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|Ricoh CX4: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.|
Ricoh's latest offering is a 10mp camera with a 10.7x optical zoom lens and a whole host of features to keep most users more than happy. The price of around £250 puts it in amongst some other very established cameras including the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ45, Canon's IXUS 300 HS and Sony's Cyber-shot HX5, so it's got some tough competition.
Ricoh CX4: Features
You seem to get a lot for your money. The new backlit CMOS 10mp sensor has an ISO100-3200 range and the Ricoh branded lens is an impressive and very useful 28-300mm (35mm equiv) or 10.7x zoom. The manufacturers claim that you can push the lens, via its digital zoom function, to a mighty 1710mm equivalent without loss of image quality while its minimum focusing distance is 1cm for the macro enthusiasts.
There are all the focusing options that you'd expect on a digital SLR including face recognition and subject tracking, an in-camera HDR facility which includes a Night Landscape Mode and even focus bracketing. The CX4 also boasts no less than 11 scene modes, anti-camera shake and HD video at 30fps.
So on the face of it – a lot for your money.
Ricoh CX4: Handling
The Ricoh CX4 is a tidy looking camera that follows the current design of most compact digital cameras although it's let down in the style category being something of a small, well built brick. Buttons are a good size and easily identifiable and the 3in rear LCD screen will be big enough for most with a resolution that would grace a mid-level DSLR. The camera feels and looks well made although it would have been nice to have had some textured finish in those places were you'll be holding it as the silky finish plastic feels a slippery customer- maybe it's just my big fingers? Oh, and keep those fingers away from that rear screen as it shows finger prints better than a bathroom mirror and a quick wipe on the T-shirt just made it worse.
The battery and card are reached by a standard push and flip access and you'll find a Li-ion battery pack in there and space for an SD/SDHC memory card. Ricoh quote an expected 330 photo battery life providing the rear LCD screen is dimmed, so a full days photography with a lot of reviewing and deleting is going to eat into that. A lot of users are going to find an extra battery a must.
Click the Power button and the camera is ready to use in about one second. A press on the menu button brings up an easy to use interface which changes depending what Mode you choose from the top mounted dial. A quick exploration of the choices from the different menu screens show that this would look like an easy camera to get to grips with. A good feature on a camera of this type is the inclusion of two personal menu files, called MySettings, into which you can store specific camera set-ups and the ADJ button which brings up a quick change settings menu that can be prioritised to show the settings you change the most. There's even an Fn button that can be customised to be a short cut to focus and bracketing features.
Ricoh CX4: Performance
ISO performance has come a long way and even on compact cameras we have come to expect a level that we could only have dreamt of a couple of years ago. I was initially disappointed therefore to see that even at ISO200 the images had started to degrade and noticeably so. Luckily the Ricoh manages to hold it together at a usable level until ISO800 when it goes downhill rapidly.
|Ricoh CX4 ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
Colour rendition on the Ricoh CX4 is good. If there is any criticism, they are a touch on the warm side but not to the point of being a problem, indeed for most people this will produce a more pleasing result. Tones within that awkward Red/Purple gamut are reproduced faithfully with the sensor able to deliver subtle differences quite well.
Auto white-balance works well and will not be an area that you will find yourself visiting too often in the menu.
|Ricoh CX4: White-balance|
|Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.||Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.|
|Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.||Fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting.|
Out in the real world the Ricoh CX4 copes well with contrasty scenes. I did think that it tended to underexpose but even when the exposure was compensated by a stop it retained a good dynamic range across the board and managed to keep the detail in the bright glass roof of the shopping centre. When faced with some severe back-lighting from an early morning sun the camera managed to deliver enough detail and avoid flare.
An interesting feature of this camera is the Creative Mode Menu and one of those features is Dynamic Range. In Ricoh's own words “Combines two photos to record a greater range of tones.” What you gain in reality is maybe just short of a stop of extra dynamic range. It would have been nice to have seen a bit more here and with the user being able to be involved in the process to a greater extent. Edit: The Ricoh's memory is so huge that only now as I type this have I noticed that this function is also expandable through 'Weak' to 'Strong'. As I had it on Auto I may be doing its HDR ability some injustice. A similar function in Scene Mode is named Night Landscape Multi-shot. Faced with a lot of bright light and a fairly even scene it coped well although not very much different to what might have been achieved with a single exposure. Give it a wider range of very bright light and shadow and the results were disappointing with blown lights and grubby looking shadows.
Even without the use of these function it is possible to underexpose by a whole stop and still keep an acceptable level of detail in the shadow areas. In fact the Ricoh's sensor has a very good dynamic range performance and it's easy to bring up the Exposure Compensation from the quick access ADJ button and couple that with a Live Histogram.
