A slimline point-and-shoot digicam with a 10.7x optical zoom lens and new, back-illuminated CMOS sensor.Although the latest addition to Ricoh's popular CX series of slimline digicams, the CX3, retains the overall styling and 10.7x optical wide-angle zoom lens from its predecessor, it has some new additions to improve imaging performance. Most noteworthy are the new, back-illuminated CMOS sensor that records more detail in low light photography and the inclusion of 720p HD video recording. . . [more]
Although the latest addition to Ricoh's popular CX series of slimline digicams, the CX3, retains the overall styling and 10.7x optical wide-angle zoom lens from its predecessor, it has some new additions to improve imaging performance. Most noteworthy are the new, back-illuminated CMOS sensor that records more detail in low light photography and the inclusion of 720p HD video recording.
Ricoh hasn't revealed the manufacturer of the new image sensor and, as several companies currently offer this technology it's difficult to find out where it comes from. Suffice it to say that Sony was the pioneer in this area and one of the first to use back-illuminated sensors in its cameras, although others are beginning to follow suit. The diagram below shows the main differences between conventional, front-illuminated sensor designs and the new technology.
This diagram shows the structural differences between conventional sensors and the new back-illuminated CMOS sensor. (Source: Ricoh.)
By capturing all the light that passes through the lens (as shown in the diagram above), this new sensor increases the camera's sensitivity range without dramatically boosting image noise. In theory, cameras with the new sensors should deliver better high-ISO performance than those with standard CCD imagers.
However, not leaving anything to chance, Ricoh has also improved the built-in noise-reduction function in the new camera, which offers auto noise reduction processing along with three processing levels (Weak, Strong and Maximum) plus the ability to switch processing off. Noise reduction processing is applied to the signal immediately after it leaves the sensor.
Aside from the new sensor and video capabilities, little has changed in the six-month gap between the release of the CX2 and the new CX3. In fact, the Smooth Imaging Engine IV image processor in the new camera is the same chip as used in the CX1 and CX2 models and also the S10 camera unit for the GXR body. It uses special pixel output interpolation algorithms to minimise blown highlights in high-contrast situations, thereby providing a better dynamic range than many competing sensor/processor combinations and making the most of the light-capturing abilities of the new CMOS sensor.
The body of the new model is almost identical to its predecessor and both share the same retracting 4.9-52.5mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens, which covers a focal length range equivalent to 28-300 mm in 35mm format. Both models have the same physical dimensions and overall weights and both are small and light enough to slip into a shirt pocket.
The three colour options offered for the new Ricoh CX3. (Source: Ricoh.)
The CX3 will be offered in black, violet and two-tone grey-pink. Like its predecessors, the new model is solidly constructed, with a textured plastic finger-grip on the front panel and a slim, built-in flash. The front panel also carries a small LED AF assist lamp, which doubles as a self-timer indicator.
The front panel of the black version of the Ricoh CX3. (Source: Ricoh.)
Roughly two thirds of the rear panel is covered by the 3.0-inch Transparent LCD monitor, which has the same resolution (approx. 920,000 dots) as the monitor on the CX2. It's noticeably brighter, sharper and more colour accurate than the lower-resolution screens on many similarly-priced digicams. However, it remains difficult to use in bright outdoor lighting - and this camera has no viewfinder to overcome these difficulties.
The rear panel of the violet version of the Ricoh CX3. (Source: Ricoh.)
Four buttons line up along the right side of the monitor, accessing the Menu, Function, Self-timer/Delete and Display settings. A small joystick in the upper right corner replaces a standard arrow pad. Below it is a circular Playback button.
The horizontal arrows surrounding the joystick provide quick access to the close-up and flash settings. Pressing the central ADJ/OK button calls up sub-menus for the exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, image quality and AF/AE target selection functions. You can replace the first four of these functions with others from the main menu, using the ADJ Button Setting 1/2/3/4 function in the set-up menu.
The Function (Fn) button is also customisable and can be used to control one of seven settings: Macro Target, AE Lock, AF/Face priority AF, AF/Continuous AF, AF/Multi-target AF, AF/MF, AF/Snap and Step zoom/bracketing. Details on bracketing options can be found in the New Functions section below.
