DCRP Review: Ricoh RDC-5000
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]
Last revised: Sunday, June 6, 1999

Everybody's still talking about the new offerings from Olympus and Nikon, but they're forgetting another big player in the 2Mpixel wars-- Ricoh!

We were lucky enough to get a production RDC-5000 from Ricoh, and I was anxious to put it through its paces!

The RDC-5000 features a 2.3 Mpixel CCD, which produces photos at 1792x1200. It also has a 2.3X optical zoom, and lots of other goodies, which I'll touch on later.

Above: Look! A real lens cover!

What's in the Box

I've been playing with too many cameras lately: The first thing that I looked for when I opened the box was a lens cap. To my surprise, there wasn't one! In fact, the camera has a built-in, sliding lens cover, like most 35mm point and shoot cameras! Yee-haw! More on look and feel below...

Besides the camera, Ricoh gives you a carrying case (worse than Nikon's, sorry to say), alkaline batteries, serial and video cables, software, an AC adapter (!!), and an instructional video tape. A remote control is optional.

There was also a mysterious round piece that attaches to the barrel of the lens-- a lens shade perhaps?

On the CD (Mac and PC) was Arcsoft's PhotoStudio and PhotoBase, as well as TWAIN drivers (with misleading installation instructions). There were supposed to be Mac USB drivers, but they aren't yet available-- they should be available for download on June 6th.

Big kudos to Ricoh on two fronts:

  • The inclusion of the AC adapter... I don't think I've used a camera that came with one of those...
  • A well written, single manual... I didn't know such things existed for digital cameras!

One thing that's NOT in the box is a SmartMedia card. After shoving in the batteries and turning on the camera, I was amazed that it would take pictures! I opened the cover when the SmartMedia goes, and lo and behold, it was empty! I looked at the manual to find out that it has 8MB of memory onboard, so you don't even need a SM card right off the bat. Interesting...

Look and Feel

The RDC-5000 is a well designed, solid-feeling piece of equipment. It fits nicely in your hands, and you can grasp it easily.

On the back of the camera was something I hadn't seen before. A "protected LCD", which is a plastic cover over the screen. When you slide that power switch to on, it moves away too. You can see that from the smudge mark I left there, it's helpful.. for a while at least...

Because the minute you uncover that LCD and look through the optical viewfinder, you've got a smudge mark from your nose on the LCD (and I don't think I have a big nose, either).

The controls are logically laid out, though like with the Coolpix 950, you have to do some finger work to be able to reach those buttons on the lower left.

The menus are pretty easy to use, probably the best of the three new cameras I've tested. You scroll through the list with the zoom keys on the upper right (see above), and you can "back out" a level easily. There aren't a whole lot of options here, but there really isn't a need for them.

Above: From left to right, top to bottom: LCD, shutter release, memory source, flash, timer, quality level, mode dial.

On the top of the camera there's the usual display (for # of photos remaining, photo quality, flash, etc), as well as the mode dial, shutter release, and the four small buttons to the left of that.

Two of the buttons of note are the Card/In, and the PIC buttons. The former lets you switch between the 8MB of internal memory, and whatever's in the SmartMedia slot (it supports up to 32MB cards.) The PIC button lets you switch between six modes: 1800x1200 (Fine, Normal, Econ) and the same in 900x600.

On the side of the camera there are two doors. One is a sturdy plastic door (like on the C-2000Z) that holds the SmartMedia card. The other is a plastic piece that folds down, with power, video out, and serial/USB out. I think the door will hold out pretty well, especially compared to the door over the CompactFlash slot on the Coolpix 950. Ricoh includes a serial cable (with Mac adapter) and a USB cable.

Overall, I give the RDC-5000 high marks for design, though the LCD cover is kind of a gimmick.

Using the Ricoh RDC-5000

Like with most cameras, you choose what mode you want to be in with a dial on the top of the camera. Here, your choices are PC, Delete, Play, Record, and Setup. I'll discuss each in reverse order.

After you flip open the LCD cover, the camera comes alive pretty quickly. In setup mode, you can edit a few basic settings, such as date, beeping after photos, auto power off, language, video out mode, and LCD settings.

When you switch into record mode, the camera really comes alive -- the lens barrel elongates and the LCD comes to life -- sort of. I found the LCD quality to be the worst of the three I've tested recently (a problem I noted on my Ricoh RDC-4200 review last year). The picture is grainy, but smooth. In bright sunlight, I found the brightness knob helpful in making the LCD useable again.

Since taking photos is just like on every other camera (depress the shutter release button halfway, it focuses; then keep pushing, it takes the photo, shows it on the LCD, and writes it to memory), I'll focus on what options you have available.

Besides single shot mode, there are also text and continuous shooting modes. In text mode, the camera makes black text blacker, and softens up the background. I could tell by looking at photos with and without text mode, but it didn't make that much of a difference. Continuous mode works as advertised, where the camera keeps taking photos until it runs out of memory. In the lowest quality mode at 900x600, it can take 28 in a row! I did find the speed between shots to be slower than that from Nikon and Olympus' latest offerings.

There are the usual white balance modes (auto, sun, clouds, tungsten, fluorescent lighting), as well as exposure compensation. While taking a night shot (which is below in the gallery), I tried turning up this compensation a bit, and I ended up with photos that were *way* overexposed, if you will.

