Ricoh CX6 Review
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The Ricoh CX6 is a 10 megapixel compact camera featuring a 10.7x, 28-300mm zoom lens. Successor to the CX5 model, the Ricoh CX6 now offers an even faster autofocus speed of 0.1 second due to an improved hybrid AF system, twice the speed of the CX5. The CX6 also adds aperture- and shutter-priority shooting modes, a 5fps fixed burst mode and a 3fps mode with auto-focus, a higher resolution 3 inch LCD screen with 1.23 million dots and an innovative zoom assist display mode, and a separate movie record button. The Ricoh CX6's key features otherwise remain the same as its predecessor, with a 10 megapixel back-illuminated sensor, Smooth Imaging Engine IV image processing engine, and 720p HD video recording. There's also a Scene Auto shooting mode for beginners, face recognition, 1cm macro mode, Dynamic Range mode, range of creative shooting effects, and an electronic level to help ensure straight horizons. Available in black, pink and silver, the Ricoh CX6 retails for £259.99 in the UK, €299.00 in Europe and $399 in the USA.
Ease of Use
The design and feature-set of the Ricoh CX6 are very similar to the previous CX5 model, so a lot of the comments that we made about that camera apply equally to this new model. It measures almost exactly the same at 103.9mm (W) x 58.9mm (H) x 28.5mm respectively and weighs the same at 180g. The CX6 is available in either silver, pink or a more serious black - Ricoh provided the latter for our review.
The CX6 is a compact digital camera that easily fits in the palm of your hand, and you certainly won't notice carrying it in a trouser/shirt pocket or a handbag. As soon as you pick it up, the Ricoh CX6 feels as solidly made, refined and purposeful as its predecessors. The bottom of the lens mounting area is cut off in line with the bottom of the camera, which still looks rather strange. One small but noticeable difference between the CX6 and CX5 is the relocation of the built-in flash and the passive AF sensor of the hybrid AF system closer to lens, with the AF assist lamp moving underneath those two controls.
The further improved hybrid AF system is one the main new features of the CX6. Essentially it speeds up the auto-focusing even further to just 0.1 second for both wide-angle and telephoto lens settings, using a combination of the traditional Contrast AF system that most compacts have together with a new area-based passive AF sensor that continuously measures the distance between the camera and subject. Although we never really found the AF speed to be a problem on the CX5, the new model is noticeably quicker and just as reliable in both good and bad lighting, so if auto-focus speed is top of your wants list, the CX6 definitely won't disappoint.
The other main benefit of the improved auto-focus system is that continuous shooting with auto-focusing at 3 fps is now possible. The CX6 can continuously shoot moving subjects at speeds of up to 3 frames/second while continuing to focus, or 5fps with focus set on the first frame (the same rate as the CX5).
The CX6 retains Super Resolution technology, which is very similar to recent systems from Panasonic and Casio. It either makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one by processing the contour areas, texture areas and smooth areas individually, or it digitally boosts the zoom magnification from 10x to 20x with a claimed minimal loss of quality and no reduction in resolution. To achieve the former, you have to select Super Resolution in the main menu and then choose either the Weak or Strong setting. To increase the Super Resolution zoom, you just zoom past the white part of the on-screen zoom bar into the green area, which offers up to a maximum of 21.4x zoom. Note that Super Resolution zoom isn't available in the movie, continuous or creative shooting modes.
As with the systems from Panasonic and Casio, it's easy to tell which image was taken with Super Resolution turned on and which ones with it turned off, particularly if viewing onscreen at 100% magnification, as our test shots on the Image Quality page show. The difference isn't quite so apparent on a print up to A3 in size, but I'm not convinced enough to recommend it except when you really need the extra reach - it undoubtedly improves on the digital zoom, but not so much that I'd regularly use it.
