For several years, I’d been using an old Canon Powershot A70 as my all-purpose picture-taking device. Its 3.2 megapixels had served me well for a long time, and I had no reason to complain … other than the bulky shape, the awkward weight, and the fact that for some reason it started putting odd black smudges in the corners of some of my pictures.

So it’s safe to say I was in the market for a new camera, but I was having trouble finding a replacement that would also be an upgrade.

The new Canon Powershots had gotten slimmer and smaller since my A70, but their resolution and zooms were only marginally better than the one I already had.

Then, behold, the Ricoh Caplio R5.

Long story short, one of my friends got one of these things imported from England, and I immediately fell in love. So when I found myself in Japan on business at the end of last year, I made it a point to snag one from the Akihabara District. And I’ve never looked back.

Here’s the rundown: This camera is sleek, tiny, light, and significantly more powerful than just about every other camera in its size. You are not going to find a more versatile point-and-shoot out there. So stop wasting your time.

The camera runs on a rechargeable lithium ion battery that can take almost 400 shots on a single charge. I’ve never had it run out on me on the trail, and on overnights where the temperature fell below freezing, the battery wasn’t affected at all. When you do need to charge it, it’ll regain full power pretty quickly – usually in under two hours.

For memory, the camera uses standard SD cards. At the highest resolution setting, I can get 306 pictures out of a 512MB card.

The camera’s body is aluminum, so it’s light but feels solid. There’s a tripod screw on the bottom of the camera that’s plastic – which some other reviewers seem to have a problem with – but it works just fine with my GorrillaPod.

Size-wise, the Caplio R5 is a miniscule 9.6 x 5.5 x 2.6cm, which is smaller and thinner than my nearly-antique 4th Generation iPod.

The back of the camera houses a 2.5" LCD screen, which is bright, sharp, and easy to read even in sunshine. I have, however, had some problems seeing the image when turning the camera vertically.

As you can see, the buttons on the side of the camera are not necessarily the most ergonomic things in the world, and it does take a bit of trial-and-error to get used to the zoom being a tiny vertical switch, but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

The camera can be switched on and ready to shoot in under two seconds in auto mode, but if you want to fiddle around with any of the numerous camera settings, it’ll take you a bit longer. The on-screen menus are intuitive and comprehensive. You can change everything from focus distance, light metering, shutter speed, exposure, white balance, and just about anything else you’d be messing with on a more expensive SDR. And if you’re not sure what you’re doing, you can even set the camera up to take the same shot with multiple settings.

There are the standard pre-set modes, like portrait, landscape, etc. Most of the time, I find myself shooting on automatic, and the only things I’m frequently adjusting are exposure and focus. I’ve noticed that, under especially bright and blue California skies, the automatic setting can have a difficult time getting proper light metering on the sky and the land at the same time.

For amateur videographers, the Caplio also shoots video with a bult-in microphone at 30 frames per second, although you won’t be able to change focus or make smooth zooms while you’re recording.

Bells and whistles aside, the main event here is the Caplio’s lens: a massive 7.1x optical zoom, with built in macro and wide-angle. Fully extended, it dwarfs the rest of the camera and will definitely turn heads.

Image stabilizer keeps all but the twitchiest fingers from causing problems. I’ve noticed shake blur is more apparent on full zoom shots than macro shots, which generally turn out pretty stunning. And if you’re using the full 7 megapixel resolution, you’re going to get a lot of detail.

 

The Good:

– 7 megapixels
– 7.1x optical zoom; far greater than just about everything I’ve seen in a midrange camera
– Macro and wide-angle
– Video at 30fps and up to 640×480 resolution
– Fast, small, and light. Many of the shooting modes of SLRs with none of the bulk
– Long battery life
– Expandable with cheap SD card memory

The Bad:

– Image noise at higher ISO settings
– Photometry can be iffy in shots with high contrasts
– Small buttons can make working the menus difficult
– I’ve had problems getting my PC to recognize the camera. I bought a $10 SD card reader instead. Friends who have bought this brand of camera have not had this problem, so I’ll attribute it to my computer
– Is only sold in Europe and Japan, so you’ll have to import it.

Overall:

This is the camera that comes with me everywhere. It’s small enough to fit in waist pouchs of backpacks, or even in your pocket. Shooting on the automatic setting, with occasional adjustments when warranted, I have rarely been disappointed with the output of this camera. Perfect for on-the-trail shutterbugs who want something better than their current point-and-shoot, but don’t want to shell out the cash for a bulky SLR.

 

While I can’t personally recommend any online retailer for this camera as I got mine in person, the UK Amazon site has a few listed, ready to ship. You should be able to find this camera for between $250 and just over $300 U.S. Dollars, and be sure to check the retailer you’re buying from will ship overseas!

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