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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.