Pentax's tiny ILC is adorable, but more than just a toy
While some ILCs relegate too many functions to menus, the Q strikes a nice balance. The menu navigation buttons double as access points for ISO, flash, drive mode, and white balance. Exposure compensation gets its own button, since there’s room for only one command wheel. There’s even a programmable button—surprising, as the 3-inch 460,000-dot LCD takes up most of the back of the camera.
The most significant omission is a viewfinder, but given the size of the body (did we mention how tiny this thing is?), it makes sense.
The shooting experience felt very much like using a compact camera, just a very responsive one with fairly quick autofocus. The Pentax Q isn’t the fastest-focusing ILC around—Olympus and Panasonic have it beat, for now—but it was fast enough for us to get most of the shots we wanted. In low light, it becomes noticeably slow, but that can be said of most non-DSLRs.
Don’t look to the Q for intensive bursts. At its top speed of 5 frames per second it can only hold up to 5 frames in its buffer. For more casual photographers trying to capture the best of a short burst of shots, this should suffice.
If you like to switch among different shooting modes often, note the dial on the front of the camera. You can assign a shooting mode to each of the four numbers on it, allowing you to switch in a jiffy. We assigned black-and-white shooting to one of the numbers, and a few of the other Smart Effects modes to the others, and had fun switching to them whenever an appropriate scene presented itself. Video shot on the Q looks good. For casual shooting, such as clips of friends and family, the Q does an admirable job, but a dedicated video cam will likely be better at focusing on moving subjects.
While we had fun shooting, we did feel limited in our choice of lenses. Given that this system is still quite new, we can’t fault Pentax for this just yet. We will say that there is a big difference between the serious Standard 1 (47mm equivalent) f/1.9 and Standard 2 (27.5–83mm equivalent) f/2.8–4.5 lenses, and the so-called Toy lenses: wide ($80, street), tele ($80, street), and fisheye ($130, street). The Q's body doesn’t have a mechanical shutter, so the Toy lenses use the sensor instead; the Standards have shutters built in. As their moniker suggests, the image quality of the Toys does not equal that of the Standards. Nor do the Toy lenses autofocus, so you must focus manually using scratchy plastic rings with a tiny turning radius.
As with its DSLRs, Pentax built sensor-shift image stabilization into the Q, which works with any lens you mount on the camera. The stabilization system afforded our testers an average of 2.5 stops at the long end of the Standard 2 zoom lens.
The Bottom Line
The main downside to the Pentax Q is the price. At $800, street, with the Standard 1 lens, it’s far more expensive than most comparable standard compacts such as the Canon S95 ($340, street), and pricier than even some large-sensor ILCs, such as the Olympus Pen E-PL3 ($680, street, with 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 lens).
Even Nikon’s J1 ($650, street, with 10–30mm f/3.5–5.6 lens), which also has a small sensor (though not as small), might provide better value than the Q since it offers more resolution and lower noise up to ISO 800.
For photographers who are looking for their main camera, and who prize image quality, the Q is a tough call. But for shooters looking for something fun, small, and unique, the Pentax Q delivers, without question.
Imaging: 12.4MP effective, 1/2.3-inch (6.17x4.55mm)CMOS sensor captures images at 4000x3000 pixels with 12 bits/color in RAW mode.
Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC. Stores JPEG, DNG RAW, RAW + JPEG files.
Video: Up to 1920x1080p30 fps in H.264 MP4 format; built-in stereo mic (tested), no mic input; contrast detection AF with continuous AF.
Burst Rate: Full-sized JPEGs (Fine mode): 5 fps up to 5 shots or 1.5 fps up to 100 shots. RAW and RAW + JPG are not available in continuous shooting mode.
AF system: TTL contrast detection with 25-point auto select, selectable spot, center spot. Single-shot and continuous AF with tracking and face detection.
Shutter speeds: 1/2000 to 30 sec (using a lens’s shutter), 1/8000 to 30 sec (using electronic shutter), plus B (1/3-EV increments).
Metering: TTL metering using 16-zone multi-segment (evaluative), centerweighted, and spotmetering; 1.3–17 EV (at ISO 125, f/1.9).
ISO range: ISO 125–6400 (in 1/3-EV increments).
Flash: Built-in pop-up with TTL autoflash, GN 18 (ISO 125, feet). Flash sync to 1/250 sec.
LCD: 3-in. TFT with 460,000-dot resolution.
Output: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and micro HDMI video.
Battery: Rechargeable D-LI68 Li-ion, CIPA rating, 250 shots.
Size/weight: 3.9x2.3x1.2 in., 0.44 lb with a card and battery.
Street price: $800 with 8.5mm (47mm equivalent) f/1.9 lens.