The top panel of the black version of the Ricoh CX3.
The top panel has only four controls: a tiny Power button, a large shutter button with a surrounding zoom lever and a mode dial. Eight settings are provided on the mode dial: the Auto shooting mode, two My Settings modes (where camera settings can be registered for quick recall), an S-Auto mode, a Continuous mode, a Dynamic Range Double-shot mode and a movie mode.
As with previous CX-series cameras, image capture in the CX3 is restricted to JPEG files. Nine image sizes are provided, including a 3:2 aspect ratio and a 1:1 aspect ratio. However, aspect ratio and image quality can't be set independently and the 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios are only available for one size/quality setting each.
At the highest 4:3 resolution, you can choose between Fine and Normal compression - although only for the largest image size. At other resolutions, quality defaults to Fine. Typical file sizes for the Easy, Scene and Continuous shooting modes are shown in the table below. (Interestingly, some lower-resolution files are marginally larger in Multi-AF mode.)
3648 x 2736
3648 x 2736
3648 x 2432
2736 x 2736
3648 x 2048
2592 x 1944
2048 x 1536
1280 x 960
640 x 480
M-Cont Plus (10M)
3648 x 2736
M-Cont Plus (2M)
1728 x 1296
Speed Cont (VGA 4:3N)
640 x 480
Although the CX3 isn't the first Ricoh camera to offer HD video recording (the GXR's A12 camera unit takes that honour), it's the first small-sensor model to include what has now become almost mandatory in digicams. Like most competitors, soundtracks are recorded monaurally and there's no facility for adding a stereo microphone to overcome this limitation. There's also no wind-noise-reducing filter, which means it's difficult to capture clear soundtracks outdoor in anything stronger than a gentle breeze.
Movie clips are recorded in the popular AVI (Open DML Motion JPEG Format compliant) format. Users can choose from three frame sizes: 1280 x 720, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 pixels, all at 30 frames/second. Typical recording times for a 2GB memory card are shown in the table below.
Recording time on a 2GB memory card
HD (1280 x 720 pixels)
6 minutes, 14 seconds
VGA (640 x 480 pixels)
18 minutes, 8 seconds
QVGA (320 x 240 pixels)
44 minutes, 2 seconds
Unfortunately, the CX3 lacks an HDMI port so you can't connect it to an HDTV set to play video clips directly. This puts the camera at a disadvantage when compared with other HD-capable digicams.
The CX3's new S-Auto (Scene Auto) mode replaces the Easy Shooting mode on the CX2 but is also designed for point-and-shoot picture-taking. It sets the camera to automatically identify the type of scene the user is photographing. It will then select the appropriate scene mode for the detected subject and shooting conditions from the following options: portrait, sports, night portrait, nightscape, landscape and macro. Like most scene pre-sets, this mode can be handy for novice users, particularly those who aren't sure which scene mode to use.
Ricoh has also refined the Dynamic Range Double-shot mode with the addition of additional settings. In this mode, the camera captures two shots with different exposure levels and them combines them to produce a single image with an extended dynamic range. Users can choose from five modes - auto, very weak, weak, medium and strong - which Ricoh claims will cover up to 12EV of dynamic range expansion.
A new addition in the CX3 is the Dynamic Range Expansion Options setting, which lets users specify the tonal range to be given priority. Three options are provided for each mode - except the Auto setting - Off (no priority), Highlights and Shadows. In effect, we found it difficult to demonstrate the differences produced by the different settings, which were subtle (to say the least), even with the strong mode. The samples images below were taken with the different settings.
Sample images taken with the different dynamic range settings. Top left: auto mode with no DR adjustment. Top right: DR mode, strong setting with no priority. Bottom left: DR mode, strong setting with highlight priority. Bottom right: DR mode, strong setting with shadow priority. (Enlarged versions of the auto mode and strong setting with shadow priority are provided in the Sample Images section below.)
One new setting has been added to the Scene mode selections. The Pets mode switches off the flash, AF-assist light and camera operating sounds to avoid startling the pet. It also optimises focus for a cat's face when one is detected.
