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I remember back in about 1998 when I first started reviewing digital cameras, that Ricoh was one of the leading brands, with an early lead on the technology. The first digital camera I ever bought, the Ricoh RDC-5000 in 1999, was one of the first 2.3 megapixel models on the market and at the time was one of the most powerful digital cameras you could get. I’ve still got it, and although it is horribly slow by today’s standards it still takes a damn good picture.
The company also pioneered Internet connectivity, large twisting LCD screens and internal zoom lenses with its impressive RR1, i500 and i700 models in 2000 and 2001. Then everything went quiet and no new models appeared until 2003, and that was only the lacklustre Caplio G3. Suddenly however, Ricoh has launched a swathe of new cameras, bringing the range up to seven models including this, the Caplio R1V. Hopefully this represents a comeback for Ricoh, at a time when the digital camera market could do with some fresh ideas.
The R1V is a fairly average camera, but with one or two interesting features that set it apart from the crowd. It is a five megapixel model with a 4.8x optical zoom lens, a 1.8in LCD monitor and uses SD cards for storage. At around £180 it isn’t exactly cheap, but it is well built and looks good. The camera has an all-metal body and comes in two finishes - champagne or black. The camera’s main power switch is the handgrip feature on the front panel. Slide it right and the lens cover snaps open as the camera activates, slide it left and it shuts down, closing the lens in the process. I personally don’t like this type of switch, but I seem to be in a minority so I’ll keep quiet.
The control layout is straightforward, with large metal buttons that are sensibly positioned and easy to use. The only exception is the zoom control, which is too flat and doesn’t have enough travel. The zoom motor is also very noisy, but precise control is actually possible because the lens moves in very small steps, taking around 15-20 steps to go from widest to longest settings. It is the widest setting that is one of the camera’s unique selling points. Most zoom compacts have a minimum focal length equivalent to 35mm, which is not particularly wide. The R1V, like several Ricoh cameras, features a zoom that can go as wide as 28mm, ideal for landscape shots or squeezing a large object into the frame at close range. Combined with the longer telephoto range of the 4.8x zoom it gives the R1V the equivalent of a 28-135mm lens, a very useful focal length range for most types of photography. Another unusual aspect of the Caplio’s lens is its 1cm macro range, which is one of the closest on the market.
In terms of general performance the R1V is certainly up to scratch. It starts up in under a second, which is impressively quick, and Ricoh claims a shutter lag time of just 0.05 seconds. I don’t have the right equipment to check this, but if true it is the fastest camera on the market. Shot-to-shot times are also impressive. The R1V has three continuous shooting modes; one which shoots three full-sized images in about 1.5 seconds; another which shoots 16 frames in about 2.2 seconds and then outputs them as one large 2,560 x 1,920 pixels; and a third which does the same, but records the last 16 frames after the shutter button is released. In single shot mode the camera can manage about 1.5 seconds per shot, and can take four shots in quick succession before pausing to write them to the memory card.