Pentax Q £599

8th Nov 2011 | 16:19

Pentax Q

A tiny, but robust 12MP camera with interchangeable lenses

TechRadar rating:

2 stars

Like:

Excellent build; Stylish retro design; Standard flash hotshoe; Well designed built-in flash; Compact size;

Dislike:

Slow AF in low light; High price; Only a few additional lenses; Fiddly buttons; No video button;

Overview

Not to be outdone by other manufacturers rushing to release mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras such as the Nikon 1 J1 and the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, Pentax has stepped into the fray with the Pentax Q, which is currently the smallest and lightest camera body that will accept interchangeable lenses.

Designed completely from the ground-up, the Pentax Q sports a new lens mount and currently offers no support for legacy Pentax lenses. To create such a compact design, the image sensor is much smaller than those found on other interchangeable lens cameras - such as the Sony NEX-C3 - being a 1/2.3-inch 12MP, rear-illuminated CMOS type, similar to what you may find in many high-end compact cameras.

This small sensor has a crop factor of 5.5x, so new lenses have been devised for the system to provide the popular angles of view we're used to, and the new Pentax Q lens mount is approximately two-thirds the diameter of Pentax's venerable K-mount.

Despite the small dimension of the sensor, the Q offers a wide range of sensitivity settings from ISO 125 to ISO 6400.

Pentax q review

With a camera body around the same size as a pack of playing cards, Pentax seems to be attempting to carve a new niche with this little camera. The tiny retro-styled faux-leather clad body and 'Q' moniker are reminiscent of sub-miniature spy cameras of old, even if the design is more miniature range finder than a tool for clandestine photography.

Pentax Q kits with the 8.5mm f/1.9 standard prime lens are available for around £600, or as a kit with an additional 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5mm lens for around £730. These prices seem on the high side for a small sensor camera, so it will be interesting to see if prices drop in time.

Three other lenses are currently available for the Pentax Q - a 3.2mm f/5.6 diagonal fisheye and two 'toy' lenses. These toy lenses have moderate maximum apertures and should produce an effect similar to that of popular Holga or Diana Lomo cameras, with darkened corners and a sharp sweet spot in the centre. These lenses are also quite cheap, available for around £100.

Features

Pentax q review

Despite its compact size, Pentax has squeezed a lot of useful functions into the Q that should please both enthusiasts and inexperienced photographers. The usual range of Program, Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes are complemented by a standard automatic mode and the usual array of scene program modes found on many compact cameras.

Because this camera has such a small sensor compared to other interchangeable lens cameras, it can be difficult to blur backgrounds and isolate your subject with shallow depth of field. To address this issue for JPEG files, a Blur Control mode is also included. This mode creates a pronounced blur effect in out of focus areas.

Although it doesn't always get it right, effect produced by the Blur Control mode is often quite pleasant and convincing, and the strength of the effect can be controlled.

Pentax q review

To address issues with high contrast scenes, an automatic JPEG-only HDR mode is also included. In this mode the camera takes multiple images and merges them to produce an image with more detail in the highlight and shadow areas.

Unfortunately the HDR feature can often lead to flat-looking photos that need tweaking afterwards in image editing software.

Conveniently, images can be recorded in Adobe DNG raw image format, which enables files to be converted using any software that supports this open standard, such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, Silkypix and Capture One. Raw capture is standard among other interchangeable lens cameras, and it enables experienced users to make the most of their images.

Pentax q review

A 3-inch LCD display with a resolution of 460,000 dots fills much of the rear of the Pentax Q. This screen is bright and clear, even if the resolution isn't the highest available. Some text in the menus can appear a little rough around the edges, but it's still easy enough to read. The tough plastic cover has a good anti-reflective coating applied, which helps with using the screen in bright conditions.

Those who detest LCD screens can pick up an optional optical viewfinder, which attaches via the camera's hotshoe. Unfortunately this accessory costs an eye-watering £240.

Pentax q

A shake reduction feature moves the CMOS sensor inside the camera body to counteract motion encountered when taking handheld photos. As the shake reduction system is in the camera, rather than the lens, smaller, lighter optics can be produced at a lower cost than comparable lenses with optical stabilisation.

Another trick this sensor has up its sleeve is Pentax's DR II dust removal system. This works by vibrating the sensor to remove unwanted particles from the sensor surface that may show in images.

Pentax q review

A small flash unit with a novel design is built into the body of the Pentax Q. The flash extends approximately 1.5-inches above the camera on an articulated arm, which should help to reduce red-eye and improve flash coverage when shooting close to a subject.

With lenses that have a built-in shutter, this flash unit will sync at every available shutter speed, right up to 1/2000 seconds. However, with optics such as the toy lenses and the fisheye that have no internal mechanical shutter, the camera has to rely on an electronic shutter and the maximum sync speed is reduced to a more modest 1/13 seconds, which may pose issues if using the flash for fill in bright conditions.

Pentax q review

A hotshoe with electronic contacts for dedicated Pentax flash units is also provided. As it's a standard hotshoe, other accessories such as wireless flash triggering devices may also be used.

