Say hello to the 'careful-cam'
Review The performance of compact cameras has greatly improved over the years, largely as a result of advances in auto technology. Improved autofocus, white balance and exposure systems mean that most pictures will turn out sharp and correctly exposed, while face- and smile-detection systems mean you're more likely to snap your subject’s face rather than the tree behind.
But you know what? Even with all these advances, there are still times when shooting in auto mode produces less-than-satisfying results.
Ricoh's CX1: say hello to the 'careful-cam'
There are, of course, various features that can increase the odds of getting optimum picture quality, such as auto bracketing. But Ricoh has taken this a stage further with the launch of the CX1. It’s a camera with so many fail-safe features that we’ve dubbed it the Careful-Cam.
Not sure if your shot is correctly focused? Why not use a system that shoots seven consecutive shots at different focal lengths to ensure that at least one of them is pin-sharp? And there’s more technology like this lurking under the CX1’s body. But is it all worth the effort or simply marketing hype? Let’s consider the evidence.
Ricoh has gone for a minimalist design with the CX1. OK, that’s a posh way of saying it has a rather austere look about it. At the top is a small power button, shutter, zoom lever and mode dial. At the back is a large, 3in LCD screen with 920,000 dots; Menu, function, self timer/delete and display buttons arranged vertically; and a tiny joystick control. Press the centre of the joystick and you can quickly make adjustments to parameters such as ISO speed and white balance; pushing the joystick lets you change the flash and macro settings.
A nice, big 3in LCD
On the right is a tiny flap covering a mini USB port, and at the bottom, a flap for a lithium ion battery and SD/SDHC card. In terms of size, the CX1 is certainly pocketable, but it does look a tad wide compared with many of the slimline cameras on the market. Its dimensions are 101.5 x 58.3 x 27.9mm and the weight with battery and card is around 200g.
The CX1 combines Ricoh's "Smooth Imaging Engine IV" image processing chip with a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with 9.29m pixels (effective); a 7.1x optical zoom in the shape of a 4.95-35.4mm lens equivalent to 28-200mm for a 35mm format camera; image resolution ranging from 3456 x 2592 to 2592 x 2592, with several selectable aspect ratios; shutter speed range of 8-1/2000sec, ISO range 80-1600; and continuous shooting speed modes which go from 4f/s at high resolution to a blistering 120f/s at 640 x 480 resolution.
Not a multitude of controls
Movie mode - the format's Motion JPEG in an AVI container - offers 640 x 480 (VGA) and 320 x 240 (QVGA) resolutions with 15f/s and 30f/s shooting speed options. The CX1 uses a sensor shift image stabilisation system.
Not surprisingly, Ricoh is making the most noise about the CX1’s fancy features. Dynamic Range Double Shot shoots two images at different exposures and uses this data to produce a single image that combines the properly exposed portions from each image – or so it says on the tin.
Multi-pattern Auto White Balance is designed to improve image quality when shooting in a mix of natural and artificial light by adjusting the balance in different parts of the scene, while Multi-Target Auto Focus shoots seven images at seven fixed focal lengths - 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm and 200mm - and lets you decide which shot is the sharpest.
Switch on is fast: the CX1 is ready to go in about a second. The mode dial lets you select Easy mode, which only lets you adjust the image quality, plus Auto, Dynamic-range Double Shot, Continuous, Scene - there are ten scene modes, including, Portrait, Face and Landscape - Movie, plus two user-defined preset modes.
Not the thinnest of compacts
There are several layers of user control. Press the Menu button and you can adjust parameters such as the focus mode - there are half a dozen options, including manual focus - exposure metering and ISO, although this method involves scrolling through two long menus. You can assign various functions, such as AE Lock, to the fn button for fast access, while as stated earlier, the joystick control can also be used to adjust various settings.
If you want to be certain you get at least one sharp frame then the Multi-Target Auto Focus mode will help you. It works by taking seven shots at seven different focal lengths, leaving you to select the sharpest.
Telephoto (top) and wide-angle shots
Ricoh has provided the CX1 with a handy 7.1x optical zoom.
Overall, we liked the way the CX1 handled. It’s comfortable to hold, the LCD screen is large and clear, and you aren’t confronted by a mass of buttons and switches. That said, the joystick control takes a little getting used to.
There are some nice touches too, such as an electronic spirit level with tells you whether the CX1 is correctlt oriented when shooting - you can opt for a graphic display, audio cue or both. During playback, you can display up to 81 images on screen. We weren’t so impressed with the image delete system, which gives you various options for deleting single or multiple images, or images within a certain range. We found it a little confusing, although thankfully, the CX1 also offers an undelete system.
Performance-wise, the CX1 produced reasonable pictures, although we noticed a tendency to overexpose, and noise was noticeable in a number of frames, even when shooting at a low ISO setting. Don’t get us wrong: the CX1 will give you pretty decent snaps, but we’ve seen better performance from other, similarly priced cameras.
But anyone tempted to buy this camera will no doubt want to use the special features Ricoh has packed into it. The continuous shooting mode options are very good and if you want to capture fast-moving action at super-fast speed - albeit at VGA resolution - then the CX1 won’t let you down. We didn’t see any great effect with the multi-pattern auto white balance system, so file under subtle rather than spectacular.
Dynamic shot (top) and normal
The Multi-Target AF system certainly increases the odds of you getting a sharp frame, although it’s more effective when taking long-range shots than close-ups. We can see how Multi-Target AF might appeal to paparazzi wanting to ensure that they get at least one sharp shot, but then again, they are hardly likely to use the CX1 for their handywork...
The Dynamic Range Double Shot mode was more problematic. It works by shooting two frames and then using digital processing to combine the best exposed portions into a single frame. You can also get the CX1 to take a normal shot at the same time for comparison. And that’s the nub of the problem. Unless you’re shooting on a tripod, there will be some slight movement between frames and this could result in blur and other artefacts.
Sure enough, when we tried the Dynamic Range Double Shot on the strongest setting, the images were softer and suffered from some degree of blur. Plus, we didn’t see any great improvement in contrast when using shooting in this mode.
The CX1 has some handy features - such as various continuous shooting modes and a nice 7.1x optical zoom - and handles well. But we aren't convinced that features such as Multi-target Auto Focus and Dynamic Range Double Shot mean that its £300 price tag offers good value for money. So unless you like to be absolutely, utterly, completely sure that your images are properly focused and don’t mind firing off seven frame to get this result, then the CX1 doesn’t offer a great deal more than many cameras costing a bit less. ®
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