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Pentax Q Hands-on Preview

June 23, 2011 | By Richard Butler, Simon Joinson


Preview based on a pre-production Pentax Q running firmware 1.0

The Pentax Q is the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market. And, just like the company's famously diminutive Auto 110 SLR from the late 70's, it achieves this by embracing a smaller format than its peers. Being built around a 1/2.3" sensor, the Q is a fraction of the size of even the smallest existing mirrorless cameras and is the first really pocketable model (though the protruding lens still means that'll have to be the pocket of your jacket, rather than your shirt or trousers).

To make clear what the rather opaque 1/2.3" figure actually means, it equates to a surface area of around 28mm2. This is around 1/8th the size of the sensor used in Micro Four Thirds cameras and 1/13th the size of the the APS-C format sensor in Sony's NEX. The advantage of this is that the lenses for the Q mount can be made a lot smaller than those for other systems, but the downside is that the image quality is more likely to resemble that of a compact camera than a DSLR.

You can glean a lot about Pentax's approach to the Q from the lenses it has announced: a 47mm equivalent F1.9 prime lens for the enthusiasts but accompanied with a healthy dose of fun in the form of two fixed focal length 'toy' lenses (a wide-angle and a telephoto version, both sub-$100). On the fun side of things there will also be a fisheye lens or, at the more serious end, a 28-83mm equivalent standard zoom with a built-in shutter, allowing flash sync at any shutter speed.

Coupled with the 47mm equiv. prime or the standard zoom the Q, with its sturdy magnesium-alloy build, appears to be offering an alternative take on the photographers' compacts such as the Canon G12, Olympus XZ-1 and even the Ricoh GRD. However, the fact that it can take different lenses means that in a matter of seconds it can be converted into a fun little camera that should still offer a more satisfying shooting experience than a mobile phone and image processing app.

And the Q is no toy camera, despite its modest sensor size it boasts a magnesium alloy body with rubber front coating, a 460,000 dot LCD on the rear and raw output in the DNG format. Interestingly, Pentax bucks the recent trend of trying to attract point-and-shoot users by removing those intimidating buttons with all those mysterious symbols on them, and includes plenty of external controls.

Pentax Q key specifications:

  • 12.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor (1/2.3" size - 6.17 x 4.55 mm)
  • Q-mount interchangeable lens mount
  • 12-bit DNG raw file option
  • 3" 460,000 dot LCD
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization and dust-removal
  • 1080p30 HD movie recording in H.264 format
  • 5 frame-per-second continuous shooting capability
  • Quick-dial control giving access to four image settings
  • In-camera HDR option blends three images
  • Built-in flash
  • Flash hot shoe (also used for mounting optional viewfinder)
  • Front and rear IR remote sensors

Compared to the Sony NEX-C3

The Q's well-proportioned design makes it a little hard to work out how large it is until you see it in comparison to another camera. The sensor is around 1/13th the size of that in the NEX-C3 but does means it's the closest a mirrorless camera has yet come to being truly pocketable.

Placing the Q side-by-side with the NEX helps give some idea of how small it is, but taking the lens off also reveals how small its sensor is. The Pentax doesn't trigger quite the same wonder about how the engineers managed to fit so much into so little space - suggesting that there's a minimum size a camera can currently be, regardless of sensor size.


If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

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DPReview calibrate their monitors using Color Vision OptiCal at the (fairly well accepted) PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the (computer generated) grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally A,B and C.

This article is Copyright 2011 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.

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Comments

Total comments: 279
1234
davechen

Same sensor as a $299 Nikon D300, yet same price as a Canon T3i... Excellent niche camera... totally wrong pricing.

1 upvote
Faisalee

$299 Nikon D300?!? :o

I want to get one of those... :)

0 upvotes
ripimage

This toy camera ought to cost $80 - all lenses included...

2 upvotes
ripimage

This toy camera ought to cost $80 - all lenses included...

