Design and Handling

The Q7 has a similar look and feel to a point-and-shoot - albeit a somewhat heavy one, especially if you've got the 5-15mm standard zoom attached. It has a slightly chunky form factor and it's roughly the size of a bar of soap, if that helps. It did slip entirely into the pocket of my rain jacket with the 8.5mm lens attached, and that's a handy thing in the Pacific Northwest. It was a slightly tight fit, but carrying it in my purse I could hardly tell it was there.

Composing images is done solely on the Q7's LCD screen unless you pick up the optical External Viewfinder O-VF1. The O-VF1 is designed for use with the 01 Prime, offering a 47mm field of view, to match the prime's focal length on the 'original' Q and Q10. Of course, on the larger sensor of the Q7, the Prime becomes 39mm (equivalent), so the framelines in the finder don't exactly match the field of view. Also, at $249.95 it's not cheap.

Using the Q7's LCD outside in bright sunlight isn't impossible, but it's certainly not ideal. The optical viewfinder is designed to provide an alternative for these conditions. Using the viewfinder will require a little bit of guesswork on the part of the user, since as well as the slight mismatch in framelines, images at close distance that appear to be centered in the viewfinder will be vertically offset because of the OVF's position above the lens and sensor - this is known as parallax error.

The optical viewfinder will naturally offer none of the helpful information on the Q7's screen, like level gauges and exposure settings. All things considered, especially bearing in mind its price point, it's very hard to make a case for picking up the O-VF1.

The rear of the Q7 is dominated by its LCD screen. That's not because the screen itself is particularly large - rather that the camera is very small. The rear controls fall naturally under the thumb of the right hand but (unsusprisingly) are rather small and cramped. On either side of the lens is a textured rubber grip, with a protruding sculpted right hand grip for added support in the hand. With two fingers wrapped around the grip, my index finger found the shutter button naturally and shooting the Q7 one-handed was quite comfortable.

The body itself is a reinforced polycarbonate plastic and seems sturdy enough to handle everyday wear and tear, though the sliding battery and memory card compartment covers feel flimsy.

The power button, shutter and mode dial are all where you'd expect them on the camera's top panel. The power button's location almost directly behind the shutter button makes it slightly awkward to try and turn the camera on or off while holding it in one hand, but we didn't find this to be a major problem.
There's a command dial seated behind the mode dial, which can be assigned to different functions depending on your shooting mode and provides a zoom toggle in playback mode.

When shooting full manual mode, the exposure compensation button will switch between shutter and aperture, and the command dial will adjust those settings.
The tiny pop-up flash is spring-loaded. When released, it moves into a position above and slightly to the right of the lens.
The memory card and battery are housed in two separate compartments, one on each side of the camera so they're both accessible when using a tripod.

The Q7's 3.0 inch LCD uses an anti-reflective coating that in our testing, worked reasonably well at keeping the monitor crisp and clear when viewed outdoors. Strong direct sunlight will still reduce visibility significantly though and sometimes you'll just have to put your trust in the Q7's auto focus system, but the screen fares well outside overall. At 460,000 dots it's out-gunned by many of its competitors in terms of resolution, but it's sharp enough to get the job done. Even in low light or with one of the camera's many digital filters applied, motion on the screen is fluid.

One of the display's features is a power saving mode that kicks in after a few seconds have gone by and you haven't pressed any buttons. Brightness decreases significantly as well as refresh rate, and I found it to be distracting when I was framing a photo. It's easily turned off in the camera menu.

You'll find one more dial on the Q7's front panel – that's the 'Quick Dial.' By default it's set to provide shortcuts to four of the camera's Smart Effects, or art filter-type modes. Inside the main shooting menu, you can reassign this dial to change aspect ratio, turn focus peaking on and off, change focus mode or enable the ND filter.

There's a customizable green button on the back panel that can be set as a shortcut to exposure lock, depth of field preview and auto focus in Program mode. In full Manual mode, the green button will return the camera to baseline program mode exposure settings based on your scene. This will be familiar to users of Pentax's DSLRs.

The Q7 body itself isn't drastically smaller than most M43 and APS-C format entry-level interchangeable lens cameras. It may fit in more jacket pockets than an Olympus PEN E-PM2, but in practical terms they take up similar amounts of space. The real difference is in some of the lenses. The Q7's lenses are so small and lightweight it's entirely possible to put one in your jacket pocket and forget it's there.

The 02 Standard Kit zoom is comparable in weight to Micro Four Thirds kit zooms, but the Q lens has a slight edge in terms of overall compactness. The size and weight difference is greater comparing the Q's prime and telezoom to the competition. The 06 Telephoto Zoom gives a 69-207mm equivalent focal length on the Q7 and weighs just over 3 ounces. Olympus and Panasonic offer comparable 40-150mm and 45-150mm telezooms, respectively. While not heavy at 6 and 7 ounces each, the 06 Telephoto Zoom weighs half as much. The Q7 might not be a particularly small camera, but the lightness and portability of its matched lenses makes a lot of difference if keeping size and weight down is a priority.

Menus and Displays

Aside from the back panel control shortcuts to ISO, white balance and exposure compensation, Pentax has included a quick menu available via the 'info' button. It presents a number of shooting modes and settings you'd want to access without a lot of hassle including metering mode, HDR on/off and shake reduction.

The info 'quick menu' provides handy shortcuts to focus mode, JPEG/Raw and metering that are nice to have close at hand. Adjustments are made via the command dial on the Q7's back panel, and most modes will show a live preview reflecting the changes different settings will create (i.e. Custom Image and Digital Filter)
There are three different grid display options for your live shooting screen, optional histogram, electronic level and highlight alert. Horizontal and vertical level gauges are displayed at the corner of the screen, showing a number of yellow bars to let you know how far off kilter you are.
The Q7's main menu screen will look familiar to anyone who has picked up a Pentax camera in the last few years. Settings on the first two pages of shooting menus are also accessible via the info button on the shooting screen.

The Q7's customizability extends far beyond its color combinations - there are loads of nit-picky settings in the Q7's Custom menu. Many of this camera's target audience won't find anything here they'll want to tweak, but there are a couple of interesting options. It's possible to adjust the strength of the Tungsten correction in auto white balance, or disable the manual focus ring when using auto focus (it's set to override AF at default and it's easy to engage it accidentally).

It's worth checking this portion of the menus if something about the Q7's operation is annoying you – in my case, I was losing my place in the menus every time I left them and came back (I was pleased to find the option to tell the Q7 to remember what page I was on).

There are three menu pages of custom function settings. Most are of no consequence to the casual Q7 user, but they offer some nice ways to customize the camera's functions to your preference.