Cameras

Pentax Q Mirrorless Digital Camera Review

Pentax's petite interchangeable lens shooter, the Q, has finally made its way through our lab tests.

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Introduction

The Pentax Q is one of several new mirrorless systems launching this year and it differentiates itself from the pack in a big way: by being as small as can be. While the Q is not as thin as your typical point-and-shoot camera, its height, width and image sensor are all similar to your standard compact camera. That puts it at a bit of a disadvantage against other interchangeable lens cameras, but compared to other small cameras it offers the promise of custom, higher quality lenses that are suited to a specific need. The result is a compact system camera that, while not as strong a performer as other cameras in its price range, will appeal to those looking for interchangeable lenses in as compact a body as possible.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

Including with the Pentax Q is the 8mm kit lens along with:

*body mount cover

*hot shoe cover Fk

*USB cable I-USB7

*strap O-ST115

*rechargeable lithium-ion battery D-LI68

*battery charger D-BC68P

*operating manual

*CD-ROM

*AC plug cord

*quick guide

Lens & Sensor

The kid lens included with the Pentax Q is the f/1.9 8mm pancake lens. It's all metal construction (the filter threads appear to be plastic, though) with a focus ring, although there are no hard stops or distance markings. The lens has significant distortion without in-camera distortion control activated, but we found it pretty sharp in the middle of the frame. It has a limited aperture range of f/1.9-8.0, but the lens is very serviceable in most situations and is about as compact a kit lens as you'll find on an interchangeable lens camera.

The Pentax Q uses a 1/2.3'' CMOS sensor, which is quite a bit smaller than every other interchangeable lens camera on the market. For comparison purposes, the Pentax Q offers the same sensor size as your typical $100 compact camera. That doesn't mean it doesn't perform well (it does), but it leaves it a technical disadvantage compared to other interchangeable lens cameras that offer substantially larger sensors.

That disadvantage at sensor size does offer benefits for the Q, namely that the lenses for the system can be much smaller than comparable lenses for cameras with larger sensors. That gives the Q the ability to be one of the first truly compact interchangeable lens cameras. The Q isn't exactly pocketable (the body has too much depth), but it's still very compact, durable, and you can carry a body and lens for the day without needing back surgery at the end of it.

Display(s)

The Pentax Q uses a pretty standard 3-inch LCD with 460k dot resolution. The screen does not have touch control but it's clear enough that fine focus judgements are possible. The screen's viewing angle is rated at 170 degrees horizontally and vertically, so while it doesn't articulate, it does allow for viewing even when shooting at odd angles. The screen does get washed out in bright sunlight, however, so that's less of a possibility during the day.

Related content

Flash

The Pentax Q's flash isn't the strongest at default sensitivity, but it is effective to 23 feet (seven meters) at ISO 200. The flash is built into the camera, but it can also pop up and away from the body to help prevent red-eye and spread light over a wide angle than when pressed into the body.

Flash Photo

Connectivity

The Pentax Q houses both a micro-HDMI out and USB/AV port on the camera, though both are in an usual spot as they're placed behind a rubber flap on the bottom of the camera, beside the tripod mount. This may open up the option for a Pentax Q dock of some sort down the line, but it doesn't present any major issues when simply attaching cables to the camera. The real hindrance is for users who wish to shoot video with the Q, as the position of the ports all but eliminates the possibility of live video output or playback while attached to a tripod.

Battery

The Q uses a rechargeable lithium-ion batter, model number D-LI68. It has a capacity of 1000mAh, at 3.6V, and is rated to approximately 250 shots by CIPA standards (230 with the flash activated). The battery charges through an included standalone charger. The Q moves the battery slot to the left side of the body, so it can easily be swapped even when on a tripod.

Battery Photo

Memory

The Pentax Q uses SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, which are slotted into the right side of the body. There's no extra internal memory for images, so a memory card is required to shoot with the camera. At maximum resolution, the 4GB card we used during testing was able to hold 823 JPEG images (169 RAW images).