0 upvotes
sensibill

What if Ricoh had released the GXR withoput any APS-C modules and made it just a micro sensor camera with $800 pricetag?

Pentax has kindly demonstrated.

1 upvote
Vadimka

C'mon Pentax.... wtf... I'm sure "Toys-R-Us" will be stocking them up, once the price will drop to 1/4 of the original MSRP.

Update sensor to the 2/3" size like on Digilux 2 and Oly C-8080 and you have a winner. Or better yet, make it a bit bigger to a 16mm cine format (around 10.2x7.5mm) and you have even better seller.

3 upvotes
mjkerpan

I'm not surprised, but I am VERY disappointed. I think there MIGHT be a market for a miniature interchangeable lens system, but not with a sensor that small. Had I been designing this, I wouldn't have gone any smaller than 1/1.7".

1 upvote
archmaruch

I see it as a breath of fresh air. Something that's not for the pros. And clearly they weren't Pentax's target market for this. It's for the casual shooter, one who likes shooting whatever strikes his or her fancy as they occur and just for the heck of it. Just the mere label "Toy Lens" shows they're eying the toy camera/Lomography enthusiasts. I think we should give credit to Pentax for trying to capture these demographics by introducing something new.

1 upvote
fransams

I changed my mind. It's a brilliant camera. It solves all the problems we have ever had in digital photography:
"The photographer can use the entire sensitivity range — from ISO 125 to the highest ISO 6400 — without worrying about annoying digital noise. By taking advantage of the HDR (High Dynamic Range) function, it’s easy to create beautiful images with an extra wide dynamic range and free of white-washed and blacked-out areas."
By the way, an OVF is optional.
What else would you like? A dream comes true.

For the Pixel-peepers: A new K-mount camera based on APS-C sensor will be announced in August.

2 upvotes
gmark53

Quote from review says it all: "... a fun little camera that should still offer a more satisfying shooting experience than a mobile phone and image processing app." Wow, where can I pre-order mine?

1 upvote
fransams

Pentax? R.I.P.

1 upvote
joe6pack

I don't really see the point of having such a camera. What is the advantage of having interchangeable cheap lens? How small can you go with a lens sticking out? Why would prosumers invest on a camera body that has small sensor? Okay, I do see this camera goes up to ISO 6400. But if it can go to ISO 6400, what prevents a camera with built-in zoom lens using the same sensor? That would reduce the size by half easily.

4 upvotes
Humboldt Jim

Looks like a fun camera but I have to question how functionally different is it from a myriad of P&Ss with the same sensor size and same zoom range in one lens. Must be the play factor.

HJ

0 upvotes
Ashley Pomeroy

Now, a set consisting of a 5mm f/1.0, a 10mm f/1.0 and a 20mm f/1.0 would be something - make it so, Pentax!

0 upvotes
tkbslc

An f1.0 lens on this camera still would only have the subject isolation power of an f5.6 lens on FF, f4 on APS-C, or F2.8 on m4/3.

0 upvotes
evshrug2

Yeah, but tkbslc, that's only half of the equation.

0 upvotes
stickynugget

What a wonderful idea.

In real life this will soon be $500 (not the $800 MSRP) and with the ability to crank out lots of fun lenses (the 1/2.3" sensor means less glass, easier to manufacture) that will soon be very reasonably priced.

This will make a great camera for the 80% of people who could care less about how good there pictures look at full size or on a poster. And a soon to be cheap camera for the 15-26yo crowd with more brains and artistic ability than money.

Think of all the cool cheap lenses they can make for this that only the pros can afford for full size and even aps-c and 4/3rds

What a great idea for a little "fun" camera for the large consumer base who will be concerned with price and the picture's content over how it looks when pixel peeping.

Smart Idea.

If marketed well this could be a Home Run for Pentax!

