I’m going to have to hold my hands up from the outset and say that I think the X10 is the most stylish camera I’ve reviewed this year. Its retro rangefinder design might not appeal to everyone, but personally I think it looks absolutely fantastic. What’s more, it’s an extremely tactile camera too. Picking it up for the first time, everything about it – from the metal zoom ring to the machined Exposure mode/EV control dials – feels measured, precise and of premium quality. It all adds up to a camera that’s very hard to put down, even if you’re not actually taking any pictures.
With a die-cast magnesium top and bottom plates and metal dials/zoom ring, overall build quality is perhaps the best in its class. Of course you still wouldn’t want to drop it, and to this end the X10 gets a relatively low-profile finger grip that’s covered in synthetic leather for added grip, along with a moulded thumb rest on the back. An eyelet on each shoulder also allows you to attach the supplied neck strap – the use of which is something of a no-brainer really; not only because it’s safer, but also because you’ll probably want to show your new pride and joy off to all and sundry.
On the back of the camera you’ll find a good array of physical buttons, including the aforementioned dials on top of the camera that are used to set exposure mode and dial in EV compensation. Elsewhere on the body you’ll find buttons that offer direct access to the most commonly used stings such as AF mode (Single, Continuous, Manual), Metering mode (Multi, Spot or Average), AF point control (only accessible when the camera is set to AF-S), White Balance, Drive mode, Flash control, Self-timer, Raw image capture and Macro mode.
Next to the thumb rest you’ll find a clickable control wheel, which is used to control aperture or shutter speed (or indeed both when the camera is being used in Manual mode). Below this is an AEL/AFL button that can be used to lock exposure (or focus) in tricky metering situations.
The X10’s zoom is operated manually via a machined metal ring that runs around the lens and, rather neatly, this also doubles up as the camera’s main on/off switch. We’re big fans of this approach as having to manually adjust focal length – as you would with a DSLR – makes framing a far more intuitive, precise and speedy process than trying to feather and nudge a spring-loaded zoom control to the exact focal length you want. Should you wish to focus manually, you can do so via the thumb wheel that encircles the D-pad.
It’s worth noting that the X10 is supplied with a metal lens cap that needs to be removed (and stored in a pocket or suchlike) in order to reach the zoom ring and turn the camera on. However, if you just want to review stored images without having to go through this process then pressing and holding the ‘green triangle’ button switches the camera straight on into Playback mode.
The back of the X10 is adorned with a 2.8inch, 460k-dot TFT LCD monitor that offers 100% coverage and good viewing angles. Should you prefer, and many DSLR owners almost certainly will, you can also frame shots using the optical viewfinder. This is considerably larger and brighter than the viewfinders found on competitor models like the Nikon P7100 or Canon G12, although it does need bearing in mind that the slightly offset field of view (it's not looking directly through the lens) and 85% frame coverage mean it should only be used as a guide rather than a precise framing tool. Even taking this into consideration, the X10’s viewfinder comfortably blows all of its rivals clean out of the water and remains a great way to frame your shots in bright conditions or when you just want to be isolated from the world around you and concentrate on your shot. A dioptre dial also means you can adjust the viewfinder focus so those that normally require glasses can do away with them for framing their shots (depending on your prescription).
AF performance is impressive too, with focus-lock close to instantaneous in good light and only dipping slightly in dimmer conditions. In really dark conditions, where there isn’t enough light for the 49 AF points to lock on, an AF assist light on the front of the camera can be called upon to light up near subjects.
Start-up time impresses, with the time taken from the camera being switched off to capturing a fully focused shot clocking in at around a second. The X10’s no slouch in Single-shot drive mode either, with the dual-core EXR image processor taking around half a second to process each shot. There are a large number of Continuous shooting options too. Shooting at full resolution, the maximum speed possible is a nimble 7fps, which is pretty quick even for a camera of this calibre. Lowering resolution to Medium (6MP) or Small (3MP) pushes this up to 10fps.