Thanks to the camera's manual controls and a simple menu system, operating the camera is reasonably straightforward. It takes less than a second to fully power up the camera and around twice that time to power down, and buttons presses show the camera to be largely responsive.
The focusing system lacks some of the expected fluidity in both normal and high-speed modes, and focusing speed on the whole could be better, but the camera does make it clear when it's found focus with bright green boxes over the focused areas. There's very little shutter lag once the shutter release is depressed, and the images spring up reasonably quickly on the LCD, while the iris shutter located in the lens clicks positively as images are captured.
With a minimum focusing distance of 30cm, it can be difficult to fully isolate a subject from its background even when shooting wide open, much more so than with the Fujifilm X100 whose minimum focusing distance of 10cm makes this easier.
The resolution of the LCD screen also makes manual focusing a little trickier than necessary, and as manual focus is performed electronically - as opposed to mechanically through a focusing ring – the off-putting unsteady nature of the focusing system makes itself known. The camera does, however, provide a distance scale to aid focusing, and also automatically magnifies the centre of the frame for more precise control.
While the LCD screen may be sub-par on paper, it's perfectly usable in controlled lighting conditions; sadly, in harsh lighting conditions its usability drops significantly, to the point where even shielding it with the hand only does so much.
Yet, as we would expect from any camera breaching the four-figure barrier, the X1's image quality is impressive. Metering in particular is spot on most of the time, with even tricky conditions failing to sway the camera one way or the other, while the hit rate of the auto white balance is equally impressive. Both of these are matched by superb control over noise throughout the camera's sensitivity range, with excellent results in terms of both noise and colour accuracy through till ISO 1600, and just a minor dip at the ISO 3200 maximum.
Once the lens has been stopped down to its middle aperture range, there's no drop in sharpness in neither edges or corners of the frame, with detail remaining consistently high across the frame. There's a very marginal amount of distortion visible when shooting linear details, but this isn't generally too big a deal with most subjects, while chromatic aberrations are slight and only visible under close scrutiny, and bokeh as smoothly circular as is often promised.
In fact, the only thing that really lets the camera down is its default JPEG output. In contrast with many other cameras, it's the raw files from the camera which are the more dynamic and vibrant, with JPEGs looking a little lacklustre by comparison. Colour tends to be a little more muted and brightness a little lower, although this latter point remedies the slightly highlight loss visible in the brighter raw files.
There's definitely room for improvement with sharpness in JPEGs, although as slight noise patterning is visible in shadowy areas on all sensitivities, this should be preceded by gentle noise reduction. Of course, it's more than likely that X1 users will be processing their DNG files rather than relying on JPEGs out of the camera, but few users will be inclined to process every image they shoot.