We tested the CX1 in the delicious Champagne Rose colour. (Credit: Ricoh)
Normally, the usual paragraph reserved for describing the outward appearance of a Ricoh camera is a very short one. Fortunately, the CX1 bucks the trend of the previous cameras from the manufacturer, as it's actually a bit stylish. Along with a fully stocked specification sheet that fills out the inside of the camera, the outside is just as stylish, staking its claim in aesthetics rather than words. The metal exterior has a pleasant, slightly mottled texture that makes it easy to hold in one hand without the need for a wrist strap (though one is provided in the box) and it's available in your choice of colours, from silver, black or a colour aptly termed as "champagne rose".
It's not as slim or as teensy as other compacts out there — at 180g and measuring 5.8x10.1x2.7cm it's likely to cause a bulge in anyone's pocket. However, it's this sturdiness that makes the CX1 feel like a proper compact camera to anyone who is accustomed to the bulk and weight of a digital SLR. Think of it as a companion piece to your SLR rig.
The 7.1x optical zoom is covered with a folding lens cover, and the CX1 doesn't like to sit idly by while its length goes unnoticed either — you'll find the phrase "7.1x optical wide zoom lens" etched into the top of the camera. Ultimate bragging rights or just plain egotism? We'll let you be the judge of this one.
As for the rest of the specifications, Ricoh has definitely upped the ante here, including various functions and features that make the CX1 a very appealing package. For starters, the most unique aspect to this camera is the dynamic range mode. It's designed to help overcome blown out highlights and loss of detail that's common on images that come from compact cameras. On the CX1 it's an interesting process that involves the camera taking two shots and merging them both together in-camera to preserve the most detail and dynamic range in the resulting image.
The utilitarian rear of the CX1. At least it gets the job done. (Credit: Ricoh)
As for the sensor, it's a 9.2-megapixel CMOS one, which is an interesting development as most compact cameras use CCD sensors. At the back, you'll also find a 3-inch LCD with 920,000 dots inside, which means excellent brightness and visibility in bright situations.
Multi-pattern auto white balance is another feature that's relatively unique to the CX1, as the camera evaluates the setting using a number of reference points throughout the image. There's an in-built electronic level that is actually much more useful than you'd think, especially after a few drinks. We really like how the level automatically rotates depending on the orientation of the camera — another quirk that sets the Ricoh apart from its competitors.
The rest of the usual gamut of controls you'd expect on a camera of this class are all here, including vibration reduction (or image stabilisation), a 1cm macro functionality, face detection, and the ability to record video, though not in HD. At the back, a joystick on the top right of the camera provides menu navigation and access to common controls, whereas other buttons such as self-timer and playback are located in a neat arrangement alongside the LCD screen.
Unfortunately, the lens' maximum aperture is a fairly slow f/3.3 and this is a bit disappointing given the 28mm focal length at the wide end.
Performance and image quality
Overall, the CX1 feels very responsive even if it's a little sluggish to start at 1.7 seconds. The rest of the controls react nicely though, with the camera being able to capture up to 4 frames per second in burst mode at full resolution, and 120 at VGA resolution with real-world results just matching this claim.
Colours appeared nice and accurately on the LCD screen when we reviewed them, and again on a computer monitor. Photos also exhibited a good degree of sharpness though some areas of high detail did appear a little messy at full magnification. All up, the image quality was pleasing, which is what we expected it to be with the range of additions from the CMOS sensor to the expanded dynamic range with 12 exposure values.
Other Ricoh cameras that we have tested in the past, like the GX200, have had issues with noise so we approached the CX1 with a little trepidation. Things start off well enough at the lower sensitivities (ISO 100 and 200) but as soon as ISO 400 comes into play there's a fair amount of noise beginning to creep in. ISO 800 and 1600 are very grainy indeed, with 1600 looking more like a speckled painting than a photograph.
The noise profile of the CX1 shows relatively good performance at ISO 100 and 200, but anything above gets a little, shall we say, noisy. Click image to enlarge. (Credit: CBSi)
As for the Dynamic Range functionality, we found that it did actually work in practice, achieving some good detail in shadow areas and not blowing out highlights too much depending on the shooting situation. As the camera takes two photos to piece together the DR photo though, don't even think about trying to take an image of a moving subject while in this mode as it won't turn out the way you expect. Watch our video on the CX1 to see the Dynamic Range mode in action and the resulting photograph.
For a very reasonable price of AU$599 you get a proficient compact camera with heaps of features, great dynamic range and, dare we say, sexy styling for a Ricoh. Pity about the noise issues and lack of HD video, then. While it might not be enough to lure people away from the equivalents like the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7, the Ricoh definitely has its own aces up its sleeve. Watch out for this little camera in a store near you.