Image Quality

Sharpness

We found the 8mm kit lens on the Pentax Q to be decent, with very solid vertical and horizontal sharpness in the center of the frame. The lens does have a limited aperture range of f/1.9-8.0 due to the camera's small sensor size, but sharpness does falloff dramatically at both f/8.0 and f/1.9 near the edges of the frame. The Q also adds quite a bit of sharpening at the default level, though it varies depending on the exposure setting. At f/1.9 sharpness is upped dramatically in-camera, but a quick shift down to f/3.5 limits this (as the lens naturally returns sharper images), and at f/8 sharpness begins to fall off with the Q doing nothing to enhance it at the default setting. More on how we test sharpness.

Science Section 1 Images

Color

The Pentax Q's natural color mode was its most consistently accurate, with a color error of just 3.30, and a saturation level of 85.71% of the ideal. The portrait mode offered more accurate saturation levels (and occasionally lower color error), but was less consistent overall. Natural handled yellow, greens, and magenta very well, while portrait handled skin tones, blues, and browns exceptionally well. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Olympus E-P3 offered the best color accuracy of any of our comparison cameras, with the Panasonic GF3 slightly trailing behind. The Nikon J1 and the Pentax Q performed almost identically, with the J1 coming ahead by only a few hundredths of a point in our scoring. The Sony NEX-5 did not perform up to par in this comparison group, favoring far more vibrant colors that hurt its accuracy.

Color Modes

The Pentax Q's menu offers a number of "custom image" modes, accessible through either the menu or by the quick dial on the front of the camera. The custom modes are titled as pure color modes (bright, natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, radiant, muted, bleach bypass, reversal film, monochrome, and cross processing are available) but each offers adjustment for sharpness (fine sharpness is also an option), saturation, contrast, hue, and high/low key. Most of the modes are fairly accurate, though muted and bleach bypass are intentionally far off the mark.

White Balance

The Pentax Q offered decent white balance for a camera of its type, though we found that its automatic mode left images far too warm in general. This can be curtailed somewhat in the custom menu with an option to favor cooler images under tungsten lighting (where the camera struggled the most), though it doesn't improve the result dramatically.

Automatic White Balance ()

Under automatic white balance, we found the Pentax Q updated its measurements within a few seconds, though this was aided by taking a few half-presses of the shutter button to let the camera catch up. Still, we found the camera kept images far too warm under incandescent lighting, with an average error of more than 1800 kelvin. (The custom menu option to preserve less warmth under that lighting pushes this down to around 1500 kelvin) Under compact white fluorescent, that error drops to around 270 kelvin, and in daylight conditions the results are better with an error of just 125 kelvin.

Custom White Balance ()

When taking the time to take a custom white balance with a white card, that tungsten color error drops to 273.83 kelvin, though we found the custom setting to be too cool overall. In compact white fluorescent lighting we found the error fell to a palatable 141.5 kelvin. In daylight conditions the results turned out the best for the Q, as the camera's custom white balance returned an error of just 74.33 kelvin.

The Pentax Q offered an automatic white balance setting that left it fourth among the five camera in this comparison group (besting only the poor NIkon J1's automatic white balance). The custom white balance setting on the Q was beaten by only the Panasonic GF3 for accuracy, as the Nikon J1, Olympus E-P3, and the Sony NEX-5 all came in at the bottom of this group.

White Balance Options

White balance is easily accessible on the Q with a dedicated button on the bottom of the rear four-way control pad. The white balance menu offers seven presets, as well as a custom and automatic setting. Every setting can be adjusted by pressing the exposure compensation +/- button, which brings up a color wheel that allows the user to fine-tune white balance to fit their needs. The Q's custom white balance is also very easy to set, as it requires filling just a small box in the center of the frame (this can be expanded for greater accuracy) with a white object and pressing the shutter button to capture the necessary color information.

