The Pentax Q is an ultra compact mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses, with a compact camera sized sensor. Pentax has announced 5 lenses to go with it, from fisheye to telephoto.
The Q is not much bigger than the Canon Powershot S95 - which is considered by many as the smallest "serious compact" camera.
With an extremely competitive compact camera market, the refresh cycle for small digital camera sensors is roughly every year, with advances being made yearly in the ability to produce higher image quality, with lower noise and faster shooting speeds. In the mirrorless / DSLR market, the refresh cycle for sensors is perhaps as slow as 2-3 years, meaning that compact sensors have seen much more progress and improvements, and it's these improvements that have led Pentax to release an ultra compact system camera with interchangeable lenses using a compact sensor.
With a number of companies already established in the mirrorless market, could the Pentax Q be too little, too late or the tiny mirrorless camera we've all been waiting for? Find out in our full review...
Pentax Q Features
Apart from the BSI sensor and interchangeable Pentax Q mount lenses, the camera also features a number of interesting additional or high end features, such as flash hot-shoe, control dial on the back, a quick dial on the front, custom green button, infra-red, stereo sound, side battery and separate memory card access, shake reduction (SR) sensor, dust reduction sensor, focus assist lamp, and pop up flash. Also quite interesting is that the camera has an electronic shutter, but also, due to the compact size, they have had to put the mechanical shutter inside the lens.
12.4 megapixel backlit 1/2.33inch CMOS sensor
3inch 460k dot screen
Shake Reduction built in (shift-CMOS)
ISO125 - ISO6400
Smart Filters, including HDR
Multi-exposure (upto 9 shots)
Customisable Green button
Full HD Video recording, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, 30fps, up to 25 minutes
Built in pop-up flash, flash hot-shoe
RAW support (Silkypix Developer Studio 3.0)
230-250 shots depending on flash use
Highlight, Shadow, Lens distortion correction
Rechargeable lithium ion battery
Camera size comparisons:
Olympus E-30 DSLR, Sony NEX-C3, Pentax Q
Sony NEX-C3, Olympus PEN Mini EPM1, and Pentax Q
APS-C - Micro Four Thirds - and Q - side by side it's clear to see why people choose mirrorless cameras, apart from being able to change lenses - the larger sensor lets more light into the sensor, and therefore you get better low light performance, with lower noise. This picture could also be used to demonstrate the benefit of going from a compact point and shoot camera, to a large sensor mirrorless camera.
Sony NEX-C3, Olympus PEN Mini EPM1, and Pentax Q
With the sensors exposed it's very easy to see how much bigger DSLR and other mirrorless sensors are:
Sony NEX-C3 - Pentax Q
Size comparison with the smallest "Serious Compact", the Canon Powershot S95
Canon Powershot S95 and Pentax Q On
Canon Powershot S95 and Pentax Q Back
Canon Powershot S95 and Pentax Q Top
Pentax Q Handling
Two metal strap loops let you attach the mini Pentax branded neck strap, making it look like cute little SLR style camera. The lens has an electronically connected focus ring although only 2x and 4x magnified view is available for manual focus which is not ideal. The focusing is quite quick meaning you don't have to turn the lens ring far to go from close to distant focus, and it still allows for quite fine adjustment of focus.
The pop up flash can be used down, or up to clear some of the longer lenses.
Buttons - The front dial has 5 positions: Off, 1, 2, 3, 4, and you can customise what the choices are in the camera's menus to give you a choice of "Smart filters", Colour, Filters, and Aspect ratio. On the back of the camera is a customisable green button, and you can use it for: Green button, Preview, RAW, AE Lock, and Enable AF. The info button lets you quickly change settings on the back of the camera's screen and gives you a quick and easy to view overview of what all the settings are.
Underneath the Pentax Q
Menus - The menus are split into five main sections: photo, video, playback, setup and custom. Each section has a number of options spread over a number of screens where needed. Each section is colour coded and the menus are quick to respond and clearly laid out.
