If you live life on the edge, you need gadgets to match. The Ricoh G600 is a camera designed for extreme(ish) conditions: this 10-megapixel snapper is waterproof, dustproof and drop-proof. This tough cookie is available now for about £350.
The G600 certainly looks rugged, with a rubberised frame in an industrial black and yellow colour scheme. The controls are oversized, giving it a slightly toy-like feel. They're easy to use and may appeal to older or disabled users who need larger controls. Only the zoom controls are a bit awkward, as the buttons are flat against the surround.
For its sturdiness, we expected the G600 to be heavier. At 307g, it's definitely bigger and heavier than most compacts, but one-handed shooting is still a breeze.
The screen measures a decent 69mm (2.7 inches) corner-to-corner. You also get an accessory shoe and a 37mm lens thread to add extra kit to the camera. The tripod bush is metal and there are also three separate lanyard attachments, should you need them.
The robust design is completed by two locking hatches, one for the battery and SD card slot, and the other for the USB connection. The camera comes with a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, but this can be swapped out for two AAA batteries if you run out of juice in the field.
There's a clear cover protecting the lens, but dunking it in the sink in our tests left the lens with streaks, so you'll have to remember to wipe off marks when you leave the water.
How tough is the G600? It's waterproof to JIS grade 7, dustproof to JIS grade 6, and shock-proof to MIL Standard 810F to be precise. This means you can snorkel with it, take it into the beach, and drop it from shoulder-height -- but we wouldn't recommend scuba-diving with it, burying it, or dropping it off a building.
In order to be easily operated in extreme conditions, the camera is kept pretty simple. Instead of the usual scene modes, you can choose between movie, digital zoom macro, text mode, skew correction, high sensitivity and a fixed-focus firefighting mode for 'shooting the scene of a fire'. These modes are presumably either aimed at the industrial user or the arsonist who can't hold a camera straight.
There's a surprising number of features included: 1, 2, 4 and 8-second-long exposure, and a user-programmable interval timer for time-lapse photography, as well as tweakable sharpness and colour settings. The industrial user might also be interested in a setting that detects edits made to the image. Movie options include 640x480 or 320x240 films. Settings can be saved to two user-defined custom modes.
In playback mode you can correct contrast and unskew photos that are taken on an angle. Another option is to tint blown-out highlights.
We can't help but expect less from cameras with specific non-photographic unique selling points. When the focus is on the camera's robustness, we assume that corners have been cut in imaging terms. That's not the case with the G600, which boasts a 28mm wideangle lens and assorted shooting options, as well as high-end features like the hotshoe. There is some softening towards the corners of the lens, but it doesn't ruin photos.
The camera's no-nonsense start-up has you snapping away in two seconds. The autofocus is quick and capable, although it doesn't pick out faces very well.
Colour is vibrant for a camera that you might expect to be more workmanlike. Purple fringing is something of an issue even in shots that don't have particularly high contrast, but noise is reasonably well-controlled. The high sensitivity mode takes you up to ISO 1,600 and 3,200, but washes out much of the colour and causes too much gritty speckling in the image. All told, the G600 still easily beat our expectations on image quality.
While it wears its industrial toughness on its sleeve, the G600 just isn't half as sexy as Olympus' comparably tough mju 850 and its ilk. It's like Frank Bruno squaring off against James Bond: there's no doubt he's rugged, but he's simply not as handsome. The G600 is also more expensive, but then the extra features and decent image quality give you value for money.
Edited by Marian Smith