Long Exposure

The Pentax Q performed well in our long exposure tests, though we found its 8mm f/1.9 kit lens' limited aperture range caused it to overexpose images. There is little that Pentax could do, as an f/22 aperture with such a small sensor isn't practical. In general, though, the Q actually outperformed our comparison group in long exposure testing despite those technical hurdles. More on how we test long exposure.

The Pentax Q had a color error of 3.3 in bright light testing, and that error only increased to between 3.8 and 4.0 in longer exposures. We found that noise fell off dramatically in exposures longer than one second, suggesting that the Q may be ramping up noise reduction when the camera is set to take longer exposures. There is no specific long exposure noise reduction feature, merely the high ISO noise reduction option we tested for our noise section. We shot all our long exposure test shots at ISO 400, however, and found that the noise totals returned in our long exposure results had approximately 30% less noise than comparable ISO 400 shots taken in bright light testing. Due to this, we believe the Q is applying heavy noise reduction (more than even its high ISO noise reduction setting's maximum) automatically to counteract any heat issues caused by utilizing a smaller sensor.

The Pentax Q scored the highest among all our comparison cameras, with minimal difference between bright light testing and low light, long exposure testing in terms of color error and noise totals. We could not deactivate the long exposure noise reduction in the Pentax Q (the camera doesn't give the option to), but found the camera's automatic long exposure noise reduction settings produced the least noisy images, though some fine detail is lost in the process.

Noise Reduction

The Q does not allow the user to turn noise reduction completely off, but allows the choice between automatic, high, or low. The highest noise reduction setting keeps noise at or under 1% all the way through ISO 6400, where it only hits 1.04% by our testing. That's fairly aggressive by interchangeable lens camera standards, but the Q does retain a good deal of fine detail even at this setting, completely wiping away most signs of image noise. The automatic setting sits between low and high, and doesn't ramp up noticeably throughout the ISO range. It would likely be more useful if it were named "medium" instead of "automatic," but all the modes do their job without allowing noise to overpower the image. More on how we test noise.

Science Section 2 Images_2

ISO Options

The Pentax Q offers an ISO range of 125-6400 in 1/3 stops. ISO can be controlled by pressing the top button on the rear four-way control pad and adjusting the rear control wheel. Also selectable is an automatic ISO mode, which will choose a setting between a user-defined range. That range can be as large as ISO 125-6400 or as small as 125-160, giving users finer control over how the camera automatically selects exposure.

Science Section 2 Images

Dynamic Range

The Pentax Q put up decent dynamic range numbers in our testing, but the inability to turn off noise reduction resulted in inflated scores when looking at JPEGs out of the camera. We found that by suppressing noise automatically, the Q pulled in 6 stops of dynamic range at its minimum ISO of 125, but that dropped to less than three stops by the time the camera reached ISO 6400. By applying noise reduction fairly liberally the camera keeps grain to a minimum, but this methodology wipes away fine detail, meaning it will be harder to pull detail out of darker regions in photo editing programs after the fact. More on how we test dynamic range.

Amongst our comparison group the Nikon J1 and Olympus E-P3 both put up slightly worse dynamic range scores than the Pentax Q, though both those cameras offer noise reduction-free options. In real-world applications the dynamic range results from the three cameras are similar. The Panasonic GF3 was slightly improved but also offered heavy noise reduction. The Sony NEX-5 doesn't offer the ability to turn NR off for JPEG images, but its APS-C sensor still lapped the field in this test, producing vastly more dynamic range.

Noise Reduction

The Q does not allow the user to turn noise reduction completely off, but allows the choice between automatic, high, or low. The highest noise reduction setting keeps noise at or under 1% all the way through ISO 6400, where it only hits 1.04% by our testing. That's fairly aggressive by interchangeable lens camera standards, but the Q does retain a good deal of fine detail even at this setting, completely wiping away most signs of image noise. The automatic setting sits between low and high, and doesn't ramp up noticeably throughout the ISO range. It would likely be more useful if it were named "medium" instead of "automatic," but all the modes do their job without allowing noise to overpower the image. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The Pentax Q offers an ISO range of 125-6400 in 1/3 stops. ISO can be controlled by pressing the top button on the rear four-way control pad and adjusting the rear control wheel. Also selectable is an automatic ISO mode, which will choose a setting between a user-defined range. That range can be as large as ISO 125-6400 or as small as 125-160, giving users finer control over how the camera automatically selects exposure.