The Ricoh CX6's 10.7x zoom lens offers a 28-300mm focal range which places the CX6 in the popular "travel zoom" category of cameras, although several rivals offer 12x and even 15x lenses in a similarly sized body. When the lens is fully extended, the camera measures over 8cm in depth, but thankfully it retracts fully back into the body when it is turned off. The 28-300mm range is very versatile, covering everything from wide-angle landscapes to close-up action photos. The maximum apertures are respectable enough at f/3.5 at wide-angle and f/5.6 at telephoto. Helpfully the zoom mechanism becomes quicker as you progress through the range, a neat feature that really cuts down on waiting for the camera to do your bidding.
The Ricoh CX6 features an anti-shake system called Camera Shake Correction - turn it on in the Main menu and the Ricoh CX6 automatically compensates for camera shake by the equivalent of about 3.7 shutter-speed stops. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Ricoh seem to have realised the importance of this system, as it is turned on by default, and thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing just over 250 shots before the battery needed to be recharged, a slight reduction on the CX5.
The Ricoh CX6 only has 11 external controls in total, leaving plenty of room for the large 3 inch LCD screen that dominates the back of the camera. The CX6's screen has a very high resolution of 1.23 million dots, and it certainly shows, being noticeably sharper and brighter than cameras with standard 230K dot screens and even better than the CX5's already excellent screen (it's also 1.7 brighter than the CX5). Both text and images really come alive on a breath-taking display that's one of the best of any camera that we've ever reviewed. There's also an innovative new display mode called Zoom Assist. When you set the CX6's focal length to 93mm or longer, a small image is displayed within the bottom-right corner of the LCD screen showing an 85mm focal length, which is useful for checking the current framing position.
There's a DSLR-like mode dial on top of the CX6 which lets you select from the Camera, S-Auto, Scene, Creative Shooting, Continuous, and new A/S options, plus two settings called MY2 and MY1 which allow you to configure the CX6 for different uses and provide quick access to each configuration (the camera remembers the settings when it's turned off).
The addition of Aperture and Shutter-speed priority (A/S) modes is the biggest new feature on the CX6, with one of the two modes selected using the Fn button. Unfortunately the Aperture-priority mode is a little rudimentary. It offers just two settings called Minimum and Open, equivalent to F7.4 and F3.5 at the 28mm focal length and F15.4 and F5.6 at the 300mm focal length. There are no manual settings available in-between, which rather limits its usefulness, although having this mode is still a welcome improvement on the previous models. The Shutter-priority mode is a lot more versatile with a full range of speeds available between 1/2000th second and 8 seconds, adjusted with the rear joystick via an onscreen vertical slider.
The CX6 expands your shooting freedom by adding aperture priority (A) mode and shutter-speed priority (S) mode. These modes bring the photographer a richer range of expressive possibilities. For example, the ability to specify maximum or minimum aperture can be used when you want to make the subject stand out in macro photography, and the ability to adjust the shutter speed will enable you to handle situations where you want to emphasize subject movement or freeze the movement of a subject in motion.
The S-Auto mode is aimed firmly at beginners. Much like similar systems on rival cameras, when the CX6 is set to S-Auto it automatically identifies the type of scene being photographed and selects the appropriate scene mode (portrait, sports, night portrait, landscape, nightscape, macro mode), useful if you're not sure which mode to pick yourself. Like most automatic systems, it's not infallible, but does reliably pick one of the above scenes most of the time. There are also 3 new scene modes - Cooking, Fireworks and Golf Swing Continuous mode - bringing the total to 14.
The Dynamic Range double shot mode, now available as one of the Creative Shooting options, is one of the Ricoh CX6's star attractions, taking advantage of the CMOS sensor to record images with much greater dynamic range than most compacts. When the Ricoh CX6 is in DR mode it takes two images with different exposures, and then records a single image that combines the properly exposed parts of each one. There are four DR strengths - Very Weak, Weak, Medium and Strong - plus an Auto setting if you're unsure which is the best setting. You can also choose to take a DR and Normal image at the same time (both are saved to the memory card), useful for quickly comparing the effect. There's also the option to select a Priority Range for each DR strength, with Off, Highlights and Shadows your choices - this allows the more advanced user to tip the balance in favour of the shadow or highlight areas.
