Ricoh Caplio GX
Review Date: July 19th 2004
Ease of Use
The Ricoh Caplio GX is virtually identical to the Caplio RX that I have previously reviewed. The main external difference between the Caplio GX and the older Caplio RX is the addition of a dial next to the shutter button, which allows you to control a variety of settings that include aperture, white balance, ISO sensitivity and exposure levels, and also scroll through the camera's menu system. So Ricoh have finally added the option of being able to manually adjust the aperture and shutter-speed, which will please more creative photographers who like to have full control. The addition of the control dial has also resulted in the addition of a sculpted handgrip, which makes the Ricoh Caplio GX much more comfortable to hold than previous Ricoh digital cameras.
It's not all good news, however, as Ricoh's implementation doesn't quite allow "full" control. With the camera set to A/M mode, you can choose to set the aperture and let the camera work out the appropriate shutter-speed (aperture priority), or set both the shutter-speed and the aperture (full manual). You can't set the shutter-speed, however, and and let the camera work out the appropriate aperture (shutter-speed), which seems to be a major oversight for a camera that is geared towards action with its fast start-up and operating times.
Also, you can set the aperture yourself, but there are only actually 3 different values available at any time, which in turn depend upon the focal length that you are using. For example, at the wide-angle lens setting, you can choose from f/2.5, f4.7 and f/8.1, and at the telephoto-angle lens setting, you can choose from f/4.3, f8 and f/14. These are different enough values to allow a variety of depth-of-field effects in your photos, but maybe not quite different enough to allow you to fine-tune those effects.
In terms of handling, the Ricoh Caplio GX is a solidly built, pocketable camera that instantly feels "right" as soon as you pick it up and start using it for the first time. As with the RX, I really enjoyed using the GX during my 2 week review period from a handling point of view and was quite sad to have to send it back! It easily fits into a trouser or coat pocket, yet doesn't have tiny controls that you can't operate properly. For such a small and slim camera it actually feels quite heavy, but I prefer this to a lighter camera that feels more flimsy.
The Ricoh Caplio GX is an exceptionally easy to use digital camera that will not put off new users, whilst being very intuitive for anyone who has picked up a digital camera before. Its secret lies in not being too different from other brands on the market. The Caplio GX's interface, both software and the camera body, employs options and concepts that are an accepted part of the photographic industry.
Having said that, the Caplio GX does have a couple of neat touches of its own. The Adj. button on the rear of the camera is a particularly nice feature that allows you to quickly adjust 3 different settings that are commonly used. Press it once and you can alter exposure compensation; press it again and you can change the White Balance setting; press it once more and you can adjust the ISO speed. The other thing that I liked was the Power button. Unlike many digicams, the Caplio GX has a dedicated button that lets you turn the camera on and off, regardless of which setting (Play, Camera, A/M, Scene, Movie, Voice, Setup) the camera is currently set to. It's not the most radical feature in the world but a nice addition nevertheless.
Ricoh's claims about the speed of the Caplio GX in terms of starting up the camera and shutter-lag do seem to be accurate. With other digicams you can often wait 4 or 5 seconds for the camera to turn itself on, extend the lens and get ready to take a shot. And you often miss the shot anyway because the of the slow shutter lag. The Caplio GX seems to have solved both these issues and even improves on earlier Ricoh models like the speedy Capio G4.
Both the camera body and its menu system are logically laid out and the rear LCD screen is a good size. The optical viewfinder isn't very usable, however, especially at the wide-angle setting, as the lens is clearly visible in the bottom-left, therefore making accurate composition more difficult. Also the viewfinder is devoid of any markings or information of any kind - it is completely blank and doesn't provide any feedback on the picture-taking process. The most fiddly aspect of the camera's design is the Card/Battery cover. The memory card and the battery are both housed within one large cover on the right of the camera, which is difficult to fully open and then close again. This was an issue with the Caplio G4 and RX and one that I wish Ricoh had fixed by now.
In addition to the various N(normal) and F(fine) JPEG modes, you can select NC (non- compression)mode for recording in TIFF image format. Accroding to Ricoh, this is a flexible format that preserves all picture data allowing for a 'digital positive' as it represents a true image. Unfortunately, it's also a format that locks up the camera for 15-20 seconds as the TIFF file is recorded onto the memory card, which means that this mode is only useful when you aren't in any particular hurry. I resorted to using the highest-quality JPEG setting instead.
So overall, the Caplio GX's ease-of-use is a bit of a mixed bag. It's commendable to see Ricoh adding more control over the photo-taking process in terms of allowing you to control apertures and shutter-speeds, but the way they have implemented it seems to be something of a half-hearted attempt that doesn't follow photographic convention. If you typically set your camera to aperture-priority and forget about it (as I do), then you will like the Caplio GX a lot more than if you usually set your camera to shutter-speed priority. Even the implementation of full manual is unintuitive. Full marks for Ricoh for the intention, but only half-marks for the actual implementation. In all other areas, the Caplio GX has inherited the positive and negative aspects of the Caplio RX. Overall I really enjoyed using the Caplio GX, as is suited my particular way of working, but action photographers should definitely try and test it out before purchasing.