BUILD AND DESIGN
At first glance the “Q” could easily pass for a typical compact P&S digicam, but on closer examination this tiny camera is obviously much more capable than its P&S siblings. Build quality is actually quite good – the camera’s magnesium alloy frame is covered by a durable plastic/polycarbonate shell. Dust and moisture seals seem to be very effective and the new lens mount was clearly designed to make frequent lens changes quick and easy. Fit and finish are consistently first-rate and while the “Q” is undeniably diminutive, it feels substantial and well built. The “Q”s new backlit 12 megapixel CMOS sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering device that (according to Pentax) produces very little noise even in indoor and low-light shooting scenarios.
Stylewise, the “Q” is rather traditional looking – the body is rectangular and slightly rounded at each end with a small mode dial capped handgrip on the right side of the camera. The flash hot shoe sits atop a small hump that gives the “Q” a distinct “baby” SLR look. The “Q” measures 3.9×2.3×1.2 inches and weighs in at 7.1 ounces with battery and SD card installed. My “Q” test unit was white, but the camera is also available in black. All lenses are chrome (meaning they’ll match up nicely with either the black or white model) like they used to be back in the fifties.
Ergonomics and Controls
I spent most of my adult life shooting pictures with SLRs (my last film camera was a Nikon F4S), but for the past 10 or 12 years I’ve primarily shot pictures with P&S digicams. The most amazing thing about today’s Point and Shoot digital cameras is that they are dependably capable of generating excellent pictures with almost no effort on the part of the shooter. Casual shooters who have a basic understanding of the rules of framing and composition can create images with top tier P&S digicams that are essentially as good (up to 8×10 inches) as the images generated by entry-level DSLRs.
Many veteran photographers prefer larger cameras because ergonomics are generally better. Bigger cameras provide larger buttons, a better grip, and more stable handling. I’ve been a photographer for more than forty years, but I’ve always loved small cameras. When I took the “Q” out of the box I immediately thought it looked like a 21st century version of the elegant little fixed lens “pocket” cameras of an earlier era. The front, top deck, and the back of the “Q” contain a full complement of traditional knobs, switches, and buttons, but the camera doesn’t look cluttered or busy.
The “Q”‘s user friendly design makes this digicam remarkably easy to like. The intuitive control layout will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used a P&S digicam. All controls and buttons are easily accessed by right handed shooters, but the buttons are all rather small. On the back of the camera are the compass switch (4-way controller), the menu button, the info (display) button, a dedicated Exposure Compensation Function button and a dedicated Delete button. In movie mode the shutter button functions as the “one-touch” video start/stop button.
Menus and Modes
The Pentax “Q” features a simple three tab menu system that is remarkably easy to navigate. Even though the “Q” appears to be aimed primarily at a younger demographic, the menu’s large font seems to have been designed to also meet the needs of older shooters who often suffer from reduced visual acuity.
The Pentax Q provides a full range of shooting modes – here’s a breakdown:
- Auto: Put the “Q” in Auto mode and the camera will automatically select the appropriate aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and sensitivity for correct exposure.
- SCN (Scene): portrait, landscape, macro, moving object, night scene portrait, sunset, blue sky, night scene, night scene HDR (jpeg only), night snap, food, quick macro (jpeg only), pets, kids, forest, surf & snow, HDR (jpeg only), backlight silhouette, candle-light, stage lighting, and museum.
- BC (blur control): Mimics the wide-open aperture/shallow depth of field “look” of selective focus images by capturing several successive images of the same subject and then combining them into a single image.
- Program: Auto exposure with (limited) user input
- Shutter Priority: The user selects the shutter speed and the camera selects the appropriate aperture for correct exposure
- Aperture Priority: The user selects the aperture and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed for correct exposure
- Manual: The user selects all exposure parameters
- Movie Mode: The “Q” records full HD movies at 1920 x 1080p at 30 fps.
The “Q”s 3.0 inch TFT wide-viewing angle (170 degrees) LCD monitor features 460,000 pixel resolution and is adjustable for brightness. Coverage is 100% and the LCD is bright, fluid (movement is smooth, not jerky), and hue (color) correct. As mentioned earlier, the “Q” doesn’t feature a built-in optical viewfinder, but Pentax does offer a hot-shoe mounted optical viewfinder as an optional accessory. However, the VF-1 costs $250.00 and only includes guide marks for the 8.5mm prime lens.
The DCR test lab objectively measures LCD peak brightness and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed buying decisions. A decent LCD contrast ratio should fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1, which would be bright enough to use the LCD for framing and composition even in bright outdoor lighting, and also provide a good sense of color accuracy and native contrast. The “Q” weighs in at a very impressive contrast ratio of 811:1 – for comparison purposes a couple of Canon’s entry level P&S digicam models feature LCD screens with contrast ratios in the mid 400’s. Peak brightness for the “Q” (the LCD panels output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 584 nits and on the dark side (black luminance level) the measurement is 0.72 nits. For reference, anything above 500 nits should be adequately bright when shooting outdoors. The “Q”s default info display provides all the data this camera’s target audience is likely to want or need.