Smart Information Column
Issue 5, 14 February 2004
Pentax Espio 24EW and Ricoh R1
35mm Point & Shoot Camera Review
Quick pick: The Pentax Espio 24EW is the pick of these two cameras due to its better build, more flexible zoom range, and more sensible & better feeling operation despite the somewhat larger size and heavier weight. The Pentax is a great point & shoot camera for those looking for an extra wide-angle lens point & shoot camera for travel and landscape photography and delivers admirably within the known limitations of point & shoot zoom cameras. Fun-to-use and a long-term value for the ~$200 USD it sells for today!
The Pentax Espio 24EW 24-105mm 35mm point & shoot camera was released in Japan at the beginning of 2003, and thereafter, to the rest of the world. Through the use of lightweight aluminum for the outer body, the 24EW is able to pack a extra-wide zoom lens into a 35mm camera that weighs only 195 grams / 6.9 ounce.
(Adobe Acrobat Japanese product brochure for the Pentax Espio 24EW)
By encorporating many standard features found in point & shoot cameras made today, in addition to fast startup & shutdown times, a cheerful, auto-lighting, orange LCD backlight in low-light conditions, and a stylish body that asks to be picked up and used, the Pentax Espio 24EW will become frequently used. Pentax includes everything in the box (except film, naturally), including the hand strap and a nice soft case, which was a nice surprise to see.
Typical of most Pentax point & shoot cameras, the 24EW includes EV compensation (+/- 3EV in 1/2 stops), infinity focus lock, spot AF for the passive AF system, and panoramic framing switch. Nice extras include an automatic head-and-shoulders zooming mode for portrait shots, and built-in diopter adjustment. A suprising feature not found on most other cameras is that the date of the last photograph taken by this camera is always displayed briefly on the LCD on startup.
Here are MPEG-1 videos of the camera startup (1.3MB), shutdown (652KB), and orange LCD backlight (557KB) in operation.
Pluses: Fast startup and shutdown. Quick, responsive zoom. Nice auto-lighting, orange LCD backlight. Stylish, lightweight aluminum body. Wonderfully designed on/off switch that cannot be easily activated by accident in storage, yet is simple and smooth to operate. Comes with EV compensation and a soft camera case.
Minuses: Camera lens on startup is not at the widest 24mm setting, but is set as two zoom steps longer at about 35mm. Aluminum body, while very stylish, naturally feels like an ice cube on very cold days when held vs. plastic body cameras.
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars (5 out of 5 stars for travellers)
While many point & shoot cameras exist that have better specifications in many categories vs. the Pentax Espio 24EW, and a few that are better in terms of image quality and resolution, there are none that possess the range of zoom coverage that the 24EW has. The few point & shoot cameras that exist with a 24mm lens such as the Ricoh R1 (24mm & 30mm lenses) and FujiFilm ZoomDate F2.8 (24-50mm zoom) cover an entirely different shooting range. Packed in a stylishly designed, easy-to-operate aluminum lightweight body, the Pentax Espio 24EW delivers manages to deliver to the casual photographer decently sharp 4x6" & 5x7" prints in a package that begs to be used daily. The nice design lends to a positive sense when using this camera.
For the traveler, backpacker, and anyone who wants to take an extra wide angle shot and still have a usable zoom range on hand in a lightweight point & shoot, this camera is a five star must have since it is the only point & shoot on the market today that covers the 24-105mm range. This camera easily covers the range from expansive views of bridges and buildings all the way to tight head shots in portraits in travel photography, and is fun to use.
Image Quality: 4 out of 5 stars - casual photographer, 3 out of 5 stars - demanding photographer
While any zoom with such a wide angle of coverage can be expected to deliver poorer results, the Pentax Espio 24EW manages to deliver quite nice results for the casual photographer on 4x6" prints, with print results that will look very sharp or better upon brief inspection. 8x10" prints can be made for this type of user that will look quite good. To the casual photographer, the better made Leica or Contax zoom point & shoot cameras will deliver noticably better image quality, but most other consumer-level zoom point & shoot cameras will deliver similar image quality to their eyes.
For the demanding photographer, the camera is an average performer when compared to the best equipment available in a point & shoot camera. Light corner falloff and flare is better controlled versus the Ricoh R1, but is still noticable upon inspection of 4x6" prints. The 24EW manages to deliver decently sharp pictures at first glance, but when photos are magnified or printed at larger sizes, they are not sharper than those from the Ricoh R1.
Here, an Olympus Epic Stylus can produce noticably sharper pictures will less light falloff, although this model is a single length point & shoot camera.
