If you want a 4K-capable action camera with a built-in LCD monitor, your first thought likely goes to GoPro and its Hero5 Black. But what if you want those features without paying the $399 premium that the GoPro commands? The impressive $340 Yi 4K+ will save you a few bucks, but we as found in our Ricoh WG-M2 review, will save you even more – and is waterproof without a case, to boot.
With a street price as low as $200 (MSRP $300), the WG-M2 is focused on a few core capabilities while it forgoes the frills and high-tech features offered by its peers. It doesn’t match the Hero5 Black or 4K+ on specifications, but it does give you a durable, Ultra HD action cam for much less than the competition.
It is waterproof down to 65 feet without the need for a separate housing (the Hero5 Black can muster only 33 feet) and ships with both curved and flat lens protectors, for above and below water use, respectively. A two-stage lock secures the door on the back of the camera, which grants access to the MicroSD card slot, battery, and USB and HDMI ports. It bears a striking resemblance to the Olympus Tough TG-Tracker, although that camera is noticeably larger (and more feature-packed).
Also like the Olympus, the Ricoh features a 204-degree lens that takes in an ultra-wide perspective. On the inside, the 1/2.3-inch sensor is good for 4K video at 30 frames per second (fps) and eight-megapixel stills. In 1080p and 720p resolutions, frame rate can be bumped to 60 and 120 fps, respectively.
What the WG-M2 lacks in performance, it makes up for in usability.
In short, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and there are many things we have seen before that the WG-M2 lacks. For instance, there is no image stabilization to speak of – neither electronic nor optical. Nor can you control it with voice commands, and it doesn’t feature a GPS or accelerometer to provide data overlays on your video. Unlike the Olympus TG-Tracker, the LCD on the WG-M2 is fixed in place and its placement on the top of the camera is a bit awkward. Fortunately, the camera is straightforward to operate with plenty of direct access control, and the menu system, while sparse, is simple to navigate.
As with some other action cameras, the fact that the WG-M2 shoots in 4K resolution is more marketing speak than technical prowess. Image quality is quite soft, muddling any fine detail into a sort of painterly approximation. This is true even in the S.Fine mode, in which the camera supports a modestly high bitrate of 100mbps. In our brief testing, we had trouble discerning any differences between the different quality settings.
There’s also the issue of the 204-degree lens, which is simply too wide to be useful in most circumstances. The distortion is off the charts and anything near the edge of the frame is noticeably softer than the center. These are the same complaints we had with the Olympus TG-Tracker. Users can select a narrower field of view in 1080p and 720p modes, but in 4K, the “wide” option is the only one available, as the sensor lacks the resolution to record Ultra HD from a cropped region.
Fortunately, what the WG-M2 lacks in performance, it makes up for in usability. All of Ricoh’s mounting accessories connect to the camera via a standard 1/4-inch tripod socket, which means the camera can easily be attached to a variety of tripods and other photography accessories right out of the box. The camera can also be controlled over Wi-Fi with Ricoh’s Image Sync app, which isn’t the prettiest app in the world, but seemed to work well.Our Take
Right now, the WG-M2 is a good budget option for casual users who want a no-frills 4K action cam. You get a solidly built device that’s rugged right out of the box, and unlike most action cams, there’s a small LCD for adjusting settings or framing your shot. But don’t expect much else: Ricoh isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, and if a straightforward camera is what you’re seeking, the WG-M2 does the job.
Is there a better alternative?
Absolutely. GoPro’s Hero5 family comes immediately to mind. For $200 more, the Hero5 Black is packed with lots of features, resolution options, terrific image quality, advanced options (including image stabilization and voice control), rugged enclosure, and more. Garmin’s Virb Ultra 30 is another premium action cam that we like, which has features like comprehensive data collection and live streaming, also for $200 more. GoPro also has the small Hero5 Session, which can shoot 4K, is rugged, has stabilization and voice control, and costs $100 more than the WG-M2.
How long will it last?
Ricoh products are well made, so durability isn’t a big concern for us. Besides, the WG-M2 was designed to endure harsh usage. As for usability, the WG-M2 is a 4K action cam with the bare minimum, and there are already models that are superior. Even the 4K quality leaves more to be desired, so we don’t see the WG-M2 as a camera with a long lifespan. For shooting quick 4K YouTube extreme videos today, the WG-M2 does the job.
Should you buy it?
No, not if you are serious about shooting high-quality action videos that you plan to use in some kind of production. Granted, you’ll have to spend a bit more for something feature-rich, but we feel that a camera like the GoPro Hero5 Black has more lasting power (we are still using older GoPro Hero models, for example). But what the WG-M2 has going for it is a low street price, tough body, ease of use, and 4K – not bad for users who don’t care about extras and are willing to sacrifice a bit in image quality.