Why does less always cost more? The Pentax Q is the smallest interchangeable lens camera, which was launched in the UK late last year. It proved too pricey and has just received a massive price cut, as a direct result. No sooner had this review sample of the Q landed in our palm, than its thunder has been somewhat stolen by the launch of the Pentax K-01, a mirror-less shooter with a super-slim interchangeable lens.
Worry not, for although the K-01 looks set to be the brand’s flagship interchangeable lens camera, or a compact system camera. Pentax has confirmed that the Q will continue, complete with accessories and, most excitingly for us, a sizable price-cut.
The basic single lens package has the Pentax Q body, plus an 8.5mm lens, with £100 knocked-off, is now going for £399.99. Meanwhile, the all-important twin lens package – the Q plus the 8.5mm lens and a 5-15mm zoom lens – now sells for a reasonable £579.99.
Size and design
At 57.5 x 98 x 31 mm, the Q is indeed smaller than similar efforts with lens swaps, from the likes of Samsung, Panasonic and Sony, but the Pentax Q isn’t a micro four-thirds camera. Instead, it possesses a tiny CMOS sensor, 1/2.3-inch, which in theory is a risky approach that makes it appear to be a mere compact camera – not a D-SLR wannabee. As if to underline that, the main body of the camera weighs just 180g.
Armed with a 12.4 megapixel sensor, the Q has a three-inch LCD screen on the back of an incredibly small body that lacks an optical viewfinder (though one can be fitted up-top, for extra spend). The Q is so unbelievably small, where we’re instantly the victim of gadget envy. Our two-year old Casio compact is far bigger than the Pentax Q, so kudos to the design team. However, is this a classic case of looks, over quality?
Ease of use
Although the LCD screen is perfectly usable, it’s no more impressive than a cheap compact. The image looks soft and the viewing angle is relatively tight, which leaves us wondering exactly how the initial D-SLR-like price was ever justified. Despite the clever design, the build quality is average, in terms of materials used.
On board, is a five frames-per-second burst mode; an ISO range of 125-6400 (covering seven individual settings); face recognition; an effective contrast-detection auto-focus system, while the shutter can be left open for a maximum 30 seconds. The onscreen menus are decent enough, with a similar look, feel and flexibility to the brand’s K Series of D-SLR cameras.
There’s a full suite of manual shooting modes and even the chance to shot in RAW, but the usual auto modes are here, too. As a default, the LCD screen fills-in all over-exposed areas of a shot, which is sometimes handy, but it can be switched-off. The chief dial is near the shutter release button, and flicks between various modes, while a four-way creative dial on the front of the camera near to the lens can be customised, to switch between your own favourites.
Physically the Q suffers from a predictably cluttered design. With an SD/SDHC/SDXC Card slot on the right, the undercarriage houses a flap over the usual mini-HDMI, AV and USB ports, while the left side of the Q is home to a super-slim D-LI68 lithium battery. The latter of which lasted under two hours in our test, with images alone; more evidence that the Q is, indeed, a compact camera with some of the design downsides. That said, we love its flash, which can be used where it is – above the lens – or popped-up by a centimetre or so to help reduce red-eye.
Probably the most annoying aspect of using the Q is its speed, or lack thereof. Powering-up takes four seconds, focussing is indecisive and it’s just a tad too slow in taking a frame. Cue. Grins are held for just too long, where crucial moments are completely missed.
For all its flexibility – at least when compared to a compact camera – anything less than ‘near D-SLR’ quality will see the whole concept behind the Q shatter. It doesn’t miss by miles, as the colour palette is huge and there was enough detail in our test shots, even in corners. We have seen sharper and from a ‘proper’ D-SLR, and also from other (slightly bulkier) interchangeable lens cameras. That said, the built-in Image stabilisation is good and the overall image quality is an upgrade from a cheap compact.
The Q can shoot video, although the lack of battery life makes this a no-go. This is a shame since the full HD resolution, 30fps video that we shot looked good, when output to a 46-inch LED TV. It was bright and with discernible hi-def detail, the only issue is with its fixed focal length, something that rules-out panning and any creativity.
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- Small size; colour; image stabilisation; images are better than most compact cameras.
- Battery life; image quality doesn't match D-SLR; lacks optical viewfinder; crowded design.
The world's smallest interchangeable lens camera isn't the best of its kind, but with a recent much-needed price cut – it's one of the best value, for those who value less over more. Would we recommend this over a top quality D-SLR? No – and that's probably why the Q has sold poorly; it's average image quality and limited capabilities makes it a solution looking for a problem. It will suit casual users after a versatile multi-lens option, even with the price-cut the Q appears more a very good compact camera than a true shrinking of the D-SLR concept.