Pentax has always traveled to the beat of a different drummer and the “Q” is a perfect example of this innovative corporate philosophy. It would have been easy (and not unexpected) for Pentax to have marketed a GF3 or NEX-5 clone, instead they decided to venture into uncharted territory. By building the “Q” around a tiny 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor like those found in P&S digicams (rather than the larger sensor found in 4/3 and micro 4/3 format CSCs) Pentax locked up the smallest CSC title and put themselves in a very risky competitive situation. Since the “Q” costs about the same or more than all those other CSCs with larger sensors many consumers may (justifiably) buy into the larger sensor equals better pictures scenario.
I expected the “Q”s tiny 12 megapixel CMOS sensor to produce either very noisy images or smooth, flat, over-corrected images with little or no fine detail from an overly aggressive noise reduction system. When I reviewed the first group of images I’d shot with the “Q” on my monitor I was impressed to discover that the images were relatively noise-free and filled with the sort of fine detail that an aggressive noise reduction system would have eliminated.
In my opinion the “Q” is going to be the first in a long line of Pentax small sensor CSCs. Nikon developed a new sensor for the 1 CSC series that is smaller than the sensors found in the GF3 and NEX-5, but larger than the tiny P&S sized sensor that drives the “Q”. I won’t be surprised if Canon’s first CSC is built around the sensor from the G12.
I’ve been fascinated by small cameras for more than forty years. I’ve owned a Rollei 35S, a Minnox 35GT, a Contax T, a Pentax A110, and an Olympus Pen EE, among others. I’ve tested dozens of tiny P&S digicams and written reviews of several 4/3 format and micro 4/3 format compact interchangeable lens digital cameras. I promised in my “first-look” review to reveal whether my initial positive impressions of the Pentax “Q” stood the test of time and heavy use. They do, and I still like the Pentax “Q” more than any small camera I’ve used to date.
Bear in mind that I haven’t used any of Sony’s NEX series or Nikon’s Nikon 1 series CSCs and I haven’t used all of Olympus’ EP series, or all of Panasonics GF series CSCs. I’m basing my conclusions on the following – the Pentax “Q” consistently produces excellent images with low noise levels at lower sensitivities, it behaves more like a P&S digicam than any other interchangeable lens camera currently available, and it is the smallest interchangeable lens camera in the world. I don’t do much indoor or low light shooting, so I’m basing my conclusions on shooting outdoors at low ISO sensitivities. Clearly and unequivocally, cameras with smaller sensors (everything else being equal) are going to produce more noise at higher sensitivities than similar cameras equipped with larger sensors, so shooting indoors with the “Q” may produce less than praiseworthy images.
Anyone considering the Pentax “Q” should take into account the following – currently Pentax only offers two standard lenses, the fast 8.5mm prime lens (that graced my test unit) and a short zoom, barely qualifying it as a system camera. The “Q” with the f/1.9 prime lens runs about $800 (the two lens kit runs about $1000). For about $500.00 consumers can buy a Canon Digital Rebel T3 DSLR with a (very slow) 18-55mm zoom – so clearly the Pentax “Q” requires a larger initial investment than some entry-level DSLRs.
The T3 is not only cheaper, it has a much larger APS-C sized sensor and is compatible with more than fifty Canon zoom and prime lenses ranging from a 14mm ultra-wide-angle to a 1200mm super-telephoto and dozens of EF/EF-S mount lenses from third party lens makers Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina. The same arguments apply when the “Q” is compared to 4/3 format and Micro 4/3 format CSCs – they all have larger sensors and all have a more comprehensive selection of lenses.
So why would anyone spend more to get a smaller camera that can do less? You can’t drop the T3 in your shirt pocket, and while you may be able to drop a NEX-5 or GF3 in your shirt pocket, they are going to create a much larger bulge than the “Q”. So who will buy the “Q”? I see the market for the “Q” as shooters who like really tiny cameras and available light/natural light aficionados and/or street shooters who like the fast f/1.9 “normal” lens. I’m afraid that I fall into both groups, so if I were in the market for a new CSC, the “Q” would be my first choice, but not at eight hundred bucks.
- Excellent image quality
- Very good HD video quality
- Exceptional ergonomics
- RAW shooting capability
- Cost (expensive)
- Very limited selection of interchangeable lenses