To start with, a little background : having owned many compacts in the past – Canon A80, Fuji F11, F30 & F100fd, Panasonic TZ-3 and LX3, as well as Nikon 5700 & Olympus C8080WZ ‘bridge’ cameras, and various DSLRS I’ve owned and used for numerous portrait sessions, commercial jobs and various weddings, as well as personal photography - Canon EOS20D, Nikon D200 & (currently) D3, I feel qualified to give you a worthwhile & intentionally non-technical overview of the new Ricoh CX1 compact.
How is it in use, what are its particular strengths, and what won’t it do ?
The latter is especially important these days, as expectations seem very high for what are mostly small-sensor compact cameras. So far, the laws of physics remain, and although major technological advances have been made in recent years, compacts and DSLRs are simply not directly interchangeable … although there are many areas of crossover, and there is definitely room for both. After all, compact camera image quality can be exceptional these days.
As the Ricoh comes with a detailed 240-page (!) manual (also downloadable from the Ricoh site) – which you DO need to read to get the most out of the CX1 – this will be a hands-on review … real-world stuff that matters to enthusiasts that give their cameras plenty of use, in many different situations, and care about ‘quality’.
It’s by no means an exhaustive review to start with, but more of a ‘work-in-progress’, and will be updated at various stages. Check back for additions.
Ricoh's CX1 is a very feature-packed camera, and I’ve certainly not yet had the opportunity to check out all the options at this point …but I see that as a good thing !
1/ Why the Ricoh CX1 ? And what are the options ?
So you’re considering the CX1, probably amongst several other contenders such as Fuji F100fd, F200EXR, Canon G10, Panasonic TZ-7, maybe a few others ….and you may wonder, in my case, as I have an LX3 - superb camera, and just amazing for what it is - why would I need another compact ?
It’s very much down to personal preference & usage, and the fact is that there are many shots that I like to take at longer focal lengths as well, especially when travelling (that's most days!), and the LX3 does only go to 60mm ...which I of course considered when I bought it. The reality is that while I had it, the Fuji F100fd did still get used for its longer focal range, although it was less than satisfying to me, and the pink banding issue was certainly an irritation, although it remains largely a great camera.
Instead of rather obviously replacing the F100fd with the new F200EXR – which continues with the F100 body shape, same 5x zoom lens, and less-than-intuitive menus, I looked long and hard at what's out there, felt like a change, but still needed something pocketable, with a wide-angle/decent zoom lens, great image quality (including superb colour rendition, as you find on most Fujis), and effective image stabilisation for the long end especially. Any new, ‘interesting’ (as in ‘inspiring’) features would also be a pull.
Having attended an imaging exhibition a few years ago, and listened to a great talk by celebrated celebrity/rock star photographer Andy Earl - who was extolling the virtues of the then new Ricoh GRD, I have from that point been interested in the brand, although it still seems to get little coverage generally - certainly unlike Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Sony. Even now, in the USA, I gather there are very few Ricoh retailers, so the CX1 may need to be hunted down …read on to find if it would be worth your while !
2/ What does the CX1 offer that others don’t ?
That’s really the point – there isn’t anything out there which has exactly the same feature set, that I’m already finding works so well. In terms of image quality, the 28-200mm focal range is barely compromised at all (see below for image quality impressions), and the sensor clearly works very well in combination with that lens – apparently substantially better than previous Ricoh R-series, from which the CX1 derives in lens and body shape, at least – and it’s a camera that encourages you to make full use of it, as often as possible. This feature alone makes it an inspirational instrument, rather than just another compact. Build quality is peerless in the compact world.
Add in some of the unique features that Ricoh have included : optional 1:1 (square) image format, DR Double-Shot and 120fps shooting capability especially – and it’s obvious that this is no regular compact.
3/ How is it in use ?
The CX1’s handling is one of the standout features of this camera, after its image quality and build integrity. I was entirely used to the control & menu layout after only a couple of days - BUT, again, you do have to read the manual for a full understanding ! Startup time is very fast, and all functions are rapid.
At absolutely no point - whether focusing in light or low light, long- or short-end of the zoom, or any other function I've used so far, is there any slowness in use - it's super-quick. For example :
1/ From startup, CX1 zooms to 200mm faster than LX3 manages to 60mm (!)
2/ Formatting the card - about 2 seconds, instead of 20 on LX3
3/ Magnification - instant, so useful for rapidly checking focus accuracy
4/ Neat feature - once you've taken a shot, by default it's instantly magnified a little on the 3" screen
Another useful addition is the electronic ‘spirit level’ indicator, which works in landscape and portrait modes : there’s no excuse now for wonky horizons …this is great for architectural and landscape/cityscape photography.
4/ That 3” screen
It’s a wide-viewing-angle LCD – of exceptional clarity, and the quoted 920K resolution is the same as the D3 - certainly looks like it, and the same size, too ! In very bright sunlight, current LCD technology - including that of the D3 - will only go so far. Suffice to say, this is THE BEST LCD on any compact I've ever seen, and at least matches that of my D3.
5/ Image quality
Image quality is excellent – and at higher ISO, way better than I expected, in all honesty. Previous Ricohs have been hammered in the press for very noisy images at virtually all ISO settings – especially the more recent R8/R10 – but with Sony’s great, and growing, reputation for sensor know-how and consistent manufacturing quality, I knew the CX1 would be a distinct improvement …quite probably dramatically so, although I don’t have the earlier models for direct comparison.