Face recognition functions are expanded with a new Face-priority AF setting, which prioritises human faces in shots containing people. Up to eight faces can be detected and exposure and white balance are also optimised to provide correctly-exposed shots.
Ricoh has extended the sensitivity range in the CX3 to ISO 3200 - a stop up from the previous model. However, it places some constraints on how users can benefit from higher ISO settings. Long exposures (one second and longer) cannot be combined with ISO settings above 400 so if you wish to take pictures after dark, you're forced to decide between high sensitivity and long exposure. Fortunately, high ISO settings are available for flash photography.
Like its predecessors, the CX3 doesn't provide P, A, S and M shooting modes and there's no way to adjust lens aperture settings. Shutter speed adjustments are also limited to the Time Exposure mode, where users can choose from four discrete shutter speeds (eight, four, two or one seconds) or take a chance on the camera selecting the desired shutter speed from its range between one and 1/2000 second. (Shutter speeds are non-adjustable in movie mode.)
Multi-pattern auto white balance carries over from the CX2. In this mode, the white balance is set to match the light source in different areas of the image. In theory, it should deliver better colour accuracy for subjects lit with mixed lighting. In practice, we found it performed no better with mixed incandescent/daylight and fluorescent/daylight combinations than the standard auto white balance setting.
The AE/AF target shift functions also appear in the new model. When this mode is selected via the ADJ/OK button, the AE (exposure) and AF (focus) targets can be shifted individually or together to any position on the screen. This function works for normal and close-up shots and is useful for focusing the lens on off-centre subjects.
Other unchanged focusing modes include Continuous AF and Pre-AF and the high-speed continuous shooting functions remain the same as the CX2, with speeds from 5 frames/second (fps) to 120 fps, with varying resolution. The minimum shooting distance display, which changes depending on the zoom setting, enables zoom distances to be checked on the monitor in macro mode.
The Miniaturise and High-contrast B&W scene modes, which were introduced with the CX2, are also included in the new model. The Miniaturise mode de-focuses the top and bottom areas of the image to create the impression of a small-scale reconstruction of the subject. It works best when subjects are photographed from a high oblique angle. The High-contrast B&W discards colour information and, at the same time, increases contrast to simulate the grainy effect of fast B&W film.
The electronic level display carries over from the CX2 largely unchanged and so does the in-camera (sensor-shift) stabilisation system. Three grid overlays are also provided. The CX3 offers the same four types of bracketing as the CX2:
1. Auto exposure bracketing records three consecutive shots at three exposure levels bracketed at half a stop on either side of the set exposure level.
2. Colour bracketing records three images in quick succession, the first in colour, the second in black and white and the third with sepia tone.
3. White balance bracketing automatically records three images with a changing colour bias: a reddish image, a bluish image and an image at the currently set white balance.
White balance bracketing.
4. Focus bracketing captures a sequence of five images while changing the focus position by specified intervals, which can be specified as Wide or Narrow.
Focus bracketing with the intervals set to Wide.
Bracketing changes are pretty subtle and you have to look closely to see the differences, particularly with focus bracketing. Nevertheless, they could make a difference between a ‘keeper' shot and a ‘dud' in some circumstances - particular if lighting is tricky or precise focusing is difficult.
Playback and Software
The CX3 provides the same image flagging function as the CX2, with the ability to flag up to 20 image files for quick playback. In-camera image editing adjustments and trimming capabilities are the same as the CX2. Otherwise, nothing much has changed since the CX1. Details of both can be found in this review.
Pictures straight out of the review camera were a little soft and edge softening was visible in most test shots. However, the dynamic range recorded in most test images was noticeably wider than we've found with most of the small-sensor digicams we've reviewed - regardless of whether shots were taken with the normal auto or Dynamic Range Double-shot mode.