Focus Performance

The Pentax Q utilizes a 25-point contrast detection autofocus through the lens, with a sensitivity of 1-18 EV at ISO 125. The focus is snappy, though it's not the fastest that we have seen. We found the Nikon J1 and the Olympus E-P3 were faster for mirrorless cameras, though the Pentax Q comes in very close behind those two. There are also focus options for face detection, subject tracking, and precise point selection, though all modes struggle a bit in very low light.

Long Exposure

The Pentax Q performed well in our long exposure tests, though we found its 8mm f/1.9 kit lens' limited aperture range caused it to overexpose images. There is little that Pentax could do, as an f/22 aperture with such a small sensor isn't practical. In general, though, the Q actually outperformed our comparison group in long exposure testing despite those technical hurdles. More on how we test long exposure.

The Pentax Q had a color error of 3.3 in bright light testing, and that error only increased to between 3.8 and 4.0 in longer exposures. We found that noise fell off dramatically in exposures longer than one second, suggesting that the Q may be ramping up noise reduction when the camera is set to take longer exposures. There is no specific long exposure noise reduction feature, merely the high ISO noise reduction option we tested for our noise section. We shot all our long exposure test shots at ISO 400, however, and found that the noise totals returned in our long exposure results had approximately 30% less noise than comparable ISO 400 shots taken in bright light testing. Due to this, we believe the Q is applying heavy noise reduction (more than even its high ISO noise reduction setting's maximum) automatically to counteract any heat issues caused by utilizing a smaller sensor.

The Pentax Q scored the highest among all our comparison cameras, with minimal difference between bright light testing and low light, long exposure testing in terms of color error and noise totals. We could not deactivate the long exposure noise reduction in the Pentax Q (the camera doesn't give the option to), but found the camera's automatic long exposure noise reduction settings produced the least noisy images, though some fine detail is lost in the process.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

The Pentax Q, despite its small sensor, needed just six lux of light for it to register 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. This is right in line with what we typically see out of interchangeable lens cameras with much larger sensors. Beyond that, noise did not increase appreciably, so if the camera was greatly boosting ISO sensitivity in order to achieve that result, it did not greatly detract from the image.

Chromatic Aberration

We found there was a great deal of chromatic aberration at the f/1.9 aperture, though this falls off dramatically through the aperture range. By f/8.0, chromatic aberration is almost nonexistant in our test images, with only a very slight purple glow vertically.

Distortion

The 8mm f/1.9 kit lens included with the Pentax Q suffered quite a bit in our distortion tests, with a 3.44% barrel distortion on average in our test shots across the aperture range. This was with the camera's in-camera distortion correction disabled, which is standard procedure for our tests. It should be noted that distortion does not factor into our scoring for an interchangeable lens camera, and we found the in-camera distortion correction reined in this error significantly, though it was still somewhat noticeable.

Motion

We found the Pentax Q offered decent motion rendering, as there was little in the way of interference. The automatic exposure did tend to utilize slower shutter speeds, resulting in some extra blurring in our motion test's RGB pinwheel. There was also sampling errors and aliasing present in our monochrome pinwheel that became distracting when in motion. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The Olympus, Panasonic, and Nikon comparison models all rendered motion equally well or better than the Pentax Q, though they tended to suffer more from ghosting and trailing, with some issues with artifacting across the board. The J1 shot video that was very similar to the Pentax in terms of artifacting and motion response, though we found the Nikon's video to look sharper overall.