In practice the Dynamic Range mode works really well, resulting in images that have noticeably more dynamic range that those shot in the Normal mode, and far surpassing most other compact cameras. If you want to shoot images that retain detail in both the highlight and shadow areas, then the Ricoh CX6 is a great choice. You can see the results of using the the different modes for yourself on the Image Quality page, with a side-by side comparison of the Normal and four different DR modes. There is one main drawback though; the DR images have noticeably less saturated colours than the Normal version, which more accurately matches the scene.
Ricoh have included a range of creative filters to the CX6 that also sit under the Creative Shooting mode, including Miniaturize, High Contrast B&W, the new Bleach Bypass, Soft Focus, Cross Process and Toy Camera. While these are fun to play with initially, they're nowhere near as useful as the Dynamic Range mode.
The CX6 offers exactly the same HD video recording capabilities as the CX5, with three movie sizes available - 1280x720, 640x480 and 320x240 pixels - all at 30 frames per second. and all saved in the AVI file format, which unfortunately does result in some rather large file sizes. Sound recording is now in stereo and you can also use the zoom, autofocus and image stabilization during recording. Unfortunately you can't take advantage of the aperture and shutter priority modes to change the exposure, and there are no advanced features like Windcut or Pause / Restart as seen on other cameras, so Ricoh still have quite a lot of work to do in this area. On a more positive note, the CX6 now has a dedicated movie record button on the rear, which as you'd expect allows you to start recording with one button press, and you can split the movie and save it as separate files during recording by pressing the Fn button.
There are three scene modes of particular interest. The Discreet mode turns off the flash, AF Assist lamp and all operational sounds, very convenient when shooting in museums or anywhere that you don't want to draw attention to yourself. The Pets mode turns off the flash, AF auxiliary light and sounds to avoid startling your loved one, although it can only detect and focus on cat's faces (canine owners need to look elsewhere). The Night Landscape Multi-shot mode takes up to 4 shots and combines them to help prevent blur and reduce noise. This mode can also be used hand-held without a tripod.
Multi-target Auto Focusing is another intriguing feature, although it doesn't quite live up to expectations. The CX6 takes 5 consecutive images at different focal distances and allows you to choose the best one. It's quite useful for macro work when it's tricky to judge the exact focus point, although the combination of the CX6's high-res screen and manual focus mode already makes this much easier than on most other compact cameras. You can potentially also use the Multi-target Auto Focusing mode to shoot the 5 images, then combine them together in Photoshop or a similar application to create a single image with wider focus than a single image allows. In practice, however, the CX6 tends to always focus on a particular part of the scene and doesn't differentiate enough between the 5 shots to really make this technique effective.
The Subject Tracking AF mode automatically tracks moving subjects and ensures that they're in focus and also well-exposed when you decide to take the picture, making capturing unpredictable subjects like small children or animals much easier. In practice the CX6 performed very well in this mode, quickly locking onto the main subject and reliably following it around the frame, although the loud noise of the AF system as it does so is rather off-putting.
Multi-pattern auto white balance is useful for scenes with mixed lighting - daylight and flash, or fluorescent and daylight, for example. Instead of just taking an average reading from the whole scene, which inevitably gets the white balance wrong for the secondary light source, the CX6 breaks the image down into small areas and analyzes and sets the white balance for each one. In practice it produces a subtle but noticeable effect that is particularly useful for capturing more natural portraits when using flash.
By default the Adjust four-way joystick on the rear of the CX6 allows you to quickly adjust 5 different settings that are commonly used. Press it to alter Exposure Compensation, White Balance, ISO Speed, Quality and the AF/AE Target Selection mode. Even better, the Adj. menu is customisable - you can choose what the first four settings do, allowing you to control exactly what you want quick access to. The Adjust button also doubles up as the OK button to select options and it sets the Macro and Flash options by pressing left and right - there's another button underneath to access the Main menu system. Ricoh have also included a customisable Function (Fn) button, which can be optionally used to control one of 7 settings - AE Lock is a good choice. In theory it all sounds like a convoluted recipe for disaster, but in practice it works well, allowing quick access to most of the major functions of the camera without having to scroll through the menu system.