There is also a manual focus mode, which I didn't really use. The macro mode is kind of hidden. On the other two cameras I tried, there is a dedicated macro mode. Not on the RDC-5000. According to the manual, you just get real close and shoot normally. And that's what I did! See the gallery below for a sample or two.

Another nice feature that the other two don't have is an interval mode (time-lapse). The camera will take a photo at an interval you specify (30 seconds to 3 hours!) , until you run out of memory. Also interesting is "S Mode", which appears to be an image stabilization feature for photos taken in "Slow Shutter" mode by the camera. The downside of this mode, according to the manual, is noise.

So how about the photos? Well, look below for samples.. the quality was good overall, though I was surprised how grainy some of the images were. Another thing I noticed was that even in the highest quality mode, the JPEG compression seemed obvious. However, color matching was very good, and macro mode was impressive. I wish there was a real macro mode, instead of just getting close to the subject, however.

Playback mode has the usual options: slideshows, zooming in, and folders. You can copy to and from the SmartMedia card, as well. You can hook into your television to view the photos there, as well.

Delete mode has everything you could want (Olympus, take note); Delete one, all, or selected photos.

In PC mode, you can download to your computer in a variety of ways. I haven't been able to test USB yet, and I will update the review when I do. The serial software is a bit strange, but easy enough to use (I used the Camera Utility, not the TWAIN software). You will have to look at the cameras LCD if you are selecting certain photos to download, though. ArcSoft's PhotoStudio software is no match for Photoshop, so I deleted it immediately. I'm not sure how it stacks up against PhotoDeluxe, which is included with many cameras (C-2000 for example). You can also use a Flashpath adapter, if you're using a SmartMedia card.

USB is Cool

In the past, there haven't been too many ways to get the photos off your SmartMedia-based camera. There's always serial, but that's really slow. The Flashpath adapter was an improvement, but even then, it's still slow. Card readers do exist, but there aren't a lot of choices, especially for Mac users. But now there's USB!

The RDC-5000 is the first camera I've tested that uses the USB bus to connect to the computer, in addition to serial (it's the same port on the side of the camera, see above). On the Mac side, you just install one extension, and plug and play!

One little file is all you need

After plugging in one end of the USB cable to my camera, and the other to my USB hub, I turned the camera onto PC mode. And after a few seconds, two disks appeared on my desktop!

The disk on the top is for external memory (a SmartMedia card), and the one on the bottom is or Internal memory. See the naming convention?

You can then open up either of these disks, and after navigating two levels of folders, you reach your files!

The files that were on the cameras internal memory. Double-clicking on an image opens it up in PictureViewer (in the background.)

If you have Quicktime 4.0 installed, you can just double-click on one of these files, and you'll open it up in PictureViewer! Since I also have the NikonView software installed (which came with my Coolpix 950), I get a nice thumbnail navigation system.. which I won't mention since you can't get it otherwise.

This is all really nice and useless, unless having a USB interface actually speeds up getting the photos off the camera! And boy does it! Performance was just as good as my SanDisk USB Imagemate, and it's way ahead of both the serial and Flashpath methods. I'm shocked that so many new cameras are omitting USB -- they shouldn't be! If you have USB ports (iMac and Powermac G3 users, take note), then this is the fastest and cheapest way of getting your photos off this camera!

How does it compare?

The RDC-5000 is a very good camera -- it does a fine job at most subjects, including Macro shots. The colors are accurate, it's easy to use, and the build quality is excellent. It even has a built in lens cover! <grin> The pictures do seem to show a lot of compression though, even in the highest quality settings.

Up against the Olympus C-2000Z, and Nikon Coolpix 950, however, I think it falls a little short, though mostly on features. I love having the ability to control shutter and aperture on the other two cameras, which really allows more freedom in shooting. Some may also miss the Uncompressed TIFF mode that those have. While decent in low-light situations, the other two cameras have the RDC-5000 beat. I also found the quality of the LCD display to be a notch below the C-2000Z and CP950.

What about value though? At $699, this camera comes in $300 less than the competition. The closest competitor in this price range is the Nikon Coolpix 700, which may have an advantage in photo quality, but lacks an optical zoom. If you want something real close to the big guys, but can't pony up $1000, then this camera may be the answer!

Photo Gallery

Be sure to blow up the thumbnails to take a closer look!

The Return of the Macro Face-Off

From the left: Olympus C-2000Z, Nikon Coolpix 950, RDC-5000. All identical lighting conditions, using "auto" setting. The Ricoh holds its own against the competition, though the grainy problem is obvious, especially compared to the Nikon.

Other Photos

My car! Kind of grainy.

Shot at dusk, no exposure compensation. In "slow shutter" mode, no flash.

A macro shot of a CF card (this camera doesn't use them!)

One of the family cats is always available for a photo! You can see a little compression artifacting on these.

Flowers -- this is an example of an excellent RDC-5000 photo.

And more flowers...

More photos are available in my RDC-5000 gallery!

You might want to compare these with my Coolpix 950 and Olympus C-2000Z galleries.

Steve's Digicams also reviewed this camera, in case you want a second opinion.

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

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