Imatest showed resolution to be above expectations for a 10-megapixel camera but revealed considerable edge softening, which was greatest at mid-range focal lengths. Best overall performance was obtained at around 15mm focal length. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Resolution remained relatively high up to ISO 200 and then began a gradual decline at ISO 400 although, at ISO 3200, it remained above the ISO 400 levels we've obtained for most small-sensor digicams we've tested. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Test shots taken at different sensitivities confirmed our Imatest findings. Little noise was visible in flash shots right through the camera's sensitivity range, although images became progressively softer from ISO 800 on. Long exposures (eight seconds) were also relatively noise-free up to (and including) ISO 400. However, exposures of 1/2 and 1/4 second at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 (respectively) were visibly noise-affected - and slightly soft - although significantly better than most small-sensor digicams we've tested.
Lateral chromatic aberration remained consistently in the ‘low' band and we only detected slight coloured fringing when test shots were enlarged to 100%. An example is shown in the Sample Images section below. Strong backlighting was generally well-handled and we found few instances of flare affecting shots.
Imatest showed colour reproduction to be reasonably good, with slight hue shifts and elevated saturation in the red and blue bands of the spectrum. Skin hues were slightly off the mark, while overall saturation was marginally higher than normal. Slight barrel distortion could be seen in shots taken with the widest focal length setting but little distortion was evident thereafter.
The review camera's auto white balance setting was unable to correct the orange cast of incandescent lighting but produced close-to-natural colours under fluorescent lights. The pre-sets tended to over-correct under both types of lighting but Manual measurement produced neutral colours with both lighting types.
Video quality was quite good with the 720p resolution setting - although not as good as some digicams we've reviewed and the AVI format produced some large file sizes, compared with the more efficient compression codecs used by other manufacturers. Audio quality was acceptable - but not particularly good. VGA and QVGA clips were similar to those from previous CX series models.
Overall response times were variable. The review camera took roughly one second to power-up and 1.6 seconds to zoom from the widest to the narrowest focal length setting. We measured an average capture lag of 0.9 seconds (which indicates slow autofocusing for a digicam) but this was eliminated by pre-focusing. It took 1.3 seconds, on average, to process each JPEG file.
In the normal continuous shooting mode, the review camera recorded 10 shots in 1.6 seconds, which is faster than the claimed 5 fps continuous shooting rate. It took 3.2 seconds to process this burst. The other continuous modes package bursts of images in multi-picture (*.MPO) files, which can't be opened by normal software. The supplied software is required to view individual images in bursts.
With the M-Cont Plus (10M) setting, the camera recorded 15 frames in 2.6 seconds, with each frame at the full 10-megapixel resolution. It took 6.2 seconds to process this burst and convert it to multi-picture file format. With the M-Cont Plus (10M) setting, the camera also recorded 15 frames but each frame was at 2-megapixel resolution. It took 5.6 seconds to process this burst.
In the Speed Cont (Low) mode, while the shutter button is held down the camera will record up to 120 frames at around 60 frames/second. In our tests, we recorded 120 frames in 2 seconds, which equates to the claimed frame rate. It took 6.4 seconds to process this burst. With the Speed Cont (High) mode we recorded 120 frames in 0.95 seconds, which is marginally faster than the claimed maximum frame rate with this setting. It took 5.7 seconds to process this burst.
Buy this camera if:
- You're looking for a slim, pocketable digicam with a relatively long, retractable zoom lens.
- You'd like a digicam that can record widescreen high-definition (720p) video clips.
- You want built-in image stabilisation.
- You'd like extended dynamic range capture and better low-light performance than most small-sensor digicams provide.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You require an optical viewfinder.
- You want an easy-to-read menu system.
- You want the ability to capture raw files.
- You want P, A, S and M shooting modes plus full control over aperture and shutter speed settings.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
4.9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1150 second at f/7.
52.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/810 second at f/5.6.
Digital zoom; 52.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1230 second at f/5.6.
Macro mode; 5.4mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/7150 second at f/3.7.
Macro mode; 5.4mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/97 second at f/3.7.
Backlighting; 20.9mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/250 second at f/9.8.
Dynamic range double-shot mode (auto); 4.9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1150 second at f/7.
4.9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/7.
100% crop from the above image showing coloured fringing.
Auto exposure setting with no DR adjustment. 5.4mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1150 second at f/3.7.
Dynamic range double-shot mode, strong setting with shadow priority. 5.4mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1150 second at f/3.7.
