Ricoh is marketing the compact camera as a lighter, more discreet alternative to the DSLR without limiting the user. Ricoh’s attempted to create this type of camera through its flagship Caplio series, but this time has done away with the Caplio moniker, simply calling it the R8.

By combining the same impressive 28-200mm zoom lens as used on the Caplio R7 with a new 10.3MP sensor and a Leica-esque two-tone design, the Caplio R8 sets out to offer everything you’d want from a creative compact.

Faultless image quality

It certainly can’t be faulted on image quality, thanks to Ricoh’s Smooth Imaging Engine III processing chip, which brings it very close to SLR levels of noise and detail.

Even at its highest ISO setting, the noise levels aren’t too bad, although noise reduction can be a bit heavy and smeary so it’s not a great low-light performer. There’s a useful adjustable Auto-Hi mode that enables the user to select a maximum ISO that the camera will select in dark conditions.

The most common image adjustments that you’d want to invoke, such as White Balance settings and exposure compensation, are only a few nudges away using the four-way controller.

However, there are plenty more toys to play with that are buried in the menu system. For example, Interval mode enables not only the usual time-delay shooting but repeated shots at defined intervals; and Auto-Bracketing can be set up for HDR or difficult exposures.

Cryptic controls

Unfortunately, these options often come cryptically titled and they don’t always work as you might expect, requiring a degree of trial and error before they can be creatively applied.

For example, Time Exposure mode enables you to alter the R8’s shutter speed but it doesn’t alter the aperture, and this can result in it turning out some highly over-exposed shots.    

Further down the menu, though, you’ll find Fix Min Aperture, which sets the smallest aperture. Combined with Time Exposure and the usual -2.0/+2.0 adjustments from the main screen, this forms a clumsy yet effective Manual Exposure mode that can be used to create slow-shutter effects.

The problem here is that the three requisite functions aren’t grouped together or, in this case, even on the same page – you really need to know this camera inside out before you can make the most of it.

Superb focusing

There’s a Manual Focus mode, too, though this uses the zoom and lacks precision. Far more useful is a Target Shift mode, enabling you to use one of 256 areas of the image to lock focus on.  

Macro focus is, in short, superb – true 1:1 reproduction had us up close and personal with detailed flowers and flaking paintwork in order to capture perfect replicas.  

There are also a number of options that we enjoyed experimenting with that we wouldn’t have looked for otherwise; a Square Image mode for medium format- style compositions, as well as a rule-of- thirds grid and Live Exposure histogram.

No RAW support

Sadly, these less commonplace additions seem to take the place of the one option that we’d all been hoping for with the R8 – RAW support. The quality of the images is so good that it’s almost a crime that we aren’t able to manipulate the RAW data – and having to return to a JPEG workflow will no doubt put much of Ricoh’s target audience off.

If we have one serious concern, it’s the R8’s flash performance.  In nearly every shot that we took with it – in multiple locations and conditions – there was a heavy blue cast that no amount of pre-shot White Balance adjustment would fix.

Of course, this is usually correctable in post-processing, but when you’ve got 200 shots of your friends on a night out, each with varying levels of blue tint, it will take some ironing out.

A cute, quirky compact

Despite its little quirks, it’s a hard camera not to like. Whatever Ricoh’s intentions were, the R8 will never fit in with the bigger camera names, but it’s precisely this under dog approach that makes the R8 such a completely lovable compact – it never feels ordinary.

We’ve tested plenty of digital compacts over the years, yet with so much to explore, only the Ricoh R8 brings back the same feelings you got when you took your first digital photo.

It’s a special magic that few cameras can conjure up and one of the main reasons why we like this sophisticated little compact so much.