TLDR: Its not wonderful, but its very cheap
I wanted to pick up a camera with waterproofing, or at least weatherproofing. There were a couple of reasons for this. The first is that high humidity environments are the quick route to fungus infested lenses and rusty pieces of exposed metal, and one of the things I find most anxiety inducing is thinking about a steamed up camera going back into a bag or case. The second, perhaps less cerebral reason, is that it rains (on average), on over 100 of our 365 days in a year here in London, and I was getting frustrated with losing a third of my shooting days to weather – especially given that if (/when) it is going to rain here, you can guarantee it will be on the weekend.
What is interesting is that whilst pretty much all higher end digital cameras released in the last few years have featured at least some degree of ‘ingress protection’, weatherproofing is far from widespread in the world of film. Options are pretty limited to super niche cameras designed for divers or disposable style things meant for kids to take in the pool on holiday. The former, meant for taking pictures of fish and shipwrecks were over-priced and over-kill for taking some pictures in the rain. They also look ridiculous (almost all are yellow). With promises of plastic lenses and pre-loaded unidentified film, the latter also didn’t inspire much confidence.
Between these two ends of the weatherproof camera spectrum sit just a few other cameras, I bought two of them, and I think with that I am pretty much in a position to say I own a pretty large percentage of the offer in this space. First up is the Ricoh LX-33w.
The W (which stands for weather resistant) is tacked onto the end of the model designation in the much the same way as the weatherproof itself is to the camera – the LX-33w is very much operating in the ‘take something cheap and functional, and stick on some rubber gaskets’ space. The camera takes 100 or 400 film (dx coded), puts it behind a f4.5 lens and automatically selects a shutter speed of 1/50 or 1/100 depending how it feels, and that is about it.
It is a fixed focus camera, so there is really very little else going on when you take a shot, and this does mean that it does things very quickly. I reckon the chances of anything closer than about two meters being in focus are fairly low, and anything beyond that I wouldn’t put at the sharp end of the spectrum either. However, in good light, I did manage to take some ok pictures. I had a lot of issues with camera shake though, especially at the lower shutter speed.
The biggest cause of this camera shake? Firing the shutter. This involves pushing a big, foamy feeling button. That is as about as unsatisfying as it sounds, and you have to push it hard enough that if shooting one handed you are liable to destabilize the whole camera as you do so.
Two hands required then. However, for holiday pictures in sunlight the camera would definitely have a place in my pocket. And this is clearly where Ricoh felt like the camera was heading too, with a textbook example of a ‘put two black bars on my picture’ approach to a useless ‘panorama mode’, and a prominent red-eye reduction button. The sliding lens cover is its one killer feature as far as I am concerned, meaning it really can be thrown in a bag with no concerns for its safety. It is a camera for snap-shots, and at this it does well in the right conditions.
The problem is, I bought the camera in the hope of using it in the wrong conditions – I’m not currently taking pictures of friends posing on some sun-drenched Roman ruins before heading to the beach – I wanted something for rainy days and misty walks, exactly the gloomy conditions the camera seems to hate.
But then, perhaps I am expecting too much. I paid very little for the camera and as such, because I can see the day when I will take it out with me somewhere in our future, I don’t think its the worst value for money. Though plastic, the weight is confidence inspiring, it has the standard, exceptionally loud Ricoh carriage sound, and the lens is just about serviceable (and it has that cover). Pick one up if you see it for anything close to nothing, but just don’t expect to use it on a rainy day.