b: RDC-5300's 3X zoom

One drawback to the longer lens on the camera is that the optical viewfinder is now partially obscured by the lens itself! I’m assuming that there were certain design considerations that Ricoh had to make, and that the company didn’t want to have to shift the location of the viewfinder, possibly necessitating a rearrangement of the camera internals, necessitating further redesigning, and so on. It’s not a big deal — I estimate that no more than 10% of your view is blocked, and of course if you rely on the LCD for composing pictures, it’s a non-issue. However, I’m a guy who likes to save my battery life for reviewing pictures and for flash photography, so I often use the optical viewfinder, and it is a bit annoying to have my view obscured, even slightly.

New Shooting Functions

In Jeff's review last June, he touched upon a number of the features found in the RDC-5000, including focus-lock shooting, a self timer, manual focus, redeye reduction, monochrome shots, an interval (time lapse) shooting mode, macro shooting, and slow shutter mode for low-light situations. Ricoh added some new bells and whistles on top of these features.

Above: Looking at the back of the camera.. look familiar?

First, The RDC-5300 has a new "soft mode". What, you may ask, is a soft mode? Soft mode is a mode which improves the look of soft- or flat-shaded objects (faces, walls, etc.), and reduces the amount of noise in those objects. I’m guessing that the camera uses a slightly different compression algorithm in this mode, which works a bit like anti-aliasing for screen fonts. You can see in figures 2a and 2b the difference that soft mode makes. The face without soft shading has more highlights and variation in skin tones, whereas the photo taken with soft shading has fewer darks and lights in the skin tone, and color gradations are more gradual. It’s a nice feature if you are going to blow up images of people, but frankly I couldn’t tell what the difference was until I zoomed into these two images (which are at 4x the size that the camera took them). It’s very subtle at standard resolutions.

Fig 2a: Without soft mode

Fig 2b: With soft mode

Another new feature that the RDC-5300 has is auto-bracketing. When this feature is turned on, the camera will take three photos in rapid succession: on exposure at -0.5EV, one at 0, and one at +0.5EV. At first I considered it more of a gimmick than anything -- professional photographers bracket shots in order to ensure that they get the perfect lighting for photos going into print publications, but why would you want one for your digital camera that spouts out 72dpi images? Then as I began using it over time, I realized that it is actually a great feature for a digital camera — since you can delete images as soon as you take them, why not take three shots, and just keep the one that turns out the best? Often I find that it’s the relatively under- or over-exposed that turns out the best, and having this feature built into the camera saves me from having to manually adjust the exposure level of the shot. I like it. Figures 3a-3c show three consecutive shots taken with the auto bracketing feature. I like the over exposed shot (3c), the best.

Figs 3a-c: From left to right: -0.5EV, Normal, +0.5 EV. Shot using auto-bracketing function.

In addition to the auto focus and manual focus found on the RDC-5000, the 5300 comes with three new modes: "2.5m", "INFI." and "Super Macro". Strangely, the manual that comes with the camera says that the camera is capable of only three types of focus — no mention is made of what the "2.5m" or "INFI." focus modes do. I have queried Ricoh about this and when I get some explanation is of these two modes are, I’ll update this review. In any case, the new Super Macro mode is great. In figure 4 you can see an extreme close-up of a flower, which I took at what seemed to be even closer than the 4 cm minimum that Ricoh cites as the camera’s minimum focal distance. I love this!

Fig 4: A macro shot, and a REAL macro shot.

Another new feature that the "pro" may be interested in is a external flash sync connector. Just plug in that flash, and the camera can use it instead, in any of the cameras modes.

Miscellaneous Upgrades

There are various other changes that Ricoh has made to the camera. First, while the internal memory of the camera remains 8MB, the camera now supports SmartMedia memory cards of up to 64MB (the RDC-5000 could handle up to 32MB). Second, you can now elect to turn the camera on or off using the "Display" button on the back, instead of sliding the Power switch (which also opens and closes the LCD display). And finally, there’s a new menu option that lets you password-protect certain photos that you’ve taken, so that they cannot be displayed on the camera’s LCD panel, copied, or deleted without first entering the password. It’s a nice James Bond-type feature, but one I don’t think I’ll need.

Above: The top of the camera hasn't changed either.

Lasting Impression

As an update to the RDC-5000, the 5300 has some nice new features which keep it in the running with the other 2Mpixel cameras in its class. Yes, there are some design flaws with it, but I don’t think they’re significant enough to prevent a recommendation for this camera. It’s a well-rounded camera in terms of features and functionality, and at $699 like its predecessor, it’s an excellent value.

A Few More Shots...

Left: SFMOMA; Right: SF Marriott

Above: Out on San Francisco Bay

Above: One more auto-bracketing example: -0.5EV, Normal, +0.5EV.

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the RDC-5300.

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