Looking compact, discreet and not that much different from its CX3 predecessor the Ricoh CX4 is one of Ricoh’s latest offerings in their point-and-shoot compact camera range and from the outside it doesn’t look like anything special – Ricoh themselves have described it as “workmanlike”.
Fortunately for me and you as the reader however “workmanlike” is a pretty big overstatement as this camera has a lot more to offer than the 10-megapixel, back-illuminated and 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor featuring CX4 suggests from the outside and is in fact one of the best cameras I’ve had the pleasure of using.
However before we get inside the camera a quick word on arguably the most disappointing aspect of the CX4 is needed: the outside. The CX3 was very much criticised for looking to ‘utilitarian’, and although the edges and corners have been smoothed to allow it to slide into your pocket in the latest version it is still very far from exciting with a relatively chunky 101.5mm (W) x 58.6mm (H) x 29.4mm form and 184g weight.
To their credit Ricoh have tried to jazz it up a bit by offering a garish pink and dubious champagne silver colour option but to be honest, you would be much better with the black as at least then it looks more professional and practical – and it certainly feels like it could cope with a few knocks.
However things start to go massively uphill as soon as you turn it on and the very first thing that you notice is the speed with which is does just that; it takes just over 1.5 seconds to turn on, and you can go from start to ‘photo stored’ in round about 3 seconds which is perfect for when you need to take a quick shot. The zoom is also pretty quick going from the widest focal length to the longest in just about 1.5 seconds which is impressive given the large 10.7x optical range that the CX4 offers, although it does come with an annoying buzzing sound.
The CX4 is very much a halfway house between providing real quality photography and the features that you would want for your everyday needs and the screen is a very good example of this – the use of only 10 external buttons has left plenty of space for the 3-inch LCD screen which offers 920k-dot resolution which is the kind of specifications that you would expect to see on a good digital SLR.
There is unfortunately no viewfinder to rely on which is a bit of a shame (although I’m sure that would’ve hampered the aesthetics even more) but for 99% of the time the screen is more than sufficient, and even comes with a vertical and horizontal electronic spirit level that help you to keep your photos straight, perfect for shots of the horizon. You can even chose to have the spirit level make a sound when it’s straight, which although sounds like a bit of a gimmick is actually quite useful in the rare occasions where you can’t see the screen when taking the photo.
On the top of the camera there is a DLSR-like mode dial which allows you to select from the 8 main different shooting options: Creative Shooting, Scene, Movie, Continuous, Auto and S-Auto as well as two quick access customisable configuration settings called MY1 and MY2.
Beginners to photography will probably stick with the Auto and S-Auto options; the first of these does exactly what it says on the tin and offers the kind of features you would expect on a normal compact digital camera, whilst the second automatically attempts to identify the scene you are trying to photograph and selects the appropriate mode (from night portrait, sports, portrait, landscape, nightscape and macro mode).
Selecting the ‘scene’ option allows you to manually choose from all of them as well as text mode (used for capturing notes or other text in an easy to read black and white manner), High sensitivity (for use in dark places), Discreet mode (which turns all of the sounds and lights off), Pets and my favourite Skew correct mode.
The latter is particularly impressive as it can be used to straighten a rectangular object such as a message board shot at an angle to make it appear as if it were shot squarely, and it works amazingly well!
Perhaps the other most disappointing aspect of the CX4 aside from the looks is the movie option, purely because of the fact that you can’t use the impressive zoom options while filming – probably because of the annoying sound – although the 720p at 30fps offering is pretty impressive.
Creative mode selection is perhaps the most fun option of the lost as it allows you to use ‘miniaturise’ and ‘toy’ features to create some interesting different effects, however it also houses one of the ‘star attractions’ of the camera which is the ‘Dynamic Range’ mode. With this selected the CX4 takes two images at different exposures and then combines the two together into a single image with a significantly greater number of tones, and although you can play around with the more advanced settings to create the ‘perfect’ snap the auto feature still gives some very impressive photos.
Whilst at its heart it is still a point-and-shoot compact with the standard easy to use auto options and anti-shake capabilities that you would expect, the Ricoh CX4 is so much more than that; it allows you to take some really good quality photos without any pain and hassle, and is frankly everything that you could want in a compact camera. It is such a shame then that the compact camera all this is in looks like something designed by a builder, but when you’ve only paid just over £200 for it and you’ve used it for a while I’m sure you’ll forget all about it!