Build and handling
The lens is internal and doesn't extend at all, which makes the camera start thin and stay thin. It's easily pocket sized and the build quality is very good. It's just annoying that buttons on the top are so awkward. Handling is generally good, but there's only the smallest knurled area to put a thumb to hold it, and invariably, fingers go over the lens or onto the LCD. You'll also spent no little time polishing the chrome bits. The only problem is that on cold days, the very smoothness of the camera makes it slippy to hold and easy to drop.
Being a compact camera, the flash is built in and comes with standard red-eye reduction. There's also creative flash use in the night time portraits where a longer exposure is combined with flash. However, despite the fact that the flash can be turned off, if you change mode it automatically gets switched on again, which is very annoying. It also comes on automatically in strange situations, like shooting a macro scene, which the flash can then ruin. Where there is a receding background in a macro scene it works okay, because the background then fades to black, but where it's all one level, you have to remember to switch it off (again).
Performance (Click on the thumbnail pics to see larger versions)
Although it looks great and has a load of features, the implementation of them leaves something to be desired. The focus system struggles indoors in reasonable light and does badly in low light. The Happy Smiley portrait system starts scanning the face, but can also lose its way. It also switches the flash into auto mode as well, which then results in flat, dull images. The focus is usually in the middle of the picture. There is a menu option to enable it to be moved around but this is more trouble than it's worth.
It's a pity that the really important and useful stuff that you are likely to change all the time, like ISO, Auto White Balance and particularly Exposure Compensation, aren't on a button somewhere. It's that latter item that is essential on a compact camera.
While there are colour options for vivid, black and white, standard, cyan and sepia, the resulting files are sRGB rather than the now more prevalent, and better, AdobeRGB.
There are some neat options in the Scene modes – like landscapes having an architectural option that puts guide lines on the screen. Pity it doesn't also correct converging verticals, but that really would be asking too much.
The macro mode really can get in close – it's the singular advantage of compacts that you can get right up to something for a macro shot. Why the flash comes on automatically at this range is bizarre.
At least start up is fast and images are big and detailed. Colours are generally very accurate and in landscape mode, thanks to the very short focal length, you get lots of depth-of-field and sharpness. The veracity of the VR anti-shake system leaves something to be desired. Instead of getting shake in the pictures, they just appear very soft, when shooting in low light. I'm not at all convinced by this.
Shot in Landscape mode with -1EV to cope with the bright sky, this is a surprisingly good result. There's decent sharpness almost to the bridge, lots of detail, good colours and almost no colour fringing.
This was the only portrait test shot that was sharp. The Face-Priority mode switched the flash on and flattened the picture completely, and it was still soft at 1/60sec exposure. Eventually, by going into portrait scene mode and forcing the flash off, and holding very still, this 1/60sec shot came out sharp. The ISO got bumped up to 135 to do it though.