Thursday, 30 July 2009

Ricoh CX1 Full Review - Part 1

Most of the time when a manufacturer releases an upgrade to their cameras it is to only add one more MP and maybe some additional scene modes or blink/smile detection 'features'. Ricoh has never been a manufaturer to follow this and has been consistently improving their cameras by adding useful features and taking in user feedback.
Their latest release is the Ricoh CX1 and the changes and improvements from it's predecessor, the Ricoh R10, are so big that Ricoh has decided to change the name.
This review will focus on the main new features of the CX1 and will also look at other improvements and changes from the R10. I will not go into detail of every single option in the menu so if you want to see the manual or read all the specs you can find it all on the Ricoh website.

The Ricoh CX1 follows on from the R10 and offers the same versatile 7.1x 28-200mm zoom lens, great build and very good controls. The biggest difference though is the sensor, the CX1 is one of the first compact cameras to offer a CMOS sensor. CMOS sensors have advantages over previous CCD sensors when it comes to speed, dynamic range and also offer a better noise performance. Ricoh has been listening to concerns about the increasing number of mega pixels on cameras and has decided to use 1/2.3" CMOs sensor with only 9.3MP, this allows for improved image quality when compared with the old 10MP CCD sensor in the Ricoh R10 and cameras from other manufacturers who try to cram 14MP and more in a tiny CCD sensor. Using a CMOS sensor also allowed Ricoh to implement a host of very interesting features which are not just gimicks but are useful tools when taking pictures. These features include a DR mode for improving the dynamic range when taking pictures, 4fps shooting at full resolution or up to 120fps at reduced resolution, a Multi Target AF mode and improved overall AF speed and a Multi Pattern AWB.

Build & Controls

Let's start part 1 of the review by looking at the build and main controls first before moving on to the other features. Like the R10, the CX1 looks how a camera should look and is not meant to be a fashion accessory. The design is very good indeed, it is understated but professional and comes in the colors black, silver and a really classy looking champagne rosé color (the version I got for review). Unfortunately Ricoh dropped the fantastic bronze color of the R10 but the rosé color should have a much wider appeal, it does look very stylish and due to it being a metallic color it should not only appeal to girls.

The feel of the CX1 is very similer to the R10 but it feels even more solid. One immediately apparent change from the R10 is the removal of the rubber grip on the front. The missing ruber grip makes quite a big difference in the way you hold the camera and without it the camera feels more slippery. In my opinion it is a shame the rubber grip at the front has been removed, it helped to have a better grip on the camera. The thumb pad on the back is a welcome addition but on it’s own without the front rubber grip means the CX1 is not quite as secure to hold as the R10.

The back of the camera is where some of the biggest changes have taken place. The already excellent LCD screen from the R10 has been further improved and is now one of the best screens you can find on any camera. The size has remained the same at 3" but the resolution has been doubled to 920,000 pixel and it is even brighter with better viewing angles now. Ricoh have surely made the most out of the increased resolution and use it to the full advantage to give clearer fonts in the menus and fit more information on the screen in record and playback mode. It really is a fantastic screen and must be seen to be fully appreciated.
In my R10 review I wrote that “The only downside with the screen is that Ricoh did not put anything in front of the screen to protect it, like they did on the GRD II.”. I am glad to say that Ricoh has listened and have addressed this by putting a protective layer in front of the screen. This helps protecting the screen but also takes care of glare in bright light. It adds however one minor issue for people wearing polarized sunglases, in portrait mode the screen goes black and you can’t see anything, it is fine in landscape mode though and it is really is only a minor problem and will not really affect most people.

Other changes have been done to the controls where some buttons have been re-arranged with the most obvious being that the 'Adj./OK' joystick has been changed. It is smaller now and feels more solid but because it iss smaller it’s also a bit more fiddly to use. The R10 was a bit better in this respect although I am sure there are prople who prefer this over the R10 so it is more a personal choice. One change to the 'Adj./OK' joystick I don’t like is that now you can’t just press up and down to adjust the EV compensation, instead you have to open the Adj. menu first.

Like the R10 the CX1 has superb controls and I can only repeat what I wrote in the R10 review. All of the main controls are handled by the ‘Adj./Ok’ joystick, press it and you get to the ‘Adjust’ menu where you can access your most used settings. This can be freely configured so you can select up to 4 options such as ISO, WB, EV and Focus, the last option is always AE/AF shift. Hold the joystick to the right and it will allow you to activate and cycle through the Flash modes, to the left and it activates the Macro mode. It could not be any easier so it should allow you to experiment with different settings without having to constantly go in the menu or rely on scene modes.
The only problem is with the ‘Fn’ button which is difficult to press and would be much better suited in place of the play button, this has not been improved from the R10, if anything is it slightly worse since the texture of the button is the same as the other buttons.

The zoom control is around the shutter and this is where it should be, it has been slightly re-designed and feels better now. You can set the zoom to be either continuous or to work as a step zoom. The step zoom feature is great on the GX series. Because it has 7 positions, in order to to get to each it requires a pull or push of the zoom lever so it takes quite long to get from 28mm to 200mm. This could be easily solved by just activating the high-speed zoom when holding the zoom lever in position.
The dial on the top is easy to turn and clicks firmly into place so it won’t turn accidentally. You can save 2 ‘My Settings’, activate the high speed mode, select the DR mode and the usual scene and video mode. The camera will remember everything, including the zoom position, when using the ‘My Settings’. The green Auto mode also remembers all your last settings and passes some of them on to the high speed and DR modes.
The ‘Easy’ has been improved and works much better now. It limits what you can do and only displays a few items in the menu but can now activate the macro mode automatically. This is indeed a good improvement and means you can happily use this mode only if you don’t want to worry about the correct settings.

Overall the CX1 is, like the R10 before, a very well built camera with great controls and a superb LCD screen. You will not find many cameras in this price range which offer you more or even come close to the CX1 in this respect.

Continue to part 2, to find out how the image quality is and how the camera performs in use.


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