Ricoh CX1 / FinePix F200EXR: pocketsized HDR cameras?

Both newly released cameras claim to capture a higher dynamic range.
Both are right and wrong at the same time.
Both, however, are a step in the right direction.

First of all, I love the fact that dynamic range is pushed by marketing as competitive advantage. Because it is, and such a valid argument will hopefully spur some more competition among camera makers. Bring on the Dynamic Range Wars, we have enough Megapixels already!





















Ricoh CX1


Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR




Highslide JS


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Sensor Type:
CMOS
Super CCD EXR
Max Image Sixe:
9.3 MP (3456 x 2592)
12 MP (4000 x 3000)
6 MP in Wide DR Mode
DR Increase Method:
Shoots a burst of two images. The camera’s firmware takes care of blending both exposures and saves a single JPEG.
One-shot solution: Sensor pixels are reconfigured to have varying sensitivity. Firmware interpolates and saves a JPEG.
Special Extra Features:
Focus Bracketing
120 fps in VGA resolution
Scene DR detection
Film stock simulation
Optical Zoom:
7.1x / equivalent 28-200mm
5x / equivalent 35-140mm
Dimensions:
(W x H x D)
101.5 x 58.3 x 27.9 mm
97.7 x 58.9 x 23.4 mm
Price:
$430
$400
More Info:
Official Ricoh product page
dpreview interview
Official Fujifilm product page
dpreview sample gallery


I haven't personally held either one of them in my hand. From what I can gather from the trustworthy internet sources, is this little peek under the hood:

Rico CX1

We're looking at an advanced CMOS sensor, that has a "smart layer" of transistors. Supposedly related to what I've described it in Chapter 3.1.4 as "Digital Pixel Sensor". It is capable of shooting at very high speed, enabling extra features like this "Dynamic Range double shot mode", Focus bracketing (which can be used for focus stacking), and 1 second recursive shooting buffer at 30fps.
In "DR double shot" it is claimed to capture 12 EVs of scene DR, which is about equal to what you can recover from a RAW file out of a modern DSLR. Then again, in perspective, for a consumer camera at about 1/5 of the price tag, that's pretty phenomenal.
There is actually a second dynamic range expansion built in, that I haven't mentioned in the table above. It uses the red and blue channel to interpolate clipped areas of the green channel. Sounds like a smart hack and is certainly appreciated, but I wouldn't want to rely on it for my wedding photos...
Bottom line is: The tech advantage is in the sensor speed and all the fun stuff you can do with sequential shooting. It's a great toy for getting into other areas of computational photography, too. If the firmware would just be a little bit less "magical", and would allow shooting simple exposure brackets at high-speed, the Ricoh CX1 could even be taken serious.

Fuji FinePix F200EXR

This camera is all about the new (5th generation?) of the Super CCD sensor. Fuji keeps redesigning it, coupled with an evolution of the readout-process. It's following the "spacially varying exposure" method, as described in Chapter 3.1.5 and 3.1.6. After experimenting with dual sized photosites, they went back to one size for all (but still in a honeycomb pattern instead of a pixel grid). Photosites are still considered to be two groups, but their sensitivity can now be set arbitrarily. A maximum setting of %800 suggests, that the individual images can be +-4 EV apart. If you ever had a chance to look at the different exposures, because the firmware does not hesitate to mush them up and stomps everything into a JPEG...
Basically, what you get here is the tried-and-true technology from Fuji's flagship DSLR FinePix S5Pro. Even one generation further. In fact, it will be interesting to this new sensor in a more professional camera, where we get access to the RAW files.

The Bottom LIne

Do these cameras capture a higher dynamic range?
Yes, compared to other compacts, they sure do.

Do they shoot real HDR images?
No, both save only JPEGs, which are by definition LDR (low dynamic range) images.

The whole point about HDR imaging is, that you get an 32-bit HDR file, where you can tweak your heart out without loosing data. These cameras, however, do all the tonemapping/exposure blending (read: all the fun stuff) in hardware, and only deliver the final result. I guess that's the idea behind a point-and-shoot camera: Take all the high-tech and make it a single button that my mom could push. However, don't fall in for the marketing talk. They're close, but they're not real HDR camera just yet. Specifically, naming the Fuji camera "EXR" couldn't be more misleading. Coincidence? Or is there someone buzz-wording involved?

Unrelated sidenote


Did my monthly update chores. The new sIBL-of-the-month is from Arches National Park, and the Hot-on-Flickr gallery is now looking at the most popular images from March. Who knows maybe we'll see some first CX1 or F200EXR shots float atop this month?

Christian Bloch

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