I've been following Ricoh's digital camera development with interest for a number of years. The first digital camera I ever owned was a Ricoh RDC-5000 back in 1999. It was one of the first 2.3-megapixel cameras to be launched, and at the time it was the most compact and powerful digital camera on the market. Of course by today's standards it resembles a housebrick with a lens, and could eat a set of four AA batteries in about 20 minutes, but even then it had some innovative features that we now take for granted, such as a metal body, an automatic lens cover, a USB port and 4cm macro focusing. Ricoh has continued to innovate and improve over the years, and its products have seldom been far from the cutting edge of digital camera design. Models such as the Caplio R3, the R5 and the excellent R6 launched earlier this year have all scored high marks in reviews, although they never seem to get the market share they deserve. It must be down to poor advertising, because in terms of quality and capability Ricoh's cameras are a match for the very best of the competition.
The Ricoh Caplio R7 is the latest in the range, and was launched in August this year. It is an 8.15-megapixel compact camera featuring a 2.7-inch monitor with 230k pixel resolution, moving-sensor mechanical image stabilisation, and a flush-retracting 7.1x optical zoom f/3.3 - f/5.2 lens with a zoom range equivalent to 28-200mm. Despite this specification the camera is exactly the same size and weight as the Caplio R6, measuring 99.6 x 55 x 23.3mm and weighing 161g including card and battery. From the front at least the body design is also the same as the R6, which is no bad thing since it is very attractive. There are a few tweaks on the back however, with a new larger rubberised thumbgrip and a slightly different control layout to accommodate a couple of new features.
There are relatively few cameras on the market that can match the R7's specification, but one that springs to mind immediately is the Panasonic Lumix TZ3, which offers a 10x zoom lens and 28mm wide-angle, but is only 7.1 megapixels, is larger and heavier and has a smaller monitor. It is also around £235, while the Ricoh R7 is currently selling for around £220. Other than that it's pretty much in a league of its own. There are other cameras that have longer zoom ranges, but none that combine longer zoom with 28mm wide-angle, image stabilisation and an almost ultra-compact shape.