Full HD 1080p video can be recorded at 30fps in the popular MPEG-4 format, and output via the included micro HDMI connection provided. This connection is smaller than the micro HDMI that's more commonly found on digital cameras, so an alternative cable may need to be sourced if using this feature.

Autofocus is disabled during recording, which is a little disappointing, but not too much of an issue due to the large depth of field created by the use of a small sensor.

Build quality and handling

Pentax q

Despite the small size, the Pentax Q boasts build quality to match many professional cameras. The body is constructed from magnesium alloy, which is finished in white or black paint and matching faux-leather trim to complete the retro look.

The build is reassuringly solid, feeling easily capable of coping with the rigours of daily use, whether slung in the bottom of a bag or stuffed in a pocket.

Pentax q

No sealing against dust or moisture has been applied to the body, which is where the DR II dust removal system described in the Overview section of this review comes in handy.

The main exposure mode dial provides quick access to the advanced exposure modes (Program, Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority), as well as the standard point and shoot automatic and scene modes.

Video recording is also accessed via this dial, since there's no dedicated video recording button as can be found on many other cameras. Those who record video clips regularly may find this omission a step backwards in terms of design.

Pentax q

The miniature dimensions can pose their own issues. The buttons used to navigate menus and access features such as the white balance and flash modes are very small. Pressing the button to access the ISO controls can be particularly difficult if you don't have dainty fingers, because it's nestled between the OK button and the raised thumb rest.

Other controls on the rear are also very small and recessed into the body, making them difficult to operate.

Performance

Pentax q

Getting the most out of this tiny camera can take a little extra care and attention than may be needed with some of its rivals. Metering options on the Pentax Q include Segment, Centre-weighted and spot metering modes, which are the classic three included on most cameras of this level.

Although even contrast scenes pose few issues for the segment metering system, it's often fooled by contrasty scenes. The Q is prone to underexposure when bright highlights are present, and images often benefit from a little exposure compensation.

Up to three stops of compensation can be applied either side of the metered value, which should provide ample scope for correcting wayward exposures.

Pentax q

Auto white balance produces images that tend to be a little on the cool side in daylight and overcast conditions. Under artificial light, images tend to carry a reasonably strong warm cast that may sometimes need correcting, either in image editing software afterwards, or by setting the appropriate preset for the conditions.

Pentax q

The small sensor poses a challenge for Pentax to produce images of quality of similarly priced cameras. Compared to high-end compact cameras with similar backlit CMOS technology, this compact system camera (CSC) performs well, but the Pentax Q struggles to hold its own when compared to cameras sporting larger image sensors.

In the field, images taken at sensitivities up to ISO 400 show no significant signs of noise. Images taken at ISO 800 are perfectly acceptable too, although artefacts can be seen along diagonal lines where the noise reduction system is fighting to tame increasing noise levels.

Pentax q

Beyond this, a general increase in smudging of fine details can be seen, and colour saturation gradually decreases. At small print sizes and for sharing on the web, images taken at ISO 3200 are perfectly acceptable, looking much better than you might expect from a small sensor camera like this. Shadows tend to have a slightly 'snowy' appearance at high sensitivities, though, which may be a little troublesome for many photographers.

Although images taken at ISO 6400 suffer with a loss of fine detail and a general increase in speckling across the tonal range, the noise has a fine grain to it, looking almost film-like in appearance, and they should still be very suitable for sharing on the web and for postcard-size prints.

Pentax q

Long exposures can reveal their own issues. Exposures of over four seconds begin to show noise in the shadows, even at the lowest sensitivity. This may limit the scope for editing raw files, especially as images taken at night tend to be quite high-contrast scenes.

Autofocus with the standard prime lens is reasonably quick in good lighting conditions, locking onto static subjects in good time, although certainly isn't quick enough for fast-moving subjects.

Videos recorded by the camera are smooth, clear and the exposure adjusts quickly when moving from light to dark areas.

Pentax q review

In low lighting conditions, the Pentax Q struggles to attain focus and will hunt back and forth for a few seconds. An orange assist lamp does help a little in darker conditions, but it's very bright and can lead to people squinting in pictures.

The standard prime lens supplied with the kit suffers with pronounced barrel distortion, which is corrected in JPEG images, but is clear to see in raw images during editing. This correction can cause slight softness around the edges of the image area.

Image quality: Detail resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax Q, 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 125 the Pentax Q is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

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

Pentax q resolution chart iso 125

Pentax q resolution iso 125

ISO 125, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 160

ISO 160, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 250

ISO 250, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 320

ISO 320, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 500

ISO 500, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 640

ISO 640, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 1000

ISO 1000, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 1250

ISO 1250, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 18 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 2000

ISO 2000, score: 18 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 2500

ISO 2500, score: 18 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: 16 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 4000

ISO 4000, score: 16 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 5000

ISO 5000, score: 16 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 6400

ISO 6400, score: 14 (see full image)

Pentax Q: Raw images

Pentax q resolution iso 125

ISO 125, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 160

ISO 160, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 250

ISO 250, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 320

ISO 320, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 22 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 500

ISO 500, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 640

ISO 640, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 1000

ISO 1000, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 1250

ISO 1250, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 2000

ISO 2000, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 2500

ISO 2500, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: 20 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 4000

ISO 4000, score: 18 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 5000

ISO 5000, score: 18 (see full image)

Pentax q resolution iso 6400

ISO 6400, score: 18(see full image)

Noise and dynamic range

These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer.

