Ever feel the need for some outdoors photography, but find yourself concerned that your regular digital camera may not be up to the task? Then Ricoh's latest rugged camera, the 500SE, may be for you. Dustproof to JIS 6 standards and waterproof to JIS 7 and featuring GPS tracking functionality, it is the perfect companion for those who want to take photographs in less accommodating circumstances. The images aren't the best we've seen, and there were some noticeable operating flaws, but the combination of unique features will definitely appeal.
- Rugged design, waterproof, GPS functionality, Bluetooth and wireless
- Noise and colour reproduction not quite up to scratch, chunky design
While it has its share of flaws, the combination of rugged, waterproof design with GPS capabilities and an 8 megapixel sensor makes the Ricoh Caplio 500SE an attractive proposition for outdoors photographers.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
The images produced by the 500SE's 8 megapixel sensor are reasonable, but not outstanding. They were crisp and clear, with good levels of detail, although purple fringing was a problem in some areas and the camera did have a tendency to blow out highlights. Imatest awarded it a score of 1639 for sharpness, which is quite strong, and about what we'd expect from the 8 megapixel sensor.
The 500SE's chromatic aberration performance was also quite good, with a score of .70% Imatest. Edges were generally quite clean across the whole picture, but there was some haloing in some areas of high contrast, consistent with what we'd seen in our test shots. This shouldn't be a big problem, but it will be noticeable in certain kinds of shots
Unfortunately, the 500SE wasn't impressive in our colour tests. With a score of 9.37 in Imatest's colourcheck test, it was a little behind most compact cameras, which usually score between 6 and 8. Surprisingly, reds were relatively accurate, but yellows, greens and blues were noticeably inaccurate. Colours were slightly undersaturated, which was particularly noticeable across yellows and greens in our tree shots.
Image noise was another area of slight disappointment, with the 500SE scoring a rather large 1.08% in Imatest. This is quite a bit higher than the .5% - .8% we typically see from compact cameras and was clearly evident in our pictures. The noise was relatively fine at ISO 100, but it did cause a slight fuzziness around some edges. At higher ISOs it was dramatically worse however, with nothing above ISO 400 really being usable. We wouldn't recommend this unit if you take lots of shots in high speed or low light situations.
Although image quality is important, the key features of this camera extend far beyond that. It is dustproof to JIS 6 standards and waterproof to JIS 7 standards. This means it is impervious to basic dust, sand and dirt, and is waterproof to a depth of one metre. While one metre isn't a huge depth, it is adequate for swimmers or snorkelers. Scuba divers after a photography solution will have to pursue proper underwater housings, but for the outdoors photographer more concerned about the occasional splash of water, the 500SE fits the bill.
We tested its waterproof capabilities and everything functioned as expected. It had no problems operating when submerged and suffered no ill effects while taking photos. It is also shock proof to a height of one metre, and once again our testing proved this unit more than lived up to its claims. You can throw this camera into your bag and forget about it because it can certainly take quite a beating.
While there are several rugged cameras already on the market (most noticeably the line of tough cameras from Olympus), the 500SE also differentiates itself in one other way. It has built in Bluetooth and wireless support as well as GPS capabilities when combined with the included, external GPS receiver.
Each time you fire up the camera, it searches for the receiver, which it connects to via Bluetooth. We had some difficulty making the connection as the camera had to be pointed directly at the receiver, and within fairly close vicinity, but once established the connection was fairly reliable. The camera then displays on screen the GPS co-ordinates of your current location and attaches them to any photographs you take. While this functionality won't appeal to a huge portion of consumers, some will find the ability to track their photos in depth to be extremely useful.
The receiver is a small silver and black box, with a single switch on the side for powering up and down. It worked reasonably well, although it does struggle to get a signal unless you're really out in the open. Even under the cover of trees, with a few buildings around us, it couldn't find more than one satellite.
The wireless and Bluetooth functionality also facilitate wireless file transfer between the camera and a computer or printer. Bluetooth transfers are fairly straight forward, connecting to a PC or printer via a standard pairing process and allowing users to move the files across. There is even an option to send the files in shooting mode as you capture them. Do note that using this method, only photos can be transferred.
When running the wireless connection on the other hand, things are a little different. You can transfer pictures, movies or audio using this method, but it isn't as simple as using Bluetooth. You have to establish a Communications List, which is a list of email addresses or FTP servers you wish to transfer the files to. You can then either log on to an FTP of choice and copy the files across, or send them via a standard email. Both wireless protocols worked quite well, and added an interesting twist to regular photography. Of course if you'd prefer not to take advantage of them, a standard USB connection for PCs is also available.
The 500SE performed about average in our speed tests. With a shutter lag of .1 or a second, 1.7 seconds between shots and startup time of 2.6 seconds, it is a little behind the competition, but not enough to be problematic. If you have it configured to search for a Bluetooth connection each time you start up, the power up time will increase drastically.
The 500SE has fairly standard features for a compact camera. It offers exposure compensation, white balance presets with a custom mode, ISO sensitivities up to 1600 and a standard array of metering options. However there is no proper continuous shot mode, which disappointed us a little. There is a tiling mode, which captures a lot of pictures very fast then tiles them into a single photograph, but there isn't a traditional burst mode.
The menu is reasonably well laid out, with most of the major imaging functions available both in the main menu tree, and in a separate, shortcut area. Also, users can change which settings show up in this shortcut area (there are four spaces), allowing easy access to frequently altered settings.
The 500SE falls down in design, as it is an extremely chunky camera. Admittedly there is a lot packed into it, but when you compare its size and look to that of other tough models like the Olympus 720SW, there is a huge difference. Measuring 133mm x 74mm x 78.5mm and weighing 430g, it is as hefty as some D-SLRs and larger than any other compact on the market. It is clearly a utilitarian design, with the grey plastic casing, jutting hand grip and bulbous lens covering creating a less than stylish aesthetic.
There are a few strange design flaws too, such as the lens covering being clearly visible and blocking part of the shot when looking through the viewfinder. We also had an issue with the zoom itself. The 3x zoom 28mm wide angle lens is completely enclosed, ensuring waterproof integrity like the rest of the chassis. However, when trying to reach full zoom extension, the lens would simply zoom back out to the default setting. We could zoom anywhere up to 3x, but as soon as the lens was fully extended it would snap back, and this is very strange to say the least.
The hefty design does sit well in the hand though, and ensures you'll take steady photographs. It would be a bigger deal on another camera, but the 500SE clearly isn't designed to be thrown in a purse and forgotten about.
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