Pentax Q10 review

The Pentax Q10 is a tiny interchangeable lens camera with a point-and-shoot sized sensor, but it doesn't perform as well as other cameras in its price range.
Photo of Pentax Q10

The Pentax Q10 ($599.95 direct with 5-15mm lens) is the company’s second attempt at making a petite camera with interchangeable lenses. Its first, the Q, had a lot of charm, but suffered from some performance issues, and was a tough sell at a steep $800. The Q10 is physically identical to its predecessor—although it ships with a different bundled lens—and is offered at a lower price point. It’s a cute camera, and performs slightly better than the Q, but in the year-long interval since the Q’s release other manufacturers have outpaced the improvements that the Q10 offers. It may appeal to a certain type of shooter, but it’s not a camera we can recommend over excellent competitors like the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 and our Editors’ Choice Sony Alpha NEX-F3, which are available for the same price.

Design and Features
The Q10 measures 2.3 by 4.0 by 1.3 inches (HWD), making it the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market. It’s light at 6.4 ounces, and while the body is mostly plastic (the Q is constucted from sturdy magnesium), the camera feels quite solid. If you don’t need interchangeable lenses, you can get any number of point-and-shoots with images sensors that are physically larger than the 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel sensor used by the Q10, including our Editors’ Choice compact Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which has a comparatively huge 1-inch sensor and sells for only $50 more than the Q10.

The 3x 02 Standard Zoom Lens covers a 27-83mm equivalent field of view and is a little large for the camera—it’s narrower in diameter than the 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) lens that Olympus bundles with the PEN Mini, but matches its height. This prevents you from sliding the Q10 comfortably into your pocket with the standard lens attached—a feat that the Q was able to achieve as it shipped with a fast standard-angle prime lens. That lens is currently unavailable for purchase on its own, but Pentax expects to start selling it as a standalone optic next February. Our Q10 review unit was silver and black, but there is also a red and black version available.

Aside from the change in material, the Q10 is identical in design to its predecessor. There are three control wheels—one on the front and two on the top. The front wheel is programmable—by default it can apply one of four art filters, but it can be changed to adjust the color space, apply digital filters, or change the image aspect ratio. The filters will pair with any of the inexpensive toy lenses available for the Q system—the 03 Toy Lens Fish Eye, 04 Toy Lens Wide, and 05 Toy Lens Telephoto—any of these lenses paired with the filters will give your images a Lomo toy camera look.

On top you’ll find a standard Mode Dial which lets you select from the standard Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Movie, and Scene modes. There is one unique setting—Blur Control. Because the Q10 has a small sensor, it’s harder to get a shallow depth of field like you can with a camera with a larger image sensor. It applies a software filter to blur parts of the image to simulate the bokeh effect that you can get with an SLR or other large-sensor camera. This feature works, but applying it to a shot takes about 6 seconds of processing time—which is simply unacceptable.

On top behind the Mode Dial is a standard control wheel, which can be used to adjust the f-stop in Aperture Priority, the shutter speed in Shutter Priority, and so on. Rear buttons are there to adjust Exposure Compensation, ISO, the Self Timer, Flash output, and White Balance. There’s a built-in flash on an articulating arm. It can fire when flush with the body, but you can reduce the risk of red eye by flicking the switch that raises it above and away from the lens. There is a hot shoe to connect an external flash, but it doesn’t support an EVF—an add-on feature that is fairly ubiquitous in the compact interchangeable lens sphere. You can add one to the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, although that camera lacks a built-in flash.

The rear display is 3 inches in size and features a 460k-dot resolution. It’s reasonably sharp, but others cameras in this class have moved to sharper 920k-dot LCDs. The Sony NEX-F3 offers a wider tilting display with a sharper resolution that also tilts up or down—but that camera is bigger than the Q10 and its kit lens, which must cover an SLR-sized APS-C image sensor, is quite large.

