By Josh Fate
With one of the easiest layouts for a compact camera, the CX4 looks a lot less intimidating than most other digicams in its class. The controls are incredibly simple, with an easy to use and very detailed menu system. Framing and viewing your images is accomplished with the 3.0-inch, 920,000 dot LCD screen. This extremely high resolution screen is an absolute pleasure to use, showing you more detail that you have ever seen before on a compact model. This screen features several coatings to help protect it from dirt and scratches as well as coating to reduce the glare for shooting in bright light.
Our outdoor sample images show that the camera handles exposures very well, even with the high dynamic range of the museum shot. It's color representation is very accurate, reproducing an image that is extremely close to what the photographer actually sees. In the wide zoom sample, the highlight areas are slightly overexposed but not blown out as we have seen with our other cameras lately. There are a few slight instances of chromatic aberrations, but for the most part, they are controlled very well. Framing and composing your images is done with the 10.7x optical zoom lens. With a 35mm equivalent of 28-300mm, you will have no problem shooting wide landscapes or up-close images of distant objects.
Our indoor images show a well exposed, very sharp image from edge to edge with or without the flash. The CX4 really shines when it comes to its sensitivity performance. Looking closely you can see that the images look great through ISO 800 and even ISO 1600 holds on to enough detail that they will make acceptable smaller prints. Assisting with your low-light photography is a small built-in flash. With a maximum range of approx. 13ft. at ISO auto, you will need to keep fairly close to your subject in order to keep the ISO as low as possible for higher quality images.
Shooting portraits with the CX4 was very easy as the camera quickly detected any faces within the frame and followed them fairly well. It also did an excellent job of exposing the face in the bright window in the back of our sample image. The faces themselves look excellent, with smooth, natural textures and colors, and not even a hint of redness in the eyes thanks to the red-eye reduction flash.
As always, macro photography is a lot of fun with the CX4 as it has been with the other Ricoh models in the past. It's ability to focus on a subject that is just 1cm away is fantastic. The quality and detail that is displayed will give you a whole new appreciation for macro photography. While the flash doesn't help when you are too close to your subject, it is controlled very well if you are far enough back for the flash to clear the lens.
Ricoh has also added some high-speed shooting features that have started to show up more lately on high-speed compact digicams. To go along with its ability to capture 10-Megapixel images at a rate of 5fps, the camera will also capture several images in order to combine them to help extend its dynamic range or reduce noise for handheld night shooting. Both of our dynamic range and night landscape multi-shot images show that these shooting modes are far from perfect, but they do work, and they do allow us to capture handheld images that would normally require a tripod, software and know-how.
The CX4 captures good video for a digicam, showing us a little noise in our less than perfectly lit video. The video also plays back very smoothly while on the camera, but it did have a little trouble in both windows media player and quicktime on a Windows 7 machine. In both programs the videos played extremely quick. One creative feature that Ricoh has overlooked on this camera is the ability to zoom while recording. Although you can set the zoom before hand, it takes away a fun option. There is also no dedicated recording button, meaning you might miss a spontaneous moment that could have best been captured as a video instead of with an image. Recording the audio for your movies is a small mic inside the camera. This is very sensitive and will pick up all of the sounds around the camera. If you are recording with the telephoto zoom, you will likely not hear any of the audio.
Powering the CX4 is a 3.7V, 950mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery. While completing our tests, we were able to capture over 150 images and videos , with about 50 burst images, on a single charge with no worries about the battery running out. This fits well with Ricoh's claims that it can supply enough power to capture up to 330 images (CIPA), depending on the camera's settings. Allowing you to quickly charge a battery and keep a second charged battery on hand, Ricoh has included a compact quick charger with the camera.
Bottom Line - Ricoh's CX4 is a lesser known, powerful digicam sporting a 10-Megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 10.7x optical zoom lens, 720p HD video capture and slew of creative shooting modes to keep anyone's creative juices flowing. This powerful camera has excellent performance and image quality, and is definitely worth looking at if you are in the market for a higher-level compact camera. With a MSRP of US $399.99, its an affordable compact with amazing features, quality and performance.