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software.

Signal to noise ratio

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

Pentax Q: JPEG signal to noise ratio

Pentax q jpeg snr

Although the signal to noise ratio of the Pentax Q JPEG images is a little lower between ISO 200 and ISO 800, it is generally on a par with that from the Canon Powershot G12 and Panasonic Lumix GF3

There is little to separate the Q's results from the GF3 and Sony NEX-C3 from ISO 1600 and above.

Pentax Q: Raw file signal to noise ratio

Pentax q snr

Raw images from the Pentax Q compare well with those from the Canon Powershot G12. The Panasonic Lumix GF3 performs a little better up to around ISO 1600, from which point the Q has a higher signal to noise ratio.

Pentax Q: JPEG Dynamic range

Pentax q jpe dynamic range

This chart indicates that the Pentax Q's JPEGs have a at least a 1EV higher dynamic range than the Panasonic Lumix GF3 and compare well with the Canon Powershot G12. The Sony NEX-C3 rules the roost though.

Pentax Q: Raw dynamic range

Pentax q raw dynamic range

This chart indicates that the Pentax Q's raw files have at least a 1EV higher dynamic range than the Panasonic Lumix GF3 and Canon Powershot G12, and are a pretty close match for the files from the Sony NEX-C3.

Sample images

Pentax q

NOISE: Long exposures are prone to noise in shadow and midtone areas, even at the base ISO.

See full-res image

Pentax q

BURNOUT:High contrast scenes can pose issues with highlights burning out easily.

See full-res image

Pentax q review

METER: Scenes with even contrast are generally metered accurately with Segment
Metering.

See full-res image

Pentax q review

LOW LIGHT: Low light performance is up with the best compact cameras, but cannot compete with larger sensor cameras, due to noise and slow autofocus.

See full-res image

Pentax q

COLOURFUL:Colours are normally reproduced quite vividly using default settings.

See full-res image

Pentax q review

HDR: The Auto HDR feature is useful for contrasty scenes, but images could benefit from a little adjustment in image editing software afterwards.

See full-res image

Pentax q review

BLUR CONTROL: The small sensor means it can be difficult to blur backgrounds. The Blur Control feature does a decent job of creating a shallow depth of field effect, but doesn't always get the effect right.

See full-res image

Pentax q review

DETAIL: Levels of detail are good when compared to other compact cameras.

See full-res image

Sensitivity and noise

Pentax q

Full ISO 125 image. See the cropped (zoomed to 100%) versions below.

http://mos.futurenet.com/techradar/Review%20images/PhotoRadar/Pentax/Pentax%20Q/PentaxQ_ISOimages_JPEG_008_ISO125-420-90.JPG

ISO 125

See full res image

Pentax q

ISO 200

See full res image

Pentax q

ISO 400

See full res image

Pentax q

ISO 800

See full res image

Pentax q

ISO 1600

See full res image

Pentax q

ISO 3200

See full res image

Pentax q

ISO 6400

See full res image

Verdict

Pentax q

In attempting to create a new niche, Pentax has created a niche camera. Many photographers looking towards interchangeable lens cameras do so to be rewarded with higher quality images. Although the Pentax Q offers a good range of features, and controls to please photography enthusiasts and beginners alike, the image quality achieved isn't leagues ahead of many compact cameras that employ the same backlit CMOS sensor technology.

It does cost a lot more than these cameras, though, and this is where the main problem lies.

For example, a Canon Powershot S95 that costs around £400 provides similar performance and manual control and is more compact when not in use, since the lens collapses into the body. Even though this cheaper camera lacks the scope for interchangeable lenses, its zoom lens already covers a greater focal range than the standard zoom found in the Pentax Q £730 twin-lens kit. The Q costs around £600 with just the 8.5mm lens and it isn't sold body only or with just the zoom lens.

We liked

We liked the excellent magnesium alloy build, retro design and the inclusion of a standard flash hotshoe. The image quality produced holds up well against other premium compact cameras.

We disliked

Although the Pentax Q performs compares well with compact cameras, it's priced at a more expensive level than many CSCs that have larger sensors, provide better performance and have a larger range of additional lenses and accessories available.

Final verdict

The concept of the Pentax Q is a good idea, and with time and new lens additions the system could prove to be an interesting one. If the price came down to a more sensible level, it may even prove to be very interesting.

At the moment, it's just too expensive compared to high-end compact cameras, and the performance isn't quite there when likened to similarly-priced compact system cameras such as the such as the Nikon 1 J1, Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 and the Sony NEX-C3.

Pentax Q compact system cameras CSC mirrorless cameras cameras
Share this Article
Google+

Most Popular

Edition: UK
TopView classic version