Video Sharpness

We found the Q was able to resolve detail at a frequency as high as 550 lw/ph vertically and 500 lw/ph horizontally. This is right in line with the better cameras utilizing a similar size sensor (1/2.3'', as found in most point and shoot cameras), and actually put it right alongside many of its compact system camera peers utilizing larger sensors. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

The Pentax Q, despite its small sensor, needed just six lux of light for it to register 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. This is right in line with what we typically see out of interchangeable lens cameras with much larger sensors. Beyond that, noise did not increase appreciably, so if the camera was greatly boosting ISO sensitivity in order to achieve that result, it did not greatly detract from the image.

Buttons & Dials

As mentioned above, the buttons and dials on the Q are shrunk down considerably from what you would find on anything but the most compact of cameras. They offer very good haptic response and most give off an audible click when activated. The three analog dials on the camera are all stiff, but have very defined positions so adjustments are only really made deliberately. The quick dial on the front is the most difficult to operate, as it doesn't sit in a position that any of the user's fingers fall on naturally. It provides a measure of customization and control without having to go into the menu, but it's placement and uncertain implementation leave it feeling anything but "quick."

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The Pentax Q offers several ways to digitally alter your image prior to capture, with nearly every one offering some level of customization as well.

The menu on the Q will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has shot with a Pentax camera before Most of the menu functions are the same as on the K-r and K-5 DSLRs, with a few exceptions. The custom menu isn't quite as long as on those cameras, but most of the shooting, playback, and video settings remain the same. For those unfamiliar, the menu is robust but legible. The menu is organized into sections for shooting, playback, video, custom, and system settings, with each section having numbered tabs. Users can use the rear four-way control pad to navigate a tab vertically, or flick the rear control dial with their thumb to move to the next tab over.

The Q also offers a number of quicker menus. The main one for shooting settings is brought up by pressing the INFO button when in live view and offers an overview of the current settings, with immediate access to each. This allows the user to make quick changes to things like resolution, compression quality, digital filters, custom image profiles, etc. The menu may take a little adjustment for novices, but it's well-designed and shouldn't provide much of a challenge after a few days with the camera.

Instruction Manual

Pentax is one of the few companies still providing extensive printed manuals with their camera. The Q comes packaged with a quickstart manual for both the camera and lens along with a full operating manual of over 250 pages. The manual, despite its length, is actually fairly clear with a good table of contents section that makes it easy to find more information on specific features. The camera also comes with a software CD-ROM (with SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.0) and an electronic version of the full manual is available online.

Handling

The Pentax Q is an interesting little camera, emphasis on the little. It's a short stump of a camera, with a body that is fairly thick (before you even add on the lens) but not very tall or wide. It's too thick to slip into most people's pockets, but it's easily the smallest interchangeable lens camera (with the smallest lenses) on the market at this time. It can quite easily fit in the palm of your hand, but does have a slight protrusion on the right of the camera with rubberized material providing excellent grip.

Handling Photo 1

The Q is comprised mainly of a magnesium alloy chassis that provides durability and gives the camera good balance and heft despite its compact size. While we certainly wouldn't recommend it, the camera feels like it could survive a few drops and take some punishment without breaking down. While small, nothing about the Q feels very chintzy or cheap, though its buttons are necessarily shrunk down as well. That will be fine for some users and annoyance to others, but we felt it didn't take long to get used to the layout or the size of the camera.

Handling Photo 2

Buttons & Dials

As mentioned above, the buttons and dials on the Q are shrunk down considerably from what you would find on anything but the most compact of cameras. They offer very good haptic response and most give off an audible click when activated. The three analog dials on the camera are all stiff, but have very defined positions so adjustments are only really made deliberately. The quick dial on the front is the most difficult to operate, as it doesn't sit in a position that any of the user's fingers fall on naturally. It provides a measure of customization and control without having to go into the menu, but it's placement and uncertain implementation leave it feeling anything but "quick."

