The Ricoh CX1 is a digital camera that not only looks good but also feels great to use. It's quite expensive, though.

UPDATED 25 JUNE.

Most importantly, the Ricoh CX1 is capable of taking some breathtaking snapshots. It's a compact camera with a 9Mp CMOS sensor and a 7.1x zoom lens, which ranges from the base setting of 28mm and extends up to 200mm, and you don't have to know what you're doing in order to use it properly.

It's largely an automatic camera, with an easy mode in addition to an auto mode and a scene mode. You can play around with its white balance, ISO speed and exposure compensation; you can also choose to manually focus the camera. What you can't do is manually adjust the aperture or shutter; the Ricoh CX1 decides these values on its own.

The Ricoh CX1 has a built-in flash, a 3in LCD screen, and optical image stabilisation built into the sensor (image sensor shift). The display is noticeably more detailed than some of the other compacts we’ve tried, with some impressively accurate colour renditions. The photos we took lived up to the preview images on the 960K LCD.

Its lens has a wide angle of 28mm and can zoom up to 200mm, making the Ricoh CX1 useful for close-ups as well as landscape photography. The lens is constructed of 10 elements in seven groups and it does a good job of keeping chromatic aberration to a minimum. In fact, we noticed Ricoh CX1 slight purple fringing between high contrast areas when we viewed our photos at their full 9.2Mp size.

If you'll be taking photos to upload to the web or to print on 4x6in or A4-sized paper, then you won't notice this effect at all.

In fact, the Ricoh CX1's image quality is superb overall. It is clear and sharp, there was barely any lens distortion at the widest angle of the lens, and colours were not overdone.

We only had to add approximately 5 percent contrast to our photos during post-processing to make them look a little richer. There was some noise visible when we used ISO speeds higher than 400; it was mostly noticeable when we viewed photos at their full size.

The Ricoh CX1 handled the exposure well when in bright conditions as well as cloudy conditions. It overexposed some white areas when shooting on overcast days, but it didn't ruin the picture.

It was also useful in low-light conditions. We were able to capture images with relatively good clarity when the Ricoh CX1 used a slow shutter (down to 1/8th of a second), but you will want to use a tripod or rest the camera on a sturdy surface when shooting in low light.

For night-time shots, you can use the Ricoh CX1's somewhat cryptically named Time Exposure, but we wish it provided a shutter speed slower than eight seconds.

In difficult lighting situations or when indoors, you can also use the Ricoh CX1's DR mode, which stands for dynamic range. It ensures pictures have well-lit dark areas while at the same time not overexposing the bright areas. It does this by taking two shots and combining them in the camera. In our tests, shots with a dark foreground benefited most, but bright areas tended to look too bright.

Close-ups in macro mode produced crisp results and had nicely blurred backgrounds. We were able to focus on objects only 1cm away from the lens and focusing was quick and accurate. There's nothing as fancy as a smile shutter in the Ricoh CX1, but it does have face detection as one of its scene modes. Even if you don't use face detection, the camera doesn't have any problems focusing on multiple faces in a frame.

The Ricoh CX1's manual focus function is effective, especially when you want to focus beyond a close object, such as a chain link fence or a cage's bars. It can basically make bars and lines disappear from the object you are trying to focus on.

It's also a very quick camera. The Ricoh CX1 can be switched and ready to use in under 1.2 seconds and its shot-to-shot performance is deadly fast - you won't have to wait for it to write to its SD card (we used a Lexar Professional 133x). In burst mode, it can fire off shots at 120fps at 480x640 but is also able to snap 4fps at the 9.2Mp setting.

You'll definitely be able to use the Ricoh CX1 to shoot sporting events or your dog running around in the park. Its zoom is quick and smooth when going from a wide to a telephoto angle, but it is not as smooth as we would like it to be in intermediate zoom levels. It jumps a little too much (or too little) with each stab of the zoom lever because there are only seven different focal lengths that you can use: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm and 200mm.

The Ricoh CX1 is 10cm long, 2.8cm thick and 6cm high. It is made of metal and has a simple array of buttons and a 5-way thumb control next to its 3in screen. It also has a leather thumb rest. It is perfectly positioned so that you can easily hold the camera without inadvertently pressing any buttons. The lens extends 3cm from the camera body when you switch on the camera. It's a camera that can easily go travelling with you, yet it also feels substantial when you hold it in your hand.

While shooting, screen information includes a histogram, a zoom position indicator, and a level indicator, in addition to all the regular information concerning the shooting mode, memory card status and battery level. The Ricoh CX1's menu interface is one of the easiest we've ever used, and we like the fact there are two custom modes on the mode dial. They can be used to quickly change to a preset mode with your customised settings.

There are also in-camera editing functions that you can use to fix up your photos without even downloading them to a PC. The Ricoh CX1 lets you trim, resize, adjust the histogram, change the white balance, and fix askew lines (this can be useful when taking photos of a screen, for example).

Ricoh CX1: Specs

  • 9.29Mp 1/2.3-inch CMOS
  • Focal length: f=4.95-35.4mm
  • F-aperture: F3.3 (Wide) - F5.2 (Telephoto)
  • Optical: 7.1x zoom, Digital: 4.8x
  • Image sensor shift method image stabiliser
  • Built-in flash
  • SD memory card, SDHC memory card, 88MB internal memory
  • 640x480: 15 frames/sec, 320x240: 15 frames/sec/ 640x480: 30 frames/sec, 320x240: 30 frames/sec video
  • JPEG, AVI
  • USB 2.0, Mini-B, AV Out 1.0Vp-p (75O)
  • NTSC, P
  • 101.5x58.3x27.9mm
  • 180g
  • 9.29Mp 1/2.3-inch CMOS
  • Focal length: f=4.95-35.4mm
  • F-aperture: F3.3 (Wide) - F5.2 (Telephoto)
  • Optical: 7.1x zoom, Digital: 4.8x
  • Image sensor shift method image stabiliser
  • Built-in flash
  • SD memory card, SDHC memory card, 88MB internal memory
  • 640x480: 15 frames/sec, 320x240: 15 frames/sec/ 640x480: 30 frames/sec, 320x240: 30 frames/sec video
  • JPEG, AVI
  • USB 2.0, Mini-B, AV Out 1.0Vp-p (75O)
  • NTSC, P
  • 101.5x58.3x27.9mm
  • 180g

OUR VERDICT

While Ricoh may not come to mind when contemplating a compact camera, the Ricoh CX1 is definitely worthy of some attention. It produces superb images, feels good to use and has plenty of great features to play with. You don’t get all the controls a ‘serious’ photographer could wish for and the price is steep for a sub-10Mp model, but the Ricoh’s fast continuous shooting mode and dedicated and effective dynamic range help it make a good case. This is a very decent compact camera.

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