Where the G600 scores over its rivals is in its robust and practical design. The Olympus and Pentax models are also designed to look as stylish as conventional ultra-compacts, and as a result they are quite small and slim with small fiddly controls. The G600 on the other hand is large, heavy and uncompromisingly rugged. It measures 116.5 x 68 x 32 mm, and weighs 260g excluding battery and card. The camera body is armoured with resilient rubber, the hatches have rubber o-ring seals and locking catches, and the controls are large enough to operate while wearing gloves, something that neither of its main rivals can claim.
Although it is now being marketed as an outdoor sports camera, in fact like its predecessor the Caplio 500G, the Ricoh G600 was originally designed as an industrial camera for use on building sites, and also for use by the emergency services. It even has an anti-tampering Edit Detection mode so that it can be used by the police for evidence-quality forensic photography. On the main dial is a shooting mode called CALS. I have no idea what the acronym stands for and the manual doesn't say, but apparently pictures shot in this mode comply with some Japanese standard for public works reports, which is sure to come in handy. The Scene mode is also a bit unusual; it only has six settings, one of which is the camera's video mode, but the highlight is the Firefighting mode, which is succinctly described as "For shooting the scene of a fire." How cool is that?
Despite its tough exterior, the G600 is quite a simple camera at heart. It has only auto exposure modes, but does at least have a range of metering and AF zone options. Like all Ricoh compacts the G600 also has a nice user-customisable Adjust Function menu, which can be used for quick adjustments to up to four menu options, with the defaults set to exposure compensation, white balance and ISO. Particular set-ups can also be saved as two custom user modes and selected from the main mode dial.
One of the G600's selling points is its massive 10m flash range. While it does indeed have an extremely powerful built-in flash, that 10m range is a bit of a cheat, since it's only available in a special flash mode that increases the camera's ISO setting to 1600 and fires the flash at full power. The results are impressive, easily lighting up the entire street with a shot from my front garden, but the pictures are quite noisy and anything closer than a few metres is very over-exposed. The Auto mode is more civilised, metering the flash for closer-range subjects, with a maximum range of about 5m which is still pretty impressive.
One unusual feature, although common to other Ricoh compacts, is the ability to use two AAA (the little ones) as an emergency backup power supply, thanks to a hinged baffle inside the battery compartment. A pair of alkaline AAA batteries will provide enough power for approximately 60 shots.