Pentax MX-1 Review: So Much To Like

by Jim Keenan Reads (2,046)
Editor's Rating
8.00

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 8.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Good image and video quality
    • Good ISO performance
    • Good shutter lag and autofocus performance
    • Manual and semi-automatic shooting modes complement full auto options
    • RAW/JPEG still image file formats
    • Manual focus capability
  • Cons

    • Size and weight are towards the large end of the compact digital spectrum
    • Cost
    • No hot/accessory shoe
    • No optional viewfinder

Quick Take

Pentax's MX-1 is a welcome addition to the compact camera lineup. It offers 12 MP, a 4x zoom, maunual modes, and good image quality.


Announced on January 7, 2013 the MX-1 is “…an advanced digital compact camera whose craft design and vintage lines appeal to a wide variety of photo enthusiasts…” and one of the latest additions to the Pentax lineup in the compact market niche.  Site Editor Laura Hicks got some hands-on time with the camera near its introduction date, but it has taken until late March for us to get a review unit for a more in-depth examination and shoot. Even in her brief time with the camera, Laura came away very impressed with the camera’s design and features. Click here to see her first look impressions.

With a compact digital lineup boasting a number of products offering 14 and 16 megapixel resolution along with prices below the $400 mark, the 12 megapixel MX-1 and its $500 MSRP might raise a few eyebrows. Laura’s first look covered a number of the camera’s specifications, but at the risk of being redundant I’ll cover some of the same ground since the feature set on this camera is impressive and well thought out.

The MX-1 features a 4X optical zoom covering the 28 to 112 mm focal range in 35mm equivalents. More significantly, this lens offers fast maximum apertures of f/1.8 and f/2.5 at the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom, respectively. A faster lens permits higher shutter speeds in dim lighting conditions than a slower lens, all else being equal, and higher shutter speeds help reduce image degradation due to camera shake when handholding. Of course, with digital cameras we have the luxury of simply ramping up the ISO sensitivity to capture light more quickly, but at the expense of increasing ISO noise that can impact picture quality. Along with the fast lens, Pentax has included stabilization in the MX-1 to further assist with handholding image capture.

Another nice aspect of the MX-1 is the sensor – a 1/1.7 inch CMOS model that is physically larger than most other compact digital sensors. Beyond that, the sensor is a back-illuminated design with its circuitry located on the rear of the sensor, providing light a more unobstructed route to the pixels. Pentax has paired this sensor with a state-of-the-art imaging engine and their latest “Super Resolution” technology. This physically larger than average sensor combined with the back-illuminated design and 12 megapixel resolution suggests the MX-1 could provide good ISO noise performance.

Elsewhere, the camera offers full automatic and scene-specific exposure modes in addition to DSLR-like manual and semi-automatic shooting options; RAW and JPEG still image formats are available and the camera features an in-body RAW development capability. Full 1080HD video is onboard via one touch capture, there’s a 3 inch articulating monitor and the camera accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media to complement its approximately 75 megabyte internal memory. Pentax includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger, camera strap, lens cap, USB cable and CD-ROM software with each camera.

The MX-1 features a retro design packaging  a nice assortment of modern technology, so all that’s left is to get the camera into the field and put this juxtaposition of old and new through its paces.

BUILD AND DESIGN
While it’s designated a compact digital camera and is packaged in a rectangular body that defines the class, the MX-1 is on the large size of the compact spectrum with dimensions of 4.8 x 2.4 x 2 inches. Shooting weight (battery, memory card, camera strap and lens cap attached) is 14.5 ounces, making the camera not really shirt pocket transportable. Some of that weight is attributable to brass covers and metal accents that give the camera a solid feel, along with added mechanisms and structure associated with the articulating monitor. There are panels composed of composite materials in the MX-1 construction but overall the camera body feel reminds me of my mid-1970s Nikon F2 film body (albeit smaller and lighter), right down to the pebbly material on the body and all black paint job. The MX-1 can be had with silver top and bottom covers as well.

Ergonomics and Controls
Like my old Nikon the MX-1 makes no real design concessions to structures designed to improve one’s grip on the camera – the camera edges are curved and rounded and the material on the camera body has a tacky feel to it, but that’s about it. There’s a thumb rest on the right rear of the camera back but my thumb actually falls much more naturally towards the edge of the monitor, in close proximity to or sometimes resting on the e-dial. My right index finger falls naturally onto the shutter button and the zoom lever surrounding this button. The added size and weight of the MX-1 over many other cameras in the class actually makes it fairly pleasant to hold.

