Pentax MX-1 £399.99

7th Mar 2013 | 16:14

Pentax MX-1

How appealing is this retro-styled premium compact?

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

Wide aperture lens; Brass construction; Tilting screen;

Dislike:

Boxy design; Dated user interface; Some odd handling quirks;

Introduction

In the past few months, the majority of camera manufacturers have introduced a new premium compact camera to their ranges. It's a lucrative area of the market, appealing to those looking for a good back-up camera and those who can't get everything they want from the camera on their phones.

Pentax's latest introduction, the MX-1, is styled after the original film camera of the same name. It's a positively retro design, at least from the front. At the back is a tilting LCD screen, which belies its digital reality.

According to Pentax, the camera's 12 million pixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor is a new design from Sony. The sensor size is typical for premium compact cameras (except the Sony RX100), coming in at 1/1.7 inches, which is the same as the Panasonic LX7, for example.

Pentax MX-1 review

A top sensitivity of ISO 12800 is available, with the company promising low noise and super high resolution images.

A new imaging engine is also included to offer quick image processing for clear, high quality images with plenty of detail.

The 4x optical zoom lens offers a maximum aperture of f/1.8 at its 35mm equivalent wide angle of 28mm. The maximum aperture rises to a still respectable f/2.5 at the telephoto end of the lens.

Pentax MX-1 review

The camera also features a 1cm macro mode for shooting images close-up. An intelligent zoom function is available to extend the zoom coverage up to approximately 7.8x times, or around 218mm in 35mm format.

To go along with the retro design of the camera's exterior, the Pentax MX-1 features a textured rubber grip and brass top and bottom panels. Unusually, Pentax actually hopes that the paintwork will chip off from these areas to reveal the brass underneath, and giving it an aged, distressed feel.

Other interesting features of the Pentax MX-1 include its ability to capture photos in raw DNG format, rather than a proprietary format favoured by most of the other brands. It also boats a dual-shake reduction system to help prevent blur in images, and Full HD video recording.

Pentax MX-1 review

The Pentax MX-1 measures a surprisingly substantial 60 x 123 x 52mm (2.4 x 4.8 x 2 inches) and weighs 391g (13.8oz) loaded and ready to shoot.

Priced at £399/$499.95, it's certainly not a cheap option, but it does put it in contention with many of the other premium compact cameras currently on the market, including the Sony RX100, Panasonic LX7, Canon S110 and Olympus XZ-2.

Build quality and handling

The design of the Pentax MX-1 is certainly distinctive, and there's not too many companies, with the exception of Fujifilm, so positively retro in their designs. However, while it may appeal to some, others may be put off by its large, boxy design.

It's one of the largest premium compact cameras currently on the market, especially considering the small size of the sensor inside it. Other compacts featuring larger sensors, such as the Sony RX100, are smaller, and it means the Pentax certainly isn't jeans pocketable - a possible downside for those looking for an easily transportable back-up camera. It's also pretty weighty too, which is probably down to its metal construction.

Although there's no grip on the front of the camera to hold on to, the textured covering of the front plate goes some way to making it feel secure in the hand, even when shooting one-handed. Helpfully, all of the buttons and key controls can be found on the right side of the camera, so again shooting one-handed is relatively easy.

Pentax MX-1 review

At the top of the camera is a dial for quickly switching between the various modes on offer. Here you'll find the fully automatic mode along with semi-automatic and fully manual modes, such as aperture priority and shutter priority.

There's also scene mode, HDR, movie and one space for a user-defined group of settings. This is useful if you often find yourself needing one particular kind of shooting style, such as low light.

Also at the top of the camera is an exposure compensation dial, which is handily placed within easy reach of your thumb. Just in front of this dial is a small dedicated movie record button. It's quite handily placed, if a little small, and it's unlikely you'd accidentally knock it on.

Pentax MX-1 review

Similarly, the Pentax MX-1's small power-on button is slightly hidden next to the mode dial, which although a little fiddly is unlikely to be accidentally switched on while in a bag or coat pocket.

A dial on the back of the camera is used for making changes to aperture or shutter speed, depending on the shooting mode. When in fully manual mode, you need to press a button underneath the dial to switch between aperture and shutter speed.

To change the autofocus point, you need to hit the button marked as macro on the back of the camera, then use the arrow keys to navigate to the point you want. This is a relatively quick process, although it could have been quicker if a touchscreen had been implemented.

Pentax MX-1 review

If you want to activate macro focusing, you first need to press the macro button, then hit the menu button to choose between the different focusing options.

For quick access to commonly used settings, hit the Info button to bring up various parameters, such as white balance, metering, aspect ratio and so on. For more in-depth settings, delving into the menu reveals more.

The design of these menus is reasonably sensible, if a little aesthetically odd - it's very reminiscent of early 1980s computers, with lots of blue and black and large blocky lettering.

Pentax MX-1 review

One feature that could be incredibly useful is the highlight warning displayed on the Pentax MX-1's screen. This flashes red where the scene may be overexposed.

Unfortunately, this doesn't update with changes to the camera's settings, so it will still flash as overexposed even when the resulting picture will be dramatically underexposed. Still, it can be useful at times.

Performance

With its Sony sensor, we had pretty high hopes for the image quality of the Pentax MX-1, especially also given the high quality lens.

Happily, the camera has produced some excellent results, with images that show vibrant colours and plenty of details, especially in scenarios where the light is good.

Pentax MX-1 review

Although it's not the largest sensor that can be found on other premium compact cameras, it is still capable of producing images with an attractive shallow depth of field effect, especially when shooting at the widest apertures. There's also a good fall off in focus, with out of focus areas rendered very attractively.

