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Pentax MX-1

July 2013 | By Shawn Barnett


Review based on a production Pentax MX-1

The Pentax MX-1 is a 12MP high-end compact camera with a fast 28-112mm equivalent zoom lens - the first camera of its type that Pentax has created. With a rich history in camera design, it seems fair that Pentax would seek to recapture the two-tone camera designs of the last century with its MX-1 enthusiast compact (the MX-1 is also available in an all-black model as well). A metal top and bottom and a leather-like band around the middle provide a gripable surface as well as a classic look. Thanks to the painted brass top and bottom plates, we're told users will enjoy that old tendency toward 'brassing' exhibited in well-used vintage cameras as the MX-1 accumulates wear. We haven't yet bashed the Pentax MX-1 around enough to test this feature, but there's still time.

Following the near extinction of the standard pocket digital camera in the wake of the smartphone juggernaut, camera manufacturers are aiming more squarely at the enthusiast market, and the MX-1 is a clear sign that Pentax considers it an important segment to serve. Dominated largely by cameras like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 and Canon Powershot S110, and more recently by the Sony Cyber-Shot RX-100, the enthusiast pocket camera market consists of cameras with larger sensors, premium lenses, raw capture and a bias toward manual controls and modes, in addition to the usual auto and semi-auto modes.

The MX-1 shares a lens (and probably sensor) with the Olympus XZ-2: a 28-112mm equivalent zoom with a relatively bright F1.8-2.5 aperture across the zoom range. Physically though, they're very different cameras. The MX-1 is both wider and thicker, lacks a hot shoe, and surprisingly has only one control dial, skipping the trend toward a customizable control ring around the lens. In the MX1's favor are a slightly larger LCD (thanks to its 4:3 aspect ratio), that flips up and down in the same way as the XZ-2, and an EV adjustment dial that hangs over the right rear edge ever so slightly, for quick changes to the auto and semi-auto capture modes; it's also stiff enough that it doesn't turn by accident.

We were a little disappointed to see no hint of Ricoh's influence on the interface (Ricoh purchased Pentax 18 months ago, so we'd expect to see some of the fruits of that deal appearing soon). In particular, some of the GRD and GXR's control features, with customizable access to key menus and simple, smart controls would have been welcome. But several other omissions show that Pentax isn't aiming the MX-1 at quite the same market as some other premium compacts.

Built as much as a premium camera for the casual snapshooter as it is for the photographer craving more control, the Pentax MX-1 makes accessing its high quality optic and potentially good sensor less intimidating. It looks cool, and if it measures up to expectations, particularly from its lens and sensor, it will make a good street camera for semi-auto shooters, and a reasonable substitute for carrying an SLR everywhere.

Pentax MX-1 key features

  • 12MP backlit CMOS sensor
  • 4x 28-112mm equivalent F1.8-2.5 lens
  • ISO 100-12800
  • 3.0 inch, 920K dot LCD screen
  • JPEG, Raw (DNG), Raw+JPEG capture
  • 1080p 30fps video recording with stereo microphones
  • Rear control dial and EV dial
  • Pentax SLR-like interface
  • HDR mode

CMOS sensor

The Pentax MX-1's 1/1.7" backlit CMOS sensor has a total resolution of 12.76MP, outputting a 12-megapixel image measuring 4,000 x 3,000 pixels. Many of the Pentax's rivals, including the Olympus XZ-2, Nikon P7700 and Samsung EX2F also use 1/1.7" 12MP BSI CMOS sensors. It seems likely that most of them share a single sensor, possibly the one Sony published details of in October.

Sensor sizes compared

The diagram below compares the size of the MX-1's 1/1.7" sensor to those in its nearest competitors - in general larger sensors potentially offer better image quality. The MX-1's sensor is equal to most of its direct competitors, like the S110, XZ-2, and LX7.

The MX-1's sensor is smaller than recent premium pocket leaders, but on par with most premium pocket category competitors.

Enthusiast compacts: lenses, sensors and background blur

The table below compares the MX-1's lens specifications and sensor size against its main competitors and the X20. Along with the familiar 35mm-equivalent focal length, we've also included a 35mm-equivalent aperture range, which gives some idea of the control over depth of field offered by each camera's lens.