Camera Build: 5 out of 5 stars
A stylish, aluminum body, sensible, easy-to-use controls, and a well-balanced design make the Pentax Espio 24EW a wonder to use and hold. While it is somewhat bulky in dimensions, the light weight achieved through the use of aluminum allows this camera to be kept in pocket or strapped around the neck without too much fatigue. The fast camera startup & shutdown along with responsive controls make it a keeper for many years to come. The free soft case keeps the aluminum shell in good condition and free of scratches if you are careful to keep the camera inside after each use.
The zoom lens has a total of 10 zoom steps, which is sufficient to give a good range of zoom settings from 24-105mm (about 8.1mm per step averaged). The zoom extends and retracts quickly and does not feel sluggish in use. Although the zoom barrel does extend quite far, like on other zoom point & shoot cameras, it is built decently well. However, you should naturally take care to protect the barrel from accidental breakage since it is not constructed to withstand heavy abuse or impact.
Features: 4 out of 5 stars
The Pentax Espio 24EW has many standard features included, as well as some extras not found on other cameras. Overall, enough for the casual photographer, but lacking a few features which would make this a serious camera for the demanding photographer - shutter speed and aperture control, accurate spot meter, and manual focus - quite easy to add given that these types of cameras are all microprocessor controlled today.
Suprisingly, Pentax has not bothered to install a dual active & passive focus system such as that found on most Canon point & shoot cameras, so thus, at night, many subjects will be bothered by the pre-focus strobe emitted by the flash in low-light conditions. While the passive focus does a good job in most cases, there are a few situations where an active focus system would be the better choice in achieving proper focus faster.
Operation: 5 out of 5 stars
The Pentax Espio 24EW manages to achieve a sense of wonder from the very first moment it is held and used. The camera possesses a good balance in the hands, has a sensible layout of controls, operates without surprises, and even sounds like it should in operation. Nothing feels awkward in operation, and the camera generally marches along happily day after day.
No camera is perfect, and here, the camera can be faulted for the rare misfocus due to the passive autofocus system, but the occurance is about the same as on other passive autofocus cameras. The flash is bright and strong enough to light a typical portrait or scene.
The Ricoh R1 35mm point & shoot camera with 24mm & 30mm lenses was released in Japan in 1994 and has since become a camera legendary for spawning the Ricoh GR1 and GR21 series of high-end point & shoot models, while taking consumer-level 35mm point & shoot cameras to a level of thinness unheard of before. Through the use of aluminium in the face of the body, a sliding lens system, and newly designed drive motors, the Ricoh R1 tips the scale at a skinny 145 grams / 5.1 ounce and breaks records in achieving an ultra-thin 25mm thickness for the main body (excluding the thicker handgrip where the film canister is installed).
Starting with standard features such as various flash modes, infinity focus lock, remote control and self-timer, the designers of the Ricoh R1 then added features never before found in point & shoot cameras - a 7-point passive autofocus system with in-viewfinder display of the selected focus point. Never again would one have to worry about what focus point was actually selected - the user simply sees in the viewfinder the indicated point (similar to most modern autofocusing SLR cameras).
While the box contains just the basics - manual, strap, battery, and camera - a case is almost unnecessary given the thinness of the camera itself - a record-breaking 25mm - and lightweight. The camera can be put into operation with just a quick press of the power button, and is convenient for quick snapshots.
Unlike the more sophisticated, later GR1 models, the R1 stays true to the basics of point & shoot photography by keeping to the basic, useful functions. Various flash modes are found for slow sync, flash on, etc. as expected. Self-timer, remote control, and date are included functions, as well as spot focusing and infinity focus lock. Interestingly, a dual-focus mode is included for sharp pictures at night - here, the camera first focuses on the people in the foreground, fires the flash for the first part of the exposure, then focuses on the nighttime background and exposes that sharply in focus for the full shot.
Pluses: Slim, classic, pocketable design. 7-point AF with in-viewfinder display of focus point. Dual 24mm & 30mm lenses - the only modern point & shoot 35mm camera with two fixed length lenses.
Minuses: Top LCD system display prone to failure (no display). Lens not as sharp as on the later GR1 series. No manual speed or aperture controls.
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars - collectors & enthusiasts, 3 out of 5 stars - casual photographer
The Ricoh R1 is a collector's camera to be sure. While there are other single focal length point & shoot cameras that startup/shutdown faster, have a more sturdy build, produce sharper pictures, etc., the Ricoh R1's focus on thinness and unique 7-point autofocus system and display make it a standout among small point & shoot cameras. Certainly, the non-zoom 24mm lens is unique among point & shoot cameras, and make the Ricoh R1 a more flexible camera than the average single length point & shoot camera.
