Ricoh Caplio 500SE

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      A purpose-built digicam for the construction and resource industries that can also be used by adventurous photographers.Although neither the smallest nor sleekest-looking 8-megapixel digicam on the market, Ricoh’s Caplio 500SE is nevertheless a very interesting camera. For starters, it has been designed to meet the needs of a very specific target market: outdoor photographers who need to keep track of where shots were taken and photographers who use map-based workflows. Design features that tailor this otherwise fairly standard digicam to meet these requirements include a robust camera body with all-weather usability and the addition of a Bluetooth radio module that can receive NMEA data streams from external GPS devices. . . [more]

      Full review


      Although neither the smallest nor sleekest-looking 8-megapixel digicam on the market, Ricoh’s
      is nevertheless a very interesting camera. For starters, it has been designed to meet the needs of a very specific target market: outdoor photographers who need to keep track of where shots were taken and photographers who use map-based workflows. Design features that tailor this otherwise fairly standard digicam to meet these requirements include a robust camera body with all-weather usability and the addition of a Bluetooth radio module that can receive NMEA data streams from external GPS devices.
      The Caplio 500SE’s impact-resistant body shell, which is the same as the earlier Caplio 500G model, carries a dust resistance grading of JIS 6 and JIS 7 water resistance protection, which allows it to be used for underwater photography in depths of up to one metre. The 3x optical zoom lens (28-85mm equivalent) remains within the housing throughout its zoom range. Capable of withstanding drops of around one metre, the Caplio 500SE has large buttons to allow easy operation with gloved fingers, along with a 2.5-inch LCD monitor and small optical viewfinder.
      The main difference between the two cameras is the addition of integrated Bluetooth and GPS facilities. A built-in Bluetooth antenna is located on the lower front panel, behind the Caplio 500SE name tag. The camera’s integrated GPS module automatically embeds GPS co-ordinates into captured images and video. The camera is also capable of receiving National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) data streams from external GPS devices via its on-board Bluetooth radio.
      JPEG images can be transmitted to compatible Bluetooth enabled printers and computers within 10 metres of the camera via the Bluetooth antenna. You can’t send movie clips, however, and voice files attached to images cannot be transmitted and the Bluetooth device must support the BIP, OPP or SPP Bluetooth profile. Transmissions can be passkey protected.
      The 500SE’s supplied lithium-ion battery delivers enough power for up to 400 shots (CIPA standard). It can also use conventional or rechargeable AA batteries, which slot into the same compartment. Both battery and card slots lie behind a locking door that seals with an O-ring.

      GPS Functionality
      The Caplio 500SE comes with a separate GS-R238 Bluetooth GPS receiver, which looks a little like a large remote control and is used to collect GPS data and transmit it to the camera. It’s supplied with a multi-lingual manual that has such tiny print you need a magnifier to read it. Each time you power up the camera it searches for about 15 seconds to link up with the receiver (which must be switched on).
      Once the two devices are connected, the receiver starts searching for satellites to download location data. A beep indicates when enough satellites have been tracked, with confirmation appearing on the camera’s LCD screen indicating the number of satellites in use. The system only works out of doors, where the receiver can ‘see’ the satellites but, once enough have been located, each picture you take with the camera has the location data attached to the file.
      Unlike some wireless digicams, the 500SE’s communication systems worked faultlessly the first time we switched the camera on. Location data is displayed in abbreviated form on the camera’s LCD before taking the shot then, more comprehensively, in playback mode after the shot is taken. The GPS data can be automatically imprinted on images via a setting in the GPS menu. The 500SE also provides a user-defined data dictionary for tagging images with workflow-related information and has an on-screen keyboard for inputting data and passwords.


      GPS menus are straightforward and easy to use.


      The site location co-ordinates are displayed on the left side of the screen in shooting mode, while the number of satellites supplying the data appears in the lower right corner of the LCD.


      In playback mode, full GPS data can be displayed.
      Ricoh bundles the 500SE with mapping software, which synchronises the images with the latitude and longitude to give the location the photo was taken in once the images have been imported into a computer. Images and video clips with embedded location data are automatically converted into layer files by the supplied GIS plug-ins. Once the images have been mapped, hovering over a point displays a thumbnail with the user-defined attributes, while clicking on the point opens the full-size image. Users can also arrange pictures and video clips geographically using the GPS data.

      Other Features
      The mode dial, which sits on the top panel, has only four settings, two devoted to still image capture, a movie mode and a voice recording mode. The first still capture option is represented by a green camera icon and is, essentially, a Program AE mode. In this mode, users can choose the image size/quality and adjust all other controllable functions. The second still mode, designated ‘CALS’ has been designed to produce pictures that meet the Japanese public works standards. In this mode, the image size/quality setting is fixed at N1280 (1280 x 960 pixels).


      The shooting menu is straightforward.