11 upvotes
oheckyeah

i totally agree. i most likely won't buy one of these, but the idea is attractive. if they can come out with great cheap lenses, like the fisheye above, or cheaper tilt shift lenses and what not, they have a serious market.

i'm a college student and have already invested significantly in my camera and lenses, but for my girlfriend, who would like to get into digital photography and the amount of control you have on interchangeable lens systems, this is quite an attractive option, especially considering she doesn't care too much about large pictures and high IQ.

4 upvotes
NineFace

I don't think the lenses will be much cheaper than DX or m43 lens. And will 80% of people that don't care about IQ that you talked about will interest in system camera?

2 upvotes
grafixstop

You have to approach this with a "what you see is all you're gonna get" attitude. There was no "follow-on" to the Auto 110 and no
long life for 110 film in particular - just not enough quality for the serious folks and too complicated for the point & shoot crowd. This camera may not be still-born, but it'll never be a teenager.

0 upvotes
oheckyeah

there are some serious haters and elitists on this site. first of all, realize that the majority of people that visit this site are IQ-ophiles, not the average consumer. for most of us, a small sensor just doesn't live up to the type of photography we want to do. however, i believe there is a reasonable market for this camera in the future. there are many consumers who used manual focus and film back in the day, but haven't wanted to cough up the money for a DSLR and convert all their gear.

enter a smaller, lighter, cheaper interchangeable lens system, and if they drop the price a little, i think it will sell well. it may not be the type of camera the average DPreview-ite uses, but will have a following nonetheless.

4 upvotes
alfredo_tomato

Who thought people would buy a computer without a floppy disc or PS/2 connector? They thought the iMac would flop.

So I am not going to predict failure for this cute little camera. The gum drop iMac was cute.

I wish nothing but success for Pentax.

2 upvotes
M Colyer

Been down the heavy SLR route - love them but not their weight! Now with a lightweight GF2. Takes quite good photos sometimes. Will look at anything small with GOOD ISO range and with SHARP lenses. Still searching.

0 upvotes
photo nuts

Rumors have it that Nikon is planning something similar. The Nikon sensor size is supposed to give a ~ 2.6x crop factor... which is of course much larger than Pentax's 1/2.3 sensor. Pentax design team... fail.

In any case, if DPReview's side-by-side photo comparison is any indication, there's no point in using sensors smaller than the APS-C sensor in Sony's NEX-5.

2 upvotes
Bart Roskam

You seem to forget that a bigger sensors entails that the lenses have to be bigger and more expensive as well. The Q-system is a system where the size of the camera in relation to the size of the lenses has been matched. Unlike for example the Sony NEX, with its ridiculously large lenses on tiny bodies, which make the /system/ not pocketable. The bigger sensor of the Nikon will make for larger and thus more expensive lenses. I'm not claiming this to be better or worse, but there is a downside to larger sensors as well.

4 upvotes
06m1r3m86

Still haven't seen a MILC that appeals to me. I love my Canon 350D, but it's getting old and I want to replace it, but I haven't seen a MILC that I really feel can do the job. These things are popular, but I really feel that a camera like the Sony SLT-A55 is the best combination of size and features. This appeals to me even less than most MILCs do.

0 upvotes
princewolf

Also 350D user here, I don't know if I could do without the monochrome LCD and real durable battery life(no live-view). Can't bring myself to change it.

0 upvotes
lumiere

This camera will die a quick death.... what was pentax thinking. I know we have not seen any pictures yet, but there is no way they can be better than the sony,olympus and panasonic cameras all with way bigger sensors.$800 really pentax? This camera should be at least around $500 US. hell even the canon g12 has a bigger sensor. Also a little off topic why can't they design smaller lenses so that all of these small cameras can actually be small ( not counting the primes). what a waste for pentax who is already fighting for market share. Their R&D would be better served to either get in the bigger sensor (4/3,aps-c, full frame) small camera market or improve their bigger cameras which have been showing that they are pretty good, but with weak marketing. What a shame.

