Ricoh RDC-i500

As digital systems continue to pack more functionality into smaller spaces, various types of products are beginning to incorporate functions that we might not normally expect. One example is Ricoh's latest digital camera, which you can use not only to take pictures, but also to read your e-mail.

Described by its manufacturer as an "image capturing device", the RDC-i500 differs from most cameras in its ability to connect to and work with the Internet. Using a CF-type modem card (not supplied), the i500 can dial up an Internet provider and upload its pictures, either as e-mail attachments or as Web pages transferred by FTP. It can also connect directly by modem to a computer with the appropriate software installed.

These features are designed to make the camera useful for business purposes - for example, a real estate agent could send an employee around town to take pictures of properties, which could be transferred back to the main office from the field location. The home office could then evaluate the pictures and, if necessary, have them taken again without wasting too much travel time.

Another potential use of this new feature is for tourists, who could offload some pictures to their home page as they travel. However, the usefulness of this capability is limited by the large file size of images and the narrow bandwidth of the telephone system, so it won't be suitable for everyone. If you do have a need for this feature, then the i500 is the only camera that has it.

The i500 has an unusual form factor with its flat body and dimensions of 142x79x331mm (WxDxH). A folding panel houses the 2in LCD screen, which can be set to face forwards or backwards. At the rear of the unit is a mode dial that provides quick access to the main shooting and review modes. The shutter release button operates in the standard way, activating autofocusing when it is depressed halfway. The camera is easy enough to hold and use, although whether you like the shape would largely be a matter of personal preference.

Technically, the i500 sports a 3.1-megapixel sensor, 8MB of inbuilt memory, and a bright 3x zoom lens with an maximum aperture of 2.6 to 3.4. The image quality is excellent, with crisp focus and rich colour. It can take still pictures and record voice memos or short movies in standard formats.

The i500 is a good choice for people who need its unique capabilities, although less expensive choices are available if you just want an ordinary camera.

Ricoh RDC-i500

4 stars; Price: $1999; Phone: (02) 8977 1111; URL: www.ricoh.com.au

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