Overall performance has has always been a Ricoh strong point, and the R8 is no exception. It starts up in approximately two seconds, and shuts down again in about two and a half seconds, and makes a lot less noise this time. In single-shot mode it has a shot-to-shot cycle time of approximately 1.7 seconds, which is pretty good, but in continuous mode it can shoot a frame every 0.6 seconds and maintain this until the memory card is full. Battery performance is also very good, with the 1000mAh Li-ion rechargeable providing enough juice for at least 250 shots, including a lot of flash shots. The autofocus system is pretty good too, although I have seen better. It focuses quickly and accurately in good light, but it does struggle a bit in lower light levels. It has a good AF assist lamp, but even so it takes a couple of seconds to make its mind up. It was also quite slow at the telephoto end of the zoom range, hunting about for a couple of seconds. Needless to say, low light telephoto focusing was very slow indeed, but although slow it usually manages to focus eventually.
Most other 10-megapixel compact cameras use the larger 1/1.8-inch or 1/1.7-inch sensor size, however Ricoh has squeezed an extra two megapixels onto the same small 1/2.3-inch size CCD as the R7. While this does give larger pictures and potentially better detail resolution, it has a costly trade-off in colour depth and dynamic range (the ability to capture both shadow and highlight detail in the same shot) and also increased image noise. I was generally impressed by the image quality produced by the R7, but I’m sorry to say I’m a lot less impressed by the R8. The lens does its usual excellent job, producing almost no distortion despite its unusually wide angle, with good sharpness right across the frame. However even at low ISO settings there is evidence of rather heavy-handed noise reduction, and severe noise problems at settings of 400 ISO and higher. I found that my review camera had an unfortunate tendency to over expose in any shot with bright details, burning out highlights and producing thin washed-out colours. Adjusting the colour depth and exposure compensation went some way towards correcting this, but the default settings were quite disappointing.
That said, the overall level of detail is very good, and the distortion-free lens is as good as ever. The R8 is a wonderfully versatile compact camera and is capable of taking good pictures with a little work, but if you’re looking for instant gratification it may prove disappointing.
The Ricoh R8 is an expensive camera, but it does offer a unique specification and very distinctive style. Build quality is superb, and the design of the body and control interface makes it a real pleasure to use. Performance is also very good, the 28-200mm lens is excellent, but sadly image quality is simply not as good as it could have been, thanks mainly to the inexplicably tiny 10MP sensor. To be blunt, the older R7 is a better, smaller, cheaper camera.