Ricoh's CX1, which came out in early 2009, impressed us with its classy interface, novel high-dynamic-range mode and fast continuous shooting. The new, 9.3-megapixel CX2 shoots even faster and increases the zoom range to 10.7x, but, at about £300, it costs the same as the CX1, so it sounds like a better deal.
This compact superzoom has ideas and capabilities that wouldn't be out of place on a cutting-edge digital SLR. Indeed, the double-shot dynamic-range approach first seen on the CX1 has been adopted by Pentax in its new K-7 and K-x models. Where you've got a scene with a greater brightness range than you think the sensor can handle, you switch to the dynamic-range mode and the camera shoots two exposures so close together it feels like a single shot, then combines them in-camera to produce a single image with a much wider dynamic range than usual.
The CX2's continuous-shooting speed is up from 4 to 5 frames per second. This is at full resolution, too, and it can be kept up for several seconds. This makes the CX2 far better at action sequences than almost any other compact (barring Casio's high-speed models), and as fast as a semi-pro dSLR.
The focusing system's designed to keep up, too, with a pre-autofocus mode that tracks moving subjects even before you've pressed the shutter release, and a continuous-AF mode that carries on tracking them while the shutter button's half-pressed. This is useful if you're shooting macros of flowers waving in the breeze, for example.
The multi-point auto white balance is another feature not seen in other compact cameras. The CX2 adjusts the white balance separately for different parts of a scene to cope better with mixed lighting conditions.
Around the back is a 920,000-pixel, 76mm (3-inch) LCD, which is rather exceptional for a compact. The interface is plain but effective, using small but clearly visible text. You can configure the 'adj' and 'func' buttons on the back of the camera with the controls you use most often.
Overall, the CX2 feels very well-made and responsive. The autofocus is fast, there's a manual-focus mode, and an 'AF target shift' option for focusing anywhere in the frame.
With all these smart and advanced features, it's rather surprising that Ricoh hasn't built in aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes to tempt serious photographers, especially given this little camera's build quality and zoom range.
The zoom is where it all goes slightly wrong. The original CX1 produced decent-enough images from its 9.3-megapixel CMOS sensor and 7x zoom, but the CX2's just not as good. The CX2 produces adequate detail in the centre of the frame but poor definition at the edges, especially on the right-hand side.
This is combined with a degree of image-smoothing that often swamps finer textures, even at low ISOs. Ricoh really needs to take another look at this lens and the image-processing, because, good as the CX2 might otherwise be, if the image quality's not there, it's all pointless.
The Ricoh CX2 is a very interesting camera. It's responsive, well-made and combines a high continuous-shooting speed with an unusual degree of focus control. But, while the use of a 9.3-megapixel CMOS sensor is fine in itself, the image quality we got from our camera was disappointing.
Edited by Charles Kloet