3 upvotes
Digibug10

ridiculous

0 upvotes
rocklobster

I was excited ...compact, mirrorless and then the words 'small sensor' as if that is somehow an advantage. The only advantage is that lenses can be made smaller.. theoretically.. but they have put the shutter mechanism in the lenses which reduces the size ..theoretically..of the body i.e. no focal plane shutter. Both body and lenses ar not small relative to the body. Are manufacturers deluding themselves with back illuminated sensors somehow performing way above their small size? Don't bother, just buy a Canon S95 and you wont need to swap lenses.

Cheers

2 upvotes
justmeMN

US$800 for a sensor smaller than the US$499 Canon G-12 and the US$399 Canon S95? Geez, the Canon T3 (1100D) DSLR is only US$599

2 upvotes
M Jesper

If only it were $300 i think people would be a lot less outraged.

1 upvote
M Jesper

And even then it would be hard to appeal to the keychain market:

http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/PENTAXQ/PENTAXQ-productshots.html

0 upvotes
Joe Ogiba

Go look at the 22.5mm to 810mm equiv. lens on the Nikon P500 36x Superzoom that has the same size sensor then look at the Sony DT 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Zoom Lens for NEX Cameras 11x 27-300mm (35mm equivalent) zoom then you will see why this makes sense.

http://cdn.pocket-lint.com/images/zcrC/nikon-coolpix-p300-superzoom-camera-10.jpg
http://a.img-dpreview.com/products_data/products/nikon_cpp500/shots/front.jpg?v=777
http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/zproducts/sony18-200f35-63e/Lens_pics/IMG_0712_1000.jpg

0 upvotes
tkbslc

It still doesn't make sense because I can already buy a Nikon P500 or Sony SX30 for half the price of this camera AND it includes the lens.

3 upvotes
Charles Lau

There is nothing wrong with a 1/2.3 sensor. I have one on my $300 Lumix point and shoot and it takes great pictures and videos in good light. It has a 14x "Leica designed" lens that retracts into a tidy pockatable size. It made a perfect package for a point and shoot to compliment my SLRs. To put interchangable lenses on a 1/2.3 sensor? For god's sake, WHY? What possible advantage would this have over a point and shoot, without all that extra stuff to carry?

3 upvotes
njkdo

Ok but for streetphoto a tiltable lcd is too very good and useful, where is it?
We can do anyway streetphoto with an Iphone and win the World Press Photo, this is not the point here.
Small sensor not great quality, why they did it soooooooo small and 12 mpx too, I have 10mpx and 1.7 , I am happy with, small zoom 24-70 1.8-2.4 , really I dont need change my lens,
when I need it I take my MKII.

2 upvotes
Cailean Gallimore

This will be a big flop.

6 upvotes
fotogenetic

Believe it or not, there's an advantage to small sensor compacts in street photography. I could like this camera if it were even smaller, like the size of a Ricoh GR-D. It definitely is one ugly camera, however.

0 upvotes
tkbslc

How is it an advantage when we already have 99 zillion small sensored compacts out there? We can already buy this camera in pocketable form for $200.

4 upvotes
njkdo

Which will be the target?
A crazy prof that want kill his quality shot or a crazy pros that think can better shot some flower?
Portable? No really, when you have all your set of lenses and camera you need a big bag not your pocket.
Sorry but this is a big hole in the water for me.
If you want a small camera with you, nothing better than G12, Ex1, Xz1, Lx5.
Or go for 4/3 or aps-c olympus, sony, panasonic etc

1 upvote
rsalles

Why such a small sensor?! It could at least be the same size as the sensors from Canon G12 or Panasonic LX5 or even a little bigger. I can not see any advantage over a Canon SX30 , Panasonic FZ40 or other big zoom camera.

2 upvotes
Nick Bangkok

If Pentax is thinking about internet posting kind of pics, why not make it 4MP ? The Fuji F30 with 1/1.7 sensor at 6 MP was quite acceptable in low light.