Battery life - The 950-1000mAh battery rating is a little weak and the CIPA rating is 230 shots with 50% flash use, or 250 shots with no flash use. Probably the lowest / shortest battery life for a mirrorless camera, although better than the Canon Powershot S95 (just!).
The Pentax Q performs much like a compact camera with a CMOS sensor, with high speed shooting, but generally slowish shot to shot time otherwise. Shutter response is excellent, but focus is a little slow. Switch on time is also slow. RAW shooting is only available when using the Lo speed continuous shooting at 1fps, and Hi speed continuous shooting is only available when using JPEG.
Pentax Q Performance
Here are samples taken with the Pentax Q and 8.5mm / 47mm equivalent f/1.9 prime kit lens. Additional sample photos are available in the equipment database, where you can upload your own photos, ratings, and reviews.
Pentax Q Sample Photos
HDR Auto seemed to give the best HDR results by combining 3 shots into one, all taken at different exposure settings. This is all done automatically in camera, and you don't really need to worry about it. Using HDR 1 and HDR 2 modes didn't produce very pleasing results, and it seemed best to leave the camera to it. Colour is very vibrant, with saturated reds and blues. The portrait shot worked well, with good skin tones, and very little red eye.
Pentax Q Lens test images
Lens Test Images (Thoresby, Macro). The 8.5mm portrait lens does a reasonable job at macro shots, however using manual focus allowed us to get much closer to the subject, while AF struggled to focus as close. Colours are vibrant, and using the HDR (auto) mode helped produce a pleasing image without looking artificial. Using the Blue sky, or Landscape scene modes can increase colour saturation noticeably.
Pentax Q ISO test images
ISO Performance - Back Side Illuminated sensors have really improved low light performance and speed for continuous shooting and Full HD video, and with improvements in image processing and noise reduction we've seen even compact sensor cameras perform increasingly well at higher ISO settings such as ISO1600 and above.
Previously this was an area where even some Digital SLRs with large sensors struggled. As such the Q performs well up to ISO1600, outperforming the Nikon Coolpix P300 (with BSI sensor), however detail starts to drop off at ISO3200, and here the detail levels and crispness of the image is not in the same league as the other mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus PEN EPL3.
Pentax Q White-balance test images
White Balance Performance - The default settings produce warm images with a strong yellow cast. An option in the custom menu lets you set it to "strongly" correct white balance, or alternatively leave it on "subtle" which keeps a warm image. The "strongly" corrected auto white balance images are better, with less of a colour cast on the tungsten shot, and especially impressive results on the fluorescent shot. (The setting doesn't effect the presets, just the auto white balance). Detail is slightly disappointing here, and does not appear to be better than a serious compact such as the Nikon Coolpix P300 (with BSI sensor).
Pentax Q Digital filters
Digital Filters - More filters than you can shake a stick at! There are 11 colour options available, 11 filters available, 21 scene modes, and then there's also "Smart filters" that are a combination of colour options and filters as well as the option to setup 3 of your own custom smart filters!
The colours available are: bright (default), natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, radiant, muted, bleach bypass, reversal film, monochrome, cross processing. Each one can be customised and let you adjust saturation, hue, high/low key adjust, contrast, sharpness (or fine sharpness), although monochrome lets you choose a B&W filter, and toning. A number of the others let you set toning (muted, bleach bypass) and reversal film just lets you set sharpness.
Digital filters available are: toy camera, high contrast, shading, slim, HDR (effect, single shot), invert colour, extract colour (lets you choose 1 or two colours to keep), colour tint, water colour, posterization, fish-eye. All of these are adjustable letting you change the strength of the effect.
Pentax Q Scene modes
Scene modes are rather extensive with 21 modes including: portrait, landscape, macro, moving object, night scene portrait, sunset, blue sky, night scene, night scene HDR (3 shots, less noise), night snap, food, quick macro (with blur control), pet, kids, forest, surf and snow, HDR, backlight silhouette, candlelight, stage lighting (for capturing moving subjects in poorly lit place), museum.
Smart filters available are: Brilliant colour, unicolour bold, vintage colour, cross processing, warm fade, tone expansion, bold monochrome, water colour, vibrant colour enhance, and then three user customisable settings.
