Pentax Q10 £379.99

25th Jan 2013 | 13:00

Pentax Q10

The world's smallest, lightest CSC

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

Reasonable price; Compact size; Good build; Accepts interchangeable lenses; Novel built-in flash;

Dislike:

No dedicated video button; Heavy-handed noise reduction; Some controls are fiddly;

Introduction

The Pentax Q10 is the second in the Q series of compact system cameras (CSCs) that offer the flexibility of interchangeable lenses with a camera that is no bigger or heavier than many high-end compact cameras.

Although the Pentax Q10 is largely based on the Pentax Q, the new model boasts several improvements to the performance and operation of the camera. The same reduced size Q-mount has been used, along with the relatively small 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor format that produces a crop factor of 5.5x.

Paired with a 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 standard zoom, the camera is priced at £379.99/US$529.99 (around AU$579), which is considerably cheaper than the launch price of its predecessor.

Pentax Q10

For a camera with such diminutive dimensions, it is packed with technology. Pentax has managed to shoehorn a wide range of features into a camera body weighing 200g (7oz).

Images are captured by a 12.4 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, which provides ISO sensitivities up to ISO 6400 for shooting in low light conditions.

In order to tame blur caused by camera shake when shooting at longer shutter speeds, Pentax has equipped the Q10 with its Shake Reduction (SR) system. This works by moving the CMOS sensor to compensate for any movement caused by the user.

Pentax Q10

Creative effects can be controlled directly via the dial placed on the front of the camera body. Four different image effects can be accessed quickly by simply turning the dial, and further settings can be assigned to the dial via the menu.

An automatic HDR mode is also available for taking pictures of high contrast scenes. This mode uses the camera's ability to take images at up to five frames per second, taking images at different exposure settings and merging them into one automatically.

A Bokeh Control feature is also included, which goes some way towards overcoming the creative limitations of the small sensor format. This feature enables you to simulate out of focus backgrounds, making it easier to isolate a subject from a busy background.

Pentax Q10 review

A small pop-up flash is provided, which can be fired whether the articulated arm is extended or not. Having the flash further from the optical axis with the arm extended should reduce the chances of red-eye spoiling images of people taken in low light conditions. A standard ISO hot shoe opens up various creative possibilities as various flash accessories can be used with the camera, as well as dedicated Pentax flashguns.

Despite having such a compact body, the Pentax Q10 is equipped with a large 3-inch screen, that has a resolution of 460,000 dots. The screen is bright, clear and has a good anti-reflective coating applied to it, making it easy enough to see, even in bright sunlight.

There is no optical or electronic viewfinder available as an alternative to the screen. When composing images, the screen applies a sharpening filter to the image to make it easier to see what is in focus. Although this is useful at times, harsh halos can be seen around high contrast edges, which can be a little distracting and can make judging exposure on the screen difficult at times.

Pentax Q10 review

There is an emphasis on ease of use with the design of the Pentax Q10. Automatic scene selection is available to make shooting in a wide range of conditions a little more straightforward for novice photographers.

A comprehensive range of preset automatic scene programs are also included. More advanced photographers will appreciate the inclusion of full manual control, along with a wide range of metering and focusing options.

Video clips can be recorded in Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution at 30 frames per second. A good balance between quality and file size can be obtained, since the Pentax Q10 records HD video in the latest H.264 format, which promises to provide similar quality to older recording formats, such as DivX, at roughly half the bitrate.

Pentax Q10 review

This should enable you to record more video on the same capacity of card, with little noticeable difference in quality when compared to older video formats.

Still images can be recorded with three levels of JPEG compression, and raw files are stored in the popular, open DNG format.

A K-mount lens adaptor has recently been added to the Pentax Q system, which will enable legacy lenses to be used with the Q or Q10 cameras. This accessory may be of particular interest to those who already own a collection of Pentax lenses, although the 5.5x crop factor may reduce the suitability of many lenses for day-to-day shooting.

Build quality and handling

Unlike the previous Pentax Q model, high quality plastics have been used for much of the construction of the Pentax Q10's body, rather than magnesium alloy. Even so, it feels very solidly put together, and soft rubberised grips help to provide a firm grip.