2 upvotes
Tormenborba

Let's hope not to get dust on the sensor,
a single grain of dust would cover it all!!!!

Pentax, what a joke!!!
of course it' s the smallest interchangeable lenses camera, it's also the only one with a crappy compact camera sensor!
what a sadness Pentax I really think game OVER.
This new segment could have really been the last stand for Pentax with Canon and Nikon not in the game yet and I guess they've missed the train!

4 upvotes
JeffDM

1/13th the sensor size but only 20% smaller by volume. The "toy" lenses sound interesting, but I wouldn't pay that much for such a tiny sensor.

0 upvotes
smallcams

Re: the tiny sensor...

While I tend to agree with the sentiment "what's the point?" - if from a control standpoint the camera better enables the photographer to get the shot they're after then maybe it's not all bad. And I've seen some very good images from the S95.

1 upvote
herebefore

I think that this would have been better with a sensor sized at 2/3 like some of the old Sony, Olympus, and Canon bridge cameras... At least a chance at good IQ with todays firmware/software..

With the tiny sensor Pentax chose, there isnt much chance I'll be impressed with performance..

Just another "Soccer Mom" "jewelry camera".. A shame.

1 upvote
michalc

I don't get it.. First Sony announces NEX system with tiny body and huge lenses. My first thought was - why they couldn't develop smaller sensor - something between 1/1.6'' and APS-C. That would be a reasonable compromise between size and IQ. True, Sony has great IQ but the only lens which makes this set portable is 16mm. And this is still an alternative for a DSLR. Now to Pentax - tiny sensor and sophisticated system around that. Such sensor cannot deliver decent IQ at present trechnology level. SO one question - what is the point? Probably they thought - customer is stupid and will look in the shop for a mirrorless system camera (trendy), will compare Sony NEX, Olympus Pen, Panasonic G and Pentax Q and will choose Pentax due to look/size. This is a humbug as Pentax will not even come close to IQ of any of these systems. Good luck Pentax. The original question remains.. why someone cannot produce new sensor size. We know Sony won't, Oly/Pana has 4/3'' - counting on Canon now...

3 upvotes
Tormenborba

I reckon Pentax would have been better off joining the 4/3 but they were too proud to do it and also you are right, some people with low knowledge in a shop just look at the size and would opt for Pentax, verrrry sad indeed!

5 upvotes
ksdoug

I can picture that pop up flash breaking easily.

1 upvote
KennethKwok

Initially, I also despise on it when the sensor is so small.
I suppose there are already enough large sensor (NEX, Micro FT) cameras.
The problem is that the lens are too large.
On the contrary, I think that a small sensor is a nice change.
Sensor technology is better and better. Smaller sensor continues to improve.
If the response is faster (less lag), the camera may win...
If you want absolute IQ, go for DSLR.
For those who want small camera, small lens, this may win.
I suppose a mega zoom with 600mm+ would be easy.

2 upvotes
Max Pometun

If I want a small camera - a simple P&S would do. The only reason people buy into an interchangeable camera system is to get higher image quality than that from a compact and this means a bigger sensor...

0 upvotes
Neil Morgan

People are writing it off before they have even tried !
IT may not be for everyone, but this will be huge in Japan and China.
It takes quite decent images too.
Only your mind and imagination will hold you back.

3 upvotes
Jogger

if they used a 2/3 sensor it may have had a chance.. but this is way too small

0 upvotes
Mike Goltsman

Am I the only one who thinks this is silly? All the drawbacks of a small sensor (bad low-light performance, lack of DOF control) with all the expense and cumbersomeness of an interchangeable lense system? I don't see the point of it - I bet Panasonic LX5 and its equivalents will make better photos. Yes, this camera will offer excellent photographic control, but given the cost it still seems like a niche product. All in all, almost as dumb an idea as that interchangeable lens-sensor module system from Ricoh or what not.

