This is not the time to be shy about your achievements - if you're any good at anything, make a noise about it. Take the Ricoh Caplio R7, a fine looking and well-built little camera that announces itself with possibly the loudest start-up noise of any compact. Press the On button to make the lens pop out and you'd swear there was an angry wasp trapped in there somewhere.
Ricoh has been making quite a bit of noise lately. The usually low-key manufacturer has just released the upmarket Caplio GX100 (reviewed in the October issue) and now we have the latest in its R series. It was only in August 2006 that the R5 emerged, then in March this year came the R6, and now we have the R7 - rapid stuff.
The newest model is more of a tweak of the R6 rather than a radical overhaul, with an 8.15MP sensor compared with 7.2MP, and some improvements in image processing - although not enough to tempt R6 owners to upgrade.
The mainstay of the R cameras is the impressive 28-200mm lens that dominates the front of the camera. This zoom range should have every eventuality covered and, despite the trapped wasp, the lens is fairly nimble as it explores its 7.1x zoom range, although a few more steps along the way would be nice.
Behind the lens is an intelligent Auto-focus system that locks on to what the R7 believes is the subject of a scene. It does this quickly and accurately, making the R7 one of the speedier compacts about.
The best button
A regular feature on the R series is the ADJ button, which enables quick changes to several settings, such as exposure compensation, white balance, metering, focus and ISO. You can customise these to suit the way you shoot, which is an invaluable function of the R7. While we sing the praises of the ADJ button, it does require quite a bit of pressing of the slightly fiddly buttons to change it to your liking.
The ADJ button is about as close as you get to manual control on the R7. There's manual focus but the operation is so fiddly it's hardly worthwhile. Aperture control is not an option and you have to rely on the camera to choose the correct one, and sometimes the R7 gets it wrong.
On the outdoor shot of the lamppost and balcony (below), the camera set a shutter speed that was too slow for the 200mm focal length and camera shake was too much for the vibration correction.
What the Ricoh does well is the quality of images captured. Set the lowest ISO of 64 in bright light and the quality could be described as excellent - images are sharp and bright with zero grain. Up to ISO 400 and the story is much the same.
Even at the highest ISO of 1600 you'll find the grain is far from intrusive. What you do notice as you turn up the ISO is the increase of colour noise in the shadows. It's really not too bad but it's the only thing that prevents us from saying the image quality is excellent throughout.
The other thing that slightly detracts from the image quality is the metering. Most times it gets it right but the Ricoh can underexpose in tricky situations, such as backlighting. This is, however, a far better choice than overexposure.
Worth a quick mention is the Macro mode, which will focus down to 1cm for some very close-up detailed shots. There's quite a lot of barrel distortion but of more concern is the consistent underexposure when using this mode.
The R7 is a little unrefined compared with the best in its class, but when it gets it right, it rewards with fine image quality. And on top of that you get that excellent zoom range, albeit with a lot of whirring.
If you're an independent minded person who wants a camera that's original and distinguishes you from the pack, then this fairly impressive R7 could just be the one for you.