Part 1 of the CX1 Review was all about the build and controls of the camera. As usual there is little if anything to fault with the build and especially the controls or Ricoh cameras, they are designed by people who actually use cameras and with photographers in mind.
This would not matter much though if the cameras would not deliver when it comes to the image quality or would not be responsive enough and would cause you to miss the decisive moment. In part 2, I will have a look and see how the camera performs when it comes to the operation and the image quality.
Operation and Picture Quality
After powering it on the CX1 is ready to take the picture in just over 1 second, this is not very fast but it is an improvement over the R10 and good enough compared with other cameras in the same class. Once it is on however the camera is very fast to take pictures and you never have to wait for it, thanks to the CMOS sensor you can keep shooting without ever having to wait for the camera to finish writing.
One of my biggest complaints with the R10 was the slow AF and even more problematic was the screen freeze while the camera tried to achieve focus lock. I am happy to say that the CX1 not only fixes this but improves massively on it and even adds a new ‘Multi Target AF’.
The screen freeze is all but gone now and the AF speed is one of the fastest I have seen in any digital compact camera and is almost as fast as the phase-detection AF found in older Ricoh cameras while being more accurate than these. You will never have to wait too long for the camera to achieve focus lock even at 200mm or low light situations. This to me is a huge step up and makes the CX1 a great camera for street photography.
The very fast contrast detection AF is one of the biggest benefits of the CMOS sensor and Ricoh did very well to incorporate it in the CX1. Not only does the CMOS sensor allow for very fast contrast detection AF but it also allowed Ricoh to implement another extremely usefull feature in the ‘Multi Target AF’.
The ‘Multi Target AF’ mode is very interesting and makes use of the CMOS sensor’s ability to focus very fast and uses the high continuous shooting capabilities to take 7 pictures with different AF points. This might not sound all that exciting at first but comes in very handy if you want to use the macro mode and are not sure what focus point would work best or to combine a series of pictures in one single image with a high depth of field or simply if the subject is slightly moving (a flower moving in the wind for example). This mode combined with the excellent macro capabilities makes the CX1 a great choice for macro shooters. You can read more about this mode and see a example for high DOF here.
Of course the CX1 has kept the great ‘Snap’ mode found in other Ricoh cameras. The snap focus takes advantage of the big depth of field the sensors have and pre-sets the focus to 2.5m. This means you get a sharp picture from 2.5m to almost infinity. This method also helps to eliminate any focus lag and works very well in practice, as long as you don’t require the focus to be much closer than 2.5m, you can assign it to the Fn button for fast switching between normal AF and Snap if you like.
Another reason Ricoh moved to a CMOS sensor is to improve the shooting speed of the camera, the CX1 can now take pictures at 4fps (or 3fps depending on the SD card speed) at full resolution untill the card is full. This works great and the LCD does a good job in keeping up with it so you can track the action relatively well. You will never miss the decisive moment thanks to this and especially if you take sports pictures it will be a big advantage.
This is not all however, the CX1 goes even further and allows you to take up to 120fps, albeit at reduced resolution, and will save it as a MPO file (you can read this with the supplied software, extract in-camera or download the software from here).
Something not found in many other camera is the time lapse mode which allows you to take pictures at a set interval between 5 seconds and 2 hours. This is a great feature and Ricoh is one of the few manufacturers who do not limit the number of pictures you can take or the resolution you can use in timelapse mode.
One thing that Ricoh did not improve and where they are still lagging far behind the competition is their video mode. When even dSLRs start to have an HD video mode it is simply inexcusable to just deliver a poorly implemented VGA video mode without any optical zoom or at least without making use of the CMOS sensor and allow video recording at 120fps. Ricoh seriously needs to improve on this or just leave the video mode out, as it is at the moment it is useless for anthing other than emergency use.
Ricoh is a company focused on photographers and one can see this by looking at the features implemented in their cameras but HD video is not something that can be ignored these days.
The shooting experience as a whole is very good thanks to the great controls and fantastic AF. The camera is fast to zoom from 28mm to 200mm and even has two zoom speeds so you will not miss a shot due to this. The Image Stabilizer works very well and helps quite a lot in low light and when using the camera at 200mm.