3 upvotes
D R C

Like all mirrorless compacts I don't see the point as the lenses are so big.
Time to copy the Rollei B35, not the Auto 110!
Also, for those of us who take pictures in bright sunlight: an optical viewfinder.

1 upvote
snake_b

People who look at this will certainly be pushed towards seeing how prosumers are more relevant.

0 upvotes
fredscapes

Perfect!

Hope the sensor produces a low noise level.If yes then there is no better pockatable solution around.

Congratulations Pentax!

0 upvotes
JesperMP

It just doesnt add up.
For end-user, the expense and hassle of the exchangable lenses is too much for what you get in return. The real novelty, the fish-eye and toy lenses are really expensive toys. You get to think that it is exactly an expensive toy with which you can play with exchanging lenses.
For Pentax, the R&D cost for camera and lens line-up will be just as high as if they had aimed for a "serious" camera.
I am thinking that there is a sweet spot, sensor-size wise, between 1/1.7" and m43. If Pentax had gone after this, they could still have had the smallest mirror-less, and with "good enough" IQ.

3 upvotes
GabrielMisfire

I am kinda curious about this. I mean, that'd be useful to take casual pictures even when you don't have your main, large DSLR.

0 upvotes
Raphael Mabo

And instead of a toy-filter, this camera can have true toy-lenses. Wow. This is really a digital version of the Lomo! It's so fun I have to laugh and this camera would surely has a cult following.

2 upvotes
Raphael Mabo

I like it. It is a digital Auto 110, like many Pentax users was longing for. (and remember, the 110 film was smaller than 24x36). The new sensor is backlit, so there should be some improvement in high ISO compared to traditional p&s compact cameras. As always, the IQ will be the selling point. My Optio 30 with 3Mp had great IQ, this one should be better and and I'm pleased with that. Maybe no match for APS-C, but for standard sized prints and internet images this will surely be more than enough.

3 upvotes
Suraj Kannan

Lets all wait for image samples before we start to ridicule / priase this new concept....seems too many people here have no better jobs to do....

0 upvotes
Nuno Souto

Oh look! A digital Auto110!
Next...

1 upvote
Frank Yuwono

Actually, a digital Auto110 will have about the same size sensor as the 4/3 system with a body which is much smaller than this.

2 upvotes
Andy Westlake

@Frank: The Q is in fact almost exactly the same size as the Auto 110: Pentax Q 98 x 57 x 31 mm, Pentax Auto 110 99 x 57 x 33 mm (in both cases without lenses). The Q is a little heavier, 180g vs 160g, but overall the biggest difference is that the 01 Standard prime is inevitably larger than the miniscule A110 24mm F2.4.

1 upvote
mattmtl

One might also say that as 110 film was to 35mm in the 70s, the 1/2.33 sensor is to APS-C today: a small format intended mainly for snapshots. A format ridiculed by serious shooters, yet not as completely useless as some would have you believe.

This does look like a failure in the making due to the sensor size alone, but it's conceivable that the format will one day cease to be an object of ridicule. The question is whether that day is today, and if not whether Q can survive long enough to see it.

0 upvotes
JensR

@Andy: Frank was comparing sensor sizes: This camera has a body roughly the size of the the 110, whereas the 110 has an imager roughly the size of fourthirds.
You are both right, just looking at different properties of the 110.

2 upvotes
SpankyAsami rillo

This is going to be great. I'm buying into it because it is different and interesting. I have all the Lumix stuff and I love it, but this is new and exciting. I will wait for price drops and who knows by launch time it may improve. I'm waiting for the improved version of the x100, so I could be waiting awhile for the proper Q. But the idea is awesome, and I don't want to see a cheap build. I want hard core serious build, industrial standards that Pentax is known for. Give it a break, and let them have their cult/niche market. I may fly, with improvements, it could really soar.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 279
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