In Part 1 of the R10 review I looked at the build and controls but how is it to actually use the camera. Due to the excellent controls and great build it follows Ricoh’s tradition of cameras one enjoys using. This for me is the most important thing and way more important than silly features and even more so than image quality since none of these are responsible for taking good or interesting pictures. Still, the image quality needs to be acceptable and the camera needs to be responsive enough to take the picture when you want it.
Read on to find out how the R10 fares in this respect.
Operation and Picture Quality
When powering the camera on you will be pleasantly surprised, the lens extends smoothly and quietly. This is a huge improvement from the previous R series cameras which made a very loud high pitched noise when powered on. While this is good and a much welcomed change, the downside is that it now takes longer for the lens to extend. After pressing the power button, nothing will happen and only after a few ms the lens will extend somewhat slowly. While this is not very slow and comparable with other cameras in this class, the older R series cameras and the GRD I are ready to take the shot in almost half the time. So you better have the camera ready if you don’t want to miss a moment because you had to wait for the camera to power on. Once it is powered on it feels very snappy though and you never have to wait for the camera to be ready for the next shot, the buffer is big enough so you won’t notice any delay between shots.
The Auto Focus is pretty good and very accurate in good light, it can struggle a bit in low light and at the tele end. You can move the focus point around in case you are using a tripod and you can even have a different point for exposure and focus. There is only a minimal shutter lag so this should not become a problem in most cases. You can always use Snap focus to get a faster response when needed. Unfortunately the biggest issue here is, as on all Ricoh cameras without phase detection, the focus priority. This means the camera will always try to finish focusing before actually taking the picture. I understand why this has been implemented since some people always full press the shutter and then complain about out of focus shots. For me however this is a problem as I need an immediate response when full pressing he shutter and rather live with an out of focus picture than no picture at all. While this can be worked around by using Snap focus, the next problem can not be worked around and needs fixing.
I am talking about the LCD screen freezing while the camera tries to achieve focus. I have first seen this behavior with the DP1 and then also on the GRD II where it only occurs in natural light and when using AF. On the R10 however it occurs even when using Snap focus so this is a major issue if the LCD is the only way to frame a shot. I believe it has something to do with the implementation of the contrast detect AF since I’ve seen it recently on a lot of cameras I’ve tried. For me this is a major problem and I hope Ricoh can fix it for future models, together with bringing back shutter priority.
Aside from this, the shooting experience is very good thanks to the great controls. The camera is fast to zoom from 28mm to 200mm and even has two zoom speeds so you should not miss a shot due to this. The Image Stabilizer works very well and is good to have, especially when using the camera at 200mm.
Ricoh cameras have always been excellent for Macro shooting and the R10 is no exception, it can focus as close as 1cm at the wide end and can display the macro focus distance on the screen for every focal length. You can move the focus point around and together with the leveler will make it very easy to take great macro pictures. The minimum focus distance at 200mm is only 25cm which is a shame as it used to be 15cm on the R4.
Now, considering this is a compact camera with a 28-200mm lens and 10 MP sensor, you can not expect miracles in terms of picture quality. The R10 however performs very well and has very good colors and nice details. This is of course at ISO 80 and only if you don’t pixel peep. The default sharpening is a bit too strong and the default contrast too low so if you set the sharpening to -1 and the contrast to +2 in the image parameters it will deliver much nicer pictures. The colors are all very natural and especially the blues come out very nice, I prefer the way Ricoh cameras handle colors to the over saturated colors from other manufacturers.
You can also set the camera to b&w mode or sepia, this is good but unlike the GX200 or GRDs you don’t have any way to change the contrast or sharpening here. I hope Ricoh can provide the same firmware between all camera models.
Now, as long as you don’t pixel peep and stay at low ISOs the picture quality is very good considering the camera but how about higher ISOs. The noise reduction smears details even at the lowest setting and it gets worse from there. I would recommend to use color only up to ISO 200 or 400 and b&w or sepia up to ISO 800, use ISO 1600 only when you have to and be prepared to have a very soft picture. It is a shame that there is no RAW option since this could mean you have more control over the noise reduction. RAW is something Ricoh should implement in the R series to compete better with the Panasonic LZ series and offer RAW as an advantage.
Some reviews have criticized the flash output and while I try to avoid using flash, I have used it a few times and can’t complain. The flash is powerful enough for a small room or to be used a fill flash, it is not too strong to give you completely white faces and even red eye is not a problem. That said, you need to make sure the focus is locked and correct for the flash to work reliable, this means you can not use it in Snap focus very well.
Low light shooting is limited due to the pretty slow lens, not usable ISO 1600 and can also become a problem if you want exposures longer than 8 sec., the Image Stabilizer helps a bit though and the flash as mentioned is not that bad. Still if you take a lot of pictures in low light or like long exposures this is not the camera for you.
If, like me, you’re tired of all manufacturers releasing more of the same and don’t want to use a camera that feels like a soap box but instead like a real camera then this review was for you. The R10 handles great and is very well built, in this respect it is the best compact point and shoot camera you can find. I have really enjoyed using the R10 and have got some very nice pictures with it, some of them that I could not have gotten with any of my other cameras. The image quality while not great or in the same league with the GRD or GX series, is good enough considering the size and is not worse than other compact point and shoot cameras. Using the R10 is a joy and it makes you go out and take pictures, the camera never gets in your way. There are problems however with the too strong noise reduction which can not be disabled, the LCD freeze and the low light performance which is not impressive. Still, you have to make compromises especially when designing such a camera.
Overall, I can only recommend the R10 if you are looking for a well built and very versatile point and shoot camera that you can always carry with you. It has some unique features like the Custom Self Timer, Electronic Leveler, Step Zoom and the best build quality you can get in this class. The image quality is very good for this type of camera but have a look at the samples to see for yourself.
As much as I like the R10, it is not a camera for me since I rarely (if ever) need a zoom longer than 90mm and I need better low light capabilities including a faster lens. Manual controls and RAW capabilities would also be good to have and I hope Ricoh can release a firmware to add RAW capabilities.