The only weak point in the design is the articulated arm that raises the flash, although it should still be sturdy enough to give many years of service, if treated with care.

Pentax Q10 review

No sealing against dust or moisture is provided, although Pentax has equipped the compact system camera with a supersonic dust filter, which aims to shake dust particles from the sensor surface to prevent images being spoiled by particles accumulating in the optical path.

A dial on top of the camera provides you with access to creative manual exposure modes (P, A, S and M), as well as automatic exposure programs and the Bokeh control feature.

Pentax Q10 review

Video recording is also accessed via this dial, since there's no dedicated video recording button provided. Those who dip in and out of video recording may find this design a little frustrating when compared to some other cameras.

Another dial is provided for controlling other features such as exposure compensation, and for quick navigation of some menu items.

Pentax Q10 review

Because the camera is very small in stature, and the rear is dominated by a large 3-inch LCD screen, there isn't much space left for the controls on the rear.

Although the controls are well raised from the surface of the camera body, those with less than dainty digits may find it difficult to avoid pressing more than one button at once without exercising a little extra care.

Pentax Q10 review

Performance

Metering and autofocus performance on the Pentax Q10 are both much improved compared to the previous model, but even so, contrasty scenes may still require compensation to achieve well exposed images when using segment metering.

Spot and Centre-Weighted metering options are also included. The exposure compensation range may be quite limiting for some, only enabling you to make adjustments of two stops above or below the metered value.

Pentax Q10 review

Auto white balance performs well in a wide variety of lighting conditions, leaving just enough of a colour cast to retain the atmosphere of the scene. Rather strangely, when shooting under some fluorescent lighting a strong green cast can be seen, but this is an isolated phenomenon that should rarely affect images.

Using such a small sensor poses several design challenges, which Pentax has attempted to overcome by using Backlit CMOS sensor technology.

Pentax Q10 review

Images taken at the base sensitivity of ISO 100 are crisp and full of detail, although a little luminance noise can be seen on close inspection. At higher sensitivities, the Pentax Q10 performs well in the lab, but quite severe softening of fine details can be seen in real world images, leading to a smudgy or even blotchy-looking appearance.

Images taken at sensitivities up to ISO 400 show no significant signs of noise and fine details are reasonably well defined. Increase this to ISO 800 and a combination of luminance noise and softening of fine details begin to appear on close inspection.

Pentax Q10 review

By ISO 1600, images are noticeably softened due to the heavy-handed nature of the noise reduction system, although images taken at this and higher ISO settings should still be fine for sharing at low resolutions on the web.

At the highest sensitivity, very little fine detail remains, although the control over chroma noise throughout the sensitivity range is quite impressive. This performance is in line with compact cameras using similar sized backlit CMOS sensor technology, but falls way short of the high ISO capabilities of cameras equipped with larger sensors.

Pentax Q10 review

Dynamic range also seems quite limited in real world images, with small areas where highlights have blown being held back by the Pentax Q10's processing engine even though they may contain no detail. This can lead to a slightly unnatural appearance in some images with extreme contrast.

The Auto HDR feature isn't really the answer either, since images have a very unnatural appearance, with bright halos around high-contrast edges.

Pentax Q10 review

Autofocus is reasonably quick with the standard 5-15mm zoom lens, performing especially well at the wide angle setting. Although focusing speeds are noticeably quicker than the previous model, there is still quite a delay between attempting focus and achieving it.

This is especially apparent when shooting moving subjects. An AF assist lamp helps with focusing in low light, resulting in reasonable low-light focusing performance, although the brightness of the lamp can occasionally be distracting, leading to squinted eyes in portraits.

Pentax Q10 review

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Pentax Q10, 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 Q10 is capable of resolving up to around 16 (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 Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

ISO 3200, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Pentax Q10 review

ISO 6400, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

ISO 6400, score: 10 (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 Q10 with the Pentax Q, Nikon 1 J2 and Canon G15.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Pentax Q10 review

These results show that JPEG images from the Pentax Q10 show middling signal to noise ratio compared to the other cameras here, sitting above the original Pentax Q at lower sensitivities, before being overtaken at ISO 3200 and above, and sitting below the Canon G15 until ISO 1600 and above, where it then overtakes it. The Q10 starts off almost on a par with the Nikon 1 J2 at lower sensitivities, then shows a stronger signal to noise ratio at ISO 400, before falling behind at ISO 800 and above.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Pentax Q10 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Pentax Q10 start off the strongest of the group, before being overtaken by the Nikon 1 J2 and Canon G15 at ISO 400 and above. Its results plummet steadily, finishing off on a par with those from the original Pentax Q at ISO 3200 and 6400.