Lenses available: There are currently five lenses available: The Prime (8.5mm, 47mm equivalent, f/1.9) test here, a Standard zoom (27.5-83mm equivalent), Toy telephoto (100mm equivalent), Fisheye (17.5mm equivalent, 160 degree view), and Toy wide (35mm equivalent). It seems strange to offer a premium compact, then offer "toy" lenses, but it will be interesting to see how they perform. Whether there will be third party support from the likes of Samyang remains to be seen. A macro lens would be nice, plus longer telephoto lenses.
There are already companies developing adapters to allow the use of Pentax K mount lenses on the Pentax Q - this will give a 5.5x crop factor, so your 28mm wide angle lens becomes a 154mm telephoto lens! Perhaps a CCTV lens adapter would be a better idea if you want wide angle lenses.
Full HD video recording with stereo sound, and interval movie, manual exposure are also available. There is some jerkiness when moving the camera slowly, however image quality and colour is good.
Value For Money
The Pentax Q is £599 with the prime lens (47mm, f/1.9). This prices it above the new Sony NEX-C3, Panasonic GF3, and Olympus PEN Mini EPM1, although slightly under the Samsung NX200. None of them are as small as the Pentax Q, and the Pentax Q lenses are the smallest mirrorless lenses yet - you can fit all 5 of them in your pockets!
If you compare the price of the Pentax Q to a "serious compact" such as the Nikon Coolpix P300, or Canon Powershot S95 you could probably buy both of these cameras for the price of the Q (although it'd make more sense just to buy one and keep the rest of the money in your bank account), but you can't change lenses on these cameras.
Lenses for the Q start quite cheap compared to other mirrorless lenses (although not in comparison to DSLR lenses) with the majority available for around £129 each (Toy wide / 35mm equivalent, Toy telephoto 100mm equivalent), £149 Fisheye (17.5mm equivalent), and the most expensive is the Standard zoom (27.5-83mm equivalent) at £279. The Q is also available for £729 with 2 lenses including the standard prime and standard zoom.
Pentax Q Verdict
The Pentax Q is a unique approach to the mirrorless / compact system camera market. With a tiny sensor, and tiny lenses, it almost seems like a "toy" camera, but with high quality metal body it feels like a premium compact, and the price is definitely in the premium camera category. The options available, with numerous colour, filters, and scene modes make it suitable for beginners, and manual controls give it appeal for more serious photographers.
If you don't want to be able to change lenses, from a 50mm equivalent to a 28-85mm zoom, with a small sensor, then for £250 you can buy the Nikon Coolpix P300 with 3.8x zoom and the same size sensor. Or £300 for a Canon Powershot S95. The screen is an area of disappointment, despite having 460k dots, the screen is quite difficult to view outside.
The Q also feels like a compact camera. It doesn't feel as quick, snappy and ultra fast as the latest mirrorless Panasonic and Olympus cameras with fast focusing. It appears to offer "the smallest" mirrorless camera, yet it may not take long for other companies to match the size of the Pentax Q, but with larger sensors.
The Pentax Q delivers high image quality - but at a price higher than other mirrorless compacts - and these other mirrorless have better performance in image quality and speed. You also have serious compact cameras that are half the price, have more zoom range, and deliver equal image quality (or near equal). But you can't change the lens on these, even if you wanted to. With the Pentax Q you have a choice of five, and who knows what's round the corner?
The Pentax Q is a unique mirrorless camera, and the smallest yet, with low noise Pentax are showing what the compact sensor is capable of.
Nb. The Pentax Q is available exclusively from Jessops until the 1st of November.
Pentax Q Pros
Smallest Interchangeable Lens Camera yet
Can save RAW file after you've taken a photo (from buffer)
Good HDR Auto feature
5fps continuous shooting (JPEG only)
Excellent noise performance for a compact sensor
Good image quality and colour
Lots of customisable options
Low lens price
Pentax Q Cons
Not the cheapest mirrorless camera
Lacks panoramic mode (features everything else though!)
Only 2/4x Manual focus zoom on screen
Screen blanks out in continuous shooting mode