Digital SLRs are big, heavy and awkward to lug around. So what do you do if you want SLR-style capabilities in a pocket-sized package? With its 12-megapixel sensor, wideangle zoom and hands-on controls, the £350 Ricoh GX200 sounds like the perfect solution -- an SLR in miniature.
With an equivalent focal range of 24-72mm, the GX200 goes much wider than the average compact and wider even than the kit lenses on dSLRs. You miss out on zoom power at the top end of the scale, but if you're into landscape and travel photography you'll find this lens' wider angle of view much more useful. And if it's still not wide enough, you can invest in an optional 0.79x wideangle converter which gives you the equivalent of a 19mm lens.
Barrel distortion is a big problem with all lenses at their wideangle setting, so is the GX200's worse than most? Not particularly. And it has a very clever built-in distortion correction feature that corrects the image as it's being saved.
You can buy the GX200 on its own -- or for £50 more there's an 'EVF' kit. This includes a small electronic viewfinder that clips on to the camera's accessory shoe and might prove useful in bright light when the main LCD's swamped. This EVF can be tilted up and down, so you can use it to compose shots at waist-level too.
For a small camera, the Ricoh is surprisingly good to use. The designers have managed to squeeze plenty of manual controls into a small space, though the control dial on the rear can be rather vague because it also has a push-in 'OK' function. There's no shutter-priority mode on the mode dial, but how many people use shutter-priority anyway? Program AE, aperture-priority and manual are fine.
Two more things deserve special mention. First, the 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD screen, which is no bigger than average but, with 460,000 pixels, has twice the average resolution. And then there's the ability to shoot raw files, which gives you more post-processing flexibility later on and may squeeze a little more dynamic range out of the sensor.
The sensor itself produces good results, though they're not of the standard you'd expect from a 12-megapixel SLR, and by ISO 1,600 the GX200's results are pretty grim. The lack of an optical viewfinder is a tiny bit disappointing, as is the fact that the clip-on finder is itself a digital unit. Perhaps the biggest worry with this camera, though, is the price. At around £350 it's going to be competing head-on with low-cost SLRs, and it will struggle to match them for picture quality.
The GX200 would make a good second camera for keen photographers who don't always want to carry around their regular kit, but its appeal otherwise might be limited. After all, everyday snappers just looking for an easy-to-use camera which takes great pics can find something just as handy for half the price.
Edited by Marian Smith