  Sensor area, mm2
(dimensions)
Focal length range Focal length range (equiv.) Aperture range Aperture range (equiv)* Dimensions (mm)
Pentax MX-1 41
(7.4x5.6)
6.0-24mm 28-112mm
F1.8-2.5
F1.8-2.5 F8.4-11.6 122x64x51
Fujifilm XF1 58
(8.8x6.6)
6.4-25.6mm 25-100mm F1.8-4.9 F7.0-19.1 108x62x33
Sony
DSC-RX100
116
(13.2x8.8)
10-37mm 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 F4.9-13.4 101x58x36
Canon S110 41
(7.4x5.6)
5.2-26mm 24-120mm F2.0-5.9 F9.3-27.4 99x60x27
Fujifilm X20 58
(8.8x6.6)
7.1-28mm 28-112mm F2.0-2.8 F7.9-11 117x70x57
Panasonic DMC-LX7 34**
(6.7x5.1)
4.7-17.7mm 24-90mm F1.4-2.3 F7.1-11.7 111x76x46
Samsung EX2F 41
(7.4x5.6)
5.2-17.2mm 24-80mm F1.4-2.7 F6.5-12.5 112x62x45

* Equivalent aperture, in 135 film terms - this gives an idea of the depth of field control offered by the lenses when the sensor size is taken into account.
** Panasonic DMC-LX7 sensor area figures based on 4:3 aspect ratio mode

Photographers tend to be interested in how well a lens can blur backgrounds when shooting portraits at full telephoto, and in this respect the MX-1 is among the best in its class - matching exactly the ability offered by the Olympus XZ-2. This isn't the sort of shallow depth-of-field that a DSLR will offer with a specialized lens, but at the long end of the lens it'll give about the same flexibility as most DSLR kit lenses will offer.

The equivalent apertures also give a rough idea of how the cameras might compare in low light; to a degree they indicate how far a larger sensor should be offset by a faster lens. Obviously this isn't the whole story; the characteristics of the individual sensors matters too, as does the quality of in-camera processing for JPEG shooters. But the story is essentially the same - the MX-1 should do a bit better than most small-sensor cameras, but not as well as the RX100 over most of its lens range.

Size compared

The MX-1's larger lens and articulating screen means it's a little thicker than most cameras in this category, as well as a little wider. It's also thicker than the XZ-2. The Pentax MX-1 is still small enough to slip into a shorts or jacket pocket, and there's enough space on the back for a few extra buttons and controls. We have a feeling many users are likely to want to take advantage of the camera strap to show off this good-looking camera (though unfortunately we found it doesn't hang as well as we'd like with the strap lugs mounted in the front).

The Pentax MX-1 is shorter than the XZ-2, and wider, which draws attention to the lens, making it appear somewhat larger than it is. Note the infrared port on the front, right next to the AF-assist lamp.
While the XZ-2 tapers in specific places to make it feel slimmer - and ultimately it is slimmer - the Pentax MX-1 embraces the idea of bulk, probably for the sake of a more retro look and feel.
Though both cameras have a control dial on the back, the XZ-2 has another dial on the front, customizable to adjust focus and either aperture or shutter speeds, while the MX-1's main 'extra' control is the EV dial. Like its SLRs, Pentax has included the green 're-center' button for quickly jumping back to the default setting regardless of the exposure mode.


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.

Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of the image, clicking on the image will display a larger (typically VGA) image in a new window.

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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 2013 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: 13
WilliamEv
By WilliamEv (2 months ago)

I purchased the MX-1 because liked the look of it and that it was a compact. Would be great for traveling. So got my MX-1 and went on a Holiday sad to say it worked for two day and them the LCD stopped working :( No pictures of my holiday except for my IPhone. I am trying to get it returned, replace or repaired but no one seems to care.

0 upvotes
FW Birds
By FW Birds (3 months ago)

I ordered one of these today. They are now selling for half of their original list price. To me that seems like a bargain. I really like the colors of Pentax jpegs, so much so that I may just shoot jpegs for ease and convenience. This looks like a great travel camera to pair with my K-3. Looking forward to trying it out.

