Body & Design

Like last year's Fujifilm XF1, the Pentax MX-1 recalls an era when cameras had metal top and baseplates, with leather around the middle. The MX-1's 'leather' covering has leather-like texture, but doesn't make much more effort to feel like the real thing, instead looking just like rubber, with the grip you'd expect from high-quality synthetic rubber - good tactility and give, with plenty of grip enhancement without being actually sticky. Pentax has made a big deal of the fact that the camera's top and base are cold to the touch, which is true, whereas painted magnesium-alloy can be a little warmer.

One notable feature are the two infrared sensors for wireless remote controller operation, one front, one back, as seen on many of Pentax's SLRs. Missing, as we've mentioned, are the dual exposure controls one would expect for the enthusiast shooter. Onscreen menus are similar enough to Pentax SLR design that it's clear they expect Pentax SLR owners to consider an MX-1 for a slot in their camera bag, so it's odd they omitted the ring around the lens.

Top of camera

The MX-1's top view shows its relative thickness. That leaves plenty of room for a large mode dial, a medium-sized shutter button and zoom toggle, and the exposure compensation dial. Power and movie record buttons are nestled between these larger elements. The power button glows green when on. The tilting LCD is thick too, but the right rear of the camera is a little thinner, which makes holding the camera a little easier.

A lens cap, not shown, attaches to the camera with a small tether. We were occasionally greeted with a warning: "Please confirm lens cap is removed" when we'd forgotten to remove the cap. It was a minor nuisance compared to scratching the lens or damaging the lens housing, gears, or motor, which can happen when lenses open against resistance (like inside a tight pocket).

In your hand

The Pentax MX-1's thickness means that the body is pretty much the 'hand grip'. Though the camera is hefty, thanks in part to the brass top and bottom plate, the rubber coating on the front also helps. Pentax could have added a little bit more rise under the EV dial to give the camera more of a thumb grip, which may be the main ergonomic weakness (if you can call an essentially boxy design ergonomic at all).

The index finger finds the Pentax MX-1's shutter button easily, and my thumb in particular wants to rest on the rear dial, ready to make adjustments.

Tilting LCD

For greater ease when shooting over heads or around corners (in vertical orientation) the Pentax MX-1 offers a tilting LCD. It tilts up a little more than 90 degrees and down about 45 degrees. As you'd expect of a camera at this price, the MX-1 has a 920k dot screen, giving a 640 x 480 pixel display.

Variation of maximum aperture with focal length

As with most compact zooms, the Pentax MX-1's maximum aperture of F1.8 only applies at wide angle, but the lens stays relatively fast as the lens zooms to 112mm. The table below shows the maximum aperture at each of the focal lengths shown (as 35mm equivalents):

Equiv Focal Length
28mm
35mm
50mm
60mm
85mm
112mm
Max aperture
F1.8
F1.9
F2.1
F2.2
F2.3
F2.5

This is quite good performance, one of the MX-1's primary strengths. Note that the Pentax MX-1 does not indicate focal length on screen, so focal lengths and apertures were obtained by snapping a series of images and pulling the data from the EXIF files.