You can always rely on Ricoh to do something different. The CX1 has a high-speed CMOS sensor that allows 4 frames per second continuous shooting at full resolution, and an unusual high-dynamic-range mode that really works -- if you're careful. Your £300 will also get you a 7x zoom, image stabilisation and rather good 76mm (3-inch) LCD display.
The CX1 looks smart too, thanks to its black brushed-metal top, a grip-enhancing rubber thumb rest on the back, and plain, elegant controls, although the joystick controller is small. The on-screen interface is good, using small but perfectly legible type and a clean, fuss-free menu layout. It makes a refreshing change from the kindergarten-type graphics on so many other cameras.
There's plenty of other clever stuff to play with and admire, such as the multi-pattern white balance, which adjusts the colour differently in different parts of the scene, so that shots with mixed lighting -- artificial and natural, say -- should come out better.
Ricoh doesn't stop at auto-exposure bracketing, but throws in white-balance bracketing and focus bracketing too -- the CX1 will shoot five or even seven versions of the same shot at different focus points. Talking of focusing, you can set the focus point manually anywhere in the scene by moving a set of crosshairs. There's even an electronic spirit level on the LCD to help you get your pictures level.
So what about this high dynamic range, then? While Fujifilm performs clever tricks with pixel doubling in its EXR sensor, and others, like Panasonic, use selective ISO-adjustment techniques, Ricoh's got a much simpler method. When you switch to DR mode, the CX1 takes two shots, not one. They're taken so closely together that it still seems like one shot, but they're at different exposures. The camera then combines these different exposures to produce a single image with a much higher dynamic range.
You can adjust the strength -- choosing from 'very weak', 'weak', 'medium' and 'strong' -- and it really does work. If you're not convinced, switch on the 'plus normal shooting' option. The CX1 will now take one high-dynamic-range shot and a normal shot for side-by-side comparison.
This idea of combining two exposures for extra dynamic range has its flaws, though. As any Photoshop expert will tell you, to combine two images they have to be in perfect register. But, quite often, the tiny delay between the CX1's first shot and the second is enough for movement to creep in and produce a combined exposure that's not as sharp as a conventional one. It's a good idea when it works, then, but this feature has to be used with care.
This problem puts the CX1 in a slightly tricky spot. For high dynamic range, Fujifilm's EXR sensor is the one to beat, while, if it's a compact superzoom you need, the CX1's 7.1x zoom looks rather paltry compared to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ6's 12x lens.
The Ricoh CX1 is a clever, quirky camera that offers plenty for keen photographers to experiment with. The high-resolution LCD screen is excellent, as is the 4fps full-resolution shooting, but its high-dynamic-range mode is imperfect and the lens' 7x zoom range is good rather than exceptional. There's no single outstanding feature here, but, for £300, you're probably going to expect one.
Edited by Charles Kloet