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26th November 2010
Hands-on review: Ricoh CX4
by Ian Burley
7579: Hands-on review: Ricoh CX4

The Ricoh CX4 is small and rather delightful, but can this offering from one of the smaller camera brands 'cut the mustard'?

Introduction

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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Visual tour

Below is a gallery of thumbnail views of the Ricoh CX4. To see a larger view of the the thumbnail, just click on the thumbnail image you are interested in to open a new page with the full-size view, plus a caption.

To return to the thumbnail gallery, click the home arrow at the bottom of the page, or navigate forwards or backwards through the gallery using the backwards/forwards arrow buttons.

 

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Sample images

I was generally pleased with image quality from the CX4. The 10.7x zoom lens performs well and although we didn't lab test this camera, there were no major concerns about distortion or aberrations like fringing. There's no escaping that the images are highly processed by the, so this is not the kind of camera looking for image purity that can be massaged effectively in post-processing. But the CX4 is one of the better examples of compacts with tiny sensors and the use of the back-lit CMOS sensor, and restricting it to ten megapixels, has paid off well, keeping the camera and lens small without paying too high a price in terms of image quality. You can manually select ISO sensitivity between 100 and 3200. The camera's image processing hardly allows noise to get a look in, but the higher up the ISO range you go the softer the images get and the corresponding loss of resolution tells. But even at ISO 3200 you will get printable 6x4s and even at A4, as long as your subject matter has som good edge details that the image processing can get its teeth into, you will get surprisingly adequate results. Fine and more amorphous details do get lost easily, however.

Macro performance is good, but you need to be very close to the subject. The best macro mode power we achieved filled the frame with as little as 2cm of subject width, although this was accompanied by severe barrel distortion. Alternatively, you can get 5cm of subject to fill the frame with little distortion.

Have a look at original and un-edited images shot with the CX4. Please bear mind that each image is several megabytes large and don't be surprised if you have to wait for them to download fully unless you have a reasonably fast Internet connection.

 

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Menu screens

There isn't a lot of hand-holding for inexperienced users with the on-screen displays and menus on the Ricoh CX4. There are plenty of options available to adjust, but they are fairly buried away.

This is the basic view in normal shooting mode.

The menu system is only divided into two basic sections: Shooting settings, and Setup.The Shooting menu has two pages, while the Setup menu has three pages of settings to wade through. Above is the Shooting menu.

Above is the Setup menu.

Here is the live view shooting display showing the tracking AF mode plus the digital level (the green bar under the central focus cross hairs.)

 

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Specifications

Here are official technical specifications for the Ricoh CX4 supplied by the manufacturer.

