DCRP

Ricoh CX1 Review

Using the Ricoh CX1

Record Mode

It takes the Ricoh CX1 about 1.6 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's a fairly average number.


A live histogram and a handy electronic level are available in record mode

The CX1 is pretty snappy in the focusing department. At wide-angle, it took between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, while telephoto focus times ranged from 0.5 - 0.8 seconds. Low light focusing was good as well, staying at one second or less in most situations. I did find the focus motor to be on the noisy side, for what it's worth.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot delays are brief. When you're not using the flash, you'll wait for around a second before you can take another photo. With the flash, expect a 2-3 second wait.

If you want the ability to delete photos after they're taken, you'll need to set the "LCD confirmation time" option to hold. Otherwise, you can't do it.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 88MB onboard memory # images on 2GB card (optional)
3456 x 2592 Fine 3.3 MB 24 539
Normal 1.9 MB 43 931
3456 x 2304
(3:2 ratio)
Fine 2.9 MB 28 608
2592 x 2592
(1:1 ratio)
Fine 2.5 MB 33 723
3072 x 2304 Normal 1.5 MB 53 1159
2592 x 1944 Normal 1.1 MB 73 1576
2048 x 1536 Normal 763 KB 109 2363
1798 x 1296
(M-Cont Plus only)
Normal 577 KB 143 3072
1280 x 960 Normal 447 KB 181 3840
640 x 480 Normal 106 KB 705 15359

Nice to see a camera that actually hold a decent amount of photos on its built-in memory! Still, you'll want to buy a larger memory card right away.

While the CX1 can shoot in 3:2 and 1:1 aspect ratios, surprisingly there's no 16:9 option. The CX1 does not support the RAW image format.

It's important to note that photos taken in M-Cont Plus, Speed Cont, and Multi-target AF modes are packaged into a single file, known as an MP file. While you won't notice this when you're viewing photos on the camera (aside from the fact that they're presented as a "stack" of photos), you will when you browse through your memory card. In order to get the photos split off into JPEGs, you must first use the "export" function in playback mode.

The CX1 has probably the least attractive menu system I've seen in years, reminding me of something from the early 80's. If you can get over the appearance, you'll find the menu fairly easy to navigate. Keeping in mind that not all of these options will be available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of options in the recording menu:

  • Pic quality/size (see above chart)
  • Movie size (640 x 480, 320 x 240)
  • Frame rate (30, 15 fps)
  • Density (Light, normal, deep) - change the shading of text while in that scene mode
  • Size (9M, 3M) - image size for text mode
  • Focus (Multi AF, spot AF, multi-target AF, MF, snap, infinity) - see below
  • Exposure metering (Multi, center, spot)
  • Image settings (Hard, normal, soft, custom, black & white, sepia) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Auto bracket (Off, on, WB-BKT, CL-BKT, FOCUS-BK) - see below
  • Dynamic range expansion (Very weak, weak, medium, strong) - only shown in dynamic range double-shot mode
  • Plus normal shooting (on/off) - whether an untouched photo is saved along with the dynamic range double-shot image
  • Time exposure (Off, 1, 2, 4, 8 secs) - for taking long exposures
  • Custom self-timer
    • Pictures (1 - 10)
    • Interval (5 - 10 secs)
  • Fix minimum aperture (on/off) - uses a smaller aperture, for more depth-of-field
  • Interval (Off, 5 secs - 1 hour) - see below
  • Camera shake correction (on/off) - turns image stabilization on and off
  • Slow shutter limit (Off, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 sec) - how slow a shutter speed the camera will use
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date & time)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, multi-point auto, outdoors, cloudy, incandescent 1/2, fluorescent, manual) - see below
  • ISO setting (Auto, Auto-Hi, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - the "hi" option simply uses a higher sensitivity [which you can set] than regular Auto
  • Restore defaults


Manual focus

The CX1 has quite a few focus options available. The multi (9-point), spot, and infinity settings should be self-explanatory. The multi-target option is somewhat unique: when you halfway-press the shutter release button, the camera will select several different objects on which to focus. It will then take seven photos in a row, one at each different focus distance. The example Ricoh gives involves taking photos of roses, and I can't think of anything better to illustrate when you might use this feature. The CX1 can also focus manually, allowing you to set the focus distance with the four-way controller. While a guide is shown on the LCD shows relative focus distance, the lack of actual numbers makes it borderline useless. The center of the frame is enlarged, so you can confirm that your subject is in focus.