Pentax MX-1 review

With its wide angle starting at 28mm, it's a reasonably flexible option for shooting a wide range of subjects. At the telephoto end of the optic, a good amount of detail is maintained.

Pentax MX-1 review

In most ordinary situations, the Pentax MX-1's automatic white balance does a decent job of producing accurate colours, although it does struggle somewhat under artificial lighting conditions, tending to produce warmer than accurate colours. It's reasonably easy to change the white balance setting from the quick menu, though, if the camera is struggling.

Pentax MX-1 review

Similarly, multi-segment (general purpose) metering does a good job of accurately reproducing good exposures in the majority of conditions.

At high ISOs, such as ISO 1600, a fair amount of image noise can be seen, and there is some image smoothing and loss of image quality.

Pentax MX-1 review

It's not too bad at normal printing or web sizes, but when examining at 100%, the loss becomes apparent.

Generally, focusing is pretty quick and accurate, not struggling in the majority of conditions. Macro focusing, although a little bit tricky to actually navigate to, does a good job when it is activated, and enables you to capture frame-filling close-ups.

The high resolution screen is clear and bright and doesn't suffer too badly from glare or reflection in general scenarios, but if the sun is particularly bright it can be difficult to use. As the screen tilts, it is possible to angle it away from the sun if you're really struggling, though.

Many of the other premium compact cameras on the market have digital filters available for added creativity when shooting. Sadly, Pentax has decided not to include any of these on the MX-1.

However, you can shoot Monochrome under the Custom Image setting in the main menu. Other Custom Image options such as Bright and Reversal Film are available, and all of these are customisable, enabling you to make changes, such as increasing the contrast.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax MX-1, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Pentax MX-1 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Pentax MX1 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 100, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 1600, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 3200, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 6400, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 12800, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 100, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 200, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 1600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 3200, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 6400, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax MX1 review

ISO 12800, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Pentax MX-1 with the Olympus XZ-2, Canon PowerShot S110 and Panasonic LX7.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Pentax MX1 review

This chart shows that JPEG files from the Pentax MX-1 have a weaker signal to noise ratio than those from the Canon PowerShot S110 and Panasonic LX7 at every sensitivity setting, but are stronger than the Olympus XZ-2 at settings up to ISO 3200, after which it falls slightly behind.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Pentax MX1 review

Here, the Pentax MX-1's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) again show a weaker signal to noise ratio than those from the Canon PowerShot S110 at every sensitivity. This time though, they are stronger than the Panasonic LX7's images. The Pentax's TIFFs show greater signal to noise ratio than the Olympus XZ-2's at ISO 100-200, but at higher sensitivities they are outdone by the Olympus's.

JPEG dynamic range

Pentax MX1 review

JPEG results for dynamic range are much less spread out than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Pentax MX-1's JPEGs starting out showing a greater range than those from the Canon PowerShot S110 and Panasonic LX7 and a smaller range than those from the Olympus XZ-2. However, after ISO 800 the Pentax and Olympus's images drop off, falling behind the Canon and Panasonic for the rest of the range, producing similar results to one another.

Raw dynamic range

Pentax MX1 review

Finally, this chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Pentax MX-1 again by showing a slightly smaller dynamic range than those from the Olympus XZ-2, while showing a slightly greater range than those from the Canon PowerShot S110, and a significantly stronger range than those from the Panasonic LX7. Results drop off suddenly at ISO 800, falling behind the Olympus and Canon, before peaking again at ISO 1600 to produce to strongest range of the group. The Pentax results bounce up and down again at the higher settings, alternating between first and second place, and always staying well ahead of the Panasonic.

Sample images

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Switching to macro focusing allows you to get close in on subjects and fill the frame. It also helps to produce shallow depth of field effects.

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Generally metering does a good job of helping the camera to produce accurate exposures with plenty of highlight and shadow detail.

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Generally, focusing is quick and accurate, locking onto subjects with ease.

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Pentax MX-1 has a reasonably wide angle of view at the widest point of its optic, lending itself well to a variety of shooting conditions.

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

A 4x optical zoom provides some scope for flexibility, though it's not the longest available on the market. Images captured at the telephoto end display a good level of detail, especially in good light.

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The colours produced by the MX-1 are nicely saturated and vibrant, without being over the top.

Pentax MX-1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Images shot at high ISOs, such as ISO 1600, display a fairly high amount of noise, and some lack of detail. The camera also has a tendency to produce overly warm tones under artificial light.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Pentax MX1 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Raw

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Pentax MX1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Verdict

The premium compact camera market is pretty crowded, so companies are attempting to produce cameras with a unique selling point in order to capture that lucrative customer.

Pentax appears to have chosen a retro design as its unique selling point, and if that's your cup of tea, then you may just find the Pentax MX-1 to be very appealing, perhaps especially if you're already a Pentax user, or had a Pentax film camera.

However, in terms of features and general usability, it falls well short of the other cameras currently residing in this segment. It has neither the sleek build nor the large sensor of the Sony RX100, nor the interesting and fun features of the Olympus XZ-2, both of which we'd recommend over the MX-1.

We liked

The Sony sensor onboard the Pentax MX-1 produces some very sharp images with excellent colour rendition, especially in good lighting conditions.

We disliked

The boxy design won't appeal to everyone, and while manufacturers such as Fujifilm manage to fall the right side of retro, this camera just looks dated.

Final verdict

It's hard to get overly enthusiastic about the Pentax MX-1. While it is capable of producing some good images, and it performed reasonably well in our labs test, it just doesn't have the excitement or appeal of most of the other premium compact cameras on the market.

If you're a fan of Pentax, this might be right up your street, but the majority of consumers may find more to suit their needs elsewhere.

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