JPEG dynamic range

Pentax Q10 review

Similarly, JPEGs from the Pentax Q10 start off showing the greatest dynamic range of the group, staying ahead until ISO 800, when the Nikon 1 J2 overtakes it. The Q10 keeps losing dynamic range from there, falling behind the Canon G15 at ISO 1600 and above and falling more or less level with the Pentax Q at ISO 1600 and above.

Raw dynamic range

Pentax Q10 review

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Pentax Q10 again show the highest dynamic range at ISO 100 and 200, though by a much narrower margin. Again, its performance deteriorates at mid to higher sensitivities, falling behind the Canon G15 at ISO 400 and above, with the exception of a brief advantage at ISO 1600. The Q10 falls behind the Nikon 1 J2 at ISO 800 and above, and falls within a hair's breadth of results from the original Pentax Q at ISO 1600 and above.

Sample images

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Pentax Q10 review

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Heavy handed noise reduction can result in a blotchy appearance at high sensitivities.

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The supplied 5-15mm lens has a closest focus distance of 30cm (1ft).

Pentax Q10 review

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Pentax Q10 review

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Low light ability is on a par with similar advanced compact cameras, but not up to the standards set by other CSCs.

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Built in shake reduction enables you to take sharp hand-held images at lower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible.

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The automatic HDR feature can result in unnatural-looking images with bright halos around contrasty edges.

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Although the Pentax Q10 performs well in the lab, dynamic range is limited in real world images, and the roll over into burnt out highlights can look unnatural in certain circumstances.

Pentax Q10 review

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Image quality is good with bright, even lighting.

Pentax Q10 review

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Auto white balance performs well, retaining enough of a colour cast to keep the atmosphere of a scene.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Pentax Q10 review

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

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 200

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 400

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 800

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 1600

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 3200

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 6400

Raw

Pentax Q10 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 200

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 400

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 800

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 1600

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 3200

Pentax Q10 review

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ISO 6400

Verdict

The Pentax Q10, like its predecessor, is quite an interesting camera. With it being no bigger than many other advanced compact cameras, yet able to accept interchangeable lenses, it fills the gap between traditional advanced compact digital cameras and larger mirrorless camera systems well.

The price is reasonable too. At £379.99/US$529.99 (around AU$579) with the standard 5-15mm lens, it's competitively priced when compared to rivals, such as Canon's PowerShot S110.

The inclusion of a Pentax K-mount adaptor into the Q-series system is an added bonus for those with an existing collection of Pentax lenses, although the 5.5x crop factor will need to be taken into account.

However, those in pursuit of the best image quality for their money, while retaining the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, may be better served by a mirrorless camera with a larger sensor, such as the similarly priced Sony NEX-F3 or Panasonic Lumix GF5.

Although the Pentax Q10 performs well in lab tests, its shortcomings can be seen in real world images. Heavy-handed noise reduction can result in fine detail being lost at high sensitivities, and blown highlights can have an unnatural appearance as the camera struggles to capture detail in these areas.

We liked

The Pentax Q10 holds its own well against high-end compact cameras. It is well built, offers plenty of features and is reasonably priced too. As the Q-series lens lineup is growing, and a K-mount lens adaptor is available, having the flexibility of interchangeable lenses is a definite bonus.

We disliked

Real world image quality isn't up to that of similarly priced mirrorless cameras sporting larger sensors. Heavy-handed noise reduction can blur fine detail, and the output from the automatic HDR mode can look very unnatural.

Final verdict

When compared to advanced compact cameras, the Pentax Q10 has a lot going for it. Image quality falls short of cameras equipped with a larger sensor. This camera is better suited to those who value compactness above all else.

Those looking for a quirky alternative to the current crop of compact system cameras, with portability being their main concern, may be well served by the Pentax Q10, so long as you're well aware of its strengths, and its weaknesses.

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