A Month with the MX-1

Started 4 months ago | User reviews thread
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DDWD10
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A Month with the MX-1
4 months ago

As tends to be the case with Pentax gear, I bought the MX-1 on a deal-a-day website for the very reasonable price of $199.  I was looking for a travel camera with better image quality than my Q but not as cumbersome as a big DSLR rig.  I already knew how capable the 28-112mm (equiv) f/1.8-2.5 lens was on this camera (I bought my mom an XZ-1 a little over a year ago), and I figured having a new backlit CMOS sensor behind it would be icing on the cake.

Right off the bat, this is a rather bulky and heavy item for a compact camera, and although the camera is finished in grippy rubber, there isn't anything in the way of a sculpted finger or thumb grip.  It works well enough with two-handed operation though.  Build quality is solid but not at the same level as the Fujifilm X10 I owned.  The MX-1 has rather flimsy plastic mode and EC dials whereas those on the X10 were tight, machined aluminum.  That said, the articulating LCD is very sturdy with a smooth, solid tilting action.  I'm glad Pentax got this right, as I found myself using it a good deal.

The LCD is a very bright, contrasty 921k panel - a dramatic upgrade from the 460k panel on my Q.  It is bright enough, even at default settings, to use on a sunny day.  In typical Pentax fashion, brightness, color and hue can be adjusted for the panel - very nice.  Another thing I observed is how fast the LCD updates.  It actually provided a smoother refresh rate (although with less gain) than my X-T1 in a dark room.

Being a Pentax, there are some unique features buried in the menus.  The dual-axis electronic level is very handy, particularly in combination with the articulating LCD, as holding the camera at awkward angles can skew your own perception of what is level.  There is also a poorly-implemented VGA-only time lapse movie mode, which offers no control over interval or exposure, and bizarrely includes sound (sped up dramatically, of course).  I was left scratching my head, as the Q allows much more control here as well as 1080p output.  The Q also offers interval shooting for stills, which is MIA entirely on the MX-1.  There is a full array of digital filters, which again, are not as fleshed-out as those on the Q with many customization options missing.  Also missing is the ability to convert your last JPEG to a RAW file and the ability to customize the green button (this is my one-touch RAW button on my Q).  There is also no way to do a  one-touch magnification to quickly check sharpness on shots in playback mode.  In-camera RAW development is here and works well.  Remote IR sensors are on the front and back, a rarity for this kind of camera.  There is only one dial for control, but a button toggles between Av and Tv values in manual shooting and in practice it's not a real problem.  I really like how manual focus is implemented on the MX-1.  In MF mode there is a distance scale that pops up along with a magnified view... and an infinity setting!  A twilight photographer's dream.

Where this camera really shines is image quality.  The lens is very sharp, even wide open, even in the corners.  At full telephoto and f/2.5, beautiful bokeh can be made for head-and-shoulders portrait shots.  The lens is sharp, sharp, sharp and crisp detail can be pulled out of RAW files.  Zooming action is quiet and smooth as well.  AF is fast and accurate, even in low light.  Image noise isn't even noticeable below ISO 800, where it is still unobtrusive.  What is interesting is this camera puts out cleaner high ISO shots than my Canon 30D did... amazing how small sensor technology has progressed over the past decade.  Compared to the Q, there is more chroma noise but much more detail and clarity. Overall noise levels are about a stop and a half cleaner.  Consider how much faster the MX-1 lens is than the Q zoom and you can see how this camera really shines in low light.  SR is very effective, allowing sharp shots down in the 1/4-1/10 range pretty reliably.  JPEG processing leaves some crusty, geometric artifacts behind, even at lower ISOs.  Processing RAW is a good idea for larger prints, as details are rendered smoother.  Unlike the Q (see a theme here?), there is no control over noise reduction for JPEGs.  AWB is how-on-earth-did-this-pass-testing terrible in tungsten light.  The orange cast is so strong that anybody in your shot will look like an Oompa Loompa.  Even with the "Strong tungsten correction in AWB" custom setting enabled, the white balance misses the mark by a mile.  Manually setting the WB to tungsten corrects the problem, as does shooting in RAW of course, but I wonder why it is so bad when my Q and K-5 IIs are accurate in tungsten light in AWB.  Dynamic range in RAW is impressive with good shadow detail when levels are pushed.  Color transitions are also smooth and an RGB histogram identifies clipping.  Shooting in RAW is best done with patience, as it takes a good 2 seconds to write images to the card.  I use a SanDisk Extreme 45 MB/s card, but the fast card seems to have little benefit in this camera.

In conclusion, the MX-1 delivers strongly on IQ with a capable 1/1.7" BSI CMOS sensor and one of the best-regarded fast compact zoom lenses out there.  The biggest letdowns with this camera could be solved with firmware updates, particularly the numerous Q features that are either missing entirely here or are half-implemented.  Unfortunately, the menu provides no way to check the firmware version so this camera doesn't seem to be designed to even take FW updates.  At the current prices, the MX-1 represents a great value and I recommend it.

 DDWD10's gear list:DDWD10's gear list
Pentax Q Pentax K-5 IIs Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) MACRO Tamron SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical (IF) Pentax smc DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR +4 more
DDWD10's score
4.0
Average community score
4.2
bad for good for
Kids / pets
good
Action / sports
acceptable
Landscapes / scenery
excellent
Portraits
good
Low light (without flash)
good
Flash photography (social)
good
Studio / still life
great
= community average
Canon EOS 30D Fujifilm X10 Fujifilm X-T1 Olympus XZ-1 Pentax K-5 IIs Pentax MX-1
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