Pentax Q - The world's smallest MILC

6/11/2012 5:48:52 PM

We try once again to resist the lure of tiny Pentax cameras

My very first film SLR was a Pentax, and that camera took some excellent pictures during my degree. However, the Pentax Q reminds me of another Pentax I once owned: the implausibly small and cute Pentax 110 SLR.

What that camera offered was a remarkably small body that took a complete range of interchangeable lenses, yet it fit in the palm of my hand. The Q isn't quite Pentax 110 diminutive, being 57.5 x 98 x 31 mm, but it offers the same DSLR-like features and a entirely new 'Q Mount' for interchangeable specialist lenses.

Description: Pentax Q

The basic camera comes with a Prime 8.5mm F1.9 lens, equivalent to a 47mm lens on a 35mm SLR. This is great for low light conditions and group portraits, but with no zoom facility it's not much use for sporting or wildlife shoots. Pentax makes four additional 'Q' series lenses, including a zoom, wide-angle, telephoto and a fish-eye. These lenses range from about $144 for the wide angle, to $400 for the Zoom, although you can get a kit with the camera, prime and zoom included for around $800 if you hunt.

What it doesn't offer in the standard configuration is a viewfinder, although there's an option for a flash-bayonet mounted one if you part with another $160.

If you think that's too steep, then you'll be framing with the 3" rear LCD panel, which presents an impression of what light is currently striking the small (by DSLR standards) CMOS sensor (1/2.3").

The size of the sensor sort of suggests that this is a compact camera with delusions that it might grow up to be a DSLR one day, although Pentax would undoubtedly claim it grabs the middle ground.

Examining the test shots I took, the colour saturation is excellent and they were generally pin-sharp, probably because the image stabilisation works very well. Although not on par with a full-scale DSLR, the results, especially at lower ISO settings, were surprisingly good. It's better than many compacts I've used, though possibly not as good as some of the higher-end models, or better bridge designs. While it was never going to be DSLR good, I must salute Pentax for its endeavours to get the very most out of this camera and its sensor.

What's less endearing is just how long it takes for the Q to be ready to shoot, because this isn't a design that embraces spontaneity. It takes at least five times what my Canon IXUS takes to wake up, and the lack of a genuinely fast focusing mechanism can generate pictures of people quickly getting bored of having their picture taken. The focus tends to do a little dithering dance, wasting valuable shooting opportunities in the meantime.

Almost as debilitating is the very average battery life, which Pentax quotes as good for just 230 shots. That pretty much necessitates buying another battery if you use the camera on a regular basis or intend to use the flash at all.

Description: Pentax Q

Like so many compact camera makers, Pentax seems fallen into the trap of trying to put lots of controls in a small space, without any great priority given to what most people will be likely to need and want. Therefore you get a nice zoom wheel, where no zoom is available on the prime lens. It's also remarkably easy to hit buttons without realising, so crowded is the part of the camera you generally hold.

Better effort was made with the design of the flash, which can be used in two positions. You can shoot with it just to the side of the lens, or it can telescope out to create a better angle, reducing red-eye effects at source.

In the end I wasn't entirely sure what to think of the Pentax Q, other than it was adorably small, but flawed in a number of important areas. If Pentax can make it more responsive, and give it a better battery life, I think it might have a winner.

What the Q currently offers is the portability of a compact, the looks of a DSLR, but the finer points of neither. At launch this camera had an RRP of $958.4. At the rate of depreciation it has seen since it will soon become a bargain, I predict.


Price: $478

Manufacturer: Pentax


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