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 – Image Quality
Pentax Q: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
Here’s where the Q makes things interesting: Despite the theory that smaller microlenses on a small sensor surface should produce limited – even ‘poor’ – image quality the Q bucks the trend. In fact the Pentax Q has the best image quality we’ve ever seen from a 1/2.3in sized sensor bar none. This is particularly true at low sensitivities, where ISO 160-250 produce clean, clear and crisp shots. ISO 400 remains decent too, but there’s a slight dip thereafter. To put it in perspective the Q feels as though it’s a stop behind a Micro Four Thirds system, such as the Olympus PEN, as by ISO 800 and quality slips downhill and as sensitivity increases to the top ISO 6400 there is more image noise. But, and crucially, ISO 1600-6400 aren’t complete write-offs as we were half anticipating. Oh how wonderful it is when a camera company does exceptional things with existing technology – and that’s what Pentax has done here. Pop the camera into a black and white mode and the grain-like quality at high ISO settings ties in with what was discussed earlier: that the Q is a great little street photographer’s camera.
Pentax Q: Sharpness & Detail
As lens samples are currently limited we were only able to review the 8.5mm f/1.9 lens. An impressive piece of glass, the centre sharpness is exceptional and renders crisp images. The two biggest issues, however, are barrel distortion and chromatic aberrations. The former can be corrected for (almost in full) by switching on the in-camera ‘Distortion Control’ which we’d thoroughly recommend. Colour fringing only tends to reveal itself in scenes with strong backlighting and wasn’t a problem for other situations.
Pentax Q: Tone & Exposure
As per many Pentax models the Q opts to meter to preserve highlights. In many instances this will lead to underexposure, for example a shot with a third sky and two thirds foreground will still be slightly thrown by the brighter sky area. Shooting with exposure bracketing switched on a +0.3EV adjustment proved useful a lot of the time, not least due to the poor LCD screen which makes it hard work to assess shots when outside. For existing Pentax users the Q’s metering will produce exposures as expected, compared to many modern systems that opt for brighter or slightly overexposed shots.
Pentax Q: White Balance & Colour
With default settings shots reproduce colours faithfully and Auto White Balance is accurate, though can be a little warm/orange in interior or studio shots.
It’s worth playing around with the Q’s additional modes, including Monochrome, Toy Camera, Retro, Soft and many others – though the likes of Sketch and Invert Color have limited application. Sadly these cannot be applied when shooting Raw + JPEG (the option would have been useful, despite the Raw file obviously not benefitting from the processing filter.
Pentax Q: Raw vs JPEG
The unprocessed Raw (DNG) files look quite different from their JPEG counterparts. Using the 8.5mm lens the Raw images are far more distorted due to barrel distortion, and the lack of processing makes for a much flatter colour palette with far less contrast the straight-from-camera JPEGs. This isn’t a criticism as the universal DNG files can be opened in any given software editor and you can make the most out of your images.