The CX3 is outwardly identical to the CX2, and as with previous Ricoh cameras the build quality is impeccable. It's not a particularly small camera, measuring 101.5 x 58.3 x 29.4mm and weighing 206g including battery and card, but is roughly the same size and weight as the new Panasonic TZ10. It has excellent handling thanks to a textured plastic handgrip on the front and a shaped thumb rest on the back. It shares the same quick and easy to use control interface as the CX2, and thanks to the incredibly high resolution wide-view monitor (double the resolution of most DSLR screens) the menu is extremely sharp and easy to read. It also has the same on-screen camera level indicator, so there's no excuse for tilted horizons.
The CX3's new CMOS sensor is of a new type that has a couple of major advantages. Traditionally digital imaging sensor chips have been made like any other computer chip. They are constructed on a silicon wafer with the photocells embedded in it, and then connected with microscopic wires on the surface of the wafer. This works well, but it does mean that the wires partially obscure the light-sensitive photocells, reducing the efficiency of the sensor especially in low light situations. Back-illuminated sensors such as the one in the CX3 are effectively made upside down, so that the wires connect to the photocells from underneath, allowing the sensor to capture more light, which should give it better low light performance, dynamic range and colour depth.
As well as its new high-tech sensor the CX3 features 1280 x 720 HD video recording, a feature that many users were surprised to see omitted from the specification of the CX2. Video is recorded at 30fps and the audio quality is surprisingly good compared to most other compact cameras, but it is only monaural and as usual the optical zoom cannot be adjusted while recording. Digital zoom up to 2.8x is available.
Unlike its soon-to-be arch rival the Panasonic TZ10 the CX3 has no manual exposure controls, but it does have a useful selection of scene modes, including a nice high-contrast monochrome mode, a skew correction mode that automatically adjusts the angle of shots of documents, whiteboards or slideshows, and the clever “Miniaturize” mode seen on the CX2, which mimics the limited depth effects of macro photography. There is also a discreet mode which disables the flash, AF lamp and all sounds, and is sure to be popular on Japanese commuter trains. The CX3 also has the in-camera HDR mode, or “Dynamic Range Double Shot” as seen on the CX2.