The Pentax Q puts the compact in Compact System Camera. Is the ultra-small Q able to outsmart its larger-sensor peers? The What Digital Camera Pentax Q review...
Pentax Q review – Design
Let’s rewind back to the early eighties, if you will, a time when Pentax released the 110 Super SLR. This mini camera took 110 film and snapped shots at 13x17mm – far smaller than standard 35mm SLR film cameras. In many respects the Pentax Q is the 110 Super’s modern day digital equivalent. And yet in other respects, given that the Q’s 1/2.3in sensor is not nearly as big, it’s a very different camera altogether. Ironically the Super’s 13x17mm frame wasn’t a million miles away from today’s Micro Four Thirds sensor size, the very size that Pentax chose to ignore in favour of a standalone system.
And with a new system comes a new lens mount. The Q is named as such, according to a loosely translated twitter post from Pentax Japan, because the ‘‘K[-mount]’ is ‘king’ and, since it is smaller and lighter, ‘Q’ is ‘Queen”. A sensible naming convention, but is the new 5.5x magnification mount sensible in itself? With digital sensors sizes come different lens magnifications – be that 1x, 1.5x, 2x, 2.7x or any other number of magnification/crop factors (however you prefer to term it) – that can be tricky to convey to the everyday, casual user. The 8.5mm prime lens that the Q comes kitted out with equates to a 47mm equivalent in full-frame DSLR terms – it’s not the super-wide lens that it may sound to be. In many respects these new mini lenses bring a size benefit in that they’re positively tiny compared to any other interchangeable lens system. They’re very similar to c-mount 16mm film camera lenses which, by chance, (unofficial) converters are already available for online – they’re worth looking at as many of these classic lenses have f/1.0 apertures or similar.
However, for whatever reason, Pentax has chosen leaf shutters within the lenses and, therefore, has avoided the Q’s necessity for a focal-plane or electronic readout shutter system. Such lenses mean faster flash sync of up to 1/2000th second can take place, though this is limited to 1/250th second when attaching an external flashgun which is, frankly, disappointing. And yet it’s unlikely that a mini camera such as this will be used for complex flash lighting – putting a standard flash on the hotshoe positively dwarfs the camera as it is. At the faster end of the scale leaf shutters, as is the case with the Q, can’t muster the super-fast speeds of pro-spec focal plane shutters. Hence the Q’s limitation to 1/2000th second at its fastest. Pair that up with f/1.9 (as per the 8.5mm lens) and the built-in ND (Neutral Density) filter system becomes an essential design feature to limit light at a wide aperture.
Then there’s the Q’s layout and design. It certainly looks quirky and, daresay, ‘fun’ – but there are some aspects that make its use all the more difficult. First of all the dials are, as would be expected, diddy. Small to the point that they can be difficult to turn, in particular the stiff four-position function dial on the front of the camera that, to make matters more problematic, sits right in the path of the lens, thus making for uncomfortable manual focus.
The Q’s inner menu system is typical of Pentax, all dark colours and confusion. Where a menu has two options for selection it’s hard to distinguish between which is the highlighted one and which isn’t. The mislabeled ‘Info’ button accesses the quick menu options, and it’s here that you’ll need to adjust for the likes of Raw and JPEG shooting as such options are often shaded out and inaccessible via the main menu.