Now let’s see how the image quality fares and if the move from CCD to CMOS has improved it.
One of the main standout features of the Ricoh CX1 is the DR Mode.
Small sensors have a limited dynamic range which makes it sometimes difficult to get good results if the light conditions are difficult. One method to get around the limited dynamic range of small sensors is to use HDR, take two or more pictures with different exposures and merge them together. Until now this had to be done on a computer but with cameras becoming more powerful, Ricoh has implemented this feature in-camera and easily accessible via the mode dial.
The CX1 takes two pictures in a row, one exposed for the highlights and one for the shadows, it then merges these together and creates so a high dynamic range picture. Taking two pictures and merging them together means there will inevitably be a delay between the two pictures so this mode will be of no use for fast action shots. I would say it should not be used for shots with any movement if possible in order to get the best results.
The DR mode is certainly a great addition and will improve the dynamic range quite a lot under difficult light conditions. It is one of the main features of the CX1 that set it apart from the competition and one that actually helps improve your pictures.
The CX1 is a compact camera with a small sensor but by it using a CMOS sensor and staying at 9MP it manages to deliver a very good image quality. The default image settings are good but benefit from some tweaking, I would recommend using: Contrast +2, Sharpening -1 and Color Depth -1.
This will give you generally a very good quality to your images if you don’t pixel peep or print very large. The only problem with the image quality is Ricoh’s recent move to use very heavy handed noise reduction in their JPGs.
This is a shame, people used to buy Ricoh cameras because of the minimal processing done in-camera and little noise reduction smearing. Unfortunately Ricoh has moved away from this and don’t allow users to turn the strong noise reduction off. The CMOS sensor in the CX1 seems to be capable of producing much better results if Ricoh would allow one to turn the NR off or use RAW instead. Overall, I would say the image quality is better than it used to be on the R10 but the difference is not that big.
The metering is very accurate and you don’t need to worry too much about dialing in negative exposure compensation.
With regards to the WB, the CX1 offers a ‘Multi-Pattern AWB’. Unlike a normal AWB setting which uses only one reading to make the decision this will read different points in the image and select the best WB setting for each. The WB using this setting or just the normal AWB setting was always very accurate and it did produce very good results.
Low light shooting is not necessarily the strong point of this camera as it won’t be a strong point on most small sensor cameras and the images over ISO 800 suffer from too much NR smearing but are usable for the web and small prints. The flash will be helpful in these situations. As with the R10, the flash output is very good with natural colors without overexposing and it is strong enough for small group pictures. Red-eye was not really an issue in either of the flash modes and as long as you make sure the focus is locked correctly should not have any problems with your flash images.
There is really not much innovation going on in compact cameras these days so it is refreshing to see that Ricoh has added a wealth of new and interesting features in the CX1 which are not gimicks but actually improve your pictures. The CX1 like no other camera manages to offer the perfect mix for beginners and enthusiasts alike. The controls are some of the best you will find, the Easy mode works very well and the images are pleasing enough without the need to mess around with the settings. At the same time it offers enough controls over the image settings and picture taking process to please even people looking for more than just as simple point and shoot. The addition of the CMOS sensor is a great move on Ricoh’s part as it allowed them to implement some quite unique features which will benefit everyone. The DR mode, Multi Target AF, time lapse capabilities, electronic leveler, very good WB thanks to the Multi-pattern AWB or the continuous shooting options are all features not available in most cameras.
The CX1 improves in almost every area from the R-series but has unfortunately not improved on the poor video mode or fixed the too strong noise reduction. Ricoh realy needs to sort this out as having HD video is a minumum requirement at the moment as is the ability to control the noise reduction and be able to disable it.
Overall, I can fully recommend the CX1 if you are looking for a well built and very versatile point and shoot camera that won’t let you miss any photo opportunity but the main reason is that the CX1 is simply a joy to use and this to me is more important than anything else.
Click here to view the sample Gallery from the CX1.