This paper presents the first data evaluation of the ESO Imaging Survey (EIS), a public survey being carried out by ESO and member states, in preparation for the VLT first-light. The survey goals, organization, strategy and observations are discussed and an overview is given of the survey pipeline developed to handle EIS data and produce object catalogs. A report is presented on moderately deep I-band observations obtained in the first of four patches surveyed, covering a region of 3.2 square degrees centered at α ∼ 22h40m and δ = -40°. The products available to the community, including pixel maps (with astrometric and photometric calibrations) and the corresponding object catalogs, are also described. In order to evaluate the quality of the data, preliminary estimates are presented for the star and galaxy number counts, and for the angular two-point correlation function obtained from the available data. The present work is meant as a preview of the final release of the EIS data that will become available later this year.