(Next page: Performance and Conclusions)

Performance and Conclusions
The Q10 won’t win any races. The camera requires 3.5 seconds to start and shoot and is a bit slow to lock on focus and fire a shot, requiring 0.3-second to do so. It can capture a burst of 6 JPG shots in a just over a second, but requires about 2.9 seconds to write those photos to a memory card. Raw shooting is slower—three shots fire with an average of 0.9-second between each photo, but the lag between photos increases after that, with 2.4 seconds required between the fifth and sixth photo. The Olympus E-PM2 is a better performer—it starts and shoots in 1.6 seconds, can shoot photos at 8fps, and its shutter lag is only 0.1-second.

I used Imatest to check the image quality produced by the included kit lens and the Q10′s image sensor. At its widest setting, the lens is sharp, notching 2,019 lines per picture height via a center-weighted metric—we use 1,800 lines to define a sharp photo. At 10mm f/3.5 it’s not as good, capturing only 1,565 lines, and it’s downright muddy at 15mm f/4.5, recording just 1,381 lines. Stopping down to f/5.6 improves the sharpness at the middling focal lengths—it hits 1,738 lines at 10mm f/5.6 and 1,428 lines at 15mm f/5.6. The lens also displays some barrel distortion when shooting in Raw at its widest setting—but this is easily corrected in Lightroom; if you shoot JPG, corrections are applied in-camera. The compact lens included with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 isn’t as sharp at its widest setting, but out performs the Q10′s kit lens as zoom increases. It uses a collapsible power zoom design, which actually makes it possible to slide the NEX-6 into your pocket when it’s attached—despite that camera body being noticeably larger than the Q10.

In terms of image noise, which can kill sharpness and make photos look grainy at higher ISO settings, the Q10 keeps it below our 1.5 percent threshold through ISO 1600—and the figure only increases to 1.6 percent at ISO 3200. Image detail starts to suffer at ISO 1600—to get the best quality out of the Q10 you’ll want to keep it set at ISO 800 or below, or shoot in Raw format at ISO 1600. ISO 3200 and the top setting of ISO 6400 should be avoided, as image detail is washed away at these settings. Cameras with larger image sensors, like the Sony NEX-F3, tend to do a much better job in terms of noise control—that is clearly superior in terms of detail and noise from ISO 1600 through ISO 6400.

Video is recorded in 1080p30 or 720p30 quality in QuickTime format. Footage is sharp and detailed, and the camera can refocus while recording, but there is some evidence of the rolling shutter effect during quick pans—this makes fast-moving objects appear skewed, not unlike the classic rubber pencil optical illusion. Audio quality is very good when you consider the camera’s size, but there is no mic input so you can’t connect an external microphone for pro-level sound quality. There is a micro HDMI port for HDTV connectivity and a proprietary USB port. Unlike other recent compacts, the Q10 does include a dedicated wall charger for its battery. The camera supports standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.

The Pentax Q10 is a very cute camera, but its performance issues make it a tough recommendation. The included zoom lens isn’t as sharp or compact as the prime lens that was included with the previous-generation Q. It can be a fun camera if you’re interested in using it with the available toy lenses. Or you could take advantage of its small image sensor by adapting full-format Pentax lenses to the camera via the company’s K-mount to Q-mount adapter (extreme telephoto shooting is possible thanks to the Q10′s small sensor, which captures a 270mm-equivalent field of view when paired with a 50mm lens). But if you’re just looking for a compact camera, you’ll be better served with a small interchangeable lens model like the Olympus PEN E-PM2 or our Editors’ Choice in the category, the Sony Alpha NEX-F3. You may also want to consider a compact camera like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which is easily pocketable, has a longer, faster zoom lens, and a larger 1-inch image sensor.

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Specifications
Dimensions 2.3 x 4 x 1.3 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI
Megapixels 12 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.2 seconds
LCD dots 460000
LCD size 3 inches
Lines Per Picture Height 2019
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 6400
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 3 x
Boot time 3.5 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 27 mm
Weight 7 lb
Lens Mount Pentax Q
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization In-Body
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 83 mm
Shutter Lag 0.3 seconds
Sensor Size 6.2 x 4.6 (1/2.3") mm
GPS No
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Pentax Q10 is a tiny interchangeable lens camera with a point-and-shoot sized sensor, but it doesn't perform as well as other cameras in its price range.
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