Ricoh (formerly Pentax) is a company with a long history of making waterproof toughcams. While we can’t say that any of the company’s recent models are the best of breed, they’re certainly capable and tough-as-nails. The main problem seems to be that the market that might be interested in this type of camera generally opts for something like a GoPro instead.
For Photokina this year, Ricoh has cooked up its response to the GoPro threat. Meet the WG-M1 (MSRP $299.99). You can tell right away by the new form factor that Ricoh has the leading action cam in its sights. Building off the style of past WG cameras, the company is moving towards a more diverse future for its “Adventure Proof” lineup.
Design & Usability
Not so great for holding, but it sure is mountable.
When picking up the WG-M1, it’s plain to see that Ricoh is happy with the goofy stylings of its WG lineup. This WG model might shift the lens and screen around, but it’s immediately recognizable if you’ve ever seen one of the company’s other tough cams. But, since this is intended to be an action-oriented, mountable video camera, it certainly tweaks the existing paradigm.
This is removed from the point-and-shoot form factor that cameras like the WG-4 sport. The swappable front lens cover is the first indication of the camera’s pragmatic approach to toughness. The camera’s default lens cover has a pronged hood. If you’re taking the camera underwater, Ricoh includes a lens intended for that purpose. Either way, the actual camera’s lens has protection to keep it from getting scratched. The lens itself is a wide, 160-degree job with an f/2.8 aperture. On either side of the lens, you’ll find the camera’s stereo microphone ports.
Buttons on the two longer sides of the camera seem design to be operated while you’re holding the WG-M1. There’s a record and power key on one side, and menu selection buttons on the other. A bright, but small 1.5-inch LCD monitor sits inset on the top of the device. Around it, Ricoh takes some of the space to call out the camera’s tough credentials. The watch-like bezel that protrudes from the screen seems like it’d help keep the display from shattering if it was slammed up against a rock or dropped from a substantial height.
The side opposite the lens is where you put a battery, the required microSD card, and also HDMI and USB ports. We really like that Ricoh also put on a double-locking mechanism and a sturdy metal loop for attaching the WG-M1 to straps. All in all, the WG-M1 feels every bit as durable and "adventure-proof" as you'd desire—more so than a GoPro nestled in its standard waterproof case.
Tough without a housing.
While the GoPro is the gold standard for action cams, those small devices can’t survive a whole lot of grief on their own. It’s the reason why action cams like the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition come with a tougher case included. With the exception of the special lens cover for diving, the WG-M1 is a camera that’s ready to go without having to get wrapped in a plastic case: It's freezeproof, waterproof to 32 feet, shockproof, and dustproof all on its own.
Interestingly, the WG-M1 is the first Ricoh camera to have WiFi built-in. You can transfer files and movies, and also use a smartphone or tablet to remotely control the camera. Ricoh hasn’t made the software available yet, and we’re not sure which platforms will be supported.
Behind the wide-angle lens of the WG-M1 is a 14-megapixel CMOS sensor. Different crop modes will let you treat the camera as if it had different focal lengths built-in—even though it only really has one. There are a few different video formats at the camera’s disposal, with 1080/30p as its highest quality recording mode. You can also get 60fps if you’re willing to go for 720p clips, and there’s a slow-mo 120fps mode at a resolution of 848x480. If you’re into still shooting, the Ricoh can also capture high-res stills using all of the camera’s 14 megapixels.
This being an action cam, Ricoh has a few different mounts for it to attach to. We played with the Ricoh O-MA1531 WG Grip Adapter, which makes the WG-M1 handle a little bit like a gun. For one-handed operation, it doesn’t get much easier than this. There are also a few adhesive mounts for snowboards and helmets, a suction cup mount, and a handlebar mount for a bicycle.
A unique entrant into a 1-horse race.
As good as GoPro’s cameras are, we always prefer product categories to have a variety of options. In the United States, at least, GoPro has a veritable monopoly on sports/action cameras with Sony a distant second. In the WG-M1, Ricoh might have a legitimate alternative on its hands. While we’ll have to get this little guy into our labs to know for sure, what we experienced in our time with the camera lead us to think that this product has a lot of promise.
After all, the GoPro needs a few accessories to accomplish what the WG-M1 can. It slots into a decent system of mounts, and it has a replaceable lens. The only thing that gives us pause is the WG-M1’s price. At $299, it’s smack dab in the middle of GoPro country, and unless Ricoh can work some really special deals in retail stores, that might be the stumbling block that keeps the WG-M1 from being a threat.