While there are now a handful of 8-megapixel compacts available for around £300, the mirrored back plate and polished fascia of the Dimage X1 ensures it stands out from the crowd. It's what marketers term a ‘lifestyle product', with its black, silver and red casings aiming to appeal to both sexes. Feeling light but substantial in the palm, you can imagine it slipping easily into a jacket pocket or handbag; indeed there's something of the night about it...nightclub that is.
Get past its funky looks, however, and the X1 is more than a triumph of style over substance. There's some impressive technology at work here shared with Konica Minolta's Digital SLRs, such as its revolutionary Anti-Shake feature. This tilts the whole sensor to compensate for any movement of the user to, in theory, enable blur-free images even in low light without flash. While in practice it doesn't work every time, anything that negates the need for flash and/or lugging a tripod around if you want flattering portrait shots using natural light indoors, has got to be a good thing.
Also of note is the vertically stacked 3x optical zoom mechanism – a signature of the ‘X' series – that at no point protrudes from the smooth faceplate. Very neat. And for the first time a docking cradle has been included, both for recharging the camera battery and downloading images to your desktop – the other choice is simply to remove its 32MB SD card, onto which you can squeeze 15 top-resolution shots, and use a card reader.
Initial impressions are good: the X1 powers up instantaneously. Subject visibility via the giant LCD that dominates the camera back is clear with brightness manually adjustable, though it displays some speckles of image noise and ghosting if operating in low light. When it comes to taking a shot, there's a shutter delay of roughly a second between pressing the button and the image being captured, plus a wait of 3-4 seconds while a maximum resolution image writes. That's not unusual for digital compacts, and the X1 isn't the worst offender. Alternatively you can improve this via several continuous shooting modes, with speeds of up to 10 frames per second (fps), albeit at a trade-off of a lowly 640 x 480 pixels.
Although there's a high degree of hand holding on offer – including seven optimised scene modes – that will suit the novice user, the likes of image sharpness, contrast, white balance, ISO sensitivity (just ISO 50-200, which looks like an attempt to limit image noise), and exposure compensation can be manually tweaked if necessary. Techies will also want to know whether the fairly average lens is up to the job of resolving all those 8 million pixels – a case of over-egging the pudding for what is essentially a party camera? Well, I remain unconvinced, but the results certainly stack up well against any 5-megapixel model in the same price bracket.
Although the X1 isn't perfect – it's a tad slow and that huge LCD eats up the battery (providing just over two hours of continuous power) – the clarity of images it delivers goes some way to negating these quibbles. A solid choice if you have the patience.