Ricoh CX1 Review
By Mike Flacy
For 2009, Ricoh has upgraded the R10 from last year with the all new CX1. Sharing many of the same features, the CX1 has been updated with a 9-megapixel CMOS image sensor, Dynamic Range Double Shot mode, increased burst speeds, a new 3.0-inch LCD with 920,000 dots, and it now offers ~88MB of internal memory. Features that have been carried over include a 7.1x wide angle optical zoom lens (28mm-200mm), sensor-shift image stabilization, electronic leveling meter, VGA sized movie mode (640x480) at 30fps, USB 2.0 connectivity, 80 - 1600 ISO range, DB-70 Li-ion battery pack, etc.
The CX1 is a very well designed camera, that is not only stylish with an almost 'retro' look, but durable too thanks to an all metal shell. The larger rght hand side offers a nice secure grip, and the padded rubber thumb rest adds a bit of comfort. All of the camera controls are placed in a comfortable manner, and allow for simple one-handed operation. We especially like the zoom controls that are mounted around the shutter release, offering effortless zooming. Taking up the majority of the back of the camera is a large 3-inch LCD screen with 920,000 dots, which is three times that of most digicams in this class. This display offers an incredibly sharp picture, allowing you to see details of a captured image that would not be possible on a screen with less resolution. The high contrast of the screen allows it to be seen easily in almost any lighting condition. The menu system is almost identical to the R10's, and overall is very easy to navigate. The CX1 offers a multitude of exposure options that you normally see on higher end, prosumer models. These include the new Dynamic Range Double Shot exposure mode, electronic leveling meter, various bracketing options, interval shooting, 'My' or custom exposure modes, Flash compensation, Slow Shutter limit, and various in-camera editing features.
Shooting performance from the CX1 was very good. When you turn on the camera, you are able to capture your first image in just 2 seconds. When the camera is pre-focused there is virtually no shutter lag time (less than 1/10 of a second), and when allowing the autofocus system to do it's job, the shutter lag is 3/10 of a second. In single shot mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds between frames with the flash off and between 3 - 4 seconds with flash on. There are also a five burst shooting modes available (Normal, M-Cont Plus low, M-Cont Plus High, Speed cont., Speed cont. high). The flash can not be used in any of the burst modes. In normal continuous mode, the camera was able to capture 10 9M/Fine images in just 2.0 seconds (5fps!), which is faster than a 90-95% of its competition. The M-Cont Plus modes are like movie mode, and capture 2-megapixel images at either 15fps (Low) or 30fps (high). The last two 'Speed Cont.' modes will capture 640x480 size images at with 60 (Low) or 120fps (High). When using either Normal or one of the M-Cont. modes, the LCD quickly displays the last image captured making it difficult, but possible to follow a moving subject. All of our tests were completed using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD memory card, auto mode, flash off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults, unless otherwise noted. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Like past Ricoh models, the CX1's image quality is excellent. Both indoors and out this camera captures beautiful images that show a pleasing level of sharpness, contrast, and exposure as well as accurate color reproduction. The 7.1x wide view optical zoom lens gives you a great deal of versatility, especially when compared to the typical 3x zoom on most models this size. On the wide end, you have a nice 28mm equivalent filed of view, which gives you the ability to take nice landscape shots outdoors or large group portraits indoors. At the same time, you have 200mm of telephoto magnification to zoom in on distant subjects or tightly frame objects for macro or portrait photography. Overall, I noticed a bit of edge softness from this lens as well as average amount of barrel distortion and slight pincushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, respectively.
When shooting our portrait examples, I used the dedicated 'Face' scene mode. This is a Portrait style mode that uses Ricoh's Face detection AF/AE system. Our photos show that this camera is able to produce some very nice people photos that display good flash exposure, sharp facial detail and natural skin tones. I also noticed that the Face detection system had no problems with young children, locking onto their faces within a second of them entering the frame. When shooting with ISO settings from 200 and down, images show an incredible amount of detail with very little noise. At 400, you start to see an average amount of noise, however these image still look great for a compact digicam. ISO 800 starts to show some detail loss from the noise reduction, however you can still create usable 4x6-inch or larger prints from images using this setting. The ISO 1600 option looks pretty bad, and I only recommend using it if absolutely necessary. Overall, the CX1 does well when using the higher ISO settings; there are very few cameras in this price range that look any better.
The CX1 also has a very impressive macro shooting mode. When shooting our macro example, I noticed that the flash was a bit strong. With a simple push of the menu button, I was able to decrease the flash output by 1EV with using the Flash Compensation option, which produced a much better exposure. You can see example of both images on the sample photos page.
One of the new features on this camera is the Dynamic Range Double Shot exposure mode. This mode greatly increases the dynamic range of a photo by taking two images with different exposure settings, then it combines them into one image. I found this mode worked really well, creating images that are slightly like the HDR images you see people create, just not as dramatic. To really see the difference, I took two images of the same subject, one right after the other, using DR mode, then Program mode. It's easy to see that the DR image looks much better than the image taken in the Auto or Program mode.
The CX1 offers you the ability to shoot video at either 640x480 or 320x240 with a frame rate of 15 or 30fps with sound. These movies are saved in Motion JPEG or .AVI format. The optical zoom can Not be moved during recording, but you can reset the desired focal length before starting. Our movie samples looked relatively good, up to par with most digicams on the market today. The microphone picks up sound well, and actually did a decent job in our example that was taken outside with a pretty good breeze blowing.
Powering the CX1 is a 3.6V 940 mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery. Ricoh lists that this pack can power the camera for up to 270 images on a single charge, when the LCD Auto Dim is on. I was able to capture well over 200 still images and several short videos as well as complete all of our tests on a single charge. Also included in the box is an external charger, which makes it easy to keep a second battery charged and on hand at all times. We always recommend having a backup battery charged and ready so that you will always be ready to capture that spontaneous photo.
Bottom Line - Ricoh has put together an awesome little compact camera. The CX1 was a pleasure to use, in fact there were Very few things that I could find 'wrong' with this camera. It offers image quality that is not matched by most of it's competition, not to mention blazing fast shooting performance. The new CMOS image sensor, 920,00 dot 3.0-inch LCD, and Dynamic Range Double Shot modes are all welcomed additions, and increase the overall appeal of this camera. That said, with an MSRP of $379, I feel the Ricoh CX1 offers an outstanding value for such a capable and compact point-n-shoot. To be honest, the only problem I have with this camera is the fact that not enough people are selling it!
Ricoh has announced updated firmware versions for the CX1
Details - Ricoh CX1 Firmware Update Version 1.19
This firmware update modifies the following phenomenon:
To download this new update, visit Ricoh's Support site.
Details - Ricoh CX1 Firmware Update Version 1.16
This firmware update includes the following:
To download this new update, visit Ricoh's Support site.
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