Buttons Photo 1

With such a small form factor, there are loads of smart decisions made by Pentax in the design of the Q. The shooting mode dial, for example, provides by far the most resistance of the three analog dials. It's placed, however, right where the index finger naturally falls. Rather than have a thin dial jutting out, this dial is about twice as tall as those found on other cameras. It requires a little extra push to change between positions, but it's height provides enough extra surface area that such an operation isn't difficult when the user wants to deliberately change modes.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The Pentax Q uses a pretty standard 3-inch LCD with 460k dot resolution. The screen does not have touch control but it's clear enough that fine focus judgements are possible. The screen's viewing angle is rated at 170 degrees horizontally and vertically, so while it doesn't articulate, it does allow for viewing even when shooting at odd angles. The screen does get washed out in bright sunlight, however, so that's less of a possibility during the day.

Shooting Modes

The Pentax Q offers a physical shooting mode dial on the top shoulder of the camera. It has positions for shutter/aperture priority, full manual, blur control (applies a digital blur around your subject to enhance depth of field), program auto, full automatic, scene mode, and video capture. The mode dial is positioned just above where the shooter's index finger will usually rest, but it offers just enough resistance to prevent accidentally switching modes.

Focus

The Pentax Q utilizes a 25-point contrast detection autofocus through the lens, with a sensitivity of 1-18 EV at ISO 125. The focus is snappy, though it's not the fastest that we have seen. We found the Nikon J1 and the Olympus E-P3 were faster for mirrorless cameras, though the Pentax Q comes in very close behind those two. There are also focus options for face detection, subject tracking, and precise point selection, though all modes struggle a bit in very low light.

Even when placed in autofocus, the Q allows for quick manual focus override by twisting the focus ring on the kit lens' barrel. There are manual focus assist options in the menu as well, which will automatically employ a 2x or 4x digital zoom to bring the subject in closer for fine focus adjustments. There is no peaking option here, but the constant MF override is a nice touch and makes those minute adjustments simple for the user.

Recording Options

In its native 4:3 ratio the Q sensor is capable of shooting images of 12, nine, five, and three megapixels. The sensor can also take a cropped 3:2 ratio image at 10, eight, five, or two megapixels. Furthermore, the sensor can crop to a 1:1 shot, but further cropping yields a maximum of just nine megapixels, with options for six, four, and two-megapixel 1:1 shots.

Other Controls

The Pentax Q doesn't offer the same measure of custimzability that the company's full DSLRs offer, but it's not far off. The menu system is very similar, with only a few custom functions missing.

"Green" Button

The function of the Q's "green" button can be set in the menu, though there are a limited amount of functions that it can assume. The button does have the capability to become a depth of field preview button, one-push file format change, auto exposure lock, or it can activate autofocus.

Speed and Timing

The Pentax Q is a compact shooter that offers decent speed with the 8mm kit lens. The Q's uses an electronic shutter, though some Q lenses, including the kit lens, offer a mechanical shutter located in the lens. All of the camera's various drive and timers modes, including remote activation and exposure bracketing, are accessed by the timer menu, which is brought up by pressing the right key on the camera's four-way control pad on the back of the camera.

There are no resolution limitations with the Q in terms of bust shooting, though we did find that the capacity for shooting at the highest speed was very limited. Most mirrorless cameras we have tested offer at least 10-20 frames of burst shooting before wearing through their internal buffers, with the Q managing just six shots. The high speed burst shooting is also not available when capturing RAW images, though continuous low speed is available for both RAW and RAW+JPEG shooting.

Pentax rates the Q at approximately five frames per second when utilizing a lens with a lens shutter (such as the 8mm kit lens), with a maximum capacity of just five JPEG images at the highest speed. We found that the Q was actually able to pull in 5.45 frames per second in that mode, with a capacity of six burst images before capture slowed to about one frame per second. At the lower speed Pentax rates the Q as pulling in 1.5 frames per second, but with a capacity of 100 JPEGs at a time.

