There were many 'races' in the compact camera market back when they were selling like hotcakes. From resolution to zoom, manufacturers were constantly trying to one-up each other. Another area in which they were competing was just how small a camera could be. One of the smallest was the ultra-thin Minolta DiMAGE X, released way back in 2002.

The DiMAGE X's dimensions were 84 x 72 x 20mm (3.3 x 2.8 x 0.8in) - yes, less than an inch thick - so it easily fit into a shirt picket. How did they do it? Folded optics.

While we're not 100% certain, it's likely that the DiMAGE X was the first digital camera to use folded optics. Light comes through the lens, hits a 90-degree prism and then heads downward where it passes through the various elements until it hits a 2 Megapixel CCD. As you can probably tell from the design of the camera, all of the zooming and focus takes place in the 'downward' portion of the lens.

As noted in Phil Askey's review, two other things that allowed the DiMAGE X to be so thin was its compact lithium-ion battery and 'tiny' MMC/SD cards (which is funny, considering that the way-too-small microSD format was just a few years away). One tradeoff to having such a compact body was the camera's tunnel-type viewfinder – you might as well just use the 1.5" LCD.

While the camera was a snappy performer, its image quality was less impressive. Phil Askey noted that photos were very 'video like - soft with some visible ghosting artifacts.' Vignetting was also an issue. Its measured resolution was the lowest of any 2 Megapixel camera DPReview had tested at the time. Phil suggests that most of these issues are due to the folded optics design that made the DiMAGE X so unique.

Despite its unique optical design and ultra-compact body, the DiMAGE X didn't win over Phil (mainly due to image quality), earning it a 'Below Average' award – a rarity on DPReview.

Did you have a DiMAGE X or its successors? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Read our review of the Minolta DiMAGE X

Sample Gallery