0 upvotes
miuan
By miuan (4 months ago)

This is the first camera I want to return as soon as I got it, and I really wanted to like it despite its strange form factor. The operation is frustratingly slow. Most of the controls are well laid out and the buttons have good feel to them, but their response is sluggish most of the time, taking away the fun from the photography. The AF is desperate in all but casual static shooting, even in macro mode with enough light it struggles at times. The funky chroma NR artifacts at ISO 1000-1600 and the lack of NR / image parameter settings finishes the bitter feeling. I'm going back to my X10, sorry Pentax.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Sad Joe
By Sad Joe (4 months ago)

PLUS: Nice nice brass body. CONS: That is simply not nice to hold ...remember the 'Simply Hold A Pentax' marketing strap line guys? Sadly its designers didn't….

0 upvotes
Rip57
By Rip57 (6 months ago)

I picked one up on the Woot $199 deal and have to say that's a lot of camera for the money. I'm still getting used to this particular form factor - no viewfinder and a LCD screen that tilts up and down (only). The technical quality of the photos is quite nice - it's my compositional skills that are lacking.

One thing that has helped is enabling the view screen overlay with vertical and horizontal lines as well as the electronic vertical and horizontal levels. I'm learning to shoot more from the waist, but I still keep trying to bring it up to my eye to look through the nonexistent viewfinder.

I still have an old film MX, into which I long ago placed a viewfinder screen with vertical and horizontal lines. The point is, my lack of compositional skill is certainly not the fault of any one camera.

4 upvotes
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (6 months ago)

A silver Pentax K-3 kit & MX-1 as a back up P&S cam

Dream of a hobbyist in 2013-2014

3 upvotes
HauntedToaster
By HauntedToaster (6 months ago)

You can pick it up on Woot today for $199, plus $5 shipping.

0 upvotes
davids8560
By davids8560 (7 months ago)

This is a terrific RAW-capable high-end enthusiast compact, and at current prices (Jan. 2014) it is an excellent value and a very attractive option when compared to similar cameras in its class. Image quality is just about as good as you can expect for a camera with this size sensor. Build quality is outstanding. The menus are straight forward and inituitive in use. Performance is snappy all around. It's also a very good-looking camera, in addition to its decent performance. And maybe it's a matter of personal preference, but I rather like the accentuated oblong shape, as it gives me plenty of room to easily access the right buttons and make adjustments. The dedicated Ev knob is a very handy plus, too. I'd like to see a hot shoe and a reasonably-priced optional EVF like the Olympus XZ models have in the next iteration. But without hesitation I highly recommend the Pentax MX-1.

Comment edited 4 times, last edit 14 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
ragmanjin
By ragmanjin (7 months ago)

This is all the comments this camera got? That's a little disappointing, it's such a winner. Studio comparison tool, Fuji XQwhatever vs. Pentax MX-1 vs. Canon G16.....well, you'll see it. When I need a replacement for my G11 I'm almost certain the MX-1 will be the compact in my pocket for many years.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
5 upvotes
Kfrog
By Kfrog (9 months ago)

I'll give serious consideration for my small camera needs.

0 upvotes
PRhe
By PRhe (9 months ago)

I bought the MX-1 after comparing it to the Olympus (XZ-2) and Fuji (X10 & X20) options. Picture quality is superior, control setup is logical and the camera itself is drop-dead gorgeous! Looking forward to years of happy clicking.

5 upvotes
papa natas
By papa natas (3 months ago)

I've bought one too. I feel you, bro.
This is the camera that's unobtrusive, no ostentation. People give it a look (with a dog's interrogative expression) wondering if it is an old, well preserved 35mm with the ordinary 50mm lens. You won't provoke the "Pros (?)" with their phallic gear nor step on the toes of the P&S crowd. You are the Chevy Nova parked between the Hummer and the Porsche.
When it comes to menu, I love the simplicity and the friendly use of it. IQ is just superb. Colors are just off the wall, especially blue skies when shooting in winter. It easily accommodates up to 3 f stops. It makes me go back to my first SLR: Pentax ME Super.
This is a First Love camera. The LOVE that so many have forgotten: The LOVE for FUN!!

Comment edited 27 seconds after posting
1 upvote
jkokich
By jkokich (10 months ago)

Sounds like a great little camera!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 13