With consumer cameras facing stiff competition from high-end cell phone cameras, the worlds optical giants are outbidding electronic mobile companies with an area outside their current reach, for some time at least.
The Ricoh WG-4 is Pentaxs latest offering in the all-weather camera segment. It replaces its predecessor Pentax WG-3 with the only visible change being its brand name. Pentax has decided to use the Ricoh brand for its compact fixed lens cameras and keep the Pentax brand name for interchangeable lens DSLR cameras.
Pentax is well known for making tough cameras with dust-proofing and water resistivity incorporated in almost every mid-segment DSLR for several years now. But even compact camera users can now expect an amplified weather and shock resistivity with the Ricoh WG-4. A small but robust beast, this camera is waterproof, dust-proof, and shock resistant enough not to mind your bursts of outdoor adventure and experiments in thunderstorms within the city.
This is a camera that is adventure proof, and go through the everyday abuses of life as well as uncompromised outdoor adventure. It is a perfect all-weather companion to adventure travelers, beach lovers or even doting parents who will capture their children swimming with them.
Design and Handling
From first-impression, camera resembles an accessory that a Star Wars character would happily own. The Tonka-toy design gives it a very compact yet chunky feel.
The exterior finish is a combination of textured rubber and corrugated plastic, giving a much-needed frictional grip, even if your palms are sweaty from running about! The camera is truly designed for extreme environments being a device that will easily fit into your pocket while withstanding shock of up to 100 kg weight (approximately1000 Newtons).
Being a first time Ricoh user, I quite liked the cameras easy-to-go navigation buttons. There are very few buttons in the camera, to reduce chances of dust and water entering the device. The top panel of the camera has two buttons, power and shutter release. Its 16 MP zoom can be accessed through the two buttons on the back. Theres a four-way navigational dial on the rear panel that gives direct control to the self-timer, macro, flash and the various shooting modes.
The buttons are a little stiff compared to regular digital cameras, which is understandable given their sealing mechanisms.
The 3.0″ screen has good colour quality and viewing angles in dim light. However, despite having an anti-reflective coating, the screens visibility under harsh sunlight is less than satisfactory.
I cant omit mention of its double-locked slot for battery, SD-card, data and charging ports. Meant for rough use, this is a very smart move by the manufacturers to ensure a safeguard of its vulnerable interior parts from the elements. For users like me, who tend to go overboard when shooting outdoors, this design is ideal.
The front side has six led lights around the lens panel for low light macro photography. It illuminates the subject automatically for extreme close-ups.
To put the user at ease, Ricoh has specifically mentioned the cameras all-weather capabilities at the back, beside the LCD screen. The camera is crush-proof upto 100 kg, shockproof up to 2m, waterproof up to 14m and cold proof upto -10 degrees. With the specifications right infront of your eyes, we can be a little more careful while in our adevnture trips and experimentation.
With a 4X optical zoom in-built lens, the camera is well prepared for a difficult journey. Its in-body countersunk lens, guards unnecessary dust particles and trickles of water from entering the device. As a result, the camera almost takes no time to get started. I thought low-light slowed it down a bit but it hardly ever took more than 1-3 seconds to focus and capture a shot. Many users frustrated by shutter and review lags in compact cameras will find this speed delightful.
With its ISO ranging from 125 to a mighty 6400, the cameras low-light sensitivity is quite impressive. My attempts to take some fully zoomed in mood shots at a friends party were quite satisfactory. The cameras back-illuminated CMOS image sensor produces some high quality images in lowlight as well as underwater.
When I got a chance to review the WG-4, I decided to try it out in one of the many swimming pools in the city. But Delhi being Delhi, clubs do not let outsiders use their pool and have some fun! I had to do with just putting my hand inside the pool and getting a fully zoomed shot of the pool tiles. Even then, I thought with extremely fast shutter speed, the camera produced some promising under-water shots.
The cameras 25-100mm range in 35 mm equivalent might not be a very widely varied range but for spontaneous shooting, it can be satisfactory enough.
Its 4X opical zoom and full HD movie recording are definitely a bonus apart from its other special features. Ricoh has also added shutter-priority mode (1/4,000 to 1/4 second in most modes) along with the usual (green) auto-mode, program and a wide range of special effect modes in this camera unlike its predecessor. So, users who had a complaint about the lack of creative freedom in Pentax WG-3 can be happier now. Shutter priority mode will give an enthusiast photographer some amount of manual control to exposures.
The cameras lack of support for RAW formats is still a complaint for users like me who find that digital age photography cannot evade post-processing, besides leaving a little room to play with the images.
I quite liked the cameras multi-shot modes, especially its HDR mode where it captures multiple images and combines them into one single image. This, however, increases processing time to about 4-5 seconds for every combined image to be generated.
Another strong feature of this camera, both underwater and otherwise, is its Digital microscopic mode where it can focus as closes as 1 cm. With its six LED lights on the front panel around the in-built lens, even low-light macro shots came out quite sharp and well exposed.
With its aperture opening up to a maximum of f/2, I think the camera has enough features to compete with the other giants in the market like Nikon or Canon.
The Ricoh WG-4, priced at Rs 20,995, can be a judicious choice for enterprising photographers or photo enthusiasts who dont mind going a few extra miles to get that perfect shot. It could be an indispensable companion for adventure junkies who dont like being weighed down by their gear. However, for regular users, their expenditure may be directed elsewhere such as better lens optics or higher megapixels!
The lack of RAW format for image capturing, though, is an impediment. Imagine washed out whites with no room for extracting detail after all the trouble youve taken shooting a dramatic snowstorm or such! In my opinion, the target group of such a camera would not mind spending a few extra bucks to have this feature included.
Nonetheless, with reasonably high JPEG image quality, the relative absence of shutter-lag and many exciting features with lots of room to experiment underwater, in the hills, beaches or your neightbourhood swimming pool, this camera is a promising bet for outdoor use.