DCRP

Ricoh CX1 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Ricoh CX1 takes the fundamental features from their R10 digital camera, and throws in a new CMOS sensor and a larger, ultra-high resolution LCD. The CMOS sensor allows for some neat tricks (such as the dynamic range double-shot feature) and faster continuous shooting, though I was surprised to see that there wasn't an HD movie mode (other CMOS-based cameras do it). As with the R8 and R10 before it, the Ricoh CX1 is a well-designed camera that packs a lot of zoom power in a small package, but ultimately disappoints in the image quality department. The CX1 is a capable camera with some really unique (and useful) features, but it's hard to recommend given its mediocre image quality.

From most angles, you'd be hard-pressed to see the difference between the CX1 and the R8 and R10 that came before it. The CX1 is a compact camera made almost entirely of metal, save for the plastic tripod mount and memory card/battery compartment door. It feels solid in your hands, and it's easy to pick up and use without reading the manual first. Ricoh didn't go overboard with buttons, and they made a real effort to provide customizable buttons, dials, and menus, so you don't have to visit the (rather unattractive) menu system constantly. The CX1 fits a F3.2 - F5.2 (yes, that's a little slow), 7.1X optical zoom into its small frame, giving you a wide zoom range of 28 - 200 mm. The camera has a sensor-shift image stabilization system (which is for still shooting only) that seems to do an effective job of reducing the risk of blurry photos. The back of the CX1 is where you'll see the main difference between it and items predecessors. There you'll find a large, super high resolution 3-inch LCD display. This screen has over 920,000 pixels -- same as on some pricey D-SLRs -- so everything looks pretty sharp (though I was expecting better, frankly). The screen offers good outdoor and low light visibility. The CX1 lacks an optical viewfinder, as do nearly all cameras in its class. It's very light in the accessory department, as well, though the optional remote shutter release cable is a nice touch.

While it has a few manual controls, the Ricoh CX1 is mostly a point-and-shoot experience. For those who don't want to even think about changing camera settings, there's an "easy" mode that is as basic as you can get. Most users will probably use the regular auto mode, though. The CX1 is a bit strange in that you have to switch modes to access certain features, such as face detection and continuous shooting. The camera's face detection system seemed a bit behind the times, capable of finding only 4 faces in a photo (and it struggled to accomplish that). As far as manual controls go, you've got them for focus, white balance, and slow shutter speeds. The manual focus feature is hampered by a nearly useless guide showing the focus distance, and the slow shutter speed only gives you four options. The CX1 has a ton of bracketing options, plus the ability to take 7 images, each with a different focus point. Some other cool features include an electronic level (and boy do I need that), and in-camera white balance and (exposure) level adjustment. There's also a dynamic range double-shot feature, which combines two exposures into one for better contrast, and it does work occasionally, though images seem to get noticeably softer. The CX1's movie mode is dated, providing VGA recording (at 30 fps) without access to the optical zoom or the image stabilizer.

The CX1 is definitely a pretty responsive camera to use. While its 1.6 second startup time is average, the camera focuses quickly at both wide-angle and telephoto, as well as in low light situations. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays ranged from 1 second without the flash, to 2-3 seconds with it. The CX1 definitely shines in the continuous shooting department, thanks to its CMOS sensor. You can take up to 18 shots in a row at 4 frames/second, which is far better than most compact cameras. There are two faster options available, though they 1) are low resolution and 2) put the images into a proprietary file format, from which you'll need to extract the actual JPEGs. The CX1 is tied with a few other cameras for the best battery life in its class.

Without a doubt, photo quality is the Ricoh CX1's weak point. While exposure was generally good, and colors pleasing, the CX1 suffers from too much noise reduction. This smudges away fine details, even at the base sensitivity (ISO 80). There's no way to adjust the amount of noise reduction being applied (nor is there a RAW mode), so you're sort of stuck with what the camera produces. The 4 x 6 print crowd probably won't notice, but if you're making large prints or viewing the images on your computer screen, you'll certainly see what I'm talking about. While many of its peers have the same problem, the CX1 seemed a bit worse than average in this area. While the camera doesn't have a problem with purple fringing, it does have issues with redeye, and there's no tool on the camera that you can use to remove it.

There are a couple of other issues to mention before I wrap things up. For one, the CX1's flash is pretty weak, and raising the ISO to compensate for this can make your photos awfully noisy (just look at the earlier test photo). You won't be able to get at the memory card slot when the camera is on a tripod, which is a frequent complaint of mine. And finally, there's no bundled Mac software included, though (as always) the camera works fine with iPhoto.

Ricoh has done a good job creating a camera that has the tools that photographers want (well, except for manual controls). Unfortunately, they aren't spending enough time on the most important feature a camera can have: good photo quality. If the CX1 had a decent noise reduction system, then it would be a really compelling product. Unfortunately, that's not the case, so we'll have to hope they do better next time. The bottom line here is that you're better off spending your hard-earned cash on something else.

What I liked:

  • Good exposure and color; minimal purple fringing
  • 7.1X, 28 - 200 mm lens in a compact, well-built body
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Super high resolution 3-inch LCD display
  • Quick to focus, no shutter lag, brief shot-to-shot delays
  • Very nice continuous shooting mode
  • Some manual controls, plus numerous bracketing modes
  • Customizable adjustment menu, spots on mode dial, and Function button
  • Handy level feature means no more crooked horizons
  • Unique exposure level and white balance compensation features in playback mode
  • Time-lapse photo mode
  • Plenty of built-in memory
  • Optional remote shutter release cable

What I didn't care for:

  • Heavy noise reduction smudges fine details, even at base ISO
  • Redeye a problem, no removal tool available
  • Weak flash
  • Focus distance guide in manual focus mode nearly useless
  • Dated face detection and movie features
  • Image stabilizer not available in movie mode
  • Unappealing menu system
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Plastic tripod mount; can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • No Mac software included

Some other compact cameras with above average zoom power include the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FC100, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, GE 1276W, Nikon Coolpix S630, Olympus Stylus 7000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3, Samsung SL820, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290.

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.