What We Like
- Truly compact system camera and easily pocketable lenses
- Raw shooting and in-camera processing
- High quality JPEGs with good exposure and color rendition
- Customizable quick dial and green button
- Manual exposure modes
- Standard suite of in-camera art filters and HDR modes
- Capable in-body SR sensor-shift image stabilization
- Fast F1.9 01 Standard Prime is a great add-on with 'normal' focal length
What We Don't Like
- Compact-camera sized tendencies like purple fringing
- Poor video quality with electronic IS, delay in audio on replay
- JPEG detail suffers considerably at ISO 800 and up
- Limited selection of Q-mount lenses
- No electronic viewfinder accessory
- Smaller sensor compared to other interchangeable lens systems
- Toy lenses have limited use and appeal
The Pentax Q7 might be suited for the enthusiast shooter who wants a very small camera and doesn't like the idea of paying $500 for a fixed lens. The Q7's image quality is good, especially if you shoot Raw, and the feature set is competitive with fixed-lens enthusiast compacts, with the added flexibility of interchangeable lenses. That aside, deep down it's still a compact camera and it suffers some common compact camera problems.
The extremely small lenses, imperfect they may be, are actually pocketable. For some, that might make the difference between leaving extra lenses at home and just shooting with the kit zoom, or venturing out with an extra lens in a jacket pocket. The 01 Standard Prime is another point in the Q7's favor. You won't find a smaller 'normal' prime on the market, and its compact size keeps the Q7 small enough to slip into a pocket.
Those who shoot in the Q7's semi- or full manual modes will appreciate the rear command dial. The front command dial and green button on the back panel can be customized, and there are many ways to tailor the Q7's operation to your liking in the Custom menus. The Q7 offers a relatively high level of customizability and functionality, but so do many of its peers. At the same price point, the G15 offers more buttons and dials, but it's substantially bigger. The smaller PowerShot S110 offers a rear control dial and front control ring around the lens, though you lose the Q7's sizable (and helpful) built-in grip.
Compared to its interchangeable lens peers, the Q7 offers an external mode dial where the Olympus E-PM2 and Sony NEX-3N don't. The back panel control layouts between these three cameras are similar in size and their array. Those with larger hands would likely have the same frustrations using the control panels on each of these cameras. The Q7's key attraction as a small system will surely keep away those who prefer a more spacious control array, but even so, those in our office with larger hands didn't have a serious problem using the Q7.
In our studio testing, the Q7 looked about even with fixed lens enthusiast compacts bearing a same-sized sensor, and we were generally happy with the JPEGs that this little camera produced in the real world. At low ISOs and in good-to-fair light conditions, the Q7 produces nice images with good color rendition. Sadly, we can't say the same for video. The Q7's movie mode doesn't stand up to the competition with a consistent and noticeable gap between video and audio playback. Electronic Shake Reduction doesn't solve the problem of camera shake, instead introducing a slight 'wobble' to the image it's trying to correct.
As likeable as the Q7's images are, there's no getting around the fact that this is a compact camera with a relatively small sensor. Adding that lovely 01 Prime to your Q7 kit brings the total cost of the system up to $700. At that price point the Q7 is treading close to the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II's territory - a camera with a bigger zoom range than the Q7's 02 Standard Zoom kit and a bigger sensor. The RX100 was one of our top picks in last year's enthusiast compact group test, and our early results from the RX100 II look promising.
The Q7 comes up a bit short on compatible accessories compared to other system cameras. Naturally, the more mature Micro Four Thirds cameras and Sony NEXs have a broader selection of lenses and accessories than the Q (though the Q's K-mount adapter expands the selection of compatible glass). An electronic viewfinder accessory would be a great addition to the Q7 but unfortunately, it's limited to use with a slightly mismatched optical viewfinder.
If size isn't your first concern in choosing an interchangeable lens system, give consideration to a system camera with a bigger sensor. They're not as small as the Q7 but most will offer sharper lenses (albeit as expensive add-ons), generally faster auto focus and more control over depth of field. The Q7, for all its virtues, is still essentially a compact camera with a compact-sized sensor.
The 01 Prime crops to a 39mm equivalent on the Q7, a near 'standard' focal length that would do very well for casual portraits and everyday shooting. It's also one of the most affordable normal primes you'll find for any system. The price of an entry-level Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX kit is comparable to the Q7's, but prime lenses for those systems start around $300 for the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 (34mm equivalent) and stretch up to $1099 for the Zeiss 24mm F1.8 (36mm equivalent).
The Q7's 4.65x crop factor also introduces the possibility of super telephoto shooting. With the K-mount adapter, telephoto Pentax lenses give insanely long equivalent focal lengths. A 300mm K-mount lens becomes a massive 1380mm equivalent on the Q7, for instance.
If you're not bothered about the option to add lenses, you might be better off with something like the Canon PowerShot G15 or Sony RX100 II. They both offer longer zoom lenses with faster maximum apertures (wide and telephoto), and in the case of the Sony, a bigger image sensor. The Olympus XZ-2 and Panasonic Lumix LX7 are other fixed lens options to consider - both have wider lens ranges than the Q7's kit with faster maximum apertures.
If lens specs are secondary and it's compactness you're after, a genuinely 'compact' camera like the Canon PowerShot S110 might fit the bill; it fared about as well as the Q7 in our studio testing. Auto shooters may not mind the loss of the command dial, but for those who tend to work in manual exposure modes, the Q7 does offer some advantages there.
The final word
The Q7 has won some affection here at the DPReview office. The new 1/1.7" sensor has definitely served the camera well, loads of advanced features and customization options give it a little more enthusiast appeal, and it's just so darn small. JPEG images from the camera display very good color rendition and exposure, all things considered, and there are great gains to be made in image quality by taking advantage of the Q7's Raw shooting capabilities.
If pocketable size and lens interchangeability are a must, then the Q7 will serve your needs well. However, if either of these are not requirements, consider a fixed lens compact like the Canon PowerShot S110 or a slightly bigger system camera. The Q7 is a smart little camera with a lot of features enthusiasts will like but it's not immune from the small-sensor, small-lens problems of its peers.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
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