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Ricoh WG-4 Review -- First Impressions

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Preview posted

The Ricoh WG-4 follows on from last year's Pentax WG-3, and as will be immediately obvious, perhaps the most significant change for this year is the brandname. We've known for a long time that it was coming, as Ricoh has been very clear about its plans for Pentax. The Ricoh brand will be used for all fixed-lens cameras going forwards, while the Pentax brandname will be reserved solely for interchangeable-lens cameras.

Beyond the new brandname, the Ricoh WG-4 is a very minor update indeed. In terms of physical design, it is near-identical to its predecessor, with only some tweaks to the screen-printed markings denoting the difference between the new model and its predecessor. The WG-4 thus still has a very aggressive, chunky aesthetic that positively screams "durability". (And when we tested the GPS-inclusive variant of the earlier model in last year's waterproof camera roundup, we did indeed find the design to be durable.)

Perhaps the most significant new feature for this year is the debut of a new line of mounting accessories that work not only with the WG-4, but with all WG-series cameras to date. Inside, there are only two changes we can find between the WG-4 and its predecessor, of which both are firmware additions. Let's take a look at what's new!

Action mounts. There are three new camera mounts to choose from for the Ricoh WG-4 and other WG-series cameras. Each attaches via the O-CH1470 WG Holder, an accessory compatible with all cameras in the WG line.

The O-CM1471 WG Adhesive Mount can be affixed to smooth items like helmets, canoes, and bicycles with adhesive tape, great for recording a first-person view or getting a shot of yourself in the center of the action. Since the adhesive tape can't be reused, you can buy more tape in the O-CM1474 WG Repair Parts 1 kit.

The O-CM1472 WG Handlebar Mount clamps onto pipes and frames, making for a reusable mount that's ideal for bicycle, motorcycles, hang gliders and more. Finally, the O-CM1473 WG Suction Cup Mount provides a reusable alternative to the WG Adhesive Mount when shooting from a smooth surface that's conducive to suction-mounting.

Exposure. The two firmware changes in the Ricoh WG-4 as compared to its predecessor, the Pentax WG-3, both relate to its exposure modes. The WG-3 didn't offer priority-mode shooting; the WG-4 does. Specifically, it allows shutter-priority capture, so you can freeze or blur moving subjects intentionally. Aperture and ISO sensitivity remain under automatic control. There's still no aperture-priority mode, although obviously you can push apertures in the direction of your choosing by dialing the shutter speed in the opposite direction.

There's also a new User mode, which allows you to save settings for later recall. Figured out a setup that works nicely in a common shooting location, for your favorite sport, or something else along those lines? If so, getting the camera set back up to shoot in that particular environment can now be much easier.

As well as these new modes, the WG-4 still offers both green and program modes, and a wide range of scene and special effect modes. Shutter speeds on offer in most modes range from 1/4,000 to 1/4 second, although speeds as slow as four seconds are possible in night scene mode. An auto picture mode analyzes your subject, then selects one of 16 scene types automatically.

Multi-shot modes provided by the WG-4 include high dynamic range (combines multiple, variant exposures into a single shot with greater dynamic range), handheld night snap (averages out noise across four shots with a faster shutter speed, making handheld shooting possible), digital wide (stitches two images to create a 19mm-equivalent wide angle, albeit with reduced five megapixel resolution), and a panorama function.

The WG-4 also has 12 digital filter effects, an interval shooting function, and a dual-axis electronic level.

Life-proof. (And then some.) The Ricoh WG-4 is, like its predecessor, impressively rugged and world-proof. You can shoot with the WG-4 at depths of up to 45 feet (13.7m), which will more than meet the needs of snorkelers, and most recreational scuba divers too. (In fact, that's close to the 60 foot (18m) boundary that the Professional Association of Diving Instructors defines as deep-diving.)

And the WG-4 is also shockproof enough to survive a 6.6 foot (2m) drop, crushproof to 220 foot-pounds (100kgf), freezeproof to 14F (-10C), and dustproof (to IPX6 / JIS 6 standards.) Like its predecessor, you've no reason not to take the WG-4 almost anywhere, and can safely let anybody use it -- even kids.

Sensor. At the core of the Ricoh WG-4 is a 1/2.3-inch, backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor with an effective resolution of 16 megapixels, and a total resolution of 16.79 megapixels. The WG-4 offers sensitivities from ISO 125 to 6400 equivalents under automatic or manual control. Full-res burst shooting rate is still sedate, at only 1.5 fps for 60 frames. Drop the resolution to five megapixels, though, and you can capture as many as 30 shots at a rate of about 12 fps, while at four megapixel resolution a rate of 14 fps for 30 shots is possible.

