Most of us have used enough digital cameras by now to know that more megapixels doesn't necessarily equate to better pictures. High-resolution sensors can mean long processing times and, especially, increased levels of noise.

But that didn't stop me feeling a thrill as I picked up Casio's Z1000 - the first 10MP camera pitched squarely at a consumer audience.

The Z1000 is an all-metal compact with a smoothly curving design. It feels solid and stable in the hand, with shutter, power and front-mounted zoom rocker on top and a small four-way pad and menu buttons at the rear. Most of the rear is taken up with a wide format 2.8-inch LCD, which is sharp and bright in sunlight but not quite so happy in dark conditions.

A choice of screen layouts offers either icons dotted about or a right-hand menu strip giving instant access to the Quality, Focus, Flash, ISO, Exposure Compensation and White Balance settings. The Z1000 matches that navigation speed with a rapid 3x zoom and decisive autofocus. Switch into Quick Shutter mode and you can almost eliminate shutter lag (at the cost of losing the autofocus).

Features galore

This Exilim hasn't got manual exposure but Casio has loaded it up with lots of useful features. Focusing is well served by a nine-point AF, 6cm macro, infinity preset and a manual focus that zooms in to enable fairly accurate focusing on the LCD.

It's a shame the handy Pan Focus (for quick focus-free shots of landscapes) is only available in Movie mode. There are dozens of Best Shot scene programs, including fun 'art' modes imitating pastel and illustration effects.

For low-light shooting, the Z1000 maxes out at ISO 400 in auto shooting. There's no more than a sprinkling of chroma noise evident at this setting, so if you need a few extra stops, switch into High Sensitivity Scene mode.

Now the Z1000 can choose from a full ISO range up to 3200, although unfortunately you can't select the setting manually. Image quality deteriorates rapidly, with ISO 800 smearing significantly and ISO 3200 devoid of any real detail, although colour accuracy holds up well.

You can adjust flash intensity, select a flattering Soft Flash for portraits - and the Best Flash feature lurks in the Drive menu. Flash Continuous fires three fl ash shots in quick succession (over about a second), which is perfect for night-time portraits.

The less useful Continuous Zoom fires a normal photo, then immediately trims it to save just the central part. Normal Burst modes take either three shots in a second or a never-ending series of frames at 1.2fps - no small achievement for a camera recording fine-quality 10MP files at over 4MB each.

Full-resolution images include an impressive amount of fine detail, with well-judged sharpness. Colours are bright and confident, if occasionally a hue or two inaccurate (especially indoors). If there's a weak link in the image pipeline, it's the Casio-branded zoom lens.

Weak auto-focus

Distortion is noticeable at wide angle, smudging detail and drawing the eye in for all the wrong reasons. Aberration is present but under control, and telephoto shots are better all round. Another weakness is the focus, which for all its speed and multipoint features, doesn't always settle on the main subject.

At the risk of fuelling another megapixel arms race, Casio has pulled off a blinder. Full-resolution shots reveal that crucial extra detail over the current rash of 6MP to 8MP compacts, without suffering unduly from noise or shooting delays.

Add in excellent build quality, a reasonable price tag and genuinely useful features, and it's clear that we're looking at the first essential double-digit compact. Mark Harris