The image settings option lets you quickly contrast, sharpness, and saturation, though Ricoh's choice of words isn't the best (soft, normal, or hard?). If you want to customize things to your liking, select the "custom" option (see screenshot above). The image settings option is also where you can activate black and white or sepia mode.

The CX1 can bracket for four different things: exposure, white balance, color, and focus. Exposure bracketing takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value. The interval between each shot is ±0.5EV. White balance bracketing is similar: the camera takes a reddish image, a bluish image, and then an image at the current WB setting. Color bracketing takes black and white, color, and sepia images, all at the push of a button. As you might've guessed, focus bracketing takes several shots in a row (five, to be exact), each with a different focus distance.

The time exposure feature is the only way to take long exposures on the CX1. You're limited to just four shutter speed choices: 1, 2, 4, and 8 seconds. The interval (time-lapse) option lets you take photos at a set interval, ranging from 5 seconds to 1 hour. You'll want a fully charged battery or the optional AC adapter if you plan on using this feature successfully.

The last thing I want to mention here are the white balance options. The camera has two auto modes: regular, and multi-point. As its name implies, multi-point WB is supposed to sample the image in sections, for more accurate color in mixed lighting. I set up an experiment to see if it made any difference, and if it did, I sure didn't notice. You can set the white balance manually, as well, using a white or gray card -- we'll see how well that worked in a few moments, when I get to the photo tests.

Let's move onto the setup menu now, which has quite a few options. They include:

  • Format [card]
  • Format [internal memory that ]
  • LCD brightness (-4 to +4)
  • Register My Settings (Setting 1, 2) - store favorite settings to spots on mode dial
  • Step zoom (on/off) - described earlier
  • Set Function button (Off, macro target, step zoom, AE lock, AF/M-target AF, AF/MF, AF/snap, AE-BKT, WB-BKT, CL-BKT, FOCUS-BKT, minimum aperture) - what this buttons does
  • Adj. button setting 1/2/3/4 (Off, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, quality, focus, image quality, metering, auto bracket, flash compensation, minimum aperture) - fill the four slows in the shortcut menu
  • ISO Auto-High (ISO 400, 800, 1600) - how high the ISO will go in the "Auto High" mode
  • AF auxiliary lamp (on/off)
  • Operation sounds (All, level sound, shutter sounds)
  • Volume settings (0-3)
  • LCD confirmation time (Off, 0.5, 1, 2, 3 secs, hold) - post-shot review
  • Auto power off (Off, 1, 5, 30 mins)
  • LCD auto dim (on/off) - dims the screen when camera is idle
  • Digital zoom image (Normal, auto resize)
  • Level setting (Off, display, display+sound, sound) - see below
  • Shooting info display frame (on/off)
  • Minimum distance (Show, hide) - whether min. focus distance is shown on LCD
  • Auto rotate (on/off)
  • Card sequence number (on/off)
  • Date settings
  • Language
  • Video out mode (NTSC, PAL)

I want to mention two things quickly before we hit the photo tests. First, the "digital zoom image" option. Normally, using digital zoom will degrade the quality of the image. However, if you use the "auto resize" option, the camera will reduce the resolution of the image as you increase the amount of digital zoom. For example, if you're using 1.7X digital zoom, the photo will be resized to 3 Megapixel.


The digital level (bottom center) is green, so I know I'm good

You caught a glimpse of it before, but I have to mention it again, since I like the electronic level so much. This feature shows a guide on the bottom of the LCD, turning green (or beeping) when the camera is level. Very handy for people like me who can't seem to get their horizons straight!

Enough about menus, let's move onto our photo tests now.

The Ricoh CX1 gets mixed reviews from me in the macro department. The good news is that the subject is sharp, and the colors accurate. The bad news is that you can easily spot noise and noise reduction here, and this is at ISO 80. That doesn't bode well for how things will look at higher sensitivities.

I should point out that as soon as you enter macro mode, the lens zooms in a little, to the 32 mm position. At that point, you can be as close to your subject as just 1 cm. At the telephoto end of the lens, that distance jumps to 25 cm - quite close considering that you're at 200 mm.

There are two ways to take night shots like the one you see above on the Ricoh CX1. You can use the nightscape scene mode, or you can select the "time exposure" option, which lets you pick one of four slow shutter speeds. Naturally, the shutter speed that would've worked best was right in-between what was available; 4 seconds (shown above) wasn't enough, while 8 seconds was too much. Thus, the photo above is on the dark side. While the buildings are sharp, you can easily pick out noise in the low contrast areas of the scene. The CX1 handled highlights fairly well, and purple fringing was not a problem.

