Ricoh CX1 Review
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The Ricoh CX1 is a brand new addition to Ricoh's range of 7x zoom point-and-shoot compact cameras. Offering the same versatile 28-200mm focal length as the R10, the most significant change to the CX1 is the new 9 megapixel CMOS sensor, which offers significant improvements in both image quality and operational speed. Ricoh are claiming that the CX1 has a dynamic range of 12 EV, producing images that are much closer to what we can see with the naked eye than most cameras. The new DR shooting mode exploits this by taking two photos at different exposures and combining them to create a single image with expanded dynamic range. The CX1's CMOS sensor also results in a faster camera, with continuous shooting available at 4 frames/sec at full resolution, 30 frames/sec at 2 megapixels, and an ultra-fast 120 frames/sec at 640x480 pixels. Multi-target Auto Focus takes seven consecutive images with different focal distances, allowing you to choose the image that you prefer, while the Multi-Pattern Auto White Balance mode detects different light sources in the scene and sets the correct white balance for each one. The Ricoh CX1 also features a 3 inch HVGA LCD screen with 920K dots, Smooth Imaging Engine IV image processing engine, electronic level to help ensure straight horizons, an Easy shooting mode aimed at beginners, CCD-shift vibration correction system to help avoid camera-shake, face recognition and 1cm macro mode. Retailing for £299 in the UK, we find out if the Ricoh CX1 is worth considering.
Ease of Use
The design of the Ricoh CX1 is heavily based upon the R10 model, being slightly deeper at 27.9mm and heavier at 180g, but otherwise measuring the same (101.5 mm (W) x 58.3 mm (H)) and looking almost identical. This 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. The CX1 is available in either silver, bronze or black - Ricoh provided the latter for our review. It retains the rather understated, retro look of previous R-series cameras, which will appeal to fans of compact Contax film cameras, for example. The external differences between the CX1 and the R10 are subtle - there's now an all-plastic handgrip area on the front instead of the previous rubberized area (something of a backwards step) and a slightly re-organised control layout on the rear. As soon as you pick it up, the Ricoh CX1 feels as solidly made, refined and purposeful as its predecessors.
The Ricoh CX1 retains exactly the same 7x, 28-200mm zoom range, still a great feat of engineering in such a small camera, although some competitors' models now offer 10x and even 12x zooms in a similarly sized body. When the lens is fully extended, the camera measures over 7cm in depth, but thankfully it retracts fully back into the body when it is turned off. The 28-200mm range is incredibly versatile, covering everything from wide-angle landscapes to close-up action photos. The Ricoh CX1 only has 10 external controls in total, leaving plenty of room for the large 3 inch LCD screen that dominates the back of the camera. The CX1's screen has double the resolution of the R10's on paper, up from 460K dots to 920K, and it certainly shows, being noticeably sharper and brighter. Both text and images really come alive on a simply breath-taking display that's the best of any camera that we've ever reviewed, including those with 920K dot screens.
There's a DSLR-like mode dial on top of the camera which lets you select from the Camera, DR, Continuous, Easy, Scene and Movie options, plus two settings called MY1 and MY2 which allow you to configure the CX1 for different uses and provides quick access to each configuration (the camera remembers the settings when it's turned off). The Easy shooting mode is aimed at beginners. The only options that can be changed when the CX1 is set to Easy mode is the Pic Quality/Size, and by pressing the Fn button, turning backlight compensation on. Note that the camera also returns to its default settings in Easy Mode. It's especially useful for the less experienced photographers in your family, or for asking other people to take photos of you when you're on vacation.
The new Dynamic Range double shot mode is one of the Ricoh CX1's star attractions, taking advantage of the CMOS sensor to record images with much greater dynamic range than most compacts. When the Ricoh CX1 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. You can also choose to take a DR and Normal image at the same time (both are saved to the memory card).
In practice this new 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 CX1 is a great choice. You can see the results of using the the different EXR modes for yourself on the Image Quality page. There is a side-by side comparison of the Normal and four different DR modes, with links to the original full size images and histograms. There is one main drawback though; the DR images have noticeably less saturated colours than the Normal version, which more accurately matches the scene, making the CX1 less successful than the Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR that we recently reviewed.
Multi-target Auto Focusing is another intriguing new feature, which doesn't quite live up to expectations. The CX1 takes 7 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 CX1'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 7 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 CX1 tends to always focus on a particular part of the scene and doesn't differentiate enough between the 7 shots to really make this technique effective.
Multi-pattern auto white balance is a new setting that 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 CX1 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 button, or more accurately the Adjust four-way joystick, 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 Target, which allows you to shift the target for AF or AE or both without having to move the camera. 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 CX1 is a point and shoot camera with no advanced exposure controls - Ricoh don't want the CX1 to steal market-share from their more professional and more expensive cameras. Having said that, the CX1 does have 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 now also available in any shooting mode. The [F1:1] Picture Size, as previously seen on the GX100 and GR Digital II cameras, allows you to record your photos in square format (at 6 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.
The electronic leveler is an innovative feature borrowed from the GR Digital II and GX200. 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 addition 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 Ricoh CX1 features an anti-shake system called Camera Shake Correction - turn it on in the Main menu and the Ricoh CX1 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. 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 over 275 shots before the battery needed to be recharged (comparable to the R10).
The face recognition feature offered by the Ricoh CX1 is based on a pretty simple system that only recognises a maximum of 4 faces. Ricoh have also 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. Face recognition does work if the subjects are looking directly at the camera, but the CX1 takes a while to lock onto the subject, and I think that the tried and trusted method of half-pressing the shutter button to focus and then recomposing the shot is a quicker and more reliable method.
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The main menu system on the Ricoh CX1 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, so the Shooting menu has 17 options spread over 2 screens, and there are 26 options in the Setup menu over 3 screens. Despite increasing the number of on-screen choices from 6 to 10, the new sharper 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 CX1 certainly extends that tradition. The start-up time from turning the Ricoh CX1 on to being ready to take a photo is very quick at around 0.75 second, and it only takes just over 1 second to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest, impressive given the focal range. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations. Note that the camera does struggle to lock onto the subject sometimes at the 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 fastest Continuous mode the camera takes 4 frames per second for up to 60 images at the highest JPEG image quality, which is excellent for this class of camera. You can also shoot at 30 frames/sec at 2 megapixels, and an ultra-fast 120 frames/sec at 640x480 pixels. Overall the Ricoh CX1 is extremely quick in terms of operational speed.
Once you have captured a photo, the Ricoh CX1 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.
Appearances can be deceptive - the Ricoh CX1 may look a lot like the R10 model, but it offers a number of quite radical new features that focus on producing better looking images. Does it succeed? Take a look at the Image Quality page to find out.