Two things come to mind when a new action camera hits the market: How does it compare to GoPro, and how much does it cost? When the specifications, on paper, of the Ricoh WG-M2 seem to match GoPro (or come very close) and the price tag is $100 less, expectations rise. But after using the Ricoh for a few days on dusty mountain trails, how well does it measure up to the category leader?
Design: Open the box and go
The Ricoh WG-M2 is waterproof to 20 meters (65 feet, 7 inches) and doesn't require any additional cases or housing. You can drop it from 2 meters (6 feet, 6 inches) and feel confident it won’t break, or take it snowboarding in temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius) without it freezing up. It's dustproof, too.
Thanks to its caseless design, it's slightly smaller (3.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 inches) than the GoPro Hero4 Silver edition WITH a case, which is needed for mounting purposes in addition to protecting it from the elements. Similarly, the Ricoh weighs in at 4.8 ounces, whereas the GoPro is 5.2 ounces with its case.
The camera comes with two different lenses: one for above water and one for below. The microphone ports are located on the bottom of the camera.
MORE: Best Action Cameras
Controls and Usability: More buttons equal faster changes
It's hard to compare the ease of a touch screen with anything requiring manual buttons. In this case, the Hero4's touch screen comes out ahead of Ricoh's manual button interface. Still, the four buttons on the Ricoh make scrolling, selecting and changing much faster than the two-button designs of older GoPro models.
The Ricoh comes with Menu, Up, Down and Select buttons, so scrolling through the options is incredibly easy. Its 1.5 inch, non-touch LCD screen makes previewing your next shot and updating settings fast and simple.
Built-in Wi-Fi can be used with Ricoh's Image Sync smartphone app (Android and iOS) to change settings and use as a remote control when the camera is mounted somewhere out of reach. The company claims you can also use the Wi-Fi hotspot to share images and videos directly to social media with the app, but after trying unsuccessfully for an hour, it seems like that feature has yet to be fully developed. After looking at app reviews, it appears I wasn't the only one with these issues.
Video and Photo Quality: 4K video and Ultrawide Lens
This is really where the rubber meets the road. Physical specifications, ease of use and manufacturer claims are great, but if the videos and images don't meet your expectations, then it's not going to be a great camera.
The Ricoh WG-M2 comes with 4K UHD video capabilities and a 204-degree ultrawide angle lens. At this price, I was skeptical that the quality would match what was being claimed on the spec sheet, but I was proved wrong. (There's also a Narrow option that shoots at 150-degrees. You can change this directly from the camera or the mobile app.)
Standing on top of Garfield Peak at Crater Lake, in Oregon, I was able to capture the entire lake from rim-to-rim in one single image. Being able to adjust settings for exposure, white balance, lighting conditions, metering and ISO on the fly lets you capture images like a pro photographer.
I tested the 4K video (at 30 frames per second) while downhill mountain biking through Mammoth Lakes, California. I adjusted the lighting condition to "natural" to account for the changing light while riding through the shadows of a thinly wooded area. The Ricoh had a difficult time adjusting for the darker forest floor and the brighter sky, which resulted in the upper parts of the trees and the sky being blown out.
Under similar conditions, the GoPro Hero3 Silver ($299) did a much better job keeping lighting balanced. The sky was a nice blue, the trees a lush green, and I could make out many more details in the forest floor — the dirt path had a lot more shading, for instance.
Battery Life and Storage
The WG-M2 comes with a rechargeable Li-Ion battery D-LI68 that should last for approximately 80 minutes of 4K video or 450 still images. The camera comes with 68MB of built-in memory but accepts microSD/micro SDHC/micro SDXC cards as well.
Accessories: Slim pickinsꞌ but highly universal
Finding any accessories for the WG-M2 on Ricohꞌs website wonꞌt yield any results, but they do have a handlebar mount (sold separately) which I used for the mountain biking test. Luckily you can buy any third-party accessory compatible with the standard quarter-inch threaded mounting hole and use it with this camera.
Bottom Line: A Good GoPro Substitute
Given its size, weight, ease of use and, ultimately, the picture and video quality of this camera, the Ricoh WG-M2 is a good, lower-cost substitute for a GoPro. The areas in which this camera is lacking — app connectivity, lack of touch screen, high-speed video — don’t detract too much from the overall product. However, considering that you can purchase the GoPro 3 Silver with an additional battery and waterproof housing for $279, that camera is the better deal, unless you need something capable of recording 4K video. In that case, the Ricoh WG-M2 is worth a look.