While it may look a bit retro, the "Q" is a thoroughly modern digital camera with all the bells and whistles consumers have come to expect. The "Q" is as fast or faster than its competition (shutter lag), but it is the slowest camera among those noted in terms of AF acquisition, exactly a quarter of a second slower than the pack leading Olympus E-PM1 to attain AF lock on its subject. However, since the "Q" is a rather unlikely choice for shooting professional sports or rapidly unfolding action and a ¼ of a second isn't really all that much time, that statistic isn't particularly relevant.
In practical terms, the "Q" is competitive with other CSCs. Turn the camera on and it is ready to shoot almost immediately (and that includes the dust removal cycle). Shot-to-shot times (for single JPEG images) run from between 1 and 2 seconds without flash to between 2 and 3 seconds with flash. Shot-to-shot times will obviously be longer, but not objectionably so, when shooting RAW images.
Image stabilization is almost ubiquitous these days and the "Q" features mechanical sensor shift (with integrated dust removal) image stabilization - meaning the IS function is built into camera body rather than incorporated into each individual lens - as it is with optical image stabilization systems. Image Stabilization allows users to shoot at slower shutter speeds than would have been possible without IS. Pentax claims the "Q" IS system allows users to shoot at up to 4 f-stops slower than would have been possible without IS.
The "Q" features a typical P&S style Contrast Detection (25 point) AF system with single and continuous AF modes, a face detection mode, and manual focus capability Most DSLRs feature more complex Phase Detection AF systems, but to date, all CSCs feature Contrast Detection AF systems, like their P&S antecedents. The "Q"s AF sensitivity range (EV1 to EV18) should cover the vast majority of subjects the "Q"s target audience is likely to tackle. In the field the "Q"s AF system is adequately quick and dependably accurate.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
Nikon 1 J1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Nikon 1 J1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
Nikon 1 J1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The "Q"s built-in flash provides several useful artificial lighting options including: Auto, Auto + Redeye reduction, slo-synch, slo-synch + Redeye reduction, trailing curtain synch, and off. Pentax claims the maximum effective flash range is about 25 feet, which seems a bit optimistic based on my very limited flash use.
At first glance the "Q"s corner mounted built-in flash looks like just about every other P&S digicam's built-in flash. On closer inspection users will notice a small slider switch directly behind the flash. This slider switch is used to pop up the flash, but the "Q"s on-board flash is radically different than any pop-up flash ever seen before. The Q's pop-up flash is deployed at the end of an innovatively designed jointed arm that raises the flash high enough (and swings it a bit to the right) to avoid the flash and lens being on the same axis, which results in much lower red-eye potential. However, users will need to exercise caution not to bend, break, or deform this easily damaged mechanism when using the flash in pop-up mode. The flash can also be used in its nested position when red-eye is not a concern.
The "Q" draws its juice from a rechargeable Pentax D-L168 Lithium-ion battery that Pentax claims is good for about 250 exposures. I had to charge the battery twice in a bit more than two weeks of heavy use and the battery was in the low range when I shipped the camera back to Pentax - so something like 250 exposures on a fully charged D-L168 seems about right. The battery is charged via the included battery charger, rather than in-camera, so a back-up battery can be used while the original battery is charging. I charged the battery overnight each time I charged it, so I can't comment on how long it takes to fully re-charge the battery.
Photography was much different when the world was populated by photojournalists, documentary shooters, "available/natural light" aficionados and "street" photographers. Serious shooters in those bygone days bought mechanical SLRs and the "kit" lens was usually a fast f/1.8 or f/2.0 50mm (which provides the same perspective as the human eye) normal lens. The Standard lens for the "Q" is the f/1.9 8.5mm Prime lens (47mm equivalent) just like back in the old days.
The Pentax Q's new stainless steel lens mount was designed to perfectly mate "Q" mount lenses with this camera's newly developed high sensitivity sensor to optimize/maximize image quality for this camera.
Pentax offers two lenses in the "Q" High Performance lens series. Lenses in the High Performance series feature metal mounts, Pentax's SP lens coating, include 40.5mm filter threads, and provide both a built-in ND filter and an in-lens shutter mechanism that allows 1/2000 second flash sync with the "Q"s built-in flash. The 8.5mm prime will nicely meet the needs of most photography enthusiasts who will love the large maximum aperture and better image quality of the prime lens. Those who need a bit more reach or some wide angle capability can add the f/2.8-4.5 5-15mm (28-83mm equivalent) zoom lens.
The other three lenses are in the Pentax "Q" Unique lens series. These lenses are much cheaper than the optics in the High Performance series. They feature polycarbonate lens mounts, they don't have AF capability, and they don't include filter threads. Unique series lenses include: a 17.5mm (equivalent) fish-eye lens, a 35mm (equivalent) "toy" lens, and a 100mm (equivalent) "toy" lens.
The f/1.9 8.5mm prime lens that came with my test camera did show some very minor corner softness at maximum aperture, but center sharpness is impressively good. In fact those graduating from P&S digicams will be amazed at just how radical the difference is in basic optical quality between any P&S digicam zoom and a very good quality prime lens. The 8.5mm's focus ring is electronically (rather than mechanically) linked, so it doesn't really feel like the focus rings on older lenses, but it is very responsive and quite precise. Barrel distortion is not a problem and Pincushion distortion is essentially non-existent.
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