However, if one is merely a casual photographer looking for great photographic capability and inexpensive price, cameras such as the highly recommended and rated Olympus Stylus Epic will be a better buy with faster startup/shutdown/autofocus speeds, far sharper pictures, and a more durable, all-plastic, waterproof body that handles use well.
Image Quality: 4 out of 5 stars - casual photographer, 3 out of 5 stars - demanding photographer
The Ricoh R1 has dual lenses, and at 30mm, the image quality is higher than at 24mm. Lacking the advanced, higher-quality design of the GR1 series lenses, the quality and resolution here is merely very good at 30mm, and good at 24mm. Certainly, in both modes, 4x6" photos will look good to most casual photographers, but the presense of signficant flare and edge falloff even using negative films, both especially noticable at 24mm, make it merely average as a point & shoot camera for the demanding photographer. Here, even the Olympus Stylus Epic will produce much higher resolution and higher quality pictures.
However, no other 24mm lens point & shoot camera exists at this weight and size - everything else is bigger and heavier. Aside from using (and refilling) a panoramic FujiFilm disposable camera, the choices in a lightweight, compact wide-angle point & shoot are limited to the Ricoh R1 and 21mm lens Ricoh GR21 (which is very expensive).
Camera Build: 3 out of 5 stars
The Ricoh R1 has a distintive rectangular shape and size due to the desire of the designers to make the main body as thin as possible. The edges are rounded, making it easy to slip into a shirt pocket, and the main buttons are large and easy to press. With the handgrip covered in leather, the design is classic from the very start.
Nevertheless, the LCD panel is known to be problematic, failing in operation after a few months or years of use and then requiring repair. And the color of the aluminum faceplate does wear off after years of use if one does not handle and store it with care. The rubber gasket around the lens that prevents dust from entering the camera can deteriorate with use and eventually will fall out in pieces when the super-thin rubber is simply too old.
Features: 4 out of 5 stars
While a basic point & shoot camera would rank three stars on average, the Ricoh R1 has included a fascinating 7-point passive autofocus sensor along with live viewfinder display of the focus point, and a few other features which rank the Ricoh R1 above average in the features category.
The Ricoh R1 does not have the full manual controls and added features of the Ricoh GR1 and GR21 series, however.
Operation: 3 out of 5 stars
The camera performs well in general use as a point & shoot camera. But once you start to change modes, some features require several button presses to cycle to. And while the general placement of buttons is good, the small size date adjustment buttons require the use of a fine pencil tip to set. In general, an average performance here in ergonomics.
The small flash is a bit limited with slower films, and could have been more powerful. However, the flash is well controlled in output for most shots and produces balanced, mult-lighted shots.
Startup and shutdown speeds are merely average, as is autofocusing speeds. Here, an Olympus Stylus Infinity does all three faster. But not annoyingly slow.
Notes: The print samples were taken by both cameras on the same day using Kodak Gold 100 speed film, developed and printed on a Noritsu digital processor to 4x6" Kodak Royal paper, then scanned at 600dpi on an Epson 1200S scanner.
The Noritsu digital print processor uses a computer controlled, scanning light source (eg. CRT, laser) to image the 4x6" print. Because of this, you will see the presence of 'pixels' in various areas of these prints, especially in the darker areas of blue sky. The approximate resolution of the Noritsu is 320-400dpi, and you should keep in mind that this limits the upper lines per millimeter of visible resolution from the 35mm film to 53 lines / mm (at 320dpi) or 67 lines / mm (at 400dpi. Calculated by taking 4" height of final print * 400 dpi / 24 mm height of a 35mm frame.).
Thus, a point & shoot camera with higher quality lens, such as the Olympus Stylus Epic tested at just under 90 lines / mm of resolution, will produce negatives that will not print with all of the original detail on the Noritsu digital processor, but neither the Pentax nor the Ricoh tested here appears to have lenses that sharp.
Zooming out and viewing these images at 50% will approximate what you might see if you had these prints in front of you for inspection at close range, but without a magnifier.
Viewing images at 100%, such as the railings on the parking lot in image #2 or the lampost and building signs in #4, will allow you to compare the quality of each camera. Overall, the Ricoh R1 has a touch better resolving power, but lower contrast than the Pentax Espio 24EW, which has higher contrast, but a touch lower resolving power. Light falloff and flare is more prevelant on the Ricoh R1 photographs since the lens was designed to make panoramic cropped prints, not full frame prints. (Here, the Ricoh R1 was modified so that the panoramic baffles do not close down as the camera was originally designed when in 24mm mode.)
Side-by-side, the photographs taken at 24mm on both cameras are comparable on 4x6" prints, with the exception of the differences in corner light falloff and flare. Both produce generally nice 4x6" prints for the casual photographer.