The Q offers self-timer options with a delay of either 12 or two seconds, as well as remote shooting that, when activated, will shoot a single image immediately, a single image after a three-second delay, or continuously shoot as long as the button is held down. There is also an option for interval shooting in the menu, which allows for great timelapse work. The interval shooting option allows for a delay between shots of as little as one second, or as long as 24 hours. The camera can then take up to 999 images (depending on power and storage ability), with the interval beginning immediately or set to begin at a specific time of day.

Focus Speed

The Pentax Q utilizes a 25-point contrast detection autofocus through the lens, with a sensitivity of 1-18 EV at ISO 125. The focus is snappy, though it's not the fastest that we have seen. We found the Nikon J1 and the Olympus E-P3 were faster for mirrorless cameras, though the Pentax Q comes in very close behind those two. There are also focus options for face detection, subject tracking, and precise point selection, though all modes struggle a bit in very low light.

Even when placed in autofocus, the Q allows for quick manual focus override by twisting the focus ring on the kit lens' barrel. There are manual focus assist options in the menu as well, which will automatically employ a 2x or 4x digital zoom to bring the subject in closer for fine focus adjustments. There is no peaking option here, but the constant MF override is a nice touch and makes those minute adjustments simple for the user.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The Pentax Q offers several ways to digitally alter your image prior to capture, with nearly every one offering some level of customization as well.

Other Features

Quick Dial

The Pentax Q offers a front analog dial with four numbered positions that can be used to quickly adjust a user-specified shooting parameter. Users can set this dial to control access to aspect ratio, specific digital filters, custom image profiles, or "smart effects," which are generally a combination of digital filters and custom image profiles. The dial offers a little bit of extra tactile interaction and customizability, though we found it could've been implemented better. For one, when using the dial to change custom image profiles, only the small symbol at the top of the LCD changes, with no text indicating that the change has been made. It's a nice feature once you get the hang of it, but it's got an unnecessarily steep learning curve for a control that should enhance the shooting experience right out of the box.

Recording Options

The Pentax Q offers video recording in three flavors: 1080/30p full HD, 720/30p regular HD, and standard definition video. The Q utilizes MPEG4/AVC H.264 compression for videos in a .MOV container. The result is about a 10MB video for every five seconds of footage, depending on content and what other features (audio, color modes, etc.) are activated. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

The Pentax Q offers full aperture/shutter control in video recording, set by the rear control dial. Users can alternate between setting shutter speed and aperture by pressing the exposure compensation button. The 8mm kit lens still has a limited aperture range of f/1.9-8.0, but it does offer some measure of control that many compact system cameras do not. The camera's many color modes are not located in the video settings mode, but they are still functional when switching to video mode.

Auto Controls

The Q features a dedicated movie mode on the dial, so it will automatically set exposure by default. This can be changed in the camera's menu, however. The same custom image profiles available when taking stills are also available in video shooting, including the cross processing option, which allows for a combination of effects. This does not include the digital filters such as toy camera, miniature, etc.

Zoom

The Pentax Q does not allow for any sort of digital zoom when recording video and the kit lens is a fixed focal length of 8mm, so there is no way to bring your subject closer with the default setup. There are, however, other lenses available to provide the ability to zoom, though this is done manually.

Focus

Autofocus is available when in video mode, though not while actually recording video. The 8mm kit lens does include a manual focus ring, and this can overrride focus at anytime, including while a video is being taken.

Exposure Controls

If you go into the camera's video shooting menu, the Q offers the option to change exposure to manual, which offers full control over shutter speed and aperture while recording video. The camera offers shutter speeds ranging from 1/30th of a second to 1/2000 of a second, with the full f/1.9-8.0 aperture available as well. The camera can also automatically set its sensitivity, or the user can select an ISO speed ranging from 125-1600.

Other Controls

The Q offers the full range of white balance presets and custom settings in video mode. The control for setting a custom white balance (or selecting a preset) is precisely the same in video as in still photography. The Q also has a neat interval movie mode, which essentially takes the camera's interval shooting setting and puts together a time lapse video automatically, instead of forcing you to do the same thing in a video editing program.

