Operation and controls

The DSC-L1 has no pretensions to being anything but a straightforward 'point-and-shooter', offering only the most basic of manual intervention. The majority of record mode settings are accessed via a single menu, which follows exactly the same format as all other Sony compact cameras. That said, most of the the important everyday controls (flash mode, self-timer, image size) get their own external buttons, as does spot metering - though as mentioned previously this is not necessarily a good thing! Overall the DSC-L1 easy to use (due in no small part to the almost entirely automatic operation), and the friendly user interface works surprisingly well on such a small screen.

Rear of camera

The DSC-L1s main shooting controls are ranged to the right of and below the LCD screen. Below the screen sit the dual image size/delete button (function changes according to the mode you're in), display button (used to change the amount of on-screen information and to turn on and off the screen backlight) and the menu button. To the right of the screen is a small four-way 'joystick', which is used to navigate the on-screen menus. In record mode the controller also offers fast access to flash mode, metering mode, self-timer and quick review mode. The spot meter button is disabled in 'auto' mode.

Top of camera

The top of the camera is home to the power switch, microphone, main mode switch (record/playback/movie), shutter release and zoom slider.

Display and menus

Sony's basic menu system hasn't really changed in years - and with good reason; it works perfectly well. The on-screen display can get a bit crowded in record mode (this is a very small screen), but you can reduce the information displayed if you prefer your previews clutter-free. The menus are simple and intuitive, though changing simple things like AE compensation takes several button pushes, which can be a little infuriating until you've completely mastered the interface. Fortunately you don't need to use the menus that often.
Apologies for the low quality of some of these screenshots, the DSC-L1 does not have a video output, so the screen was photographed directly.

The most basic preview screen in record mode. Only the focus area, focus mode and flash mode are shown. Half-press the shutter and the display changes to indicate the focus area(s) selected, and the exposure chosen.
Pressing the display button increases the amount of information on display - and gives you a live histogram. Pushing the four-way controller to the right toggles between the default multi-pattern to spot metering (except in auto mode, where most controls are inaccessible).
The record menu (not available in full auto mode). The various menus are navigated using the four-way controller. Here you'll find options for everything from AE compensation to metering and drive mode, ISO setting, White Balance and image parameters (sharpness, saturation and contrast). The image size menu has its own button below the LCD screen and offers a range of options from the top 4MP setting down to VGA (640 x 480 pixels).
The setup menu (the last choice in both record and playback menus) contains camera-related settings (date, time, card formatting etc). It's also home to some photographic options (single/continuous autofocus, red-eye reduction on/off, AF illuminator on/off, digital zoom). You have three options in playback mode; no information, basic information (date, time, filename, resolution and battery status) or - as shown here - the whole hog, including exposure information and a histogram.
The left zoom button switches to a 3x3 thumbnail view... ...the right zoom button enlarges the image - up to 5x in 17 steps.
Playback menus are again ranged along the bottom of the screen, and offer the usual options (protecting, slide shows, printing) and a few less common; resizing, rotating and very basic movie editing. In each case highlighting one of the items in the menu brings up options that are navigated using the four arrow keys.