Hello. Hope you can help. I have a CX 4 digital camera. I would like to know if there is a way to set this camera up so as to take picture with a much more narrow focal length. I am trying to compete my a...
I presume you mean the Ricoh CX4? if so, I'm puzzled by your question, in particular the term "narrow focal length". It's also difficult to answer without knowing which lens your friend is using to compare it against.
You have an available focal length range of 28-300mm (in 35mm film equivalent terms), so a full range from wide angle to super telephoto. Clearly, you don't mean "narrow focal length range". If you mean that you want a narrower angle of view then 300mm is pretty narrow to start with and you have a 10MP camera which gives you plenty of excess pixels to dump if you want to crop the images further with no discernible loss of quality. At 300mm equivalent though, you will always have some user-induced camera shake (movement blur) unless you use a tripod or similar and additionally a remote shutter release (or use self-timer), and the effects of movement blur will be increased when you crop the image. Image stabilisation (I.S.) helps, but is no substitute for good technique and I.S. is a battery *******. If you're after a wider angle of view, then your camera is simply incapable of it without adding additional screw on lenses, and they ALWAYS reduce sharpness, contrast and add distortions.
The lens on your camera is good but is not known to be especially sharp even at the centre where all lenses perform best, regardless of cost. But most users wouldn't be able to tell the difference unless they were given large print selective enlargements to compare with the same images from a better lens. Your lens is what it is: there is no way it can out-perform what it's designed to achieve and it will never match higher-priced, higher quality SLR lenses.
Another puzzling point in your question is the phrase "I would like to get my subjects in crisp focus but the surroundings are out". If you're trying to get the subject and surroundings in focus all at once, then use a smaller aperture and a longer exposure in conjunction with a longer focal length (look up aperture and depth of field). Longer exposures risk movement blur though. The words you use afterwards regarding a blur mask suggest the opposite though, that you want a sharp subject in relief against blurry surroundings. If so, use the widest possible aperture and the shortest acceptable focal length (depth of field varies with focal length), but with wide angles you increase image distortion due to exaggerated perspective. Your options are limited though as your lens is very much a compromise to keep size, weight and costs down. The widest possible aperture is a modest f/3.5 at the widest angle (shortest focal length) setting, and a very modest f/5.6 at the super-telephoto setting (longest focal length), although the aperture range is normal in comparison with most other similar compact camera models and with some basic "kit" zoom lenses supplied with cheaper SLRs..
Wider apertures than you have available are just not possible on your lens and there are no adaptors or anything else which will change that. Even if your lens absolutely matched the aperture range available to SLR users then you still wouldn't achieve the out of focus surroundings which I suspect you're after. That's because although your camera has an equivalent angle of view range to a 35mm film lens of 28-300mm, it has a much smaller image sensor so uses a real focal length range of 4.9mm to 52.5mm. As I said earlier, depth of field varies with focal length. The shorter the focal length, the larger the depth of field, and there's no way to avoid the physics of that.
You only have one fix for the problems you describe and that's to work creatively within the limitations of your camera. Note that I didn't say "spend four times more"; if you do that you have a more expensive, bulkier, camera, have to carry around more lenses, and are far less likely to use the equipment in adverse conditions as you won't want to risk ruining it or having it stolen. You also won't get some of the candid point and shoot images you can capture with a compact model, partially due to easier and quicker handling but also due to the fact that folks tend to notice and react when they see a dirty great SLR aimed at them.
Cameras and lenses are just tools for a job and you just pick the right ones for the task at hand. An "impressive" camera does not make anyone a better photographer. The cheapest and best way to improve your photos is to take as many as you can and study the image file EXIF data to see what the settings were for each image. Also, buy or borrow books and look at websites which explain photographic technique regarding aperture, focal length, shutter speeds, reciprocity, image noise, sensor sizes and megapixel counts. Joining a local club or even an online forum will also help. Learning more will help you understand why your assertion, "I know that is is possible" is completely incorrect and also will ensure that when you do eventually replace your camera that you buy wisely.