The Ricoh CX4 is small and rather delightful, but can this offering from one of the smaller camera brands 'cut the mustard'?
The Ricoh CX4 falls firmly into the category of a 'Travel Compact'. It's small and light but packs a generous 28-300mm (equivalent) 10.7x zoom. Also, unusually for a compact camera, the CX4 employs a back-lit CMOS sensor instead of a conventional CCD sensor. At ten megapixels, the CX4 doesn't make headlines in the resolution stakes, but anyone who knows about the trade-off between resolution and image quality will know that less is often better in the case of compact cameras. There is also a moving sensor image stabilisation system and large and sharp 3 inch LCD display on the back. Enthusiasts may be disappointed to realise that the CX4 doesn't offer manual or semi-automatic exposure modes, although other settings, like ISO speed, can be selected manually. Up to 120 frames per second shooting (at a low VGA resolution) is possible thanks to its CMOS sensor.
Out of the box the CX4 is very appealing. Our review unit was black, and you can also get pink or silver versions. The cool and solid feel of the unit instantly shouts 'I'm metal, not plastic!'. There are relatively few buttons, so the controls are uncluttered. For some time now Ricoh has employed a thumb-operated mini-joystick menu navigation controller and this saves even more space. It's positive to use although if you have especially large hands, you might want to check that it's not too dainty for your purposes.
The Ricoh CX4 is also available in pink and silver.
You are restricted to Program mode automatic exposure, or Scene-Auto mode. The latter is Ricoh's version of 'intelligent Auto' whereby the camera evaluates the scene and selects an appropriate scene mode and so deciding shutter speed, aperture (as in Program mode) as well as ISO speed and other imaging parameters. Exposure can be biased by up to -2 or +2 EVs. Custom settings can be pre-programmed for convenience.
As pioneered in earlier Ricohs, there is a built in digital level, although this only indicates side-side orientation, so you can't check that the camera isn't tilted forwarded or backward out of true.
There is also the obligatory HD video mode, although with the CX4 this is fairly basic by today's standards, with 1280x720 resolution (HD720) at 30 frames per second progressive scan (30P), while the video encapsulation is simply AVI, meaning a clip length limit of 4GB in the case of the CX4, so you will be limited to continuous clips of about 12 minutes in length. Lower resolution options will let you shoot longer. Make sure your SD memory cards are rated as Class 6 or higher.
Similarity to the CX3?
When we received our CX4 to review we, by chance, still had the slightly earlier Ricoh CX3 in the office. The CX4 is not only clearly a very close sibling of the CX3, but identical in many respects. Only external cosmetic differences discriminate the two, visually. The CX3 is also cheaper and Ricoh insist that it's not discontinued. So what are the differences? Ricoh does claim that the moving senor image stabilisation system of the CX3 is re-engineered and substantially improved, and claim it it now offers up to 3.7 stops of compensation to combat camera shake in low light.
Ricoh also told us: "The camera also offers a new 'subject-tracking AF' autofocus system that automatically tracks your subject, ensuring that photographs are in focus and correctly exposed whenever you choose to release the shutter. A feature which is indispensable for moving subjects and close-ups.
"In addition, Ricoh has further developed features designed to enhance the photographic experience, including a 'night landscape multi-shot mode' that combines four exposures into a single photograph for reduced image noise, and a 'creative shooting mode' that brings out the artist in everyone with soft focus, cross process, and toy camera effects. With portability enhanced by a newly-designed body featuring molded curves that make it easier to slip the camera into your pocket, the CX4 compact digital camera represents another advance in Ricoh’s philosophy of designing 'A tool you will want to use every day.'"
We also wonder if the CX4 has had some improvements made to its image processing engine as our CX3 image samples tended towards the green balance and were generally lacking in warmth, something we also noticed with the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5, which uses a very similar type of CMOS sensor. The CX4, on the other hand, delivers neutral colours.
On the next page, explore our gallery tour of captioned views of the CX4:
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Hands-on review: Ricoh CX4
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