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Hands-on with Ricoh’s new waterproof action cam, WG-M2

TechCrunch TechCrunch 2/06/2016 Haje Jan Kamps

When you think action cams, any number of brands spring to mind. Ricoh may not be one of them, but on paper, the WG-M2 from Ricoh has the perfect combination of features if you like your adventures on the wet and rough end of the spectrum.

The camera is pretty simple and straightforward: Six buttons, Wi-Fi and a couple of lenses, and that’s all there is to it. The camera’s party-trick — and the reason it caught my eye in the first place — is that it has really good waterproofing straight out of the box. Ricoh claims you can take its little fist-sized marvel to 65ft/20m under the surface of big blue without needing a separate housing.

Not deep enough for diving

For a Scuba fanatic such as myself, the 65ft/20m limit is a bit of an annoying cop-out — it isn’t quite enough to be useful. Sure, with a basic open-water certification you can dive to 18 meters (60ft), which is within the range of the camera, but few divers worth their salt would go without adding an advanced course, after which you’re good to go to 100 feet (30m). The annoying part is that without specialized lighting equipment, you’re unlikely to get any good shots below 50ft/15m anyway (so I’d almost be willing to concede Ricoh’s argument that what they have is enough), but most dives start by going a fair bit deeper. Put simply: You don’t want to fish your camera out of your pocket to find it’s been crushed by the pressure before it’s time to capture some shots.

That niggle aside, I did find myself at about 82ft/25m, realizing I still had the camera in my pocket. It was fine, but I probably wouldn’t push my luck a second time; I’m sure there’s an excellent reason Ricoh printed the numbers they did on the side of the camera.

Not great for stills, pretty good for video

The camera itself is pretty good on paper. It shoots up to 4k video at 30fps, and a series of lower-resolution but higher-framerate video speeds, too. The camera also has a time-lapse mode, “extended movie mode” (which, as far as I can tell, records over the same 10 minute chunk again and again until you stop the video) and a couple of still video modes. The 1.5-inch LCD display is a very nice touch, and should be enough to make GoPro wonder what’s taking its product development team so long.

With the dome lens, the WG-M2 has an ultra-wide 204-degree field of view (roughly the equivalent of a 16mm lens on a full-frame SLR camera), which is dramatic, for sure, but at primarily high-speed-action-camera range, it’s essentially useless for anything else — it certainly can’t be used for capturing holiday snaps.

When you set the camera to underwater mode you must switch the front dome lens to a flat-glass lens instead. A shrewd move from Ricoh — dome lenses don’t look good on these types of cameras, as witnessed by the huge cottage industry of creating flat lenses for underwater housings for other action cameras.

The quality of the lenses is such that the camera is probably best avoided for stills; the chromatic aberration is absolutely horrendous; I didn’t know they still made cameras so afflicted.

In video mode, though, you notice the problem a lot less, and given that the sides will probably be blurred as you’re hurtling toward earth dangling from a parachute anyway, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice. In other words: If you’re a video fanatic, don’t write off this camera just yet…

Deeply flawed Wi-Fi

As mentioned, Ricoh’s new waterproofed wünderkind has Wi-Fi built in, which is exciting for someone like myself who is mobile-first most of the time, and doubly so when traveling. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi functionality is bordering on useless; the Ricoh Image Sync app is almost impossible to figure out, and is buggy as hell.

Imagine, for example, that you are trying to select 19 of the 20 photos you’ve taken that day. You would need to tap the screen 19 times, but even the slightest sideways swipe makes the app move to a different mode, losing your progress. Try tapping 19 different places on a screen without swiping a fraction of an inch, and you’ll see why that’s utterly idiotic.

Realistically, you’ll end up wrestling with Wi-Fi exactly once before giving up and instead plugging the Micro SD card into your computer to do file manipulation. Ugh.

Conclusion

I’d be hesitant to say that the WG-M2 is a bad camera; it just isn’t the camera I hoped it was. Given my overwhelmingly positive experience with some of Ricoh’s other cameras — the Theta S camera, in particular — I was deeply disappointed by the WG-M2 Wi-Fi functionality and overall image quality. In a world where smartphone cameras are so good, action cam manufacturers really have to pick up the pace to stay relevant.

The camera is good enough for capturing the odd video; use it underwater on a well-lit reef or bolt it to the front of your snowboard for some off-piste fun, but the lasting impression I’m left with is that I just wish I had a waterproof housing to keep my iPhone safe instead.

The upshot is that the WG-M2 makes a great toy for occasional use, but a retail price of $299.95 means that few people will use it as such. I suspect the camera will struggle to find a user base of people who will choose it over the better-accessorized GoPro series of cameras, or cheaper cameras from other manufacturers.

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