The Ricoh CX6 has a few notable tricks up its sleeve. The AF/AE Target Selection mode allows you to shift the target for both auto focus and automatic exposure without having to move the camera, useful for tripod-mounted macro subjects, but also available in any shooting mode. The [F1:1] Picture Size records your photos in square format (at 7 megapixels), similar to some medium format cameras, offering a new perspective on the world. The Fix Minimum Aperture function forces the camera to shoot at the smallest aperture available, which gives a greater depth of field in the resulting photograph. #
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The electronic leveler is an innovative feature borrowed from the GR Digital III and GX200 models. This helps to ensure level shots, both in landscape and portrait mode. You can view the horizontal indicator on the LCD monitor to ensure that shots are aligned horizontally. If you can't see the LCD screen in very bright sunlight, then the camera can also be set to make a sound to indicate a level horizon. It doesn't sound like a big deal in theory, but in practice it really helps to make the horizons in all your wide-angle shots perfectly level. Another very welcome feature is the ability to set the flash intensity, which can be adjusted in 1/3 EV steps across the -2.0EV to +2.0EV range, which gives you precise control over the flash output.
The face recognition feature offered by the Ricoh CX6 recognises a maximum of 8 faces and locks focus quite quickly. Ricoh have chosen to make it a specific scene mode, rather than a general setting that applies to whichever shooting mode is currently selected, which rather limits its usefulness. The Pre-AF and Continuous AF functions are more useful, helping you to quickly and accurately focus on the subject. As its name suggests, Pre-AF sets the focus before you've even half-pressed the shutter button, while Continuous AF automatically adjusts the focus to match the subject movement, making the CX6 well suited to action photography.
The main menu system on the Ricoh CX6 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu button on the rear of the camera. There are two main menus, Shooting and Setup. Quite a lot of the camera's main options, such as image size, sharpness, metering mode and continuous mode, are accessed here. Despite offering 10 onscreen choices at once, the sharp display ensures that the various options and icons are clear and legible. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and easy-to-follow manual before you start is a must. Thankfully Ricoh have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you.
Ricoh have a long history of creating responsive cameras, and the CX6 certainly extends that tradition. The start-up time from turning the Ricoh CX6 on to being ready to take a photo is quick at around 1 second, and it only takes just over 1.5 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest, impressive given the focal range. Focusing is lightning quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, even at the 300mm tele-photo end of the lens. It takes about 0.5 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is no LCD blackout between each image.
In the default Continuous mode the camera takes 5 frames per second at the highest JPEG image quality, which is excellent for this class of camera, 3fps with continuous auto-focusing for all three frames. In addition M-Continuous Plus (9M) takes 15 images at 5ps and M-Continuous Plus (2M) takes 30 images in one second, and you can also shoot at 30 frames/sec at 2 megapixels and an ultra-fast 120 frames/sec for 1 second or 60 frames/sec for 2 seconds at 640x480 pixels. In all these modes, the consecutively shot images are recorded as a single MPO file (a file format with multiple still images in a single file).
Once you have captured a photo, the Ricoh CX6 has an above average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (81 onscreen at once!), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows with audio, set the print order, delete, trim, rotate, protect and resize an image. There's a Recover File option which will rescue deleted images, just so long as you don't turn the camera off first. Level Compensation allows you to correct the contrast and tone of an image after it has been taken, and White Balance Compensation the white balance. The Skew Correction function alters any photo that was taken at an angle so it appears as if it were taken directly in front of you.
You can "flag" an image, which essentially allows you to choose up to three files and then immediately display them by pressing the Fn button during playback, and images are automatically rotated during playback to fit the current orientation of the camera. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during both shooting and playback. The White Saturation display mode during image playback indicates over-exposed highlights by flashing those areas on and off. When taking a photo, pressing the Display button toggles between the detailed information, the histogram and gridlines to aid composition.
That concludes our tour of the CX6's design and features - now let's take a look at its image quality.