Ricoh CX1 Review: A Photographer's Compact Point and Shoot

Where most other camera companies are going for 720p video in their nicer point-and-shoots, Ricoh added more photo-centric features to the CX1: in-camera HDR, high-speed sequential shooting and razor-sharp macro. We've tested, and we like.

Granted, we also like shooting HD video with every possible thing we own, but it's nice to see some fairly unique photography-focused features pop up here and there, like in-camera high dynamic range shooting for more balanced exposure in unevenly lit scenes, to remind us that we can use our cameras to take photos too; that's exactly what Ricoh is going for, and even better, it's all packed into a nice minimalistic camera body that feels solid and light at the same time and has great style. I like the black one even better than the silver, but the black review unit we received had a faulty lens cover.

• 1/2.3" CMOS Sensor, 9.29MP
• 28-200mm, f/3.3-f/5.2 optical zoom lens (7.1x)
• 1cm macro focusing distance
• 7fps continuous shooting, with 60fps and 120fps 1-second burst shooting modes
• "Dynamic Range Double Shot" mode for in-camera HDR, 12ev stops of coverage
• VGA movie mode
• ISO up to 1600

In-Camera High Dynamic Range
The major selling point of the CX1 is its ability to take two exposures of an unevenly lit scene and combine them into a single shot that more accurately captures what your human eye sees. We did a guide to doing the exact same thing with Photoshop, but the CX1 joins just a few other cameras that do it automatically. And it works.

Granted, you can get much more dramatic results (and way more exposure lee-way) by dumping 7 RAW files into Photoshop, and it won't work perfectly in every situation (night shots don't show much effect), but it's a very cool feature to play around with. And keep in mind, this is HDR of the actually useful, exposure-enhancing variety—no clown vomit colours here.

Here's an example shot of Matt hard at work making Gizmodo blog sausage:

As you can see, the shot in HDR mode captures detail from out the window above Matt's head without greatly darkening the rest of the scene, like his face. HDR mode takes an additional second or so to capture and drops your shutter speed down a stop or two, but other than that, it's indistinguishable from regular shooting. Very nicely done.

Image Quality/Sensitiviy
Overall I found it to be very good—nice colours with a bit of the video-y colour palette many other point-and-shoots have but nothing extreme. ISO sensitivity is OK, but not great: ISO 800 is useable at small sizes, but you'll want to stick to ISO 400 or below to keep the noise in check for most shots:

One thing that's awesome is the CX1's macro-mode, as is the case on lots of newer point-and-shoots. It focuses down to one centimeter, has a movable focus point (many macro modes get caught hunting if what you want in focus isn't right in the middle of the frame) and is razor sharp. Check out this clementine peel:

Shooting With the CX1
It's a pretty nice experience, due in large part to the wide range of custom functions available. A "Function" button, one of four on the camera's back, can be assigned one of nine jobs, from locking exposure to bracketing to setting the macro focus point.

And in addition, four quick-access function buttons that pop up when you hit the main "OK" button can also be custom-defined to whatever you want for immediate access to exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, image size—10 possible options. Super-handy.

The 60fps and 120fps burst modes (limited to VGA resolution) are usable, but they're not as smoothly implemented as other parts of the camera. It's really hard to know exactly when recording starts, and the output is a practically useless .MPO file, which you have to open in Ricoh's software, split the MPO out into 120 JPEGs, then, if you want a movie, link them back together in something like Quicktime. That's what I did here; the results are nice (although limited to one second), but it's a pain in the arse since even VLC can't open these MPO files.

In-camera HDR is not a gimmick here—it's both usable and useful. Which is awesome. At $US370, the CX1 is in the same price ballpark as most higher-end compacts, so your choice is basically HD video or the CX1's unique photo features. The CX1 implements the latter very nicely, in a classically sleek, compact metal body. It's not a huge surprise that tons of Japanese pros carry a Ricoh P+S in their pocket to supplement their DSLRs.

In-camera HDR works well and is handy

Super-sharp macro mode

Deeply customizable interface

Great-looking body

Decent ISO sensitivity

High-speed burst kind of sucks

No HD video capture

No RAW shooting or manual exposure controls


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