Lens. The Ricoh WG-4 places its sensor behind a 4x optical zoom lens. The lens' optical formula consists of nine elements in seven groups, four of them being aspherics, behind a protective glass cover. The lens offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths from 25 to 100mm; actual focal lengths range from 4.5 to 18mm. Maximum aperture is a bright f/2.0 at wide angle, falling to f/4.9 by the telephoto position.

Stabilization. Although it already sports a relatively bright aperture for its class, the Ricoh WG-4 also includes true sensor-shift mechanical image stabilization. The company says this is one prong of a dual shake reduction system, with the other component being a Digital SR mode. This simply raises ISO sensitivity, and hence shutter speeds and noise levels.

Autofocus. Like almost all fixed-lens cameras, the Ricoh WG-4 uses a contrast detection autofocus system. Courtesy of face detection technology, the system can locate and take account of up to 32 faces within the image frame. The same tech is also used to provide a self-portrait assist mode, for quick and simple selfies.

Focusing modes include 9-point and spot, and an automatic tracking function is also included. Ordinarily, the WG-4 will focus to as close as 1.31 feet (40cm), and in macro mode this is reduced to as little as 0.33 feet (10cm). In Super Macro mode -- also known as Digital Microscope mode -- the WG-4 can focus as close as just 0.4 inches (1cm), although the lens is fixed at the middle of the zoom range, and resolution plunges to just two megapixels with a fixed 16:9 aspect ratio.

The WG-4 includes an AF assist lamp, helpful when focusing on nearby subjects in low light, as well as six LED lights to provide even illumination of macro subjects.

Display. Catering for framing and reviewing of your images and movies, the Ricoh WG-4 offers up a 3.0-inch, TFT LCD panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and a resolution of around 460,000 dots. (That equates to around 153,000 pixels.) To make the most of the display's wide 170-degree horizontal and vertical viewing angles, Ricoh has included an anti-reflective coating.

Flash. The Ricoh WG-4 also includes a built-in five mode flash strobe with red-eye reduction capability. When using Auto ISO sensitivity -- so in other words, ISO 6400 -- this has an effective range of 34 feet (10.4m) at wide angle, or 14 feet (4.3m) at telephoto.

Video. The Ricoh WG-4 can shoot more than just stills: You can also record high-definition movies. These use MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression and include stereo PCM WAV audio. For the best quality, you'll want to shoot at Full HD (1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution, with a rate of 30 frames per second. You can achieve higher frame rates to 120fps max. for a 1/4 speed slow-motion effect, too, but the movie will be captured at a low resolution of just 640 x 360 pixels. There's also a time-lapse movie function.

Connectivity. The Ricoh WG-4 sports a combined USB 2.0 High Speed data and NTSC/PAL composite video output port, and a Type-D Micro HDMI terminal. There are also two infrared remote control receivers, one each on the front and rear of the camera body, letting you trip the shutter remotely whether you're behind the camera or in front of it. (A rather nice touch, we think, made even more useful by Ricoh's new, optional camera mounts!)

Storage and battery. Images and movies are stored via a Secure Digital card slot, which also accepts higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards. Saving the day if you accidentally leave your flash card at home, there's also around 70MB of built-in memory, enough for a handful of the most critical shots. Eye-Fi Secure Digital cards are also supported, so you can shoot wirelessly. Power comes from a D-LI92 lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, rated as good for 240 shots on a charge.

Bundle. A power adapter, USB cable, AC power cable, carabiner strap and software CD-ROM are included in the product bundle. The carabiner strap lets you clip the camera to a backpack, belt loop, or somewhere else that will keep it safe.

Optional accessories. There are more than ever of these. Probably the coolest is an O-LA135 lens adapter, which lets you mount the Ricoh DW-5 Wide Conversion Lens, taking wide-angle coverage out to 22mm-equivalent. Other options include the WG adhesive mount, WG handle bar mount, and WG suction cup mount, each of which are attached via the WG holder, as well as three WG mount repair kits. There's also an O-CC135 camera case with belt loop, O-CC1352 protector jacket, and O-ST1352 float strap.

Price and availability. Available from March 2014, the Ricoh WG-4 is priced at around US$330. That's actually $30 more than the equivalent Pentax model cost last year, although list prices often differ from what you'll pay on the street. Two body colors are slated or availability in the US market: silver or lime yellow.

The WG-series mounting accessories are available from February 2014. Pricing is set at US$20 for the camera holder, which is needed to use any of the other accessories, while the adhesive mount costs US$45, the handle bar mount costs US$40, and the suction cup mount costs US$43. Pricing hasn't been disclosed for the other accessories or mount repair kits.