Since I can't control the shutter speed and ISO at the same time, I'm unable to perform the low light ISO test. Look for the studio ISO test below.

There's very little barrel distortion at the wide end of the Ricoh CX1's 28 - 200 mm zoom lens, which is always nice to see. Vignetting (dark corners) wasn't a problem, and corner blurriness was generally mild.

Compact cameras almost all have redeye problems, and the CX1 is no exception. While most cameras these days have digital redeye removal systems -- some of which work as the photos is taken -- the CX1 sticks with the old preflash system that doesn't really work. Bottom line: plan on spending some time removing this annoyance on your Mac or PC.

Here now is the studio ISO test that I promised you. Since it's taken under consistent lighting, you can compare it with other cameras that I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each settings, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. And with that, here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 80 image is fairly clean, though you'll spot some noise in the areas of solid color (especially the black part of the poster), and some jaggies on the bottle of hot sauce. Things get a little bit worse at ISO 100 and 200, but you probably won't notice unless you're inspecting things on your computer screen at 100%. Detail levels start to go south at ISO 400 due to noise reduction, so this is as high as I'd take the CX1 (and that's in good light). At ISO 800 and above, photos start to look pixelated, with plenty of lost detail. At ISO 1600 I spotted some strange color bleeding on the TiVo doll, as well.

As with the last couple of Ricoh cameras that I've reviewed, the CX1's image quality is disappointing, for one reason: too much noise reduction. Before I get into that, I can tell you that exposure was generally solid, though you will see some highlight clipping occasionally, as you will on nearly all compact cameras. Colors were saturated and accurate most of the time, though I did notice a color cast in the last three photos in the gallery. At first glance, photos look pretty sharp, but if you inspect fine details such as grass, leaves, and other areas of low contrast, you'll see noise reduction at work, smudging away details (example). Most compact cameras aren't great at the pixel level, but the CX1 is definitely worse than average. If you're keeping the ISO low and making small prints, then this may not bother you. But if you're printing 8 x 10's, viewing images on your computer screen, or shooting at high ISOs, then you're definitely going to want to find a camera with less aggressive noise reduction.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and see for yourself. Printing a few of the photos isn't a bad idea, either.

Movie Mode

Despite its CMOS sensor, the Ricoh CX1 has a rather uninspired movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound, until you hit the 4GB file size limit. That takes about 38 minutes at the highest quality setting.

For longer movies, you can cut the resolution (to 320 x 240), the frame rate (to 15 fps), or both.

As is usually the case, you cannot use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. And, disappointingly, you cannot use the image stabilizer, either (which isn't uncommon on cameras with sensor-shift IS).

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the VGA/30 fps setting. I wasn't overly impressed with the CX1's video quality, either.


Click to play movie (22.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The Ricoh CX1 has some unique features in its playback mode. First, though, the basics, which include: slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and "zoom and scroll". This last feature lets you enlarge an image by as much as 16X, and then move around in the enlarged area. You can zoom in slowly with the zoom controller, or jump right to 8X or 16X by pressing the Adj/OK button.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. Here you can also extract photos out of an MP file, which was created if you used the fast continuous shooting or Multi-target AF modes. Photos can be "flagged" in playback mode, for easy retrieval later. To see the photos you've flagged, just press the Function button while in playback mode.

Level compensation White balance compensation

The CX1 has some unique in-camera photo retouching options, as well. I already mentioned skew correction back when I talked about scene modes. There's also level and white balance compensation. Level compensation works just like it does in Photoshop. You get a histogram, and you can adjust the brightness of the shadows, midtones, and highlights using the four-way controller. If you want better contrast and brightness without having to play with histograms, the camera can fix things automatically, too.

White balance compensation lets you adjust the "tint" of a photo in the blue-amber and/or green-magenta directions. While this feature is handy, it would've been a heck of a lot nicer (not to mention, more effective) if it was available in record mode instead.

The CX1 has one last neat trick up its sleeve: the ability to restore a photo or photos that you just deleted. There's a window of opportunity in which you can use this feature (turning off the camera or switching to record mode closes it), but it does work if you follow the rules. Speaking of deleting photos, you can do so one at a time, in a group, or all at once.

By default, you'll see some basic information about your photo on the LCD. Press the Display button and you'll see a bit more, plus a histogram. An additional press will show areas of the photo that were overexposed.

The camera moves from photo to photo without delay.

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