Ricoh CX2 Review
Ricoh CX2 Introduction
The Ricoh CX2 is a new compact super-zoom camera, offering a 10.7x, 28-300mm zoom lens in a body less than 3cms thick. Successor to the 6-month old CX1 model, the Ricoh CX2 principally increases the focal range from 200mm to 300mm and the continuous shooting speed from 4fps to an impressively quick 5fps at full resolution. Other improvements include the addition of Pre-AF and Continuous AF focus modes, High-Contrast B&W, Discreet and Miniaturize scene modes, face recognition to the Easy shooting mode, and an AUTO option for the Dynamic Range feature. Otherwise the CX2 is fundamentally the same as its predecessor, with a 9 megapixel CMOS sensor, dynamic range of 12 EV, and Dynamic Range mode which takes two photos at different exposures and combines them to create a single image with expanded dynamic range. 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 CX2 also features the same 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 exactly the same price as the CX1, £299 in the UK, we find out if the Ricoh CX2 is worth considering.
Ease of Use
The design of the Ricoh CX2 is virtually identical to the previous CX1 model, so a lot of comments that we made about that camera will be repeated here. The CX2 is marginally heavier at 185g and thicker at 29.4 mm to accommodate the new 10.7 lens, but otherwise measures the same (101.5 mm (W) x 58.3 mm (H)) and looks 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 CX2 is available in either silver or a more serious black - Ricoh provided the latter for our review. It retains the rather understated, retro look of previous R-series cameras. As soon as you pick it up, the Ricoh CX2 feels as solidly made, refined and purposeful as its predecessors. The main external differences between the CX2 and the CX1 are purely cosmetic - there's now a textured plastic handgrip area on the front instead of the previous smooth area, and the bottom of the lens mounting area is cut off in line with the bottom of the camera, which looks rather strange.
One of the main changes to the Ricoh CX2 is its new 10.7x zoom lens. This expands the focal range from an already versatile 7x, 28-200mm zoom range to an even more handy 28-300mm, a great feat of engineering in such a small camera and one which brings Ricoh into the recently popular 10x/12x "travel zoom" category. 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 incredibly versatile, covering everything from wide-angle landscapes to close-up action photos. The maximum apertures have suffered slightly, now being f/3.5 at wide-angle and f/5.6 at telephoto (compared to f/3.3 and f/5.2 on the CX1), but its a worth-while trade-off for that extra 100mm of zoom. 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 CX2 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 CX2's screen has a commendably high resolution of 920K dots, and it certainly shows, being noticeably sharper and brighter than cameras with standard 230K dot screens. Both text and images really come alive on a simply breath-taking display that's one of the best of any camera that we've ever reviewed. 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 CX2 for different uses and provide 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 CX2 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, especially now that Ricoh have added face recognition.
The Dynamic Range double shot mode is one of the Ricoh CX2's star attractions, taking advantage of the CMOS sensor to record images with much greater dynamic range than most compacts. When the Ricoh CX2 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.
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 CX2 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. There is one main drawback though; the DR images have noticeably less saturated colours than the Normal version, which more accurately matches the scene.
There are three new scene modes of particular interest. High-contrast B&W shoots images with higher contrast and more grain than the normal B&W mode, while the Miniaturize mode shoots scenes with the top and bottom areas of the image blurred. The new 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.
Multi-target Auto Focusing is another intriguing feature, although it doesn't quite live up to expectations. The CX2 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 CX2'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 CX2 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 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 CX2 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 on the rear of the camera , 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/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 CX2 is a point and shoot camera with no advanced exposure controls. Having said that, the CX2 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 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 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 Ricoh CX2 features an anti-shake system called Camera Shake Correction - turn it on in the Main menu and the Ricoh CX2 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 CX1).
The face recognition feature offered by the Ricoh CX2 has at last been improved, now recognising a maximum of 8 faces (up from 4 on the CX1) and focusing a little more quickly than before. Ricoh have still 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, although they have at least now added it to the Easy shooting mode. The new 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 CX2 better suited to action photography than its predecessor.
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The main menu system on the Ricoh CX2 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 CX2 certainly extends that tradition. The start-up time from turning the Ricoh CX2 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 very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, even 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 default Continuous mode the camera takes 5 frames per second at the highest JPEG image quality, which is excellent for this class of camera. 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 at 640x480 pixels. In all four 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 CX2 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.