Everything that’s good about the CX1 including the double-shot HDR mode and multi-point white balance but with a longer zoom and faster continuous shooting. Another Ricoh digital compact for the discerning shooter. Report by Paul Burrows.
How do you follow what’s arguably the best-performing point-and-shoot digital compact camera on the market? With something better, of course. Ricoh’s CX1 represented an important shift in the thinking behind digital compact cameras and was the first model to call a halt to the slavish pursuit of higher pixel counts, Notice how everybody’s doing it now?
However, Ricoh not only declared that ten megapixels was more than enough in this class of camera, but it also took steps to tackle the inherent performance problems of tiny sensors with titchy pixels – namely an inherently low signal-to-noise ratio with its resulting impact on dynamic range and on image definition. Everybody else presumably thought we’d never notice even when colour noise was a menace from ISO 400 onwards. It was a brave move on Ricoh’s behalf, but it was backed up by the sheer quality of the image files delivered by the CX1… good enough, in fact, to keep company with entrylevel D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras with bigger sensors. The CX1’s recipe of a bigger (for a compact) CMOS-type sensor matched with sophisticated noise reduction processing and some nifty new features such as ‘Pixel Output Interpolation’, multi-point white balance measurement and a double-shot high dynamic range (HDR) mode made for some very tasty results. Put simply, the CX1 took digital compact camera performance forward by a significant margin… more significant than many give it credit for. Nevertheless, it still isn’t quite the perfect solution for enthusiast photographers looking for a pocket-sized stand-in for their D-SLRs. A big drawback is the absence of any manual exposure control options beyond dialling in some compensation to the program mode. The bad news is that this hasn’t changed with the CX2, presumably because Ricoh wants to keep some distance between this model and its flagship GR Digital III. Nevertheless, just having an aperture-priority auto option would have been nice even if it bumped up the purchase price a bit. The good news is that the CX2 retains all the stuff that makes the CX1 such a desirable little camera, but with some significant improvements and enhancements which make it even better. Oh well, perhaps we can live with program shooting only then.
The same elegant, brushed aluminium bodyshell is retained with the choice of silver and black finishes plus a new two-tone pink/grey colour scheme. Most of the back panel is taken up by the 7.62 cm LCD monitor which has a high resolution of 920,000 pixels and so delivers wonderfully crisp displays.
The biggest difference over the CX1 is the installation of a longer zoom, equivalent to 28- 300mm compared to 28-200mm. There’s only a modest loss of speed – f3.5-5.6 versus f3.3-5.2 and virtually no penalty in terms of the camera’s
size and weight. The CX2 is still only 29.4 mm in thickness and weighs in at 185 grams (just five grams heavier). Ricoh has been able to pack in the 10.7x zoom by using four aspherical elements (five aspherical surfaces in all) in its ten-element construction. The AF system gets an update too, adding the ‘Pre-AF’ function also found on the GR Digital III. ‘Pre AF’ keeps the autofocusing going even when the system hasn’t been manually activated so there’s no delay if a grab shot is needed. Perhaps even more usefully, the CX2 also gets a continuous AF mode, no doubt to compliment its uprated shooting speed of 5.0 fps. The multi-point AF system uses nine distance detection zones – arranged in a 3x3 pattern – with the option of a spot mode based solely on the centre zone. The minimum focusing distance with normal shooting is 30 cm, but in macro mode it’s possible to get as close as one centimetre. Low light assist is provided by a built in illuminator and, if all else fails, there’s always manual focusing which is accompanied by a distance scale in the LCD monitor.
As on the CX1, the CX2 retains the nifty ‘Multi-Target AF’ mode which fires off a sequence of seven frames, adjusting the focus point along the way from far to near. They’re stored as a set in an MP (multi-picture) file, but can be individually selected to determine the best focus… and can be recorded at the full resolution and maximum image quality. And that’s not all; there’s also a focus bracketing function which records a sequence of five frames around a preselected focusing point. Incidentally, the CX2 also brackets for colour – three images captured separately in colour, B&W and sepia – white balance (red-to-blue) and exposure (+/-0.5 EV). A bit more choice with the AEB would be nice, but it’s better than nothing.
Fortunately, the exposure compensation facility has a wider range of +/-2.0 EV and can be set in one-third stop increments. The CX2 has three new subject programs called ‘High Contrast B&W’, ‘Miniaturise’ and ‘Discreet’. The first is meant to mimic the grainy look of a fast B&W film while the second applies a progressive blurring effect from foreground to background to give the impression of a small-scale diorama with its shallow depth-of-field. Helpfully, the area of blurring is shown in the live view via a greyed-out area. The ‘Discreet’ mode switches off the flash, AF assist lamp and all operational sounds so the camera can be used unobtrusively. The CX2 is not weighed down with a myriad of program modes, but the basics are there including portrait, sports, landscapes and night scenes. The flash modes include red-eye reduction, slow speed sync and a compensation adjustment, again over +/-2.0 EV.