      However, it seems strange to locate frequently-used settings like exposure compensation, white balance and ISO on page three of the shooting menu.
      Like many other digicams, the 500SE includes an ‘anti-blur’ setting that reduces camera shake blur by combining high ISO settings with fast shutter speeds. It also allows users to select from three sharpness settings: normal, soft and sharp. Differences between the settings are clearly visible when shots are displayed on a computer screen.
      Several interesting scene modes are accessed via the top button on the arrow pad. The most noteworthy is the Firefighting mode, which locks focus at 2.5 metres, increases image sharpness and boosts the ISO setting to extend the range of the flash. The LCD monitor also becomes brighter in this mode to provide better visibility in difficult shooting conditions.
      Other scene modes include a High Sensitivity setting that allows the camera to be used without flash in dimly-lit places and a Skew Correction mode that is used to straighten rectangular objects (such as documents and signs) when they are photographed at an angle. There’s also a Text mode for copying documents and a Zoom Macro mode that allows the digital zoom to be used with normal macro shooting. Colour Depth settings include Vivid (high saturation), Normal, Neutral (slightly reduced saturation) and B&W.
      The wide-angle zoom lens covers angles of view equivalent to 28-85mm and is a huge advantage for the types of photography for which this camera is designed. Another ‘plus’ is the ability to focus down the 1 cm in macro mode with the wide setting or 10 cm at the tele end of the zoom range.


      Video capabilities are somewhat limited.
      Video resolution tops out at QVGA (320 x 240 pixels), which is OK for computer screens but inadequate for display on TV sets. Fortunately a frame rate of 30 fps ensures smooth-looking video clips. Shooting adjustments are limited in movie mode to video resolution and frame rate, focus mode and white balance settings. No adjustments are provided in voice mode.

      Pictures taken outdoors with the Caplio 500SE were colour accurate with more modest saturation and a wider dynamic range than most compact digicams. Image sharpness was also adequate with no visible evidence of over-sharpening. In fact, the subtle rendition of colours and tones gave an impression of below-average sharpness for the camera’s resolution. This was not enough to affect the majority of potential users of this camera as any problems were easily rectified with editing software.
      Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments and showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for an 8-megapixel digicam. It also showed colour accuracy to be better than average and saturation to be well controlled. We measured a moderate level of lateral chromatic aberration and detected some coloured fringing towards the edges of shots taken in bright outdoor lighting.
      Flash performance was excellent at all ISO settings, with illumination levels at ISO 64 sufficient to cover an average-sized room. The white balance control failed to deliver colour-accurate shots with any setting, although the colour biases recorded were slight enough to be adjusted out with editing software. Close-up performance was below expectations as the camera often focused on the wrong part of the subject. However, when correct focus was achieved, shots looked quite good.
      Video performance was much as you would expect for the camera’s resolution and frame rates. Digital zoom quality was also average. Shots taken at full digital zoom were noticeably soft and affected by compression and sharpening artifacts.
      Aside from the 15 second delay that occurs after switching the camera on, the Caplio 500SE in not a particularly fast camera to operate. We measured an average capture lag of 1.1 seconds, which reduced to 0.2 seconds with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged 2.5 seconds, extending to 4.5 seconds when flash was used. Only two continuous shooting modes are provided, each recording 16 shots and presenting them as a single image file. Shots are recorded at approximately 0.1 second intervals, with the S-CONT setting capturing the first 16 shots in a sequence and the M-CONT setting the last 16.
      It’s important to understand that the Caplio 500SE is a highly-specialised imaging device, even though at its heart is a fairly standard 8-megapixel digicam. However, the high price tag ($1399) is partially justified by its robust, weatherproof body, which is well-designed and constructed. (The Caplio 500G, which has similar body specifications, is priced at $1099 by way of comparison.) The addition of a Bluetooth-based, integrated GPS system that actually works is ample justification for the 500SE’s higher price point, especially for photographers who actually need location-based data logging.
      Outside of the construction and resource industries, potential users for this camera include adventure travellers, bushwalkers and people who enjoy sports where the camera is likely to get wet or dusty. Unfortunately, it’s not really suitable for snorkelling (unless you stay at the surface) and its depth limit of one metre makes it unusable for Scuba diving.








      Digital zoom.




      Image sensor: 7.18 x 5.32 mm CCD with 8.3 million photosites (8.13-megapixels effective)
      Lens: 5.8-17.4mm zoom (28-85mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 3x optical, up to 4x digital
      Image formats: Stills ““ JPEG (Exif 2.21), TIFF (text only); Movies ““ AVI (Open DML Motion JPEG format); Sound – WAV ( Exif ver 2.21)
      Image Sizes: Stills 3264×2448, 2592×1944, 2048×1536, 1280×960, 640 x 480; Movies – 320×240, 160×120 at 30 fps
      Shutter speed range: 30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1 to 1/2000 sec.
      Image Stabilisation: ISO-boost.
      Exposure Compensation: -2.0 ~+2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Focus system/range: External Passive / CCD method AF; range 30 cm to infinity; macro to 0.5 cm
      Exposure metering/control: TTL-CCD metering with multi, centre-weighted and spot;
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
      White balance: Auto; Outdoors, Cloudy, Incandescent (x2), Fluorescent
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Flash Off / Auto / Red-eye reduction / Forced Flash/Flash Synchro; range 0.2 to 10 m
      Sequence shooting: Multi-shot only, 16 frames in ~ 2 seconds
      Storage Media: 26MB of internal memory plus SD card slot
      Viewfinder: optical
      LCD monitor: 2.5-inch LCD
      Power supply: 3.7V lithium-ion rechargeable battery (also accepts AA batteries)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 133.0 x 74.0 x 78.5 mm
      Weight: 430 grams (without battery and card)





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