The camera controls are simple and nicely laid out, with the top of the camera body containing a pop-up flash, mode dial, zoom lever/shutter button, exposure compensation dial, the power button and a one touch video capture button. About two thirds of the camera back is taken up with the articulating monitor and frame; at the right top of the body is the e-dial and arranged vertically beneath it are the AV/AE-L, green/delete, play back and info buttons. To the right of this vertical row sits a four-way controller containing a central “OK” button surrounded by continuous shooting/self-timer, flash, macro and ISO buttons. Below the four-way controller array sits a menu button.

The MX-1 shutter may be tripped via an optional infrared remote control, and Pentax has thoughtfully included remote receivers on both the front and back of the camera body. Given a feature set and specifications that should prove attractive to advanced shooters, I was a bit surprised at the lack of a hot shoe, or at the very least an accessory shoe that could accommodate an optional viewfinder. There would seem to be ample space to include one atop the camera body, although the proximity to the lens with its zooming function may make this impossible.

Menus and Modes
Menus in the MX-1 are fairly simple and intuitive, and depending on the particular shooting mode can be quite minimal. For example, if you’re shooting stills in “green mode” the only menu option is a four page set up menu – the camera is determining every other setting on its own. All the other exposure mode options, including scene and movie offer a three page shooting menu, one page movie menu, four page setup menu and two page custom setting menu. Your individual shooting mode will determine whether some or all of the items within these menus are available.

While they don’t call it a menu and it won’t appear on your screen if you select the menu button, the MX-1 does have what Pentax terms a “playback mode palette” that needs mentioning. If you have an image displayed by the playback button, press the down key on the four-way controller to give you a range of options for image modification in-camera: slideshow, image rotation, stretch filter, small face filter, collage, digital filter, HDR filter, original frame, RAW development, movie edit, redeye edit, resize, cropping, image copy, protect, DPOF and start up screen (which allows you to set a captured image as the start-up screen).

As mentioned in the introduction, shooting modes in the MX-1 are the standard mix of compact digital automatic and scene-specific options, along with manual and semi-automatic modes commonly associated with the DSLR and more advanced cameras. Here’s a more specific rundown:

  • Green mode – a fully automatic mode with the camera controlling all settings and the user limited to basic setup inputs such as date and time, video output type, monitor brightness, and memory formatting. This short list is not all-inclusive of user inputs, but you should understand that in this mode your primary function is to compose the image, focus and shoot.
  • Auto picture – a fully automatic mode with the camera determining aperture and shutter speed along with white balance and custom image (color palette) settings, while the user retains a large number of other inputs such as aspect ratio, file format, JPEG size and the complete two page custom setting menu.
  • Scene – offers the user a choice of 21 scene-specific automatic modes optimized for the particular subject matter; choices include portrait, flower, landscape, blue sky, sunset, night scene, handheld night snapshot, night scene portrait, candlelight, fireworks, food, surf and snow, pet, kids, sport, digital shake reduction, text, candid capture, digital wide, digital panorama, and miniature. User inputs are generally numerous but may be limited depending on the individual scene.
  • HDR – captures three images at proper exposure, +2 and -2 EV and combines them into a single image which is stored; not available with the RAW format.
  • User – allows user to save a specific set of camera settings when using program auto, shutter or aperture priority, or the manual mode; saved settings include aperture or shutter speed, recording mode menu settings, flash/drive/focus modes, manual focus position, exposure compensation range of auto bracketing, autofocus point, ISO sensitivity and type of information display.
  • Program auto – an automatic mode with the camera handling the aperture and shutter speed settings while the user retains virtually all other inputs. The user can establish various combinations of aperture and shutter speed consistent with what the camera determines to be a proper exposure by rotating the e-dial.
  • Aperture priority – semi-automatic mode where user determines aperture, camera determines shutter speed and the user retains a wide variety of inputs.
  • Shutter priority – semi-automatic mode where user determines shutter speed, camera determines aperture and user retains a wide variety of inputs.
  • Manual – user determines shutter speed and aperture and retains a wide variety of inputs.
  • Movie – capture full HD video in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format at 30 frames per second; 1280 x 720 HD at 30 or 60 frames per second. There are also time-lapse and high-speed movie shooting options that permit fast (time lapse) or slow (high-speed) motion playback. Clip length for regular or time lapse movies is 25 minutes; high-speed clips are limited to 15 seconds. Monaural sound.

Display
The 3 inch LCD monitor on the MX-1 has an approximately 921,000 dot composition and is articulable: the monitor can be moved away from the camera back and can then rotate forward approximately 90° for use as a waist level viewfinder, or rearward approximately 45° which is handy for holding the camera overhead for image composition and capture. The monitor is adjustable for seven settings of brightness and color adjustable for fifteen settings along the blue — amber and green — magenta color axes, respectively. Flexibility of movement and brightness settings notwithstanding, the monitor could be difficult to use for image composition, capture or review in some bright outdoor conditions. There is no viewfinder.


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