Ricoh HZ15 Review
The Ricoh HZ15 is a 16 megapixel compact camera featuring a 15x, 24-360mm zoom lens with a built-in Shake Reduction mechanism. The HZ15 also offers a 3-inch LCD monitor, 720p video recording, handgrip, 20 scene modes and compatibility with Eye-Fi memory cards. The Ricoh HZ15 is available in black priced at £119.99 in the UK.
Ease of Use
The Ricoh HZ15 measures 108.5mm (W) x 61mm (H) x 31mm (D) and weighs 180g, which is pretty compact given the 15x zoom. It just fits in the palm of your hand, and a trouser/shirt pocket, although its perhaps more at home in a small camera bag. Despite its budget price and all-plastic construction, the Ricoh HZ15 feels quite solidly made, with the mix of gloss black on the front half and matt on the back proving to be visually appealing. Even better is the proper handgrip on the front, which is rubberised to further increase your hold on the camera, helped by the thumbgrip on the rear - quite unexpected on such a cheap camera.
The Ricoh HZ15's 15x zoom lens offers a 24-360mm focal range which places the HZ15 firmly in the popular "travel zoom" category of cameras, although several rivals offer even longer lenses in a similarly sized body. When the lens is fully extended, the camera measures nearly 8cm in depth, but thankfully it retracts fully back into the body when it is turned off. The 24-360mm range is very versatile, covering everything from wide-angle landscapes to close-up action photos. The maximum apertures are respectable enough at f/3.3 at wide-angle and f/5.9 at full telephoto.
The Ricoh HZ15 features an anti-shake system called Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS). Turn it on in the Main menu and the Ricoh HZ15 automatically compensates for camera shake by the equivalent of about 3 shutter-speed stops. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.
Ricoh seem to have realised the importance of this system, as it is turned on by default, and thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing nearly 250 shots before the battery needed to be recharged. The HZ15 uses an in-body recharging system, which makes the overall package more portable than having a separate charger, but does tie-up the camera while the battery is being charged.
The Ricoh HZ15 only has 9 external controls in total, leaving plenty of room for the large 3 inch LCD screen that dominates the back of the camera. The HZ15's screen has a very low resolution of 230K dots, and sadly it certainly shows, with a grainy display that you don't often see on new cameras, even budget ones.
The Mode button on the rear provides quick access to seven different shooting modes. The Ricoh HZ15 offers a Manual shooting mode, but sadly the name is a little misleading, as you can't actually set the aperture or shutter speed. Instead the camera offers the most options available in any of the shooting modes, although as this is an entry-level camera there aren't too many on offer.
The Auto shooting mode is aimed firmly at beginners. Much like similar systems on rival cameras, when the HZ15 is set to Auto it automatically identifies the type of scene being photographed and selects the appropriate scene mode (portrait, sports, night portrait, landscape, nightscape, macro mode), useful if you're not sure which mode to pick yourself. Like most automatic systems, it's not infallible, but does reliably pick one of the above scenes most of the time. There are also 20 scene modes, plus Portrait and Panorama mode.
The HZ15 offers 720p HD video recording capabilities with three movie sizes available - 1280x720, 640x480 and 320x240 pixels - all at 30 frames per second. and all saved in the MOV file format, which unfortunately does result in some rather large file sizes. Sound recording is in mono, rather than stereo, but you can use the zoom, autofocus and image stabilization during recording. The HZ15 also has a dedicated movie record button on the top, which as you'd expect allows you to start recording with one button press.
The four-way navigation pad on the rear of the HZ15 allows you to quickly adjust 4 different settings that are commonly used. Press it to change the display mode, flash setting, delete an image, and turn macro on / set the timer option without having to scroll through the menu system.
The main menu system on the Ricoh HZ15 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu button on the rear of the camera. Depending on the selected shooting mode, up to 8 options are presented in a vertical column of icons, with a Settings option at the bottom which delves further into the camera's workings.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The start-up time from turning the Ricoh HZ15 on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 2 seconds, and it takes about 4 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, although performance starts to suffer at the 360mm telephoto end of the lens. Shutter-lag is 0.3 secs and it takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. Continuous shooting is nothing to write home about at just 0.8fps.
Once you have captured a photo, the Ricoh HZ15 has an above average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 16 onscreen at once), zoom in and out up to 8x magnification, view slideshows with audio, set the print order, delete, trim, rotate, protect and resize an image. You can also apply an HDR effect and red-eye reduction to an image and change the colour.
The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during both shooting and playback. When taking a photo, pressing the Display button toggles between the detailed information, the histogram and gridlines to aid composition.
That concludes our tour of the HZ15's design and features - now let's take a look at its image quality.