No. of Effective Pixels (Camera) Approximately 10.00 million pixels
Image Sensor 1/2.3-inch CMOS (total pixels: approx. 10.60 million pixels)
Lens Focal length f=4.9-52.5mm (Equivalent to 28-300 mm for 35 mm film cameras. With Step Zoom set, focal lengths can be fixed at eight steps: 28 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm, 105 mm, 135 mm, 200 mm, and 300 mm)
F-aperture F3.5 (Wide) - F5.6 (Telephoto)
Shooting Distance Normal shooting: Approx. 30 cm - infinity (Wide), approx. 1.5 m - infinity (Telephoto) (from the front of the lens)
Macro: Approx. 1 cm - infinity (Wide), approx. 28 cm - infinity (Telephoto), approx. 1 cm - infinity (Zoom Macro) (from the front of the lens)
Lens Construction 10 elements in 7 groups (aspheric lens: 4 elements and 5 surfaces)
Zoom Magnification Optical: 10.7x zoom (equivalent to 28-300 mm focal length for 35 mm cameras)
Digital: 4.8x up to 51.4x (equivalent to 1440 mm) when used with optical zoom
Auto Resize: 5.7x *1 up to 61.0x *1 (equivalent to 1710 mm) when used with optical zoom
Focus Mode 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)
Motion Blur Reduction Image sensor shift method image stabilizer
Shutter Speed *2 Still image 8, 4, 2, 1 - 1/2000 sec.
Movie 1/30 - 1/2000 sec.
Continuous Shooting Continuous shooting speed *3 Approx.5 frames/sec. (10M 4:3F shooting time; shooting speed after 12 pictures is approx. 3 frames/sec.)
Continuous shooting capacity 999 pictures
Exposure Control Exposure Metering Mode Multi (256 segments) / Center Weighted Light Metering / Spot Metering
Exposure Mode Programme AE
Exposure Compensation Manual Exposure Compensation +/-2.0EV (1/3EV Steps), Auto Bracket Function (-0.5EV, ±0, +0.5EV)
ISO Sensitivity (Standard Output Sensitivity) AUTO, ISO100 / ISO200 / ISO400 / ISO800 / ISO1600 / ISO3200
White Balance Mode AUTO / Multi-Pattern AUTO / Outdoors / Cloudy / Incandescent 1 / Incandescent 2 / Fluorescent / Manual / White Balance Bracket Function
Flash Flash Mode Auto (during low light and when the subject is backlit), Anti Red-eye, Flash On, Slow Synchro, Flash Off
Built-in flash range Approx. 20 cm - 4.0 m (Wide), approx. 28 cm - 3.0 m (Telephoto) (auto ISO with a maximum of ISO 1600, measured from the front of the lens)
Flash compensation +/-2.0EV (1/3EV Steps)
Monitor 3.0-inch Transparent LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)
Shooting Mode Auto shooting mode / Movie mode / Scene auto mode / Scene mode (Portrait / Discreet Mode / Night. Port. / Night Landscape Multi-shot / Sports / Landscape / Zoom Macro / Pets / Skew Correct Mode / High Sens / Text Mode) / My settings mode / Continuous mode / Creative Shooting Mode (Dynamic Range / Miniaturize / High Contrast B&W / Soft Focus / Cross Process / Toy Camera)
Picture Quality Mode *4 F (Fine) / N (Normal)
No. of Pixels Recorded Still image/multi-picture 3648 x 2736, 3648 x 2432, 2736 x 2736, 3648 x 2048, 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1728 x 1296 (multi-picture only), 1280 x 960, 640 x 480
Movie *5 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240
Text 3648 x 2736, 2048 x 1536
Recording Media SD memory card
SDHC memory card (up to 32 GB), Internal memory (approx. 86 MB)
Recording File Format Still Image JPEG(Exif ver.2.3) *6
Multi-picture CIPA DC-007-2009 Multi-Picture Format
Movie AVI (Open DML Motion JPEG Format compliant)
Compression method JPEG Baseline method compliant
Other Major Shooting Functions Continuous, Self-Timer (operation time: approx. 10 sec. / approx. 2 sec. / custom self-timer), Interval Timer (Shooting interval: 5 sec. - 1 hour, 5 sec. steps), Color Bracket function, Focus Bracket function, AE/AF Target Shift, Histogram, Grid Guide, Electronic Level
Other Major Playback Functions Grid View, Enlarged Display (maximum 16x), Resize, Level Compensation, White Balance Compensation, Trim, Flag, Slideshow, DPOF Setting
Interface USB 2.0 (High-Speed USB) Mini-B, Mass storage compatible *7/ AV Out 1.0Vp-p (75Ω)
Video Signal Format NTSC, PAL switchable
Power Supply Rechargeable Battery: DB-100 x1
Battery Consumption *8 Based on CIPA Standard: Using the DB-100, approx. 330 pictures (when LCD Dim is on) *9
External Dimensions 101.5 mm (W) x 58.6 mm (H) x 29.4 mm (D) (24.4 mm at thinnest part)
Weight Approx. 205 g (including the supplied battery and SD memory card)
Approx. 184 g (body only)
Operating Temperature Range 0°C - 40°C

  • *1VGA image size
  • *2Shutter speed upper and lower limits vary depending on Shooting Mode and Flash Mode.
  • *3Values measured under Ricoh measurement conditions using a Panasonic PRO HIGH SPEED 8GB SDHC memory card. The continuous shooting speed and number of pictures will vary depending on the shooting conditions, the type of recording media used, the condition of the recording media, etc.
  • *4The picture quality modes which can be set vary depending on the image size.
  • *5When shooting movies of 1280×720 size, the use of an SD/SDHC memory card with an SD speed class of Class 6 or higher is recommended.
  • *6Compatible with DCF and DPOF. DCF is the abbreviation of the JEITA standard "Design rule for Camera File system." (Full compatibility with other devices is not guaranteed.)
  • *7Mass storage driver is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OSX10.1.2-10.6.3
  • *8Shooting capacity was measured using CIPA-standard parameters. This is only an estimate, and performance may vary according to usage conditions.
  • *9When LCD Auto Dim is off: approx. 310 pictures

 

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Conclusion

The Ricoh CX4 is at the premium end of the extra compact digital camera category and is complemented by a good 10.7x zoom lens and generally fine image quality for its genre. It's also one of those cameras that feels reassuringly well built when you pick it up and use. Photography enthusiasts will be disappointed at the limited manual control options, while inexperienced photographers may find the menus and other on-screen information displays comparatively intimidating. But would I be happy to own one? That answer is easily answered positively, but the CX4 is quite expensive compared to some hot competition like the, admittedly larger and bulkier but easier to use, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10.

We like the Ricoh CX4 for:

  • Size
  • Build quality
  • General performance
  • Exclusivity
  • Integrated digital level
  • LCD screen quality
  • Mini joystick thumb controller

We're not so keen on the Ricoh CX4 for:

  • Lack of manual controls
  • Menu system
  • No HDMI port
  • Wide angle end of zoom limited to 28mm equivalence (rivals reach 25mm)
  • Price

DPNow ratings:

GOOD

4/5 Stars

80%

Verdict:

A qualified 'Recommended' - you can get more for less, but if you can negotiate a good price, the CX4 is a handy, unusual, and desirable super compact travel camera to own.

 

 

Check the latest price or purchase options for the Ricoh CX4 via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.


Check the latest price or purchase options for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.


Check the latest price or purchase options for the Sony DSC-HX5V via
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Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.


Check the latest price or purchase options for the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS via
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