Hannes Birnbacher, Windhagen/Ww.

Ricoh RDC-4300 User Review

(Note: Philips has OEM labeled the RDC-4300 and sells it as the model ESP-80 -- it's identically the same as the RDC-4300)

Ricoh Computer Products Group was kind enough to send me one of their new RDC-4300 digital cameras for review purposes. Ricoh recently lowered the price of the RDC-4300 digicam down to a MSRP of $599. You can purchase the new RDC-4200 for $499 which is physically the same as the RDC-4300 minus the sound recording options but it can use the newer 16MB SmartMedia cards.

My first thought on opening the large box that this small camera comes in was, "Wow, what a package!" The most needed digicam options are included as standard features with the RDC-4300; rechargeable Quest NiMH AA batteries and charger plus the AC adapter are right there in the box. All the usual things like serial cables and software for the PC and Mac are in there too plus an A/V cable to hook the camera up to the TV or VCR for playback. And a nice, little, soft carrying case

The software bundle includes the Ricoh DU-4 Download Utility program and Windows TWAIN drivers. Arcsoft's PhotoStudio and PhotoBASE, Meta Creations LogoMotion and Kai's Power Show as well as QuickStitch and QuickStitch 360.

The only options that you need to buy is extra SmartMedia memory cards and the infrared remote control which is great for controlling the playback on a TV from the other side of the room. The remote allows for complete control of the recording operations including tripping the shutter, changing the zoom settings and adjusting the autoexposure EV values.

Physically the RDC-4300 is similar to Agfa's ePhoto1280, it has an optical 3:1 (35-105mm) zoom lens unit that swivels 190-degrees independantly from the main camera body. The main body has a 2-inch color TFT LCD monitor which acts as the camera's viewfinder, information display, user menu system and image review playback display. On the bottom of the camera is a knob to control the brightness of the LCD display. The LCD is difficult to see in bright light without shielding it with your hand. Ricoh, Agfa and anybody who makes an LCD-only digicam should build in some kind of hood to shield these displays.

The RDC-4300 is a true 1.3 megapixel digicam that delivers 1280 x 960 pixel images in three different JPEG compression levels or a raw (uncompressed) TIFF mode. These modes are easily set (on the fly) by pressing the "PIC" button on top of the camera. If you don't need megapixel-sized images or you want to get more images on your memory card, there are three different 640 x 480 modes available. Images are stored on SmartMedia cards, the RDC-4300 can use both 3.3v and 5v types up to the 8MB size (it can not use 16MB). With the included 4MB card you can store 6 Fine, 12 Normal or 23 Economy 1280 x 960 images or 23 Fine, 45 Normal or 70 Economy 640 x 480 images. The raw TIFF format is only available in 1280 x 960 mode and requires 2.4MB per image.

The ISO rating of the RDC-4300 is 40-80 which is slow when compared to most of the other digicams that are rated at ISO 100. With the flash off which is default, it takes 5-7 seconds to power up and ~8 seconds to record an image. Add about a second and a half to those times if the flash is in the "On" or "Auto" mode. To review an image just taken requires about 6 seconds to go from record to play mode and see the image. To go back to record mode is quicker at just 4 seconds. Like many digicams with autofocus and automatic white balance, there is a noticeable delay when taking the picture.

In actual use the RDC-4300 is a good camera when used in an well illuminated environment. In dim light or total darkness it is impossible to aim the camera because nothing appears on the LCD display. The autofocus often fails in these low-light situations. The shutter delay added to the LCD-only viewfinder makes it quite difficult to capture rapid-moving objects. I hate to be brutal but these are just simple truths.

The RDC-4300 like the RDC-300Z and RDC-2, is one of the best closeup macro digicams on the market. With no optional filters the RDC-4300 can focus as close as 3 inches from the lens. It does this in full telephoto mode which is the "proper" way to do macro because it (1) eliminates the usual barrel distortion caused by wideangle focal lengths and (2) allows you to stay a comfortable distance from your subject. It's best to have the camera firmly mounted on a tripod when shooting in macro mode. I was easily able to shoot a full-frame shot of a common U.S. dime coin using the telephoto/macro settings.

The RDC-4300 is small but not so small as to be called a "pocket" camera and weighs in at about 15 ounces with the batteries installed. There's no need for a lens cap as Ricoh has built one into the camera that opens automatically when the camera is powered up and closes when powered down. There are no threads around the lens for attaching accessory filters.

Unlike the Agfa ePhoto1280 and the Nikon 900, two other swiveling lens digicams, the RDC-4300's flash unit is on the main camera body and not on the lens unit. It swivels 90-degrees and follows the direction of the lens when shooting objects directly in front of you. It cannot be used when the lens is turned around backwards for a self-portrait shot. Flash range is automatic from one foot to about nine feet in the wideangle lens position. The flash is "off" by default and can be locked in "always on" mode for fill-flash or "automatic" and the camera fires it when necessary.

The RDC-4300's autofocus system works very well. There is a green LED next to the LCD display that blinks to indicate no focus lock or stays on steady when the camera is properly focused. The camera uses the center of the viewfinder as the focusing area and the focus can be locked by half-pressing the shutter button. You can manually focus the camera by using the tele/wide rocker switch if desired. White balancing is automatic with manual overrides for Daylight, Tungsten and Flourescent lighting conditions.

You can select five different modes of recording: (1) Single shot, (2) Single shot with up to 8 seconds of audio, (3) Text mode which enhances the contrast for black text on white background, (4) Text plus audio or (5) Audio only.

Ricoh made a good choice by including the Quest NiMH rechargeable batteries with the RDC-4300 because it's really unuseable with alkaline type cells. Fully charged NiMH batteries will last no longer than to shoot about 30-40 Fine mode pictures using the flash 50% of the time. Be sure to use the AC adapter when downloading images to the computers and save your precious battery power. It's highly recommended to get some type of flash card reader if you're a really serious picture shooter as serial port downloads are slow and time-consuming.

The Bottom Line

The RDC-4300's 1280 x 960 pixel images produce above-average 5 x 7-inch prints on today's photo-quality inkjet printers. Using the raw TIFF mode you can print passable 8 x 10-inch pictures. The overall color balance is good except when shooting in an area of mixed-mode lighting (daylight and flourescent or tungsten). Even using the manual white balance modes often produced strangely off-colored images. As previously mentioned, the biggest drawback is the camera's inability to work in dimly lit environments or in total darkness. The camera performs fine in well-lit situations unless you're trying to capture fast-moving subjects. In default "auto everything" mode even novice users can take very good pictures. At $599 it's a very good value considering all the "extras" that it comes with. Ricoh even supplies a videotape that shows you how to quickly use the camera and it's advanced features.

You can see some sample pictures from the RDC-4300 on my web page at: http://www.steves-digicams.com/rdc4300.html

-Steve Sanders http://www.steves-digicams.com

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Stand: 16.12.2001