Audio Features

The Q doesn't have much for audio control during video recording, as there's also no mic input on the camera. The built-in mic is a stereo mic, but it only records audio through two pin-hole sized mics on the front of the camera, one of which is very easy to accidentally cover with your pinky finger while shooting. There's no wind cut, level, or audio filtering of any kind. Mercifully, there's an option to forgo audio recording altogether.

Overview

To this point, the design philosophy of your typical compact system camera has been to utilize as large an image sensor as possible while shaving down other components to offer an interchangeable lens camera that is, at the very least, more portable than a full-size DSLR. The Pentax Q turns this notion on its head, as it's designed to be a compact point-and-shoot camera (with a point-and-shoot sized image sensor) that offers interchangeable lenses.

As a result, the Q is as compact an interchangeable lens cameras as you'll find on the market. Still, even with its tiny 8mm pancake kit lens, the Q is not quite small enough to fit into your pocket. That's what we've come to expect from similar compact system cameras and, while the Q will inevitably slim down in further models, the real question is if its 1/2.3'' sensor can compete with it's competition: Micro Four Thirds, Sony NEX, Samsung NX, and Nikon 1-system cameras with larger image sensors and more developed lens families.

We found that the Pentax Q can hold its own for handling, design, user interface, and shooting options, though it is clearly outpointed in many of our performance tests by other models that, quite frankly, are cheaper and better values. At $500, the Q would be a serious competitor for your dollar. Unfortunately, the Pentax Q debuts at around $800, though like most compact system cameras we expect the price to fall in the future.

Overall, the Q is a strong debut from Pentax despite its hefty price. We expect the company to continue to refine the design and lens system while bringing price down to a more palatable level on par with its competition. While that will take time, the diminutive Q line will continue to be a player in a field where compact is king.

Performance

The small image sensor of the Q has not doomed its performance in most of our tests, with the camera offering very good noise results and very solid shot-to-shot speed. We found it was comparable to the Nikon J1 for color accuracy, though the combination of its 8mm f/1.9 kit lens and small lens meant it didn't produce images as sharp as the competition. Still, we'd like to see Pentax stretch a little more dynamic range out of the next Q, as this version produced images that were a little flat above ISO 800.

Video

The Pentax Q offered decent 1080/30p video considering its sensor is no bigger than your typical point and shoot camera. It was able to muster decent sharpness with its 8mm kit lens, with solid motion rendering and little in the way of artifacting or frequency interference. In general the handling wasn't the best for video, but for quick videos here and there, the Q is a fine option.

Hardware

We were left unimpressed by the 8mm f/1.9 kit lens on the Q. It performs fine when stopped down to around f/3.5, offering decent sharpness through the frame, but the lens was heavily distorted and soft at its maximum aperture of f/1.9. There was also heavy chromatic aberration at the maximum aperture, though that became practically nonexistent by f/3.5. The Q-mount hasn't been around that long so we'll reserve judgement on the lens family, but Pentax's full DSLR lenses are quite good and we expect better things in the future.

Handling

Despite its small size, the Q offers just enough of a rubberized protrusion to give users a nice, firm hold on the camera. The slimming down of the body has resulted in smaller-than-usual buttons, however. The Q takes a page out of some other retro-styled cameras, offering three physical dials for shooting control. The mode dial is expertly placed, firmly locking into place to prevent accidents. The control dial is similar, though we were underwhelmed by the implementation and design of the "quick" dial on the front of the camera. Despite the hitches, we were fans of the Q's handling, finding it easy to get what we needed out of the camera with minimal fuss.

Controls

Like most Pentax cameras, the Q does not want for shooting options, controls, in-camera editing options, and digital filters. While on some cameras this is a bit extraneous, on the Q it adds an extra layer of creativity to the shooting experience. We found the menu to be well-designed, with clearly legible options and only a few small quirks. We wish the live view information display were more informative, as some of the on-screen symbols simply have nothing to do with what they actually represent. In the end, it's a small complaint against an otherwise well-designed control scheme.

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