One of the main standout features of the Ricoh CX1 is the DR Mode. Small sensors have two major shortcomings when compared with larger sensors found in dSLRs. The first is the noise, which is often smeared away by the in-camera noise reduction, the second is the limited dynamic range, this is more difficult to hide or fix in-camera.
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 main dial.
Lets see how this mode works and how big the difference really is between the normal mode and the DR mode. 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 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.
This shows some of the problems that can occur if you shoot through windows and use the DR mode
I found the DR mode to be most efficient when shooting on overcast days
This shows how the DR mode can also recover shadows and not just highlights but also why it is not usable when there is movement. Here I also used Fill Light at 50 in ACR.
This was again with Fill Light set to 50 in ACR and shows what can be recovered.
This is an example where the DR mode worked very well even with mixed light
To find out how good the DR mode really is I thought I compare it with the GRD II. The GRD II has quite a high dynamic range for a compact camera but the DR mode is very effective and even the RAW file from the GRD II does not show quite as much dynamic range.
I found the DR mode to be very effective if used right, it works best on overcast days and it is least useful in low light.
Looking at the pictures here shows quite a difference between the normal mode and the DR mode. The difference is indeed quite big and shows a good first step in overcoming the limitations of small sensors. It is not perfect yet and it has problems with movement but also with certain light conditions. I would always advise to take a normal picture with it and use a tripod where possible.
The DR mode is certainly a good addition and capable of improving the dynamic range quite a lot under the right 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.
All pictures have been taken out of the camera without any processing unless there is an 'ACR' in the file name, then I have only used the Recovery tool at 100 in Adobe Camera RAW. You can download the samples from this page here.