Suffice to say that I don’t feel I have to take the LX3 out to improve on image quality over the CX1. Likewise higher ISO low-light shots – the CX1 performs admirably. As some have said, there seems to be an unrealistic amount of interest attached to any compact camera’s low-light ability.
My experience has been that those compacts that seemingly excel in that area – Fuji F10/F11 in their day, followed by F30 then F100fd … could definitely have offered higher image quality in conditions where there’s a reasonable amount of light (ie most of the time). Compromise again. For a do-it-all compact, the CX1 has so far exceeded my expectations generally, and especially in low-light conditions, and I certainly don’t feel “ Wish I’d bought the F200”. In fact, for much of my own use, “ Wish it was around when I bought the LX3” comes to mind.
6/ Colour accuracy
Already been slammed in an early ‘net review somewhere, but… the Sony-manufactured sensor is excellent - coming from Fuji and several other compacts, and still owning Nikon D3/24-70, Panasonic LX3, Fuji F30/F11, I've always been fussy about colour rendition. The sensor that Ricoh have chosen for the CX1 really is superb, and gives adjustable (in-camera) realistic colour in my view. I often use DxO Labs FilmPack software for any images where I'd like to replicate film output and colour shifts - but the starting point has to be right in the first place, and with the CX1, it is.
Black & White is definitely film-like in its portrayal, and a touch more contrast gets it right – although there’s no adjustment for this in-camera.
Sepia processing is very much like my preferred ‘Sepia Terra’ setting in DxO … ie it doesn’t need any further alteration for colour at all, and is perfectly balanced without the often OTT yellow/orange colouring that can make images look totally overdone.
7/ 1:1 format
I love to use different formats, rather than just the std 3:2 ...my LX3 is almost permanently switched to 16:9, and I can see the CX1 getting plenty of use in 1:1 format, as it does suit certain compositions really well. Most medium-format photographers will know how useful that can be (as well as a hindrance in some cases, for them) ...CX1 gives you the choice.
8/ DR Double-Shot – does it work ?
Yes, but with the caveat that, because the CX1 takes two consecutive shots, the subject needs to be still, or movement blur could result. So, fine for still-life, architectural and some landscape shots, not great for people photography.
However, an important consideration is that for that HDR look (if that’s what you’re seeking), you’d prefer to have the flexibility of pp on your computer, rather than in-camera, surely ? This is post-processing that I believe may be worth spending a little time on, should the mood take you.
My own preference is for a more natural-looking result, and the really good news is that the Ricoh CX1’s Sony CMOS sensor, in combination with that great lens, means that the capture quality is superb, there’s plenty of latitude in the jpeg files, so you can lighten shadow areas where needed to a fair degree …on a single image. To maintain my sanity, this is far preferable to me than an in-camera solution, and although it could be a useful feature, it’s not the reason I bought the CX1.
For stunning DR, I have a D3 (but certainly don’t always want to carry it !)
9/ Do CX1 images need much post-processing ?
No, very little is the short answer.
OK, there’s no RAW facility on the CX1, but life’s too short in my opinion to spend ages processing a ton of RAW files (I don’t bother on the RAW-enabled LX3, either, and only very occasionally on the Nikon D3). The reality is that out-of-camera shots look great – especially after a few mods to the colour imaging in the ‘Custom Settings’ menu, in terms of contrast, sharpness and colour depth … or you can go with choices from :
· Custom settings
· Black & White
There is the facility to capture an image in colour, Black&White and Sepia, very much as on the Panasonic LX3. However, I think the CX1 version of this ‘Multi-film mode’ is far preferable, as it’s one image processed in three different ways, rather than three individual, consecutive shots that the LX3 captures in the equivalent mode. There’s a couple of seconds required for processing and saving of these three images when used in multi-mode.
10/ Vibration correction
Up to now, and very much as usual, I’ve taken all my CX1 images handheld, going to underline how well the vibration correction works ! This seems to operate at the point of the shutter release (ie the most effective way, generally), rather than giving the 'floating image' you'd experience with say Panasonic's Mega OIS.
I'd say, if anything, the CX1's stabilisation is even more effective, considering the reliable results I've had so far, all the way up to the 200mm end !
11/ Battery life
Way beyond the quoted, so far. I’ve shot over 300 images with the battery strength display remaining ‘full’ … but when it does eventually go, it does so very quickly. As ever, a spare is always a good idea, but that goes for any compact. DB-70 equivalents are under £10, real Ricoh DB-70 between £20 and £40.
12/ UK Pricing (April 2009)
CX1 RSP is £300 in the UK
I'm already really enjoying the CX1 for its great sensor quality, 28-200mm focal range, real precision engineering (they could teach a few manufacturers how to 'build to last'), and superb image quality ... including low-light images. Given that all cameras are at this point some kind of compromise, the CX1‘s balance is unsurpassed as a compact for my purposes.
Bottom line is the usual – draw up your own list of priorities, and buy a camera that ticks all the boxes, or as many as possible.
Like me, you may well find that the Ricoh CX1 is way beyond expectations, and in all kinds of situations, makes photography very satisfying indeed.