First Look
The Ricoh RDC 5300

The digital camera market has seen a lot of new introductions lately, many of which are in the 3.3Mp family. There have also been many introductions of cameras with less pixel power, all priced accordingly. Along with this range of prices and pixel packing has come an understanding of when and where you might want to use your digicam, and that not every image need be made at the max resolution available. Indeed, with some digital cameras, shooting that one uncompressed TIFF image at 10MB means you get only one shot per memory card, making that potentially powerful camera a single shot device.

The RDC-5300 does not pack the pixels of the latest generation of digital cameras recently announced and coming out sometime this summer. If you want a 3.3Mp digital camera then wait it out. But the 2.3Mp chip in the Ricoh camera delivers startlingly sharp images. At the highest resolution and quality setting you get a 6.16MB file, certainly enough for excellent 8x10 prints with a photo quality printer.

A major plus for the RDC-5300 is the bundle it comes tied in. Those with Mac and PC platforms, or both, can buy the camera with the confidence that downloading will be fairly easy, and that everything they need to get images from camera to computer is included. And while there certainly are more powerful image manipulation and editing software programs available, those that come bundled in the RDC-5300 box are sure to please. They let you do a lot with the images, including file, organize, manipulate, send, and share until your heart's content.

The camera also offers flexibility in recording modes and it's easy to switch from shooting for the web to capturing images for prints. You toggle through the six modes, which are displayed as pixel size and quality level on the camera top LCD, by pushing the PIC button on the body. All the images are recorded as JPEG files; there's no uncompressed TIFF mode available.

The RDC-5300 uses SmartMedia cards, which now have a 64MB upper capacity. More common is the 8MB card. In the 1800x1200 PIC mode and F (Fine) recording mode you'll get nine images on an 8MB card. In the 900x600 PIC mode in economy mode you can get 99 images per card. Keep in mind that when shooting for prints use the highest pixel count and highest recording mode you can. If shooting for the web or e-mail then the N (Normal) mode in 900x 600 PIC mode is best. The number of images you get on a card is determined by how you mix the resolutions and modes. Swapping out cards is easy. What happens if you're out of cards? Ricoh has thought of that and supplies 8MB of internal memory in the camera.

The camera's 3x optical zoom yields the equivalent of a 38-114mm zoom on a 35mm camera, or moderately wide angle to a pretty good telephoto length. There's also a digital zoom function, which is actually a cropping function. It selects a portion of the recorded frame and delivers an image in 480x640 resolution. The autofocus range is an impressive 1.6" to infinity.

The RDC-5300 has a host of settings and options. You can shoot in gray scale or sepia mode and you can set flash modes just like with an advanced point-and-shoot film camera. You can also set an auto bracket mode that shoots three images--one at the camera recommended exposure settings, one with half as much light, and another with twice as much light exposure. You can also set auto white balance or numerous white balance modes, including daylight, cloudy, tungsten, or fluorescent.

You can also do data recording with the camera for date and time, "soften" the image slightly (great for portraits), and get a steadier shot in low light with "S" or shutter mode. All these and more are available from the extensive menu, accessible via the LCD monitor and the usual toggle and set buttons. Other features of merit include time lapse photography and the ability to patch the camera directly to a video output, such as your TV. One can spend much time playing with all the menu options in the various selectable modes.

The overall handling of the camera is quite nice. It feels like a substantial point-and-shoot 35mm model. Controls are evident and accessible, with icons on the control dial readable and firm. The LCD monitor is fine, although like most digital cameras this one can be tough to see in unshielded light in the field.

There's a USB cable for fast downloading to Mac or Windows systems. The Windows system has a helpful USB Wizard. You can also download images directly into the supplied PhotoBase software. This is an ArcSoft product that lets you organize and categorize images. Other software supplied includes PhotoStudio for image editing and retouch and manipulation and Photo Printer, which lets you do multiple copies, choose templates, etc. All this software works together smoothly, and you can easily move images from one to the other for some fun stuff.

If you're in the mood you can also use PhotoFantasy and PhotoMontage, which do pretty much what their names imply. You can even work uploads into a sharing and gifting site known as Photo Island. We applaud the integration of software here into what one could call a suite of solutions.

Our experience with the RDC-5300 was very good. The information that came with my camera said the RDC-5300 would sell for $699. We imagine the "street" price will vary, and may waver depending on how fast those 3.3Mp cameras hit the market. But at that $699 price point you're getting the complete package, and you might not have to go far from what you do get to have a full suite of imaging hardware and software. The camera, hookups, software, and thoughtfulness of the whole package make the RDC-5300 a sweet buy.

For more information, contact Ricoh Corporation, 5 Dedrick Place, West Caldwell, NJ 07006; (800) 637-4264, (973) 882-2000; fax: (973) 882-5840;