12th Jun 2013 | 22:03
It's a Q, with a (bit) bigger sensor
While other manufacturers tend to put higher pixel count sensors in their new cameras, Pentax has made an unusual move and put a larger sensor in the latest addition to its Q series of compact system cameras (CSCs). Whereas the Pentax Q10 has a 12-million-pixel, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, the new Pentax Q7 has a 12-million-pixel, 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor.
A 1/2.3-inch sensor typically measures 7.66 × 6.17mm, but a 1/1.7-inch sensor is usually around 9.5 × 7.6mm. Increasing the size of the sensor while keeping the pixel count the same should ensure improved image quality, at least at the centre of the frame, because larger photo sites gather more light, generate less noise and have a greater dynamic range.
However, the Pentax Q7 has exactly the same mount as the Pentax Q10 and accepts the same lenses, so it is possible that the corners and edges of images captured by the Pentax Q7 are softer and have more chromatic aberration and darkening.
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According to Pentax UK's Stephen Sanderson, the original Pentax Q design and its compatible lenses were built with this change in mind, so image quality should be improved across the frame. We will only know for sure once we have tested a full production sample.
Another consequence of having a larger sensor is that when lenses are mounted on the Pentax Q7 the angle of view is slightly wider than when they are mounted on the Pentax Q10. The Pentax Q10 has a focal length magnification factor of 5.5x, while the Pentax Q7 magnifies the focal length by 4.6x.
The widest lens currently available for the Q series is the 3.2mm f/5.6 fisheye lens. On the Pentax Q10 this produces images comparable with a 17.5mm lens on a 35mm camera, and on the Pentax Q7 it's 16.5mm.
Meanwhile, the 5-15mm standard zoom lens, which on the Pentax Q10 is equivalent to a 27.5-83mm lens, becomes the equivalent of a 23-69mm optic on the Pentax Q7.
In addition to changing the size of the sensor in the Q7, Pentax has changed the filter over it and, following the current vogue, there is no anti-aliasing filter. This should enable the camera to produce sharper images, with more detail - albeit with the increased risk of moiré patterning.
There's still a dust reduction mechanism that makes the infrared filter vibrate to reduce the need to clone out dust marks from images captured by the Pentax Q7.
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Like the Pentax Q10, the Pentax Q7 is designed for use by novices as well as enthusiast photographers, and consequently it has the usual program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual exposure modes, in addition to an automatic option and 21 scene modes.
The combination of the new sensor and the Q Engine has enabled Pentax to give the Q7 a maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 12,800. The start-up time has also been improved, and it now takes approximately one second to boot up.
Pentax also claims to have improved the focusing accuracy in low light situations, which is something we look forward to testing in more detail once we get a full production sample in for testing.
As before with the Pentax Q10, the Pentax Q7 as a Shake Reduction (SR) system, but this has now been upgraded to enable you to shoot handheld images at up to three stops slower shutter speed than normal.
The Pentax Q7 is capable of recording raw and JPEG files, and there are 11 Custom Image options - namely Bright, Natural, Portrait, Landscape, Vibrant, Radiant, Muted, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film, Monochrome and Cross Processing - to give JPEG files a particular look.
There's also a number of digital filter effects, including Toy Camera, High Contrast, Shading, Slim, HDR, Invert Colour, Extract Colour, Watercolour, Posterization and Fisheye.
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Having a slightly larger sensor than the Pentax Q10 should mean that it is easier to control depth of field with the Pentax Q7, but it still has the Bokeh control first introduced with the original Q. When this mode is selected the camera applies additional blur to out of focus areas to simulate the effect of having a wide aperture and a large sensor.
Other headline features of the Pentax Q7 include a maximum continuous shooting speed of 5fps, Eye-Fi SD card compatibility, a three-image HDR mode, a multiple-exposure mode, remote control receptors on the front and back panels and a digital level that indicates when the horizon is correctly aligned.
Build quality and handling
The Pentax Q7 is small and neat, and feels nicely made - although as before, there's no sealing against dust or moisture. It is constructed from engineering plastic, but still feels pretty durable, and the narrow finger-grip provides good purchase.
The pop-up flash, however, still seems a little flimsy.
There's no getting away from the fact that those with large hands will find the Pentax Q7 a little on the fiddly side, but the controls are sensibly arranged on the whole, and the dials enable you to make quick adjustments.
A dial on the top of the camera gives you access to the exposure modes, Bokeh control and video mode, enabling you to make rapid changes. Those who want to shoot snippets of video here and there, however, may find it frustrating that recording can't just be started from any exposure mode with a press of a button.
A dial on the front of the camera provides access to one of five functions, including the focus method, Focus Peaking and the ND filter. We look forward to experimenting with the Focus Peaking option to see if this makes manual focusing easier in stills and video mode.
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Like the Pentax K-50 introduced at the same time, the Pentax Q7 is available by special order in one of 20 different body colours, with a further choice of different grip colours. So if you want a pink and blue, orange and lime, green and lilac or blue and brown camera, you're in luck.
The standard colours in the UK, however, are black, silver and yellow, with matching kit lenses. The standard prime lens is also available in the same 20 colours as the Pentax Q7 body. The price of the Pentax Q7 and the new Q lens is yet to be confirmed.
As yet we've only seen a pre-production sample of the Pentax Q7, so we can't comment extensively on this new camera's performance. However, we found with the Pentax Q10 that the metering and autofocus systems were much improved upon those of the original Pentax Q.
We also found that the automatic white balance system worked well and managed to retain the atmosphere of many scenes so that images were rendered "too neutral".
We expect these three systems to be at least as good as the Pentax Q10's. When we looked at a pre-production sample of the Pentax Q7 we found the autofocusing system was reasonably fast and efficient but not in the same league as the systems in some other CSCs, such as Panasonic G6 and Sony NEX-6.
That said, we were only able to test the Pentax Q7 in the confines of an office and in relatively low light, so this is something we'll be testing extensively when we get a full production sample in for review.
While the Pentax Q10 produced high quality images for a camera with it sensor size, images taken at the higher sensitivity settings had quite severe softening, with some smudging of detail. Hopefully the increase in the size of the sensor and the removal of the anti-aliasing filter will enable the Pentax Q7 to record better quality images.
We also hope that Pentax has employed a more sympathetic approach to noise reduction, so that high sensitivity images have more detail and less softening to conceal the noise.
Although the Pentax Q7 is nicely made and has the advantage of being smaller than some compact cameras while being able to accept interchangeable lenses, it still has a relatively small sensor.
The Pentax Q10 produced good quality images for a camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor, and we can reasonably expect the Pentax Q7 to produce good images for a model with a 1/1.7-inch sensor.
However, many photographers quibble about the smaller size of the Micro Four-Thirds sensor in comparison with an APS-C device, so it seems unlikely that many will be willing to accept a camera system built around such a small sensor.
If our testing of a full-production sample reveals that the Pentax Q7's sensor and processing engine enable it to compete with Micro Four-Thirds models such as the Panasonic GF6 and Olympus E-PM2, then perhaps the Pentax Q7 will be hit with photographers looking for a small alternative to a DSLR. But we think this is unlikely.
The real market for the Pentax Q7, however, may not be with those who currently call themselves photographers. According to Pentax UK, the introduction of the colour ways for the Pentax Q10 has seen sales increase hugely in the shops where a wide selection is displayed.
So perhaps the Pentax Q7 will draw a new group of people into photography, those who might have opted for a compact camera, but don't mind paying a bit more for something that looks striking and takes better quality images.
We look forward to testing the Pentax Q7 in the near future.