Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
10.0MP | 28-300mm (10.7X) ZOOM | $347/£285
The Ricoh CX3 is the third (predictably) in a line of CX compacts that goes back to the CX1, released in early 2009. The CX3 doesn't represent a huge leap forward compared to its predecessors, but it does pack a new, more versatile lens, which covers the equivalent of 28-300mm. Other notable features include Ricoh's dual shot 'DR' high dynamic range mode, and a very high resolution 920,000 dot LCD screen, which is still unusual for a compact camera (of the cameras included in this test, only the Nikon Coolpix S8000 can match it).
Like several other cameras in this group test, the CX3 also features a 'back-illuminated' CMOS sensor, which is designed to (theoretically) give improved low-light performance compared to more conventional models. Put simply,'back-illuminated' means that some of the circuitry which might normally sit alongside the light-gathering photodiodes on the surface of the sensor is moved to the rear. This allows the photodiodes to collect more light, unobscured by their accompanying electronics.
- 10.0 effective Megapixels
- Back-illuminated CMOS sensor
- 28-300mm equiv lens (10.7x zoom)
- 720p HD video (motion JPEG)
- 3.0 inch LCD with 920,000 dot resolution
- SD/SDHC compatible
- Dynamic Range mode
- Multi-pattern AWB
- ISO sensitivity up to 3200
- 5fps continuous shooting mode
- Battery life: 310 shots (CIPA standard with LCD dim 'on')
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Ergonomically, the CX3 is a near match for its predecessor, even down to the ridged plastic handgrip. In our opinion this isn't a good thing though - it feels hollow and the texture is rather course. The original CX1 had an untextured grip that didn't provide quite the same firm grip, but neither did it feel like holding a nail file.
In most other respects, the CX3 is a pleasure to use. Although the menu system is rather dense, it is, in essence, very simple, and consists of only two tabs - 'shooting' and 'setup'. The density comes from the fact that both of these tabs are very very long, but you soon get used to it. We've come to expect some sort of 'quick' menu system from cameras of this type, and in the CX3 this is supplied by the 'Adj/OK' combined button and joystick on the top right of the rear of the camera. Pressing this button brings up options for changing exposure compensation, white balance, ISO and quality.
Apart from the unpleasantly cheap feeling handgrip, the CX3 is built to a high standard, and the brushed metal body shell looks and feels great. Handling is aided by a neat rubber ridge on the rear of the camera which provides a firm thumbrest (begging the question why Ricoh went with such an unpleasant grip on the front of the camera) and all of the major controls are well placed. The flash isn't though - we found our fingers repeatedly straying up to and over the flash, obscuring its output.
Ricoh's 'DR' mode was introduced in the original CX1, and aims to increase dynamic range in a rather unusual way. Unlike conventional dynamic range optimisation functions, which use a single exposure as the basis for the final image, with some tone curve manipulation along the way, Ricoh's DR mode works more like HDR. When set to DR mode, the CX3 takes two exposures - one intended to capture highlight detail, and one shadows - and combines them automatically to create a single image with a wider dynamic range than would normally be possible.
Image quality and performance
Whether a camera succeeds or not, ergonomically, is a matter of personal preference. What I love, you may hate, and vice versa. But we'd stick our necks out and say that the CX3 is one of the best cameras in this group test to use. Despite the plasticky handgrip, the CX3 is a very agreeable companion when out and about, and one of the easiest cameras to get to grips with. Startup time is nice and swift, at a fraction over 2 seconds, and the action of the 10.7x zoom is exceptionally smooth, with a lot of steps, for precise framing. AF is fast and reliable, too, although like most of the cameras in this group, the CX3 is a lot more capable in good light than it is in dimly lit interiors or at night.
Unfortunately, where the CX3 falls down is its image quality, which is rather sub-par at all ISO settings. Although it has the same BSI CMOS sensor at its heart as the Sony DSC-HX5 and Casio Exilim FH-100, the CX3 can't compete with either of them on image quality. At a pixel level the CX3's output is muddy at all ISO settings, and especially unpleasant towards the high end of the ISO scale. The CX3 is the only camera whose output in some situations actually looks poor even on the rear LCD screen, although ironically this is partly due to the very high quality of this screen, which combines excellent sharpness with high contrast and good visibility in bright sunlight.
Aside from the pixel-level quality of the images (which as we've stressed in several places in this review isn't necessarily the most critical aspect of these cameras' performance) the Ricoh is a reasonably satisfying camera to use. Metering is very reliable in good light, and in similar situations white balance is pleasant and accurate. Where the CX3 struggles is under artificial light, especially tungsten, and at high ISO settings. We had the very odd experience, repeatedly, of lining up a nice-looking shot on the camera's LCD screen, taking the shot, only to find the instant review image had an unpleasant color cast and an exposure shift. Switching into playback mode, the image took on another appearance altogether. Not as bad as the review shot, but worse than how the scene originally looked on the LCD before the shutter release was pressed. We don't mind surprises, but this sort of behaviour is downright confusing.
In bright sunlight, the CX3 copes much better, and Ricoh's innovative 'DR' mode is a useful tool for recovering the maximum detail in contrast scenes. However, because DR mode works by effectively 'sandwiching' two exposures together into a single file, it isn't suitable in all situations, or for all subjects. Assuming that neither the camera nor any significant scene elements moves, the system works well, but it cannot cope with moving subjects (or even movement in tree branches, clouds etc., on a moderately windy day).
|The CX3 is a great camera to use, and although not as versatile as some of the cameras in this group test, its 28-280mm zoom lens covers a useful range. The CX3 only really falls down when it comes to image quality.|
The Ricoh CX3 is the third in Ricoh's CX series, and although it boasts a (slightly) higher resolution sensor, there are very few changes over its predecessor. This is no bad thing, since there was a lot to like about the CX2, not least the 920,000k LCD screen and built-in electronic level, but if you already own a CX2, there is certainly no compelling reason to upgrade. Overall, the CX3 is a really enjoyable camera to use, and ergonomically, it is one of the best in this group, but although (like all of these cameras) it is perfectly capable of turning out excellent postcard-sized prints, its image quality doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny.
Detail resolution leaves something to be desired across the entire ISO span, but although the CX3 is reasonably capable at its high ISO settings, muddy exposures and unpredictable white balance in low artificial lighting are significant weaknesses. And it is these issues that we suspect will mean more to most compact buyers than smudgy detail at 100% on screen. Ricoh's 'DR' mode is interesting, and when used carefully it does a great job of recovering around 1EV of extra dynamic range, but the range of situations in which it can be used is relatively slim. If the CX3 were $100 cheaper we'd be a lot happier with it, but it's one of the most expensive cameras in this group, and as such, it's hard to recommend.
We like: Large high-resolution screen, good image quality at lower ISO settings, reliable focus, exposure and WB in good light. Excellent electronic spirit level and versatile AF options
We don't like: Sub-par image quality at 100%, DR mode not all that useful, slightly murky video footage, lens isn't great in the corners, unreliable metering and WB in poor light, high price.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
The Ricoh CX3 is one of the nicest cameras in this group test to take out and use. We love the high resolution screen and well thought out interface, and the amount of control that Ricoh gives you over its large feature set is fairly comprehensive. Unfortunately, image quality is where it falls down compared to other models in this group test. But if you don't need to make large prints, the Ricoh is a good (albeit quite expensive) option.
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