Ricoh have obviously been keeping an eye on current photographic trends as also included is a 'Toy Camera' (very Lomo-esque), a 'Miniaturize' which basically puts a blur mask top and bottom and a 'Cross Process' Creative Function plus the usual B&W.
How much people will use these functions remains to be seen but at the risk of repeating myself, the Ricoh's menu is longer than an episode of Lost and may be only slightly less confusing to the novice user. One very useful feature especially to those using the camera for landscapes and/or panoramas is the in-camera electronic spirit level.
In the 28-300mm range the Ricoh's focusing functions work pretty well. Push the lens beyond its optical range and into its digital zoom and it struggles. It can also be pretty difficult tracking a moving subject at arms length on a 3inch LCD screen in bright sunlight even with the Subject Tracking enabled. Most users will be quite happy however with the focusing abilities and if you can practice enough, you can couple the Subject tracking with the impressive 5fps shooting and this is one compact camera that doesn't take a week to think about it before it activates the shutter. If your school allows you to, you can finally get the photo of the kids before they cross the finish line.
The Ricoh's flash is a decent performer for its size and in conjunction with Auto Flash setting and Multi-Point White Balance produced a good skin tone and more than acceptable exposure without any glaring hotspots or obvious fall off.
How you view the Ricoh's 28-300mm lens will largely depend on where you're coming from. If you're a DSLR prime lens user downsizing for a pocket camera you're going to be disappointed, on the other hand if the CX4 is an upgrade from a cheap point and shoot, then you'll be more than happy with the results.
Tripod mounted at 52mm (300mm equiv) the lens shows a good if not stunning level of recorded detail and this is held across the frame with no apparent light fall-off. Even with strong back-light I can see no chromatic aberration and the good colour rendition has to be laid at the door, on the whole, to the Ricoh lens.
Where the lens fails, although it's not the fault of the lens primarily, is when it's pushed through the optical into the digital zoom. Ricoh claim this can be done without any loss of image quality but this is simply not the case. In fact as you lose more and more pixels as you 'zoom' in, you might as well crop from the long end of the optical zoom. It's impossible to get a fix for the Auto Focus, you need it clamped down tight to a tripod and the image quality is not worth the hassle.
Set the camera to Macro Mode via the menu and the lens optimises its focal length in preparation to focus down to 1cm. I found that the lens struggled to lock on some subjects at this distance and really did need some good edge contrast and you'll have to play about with the camera settings if you want to avoid taking all your macro shots at the widest aperture. The camera is crying out for an Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode.
|Ricoh CX4 lens quality: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|Lens test at 38mm.||Lens Test at Full Digital Zoom: 1710mm equiv.|
|Lens test wide-angle.||
Macro Scene Mode approx 5cm from subject.
Ricoh CX4: Verdict
It's a good camera, packed with features galore and for most people a more than adequate camera that will allow a level of creativity but will also deliver on auto everything and still fit in a handbag or coat pocket.
If people are willing to look beyond the Nikon, Canon, Sony gang then the Ricoh is a solid performer that can equal and at times exceed the benchmark set by others. Priced around £250 it packs a lot of value for money, it just gets let down by some of the Scene and Creative Modes not quite delivering the goods. Although some of them would barely get used beyond the first week of ownership regardless of this.
Ricoh CX4: Pros
Ricoh CX4: Cons
No Aperture/Shutter Priority
Novices may find the huge menu a problem
Some poor performing features
Ricoh CX4: Specification
|Sensor type||Backlit CMOS|
|Max image size||3648 x 2736|
|Aspect ratio||4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1|
|Focusing system||Contrast Detection|
|Focus points||Multi AF (contrast AF method) / Spot AF (contrast AF method) / Face-priority multi-AF / Subject-tracking AF / Multi-Target AF / Manual Focus / Fixed Focus (Snap) / Infinity (AF auxiliary light)|
|Focus distance||Macro 1cm Min.|
|File types||JPEG fine and normal|
|Metering system||Multi (256 segments) / Centre Weighted Light Metering / Spot Metering|
|Exposure compensation||Manual Exposure Compensation +/-2.0EV (1/3EV Steps), Auto Bracket Function (-0.5EV, ±0, +0.5EV)|
|Shutter speed range||8, 4, 2, 1 - 1/2000 sec.|
|Frames-per-second||Approx.5 frames/sec. (10M 4:3F shooting time; shooting speed after 12 pictures is approx. 3 frames/sec.)|
|Image stabilisation||Yes. Image Sensor Shift Method|
|Monitor||3.0-inch Transparent LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)|
|Media type||SD/SHDC up to 32gb|
|Interface||USB 2.0 (High-Speed USB) Mini-B, Mass storage compatible*7/ AV Out 1.0Vp-p (75Ω)|
|Power||Rechargeable Battery - DB-100|
|Size||101.5 mm (W) x 58.6 mm (H) x 29.4 mm (D)|
|Weight||205g including battery|