ISO 80, 8 second exposure at f/4.0; 10.5mm focal length.
ISO 400, 8 second exposure at f/4.0; 10.5mm focal length.
ISO 800, 1 second exposure at f/4.0; 10.5mm focal length.
ISO 3200, 1/4 second exposure at f/4.0; 10.5mm focal length.
Flash exposure; 16.3mm focal length. ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/4.8.
Flash exposure; 16.3mm focal length. ISO 800, 1/125 second at f/4.8.
Flash exposure; 16.3mm focal length. ISO 3200, 1/125 second at f/5.4.
Image sensor: 6.16 x 4.62 mmCMOS sensor with 10.6 million photosites (10 megapixels effective)
Lens: 4.9-52.5mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens (28-300 mm equivalent in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 10.7x optical, 4.8x up to 51.4x digital or up to 61.0x auto resize zoom (when used with optical zoom)
Image formats: Stills - JPEG (Exif 2.21); Movies - AVI (Open DML Motion JPEG Format compliant)
Image Sizes: Stills - 3648 x 2736, 3648 x 2432, 2736 x 2736, 3648 x 2048, 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1728 x 1296 (multi-picture only), 1280 x 960, 640 x 480; Movies - 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240; Text - 3648 x 2736, 2048 x 1536
Shutter speed range: Stills - 8, 4, 2, 1 - 1/2000 sec.; Movies - 1/30 - 1/2000 sec.
Self-timer: 2 and10 seconds delays plus Custom setting
Image Stabilisation: Image stabiliser shift system
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps plus auto bracketing of +/- 0.5EV
Focus system/range: Contrast-based AF with multi, spot, Face-priority, continuous, multi-target and snap AF plus manual focus; range: 28 cm to infinity; macro to 1 cm
Exposure metering/control: 256-segment multi, centre-weighted and spot metering; Program AE
Shooting modes: Auto, Scene Auto, Dynamic range double shot, Continuous, Scene modes (Portrait, Sports, Pets, Night. Port., Nightscape, Miniaturise, Landscape, High Sensitivity, High Contrast B&W, Discrete Mode, Zoom Macro, Text Mode, Skew Correct Mode), My Settings mode, Movie mode
ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance: Auto, Multi-pattern Auto, Outdoors, Cloudy, Incandescent Lamp (x2), Fluorescent Lamp, Manual Settings, White balance bracket function
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto flash (fires automatically in low-light conditions and when the subject is backlit), Red-eye Flash, Flash On, Flash Synchro., Flash Off; range - 0.2 to 4.0 metres; +/-2.0EV output adjustment in 1/3EV steps
Sequence shooting: Approx.5 frames/sec; Max. 999 frames
Storage Media: Approx. 88MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC card slot
LCD monitor: 3.0-inch Transparent LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)
Power supply: DB-100r rechargeable lithium-ion battery (CIPA rated for approx. 310 shots/charge)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 101.5 x 58.3 x 29.4 mm
Weight: Approx. 185 grams (without battery and card)
Digital cameras, lenses and accessories with 100% genuine Australian manufacturer's warranties.
Ph: (02) 9029 2219
Ph: 133 686
The largest speciality photographic retail chain in Australia.
CameraPro Pty Ltd
Suite 607, 180 Queen St, Brisbane 4000
Tel: 07 3333 2900
Australian owned and run company based in Brisbane.
Retailer of digital camera equipment and more.
Secure online shopping and delivery across Australia.
Ph: 1300 727 056
Ph: 1800 155 067
Digital Camera Warehouse
174 Canterbury Road 367 High Street
NSW 2193 VIC 3070
Ph: 1300 365 220
1300 801 885
Australian retailer of Vapex rechargeable batteries offering factory direct prices and fast, free shipping Australia wide.
Greg Smith's Photo Accessories
1800 50 80 82
Big range of photographic accessories, Australia-wide shipping.
285 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9299 2999
Photographic Equipment & Supplies - Retail & Repairs. Click here for list of stores.
1800 186 895
Big range of cameras and photographic products with stores in most states and online.
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 9.0
- Image quality: 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.5