People usually think of Nikon or Canon when they consider camera manufacturers, but Pentax has been around for almost as long as the big boys. Pentax pioneered the first instant return DSLR mirror in the early fifties. Generations of student photographers, high school and college photo-journalists, and bargain conscious shutterbugs honed their photographic skills with the Pentax K1000; a very basic mechanical/manual single lens reflex (SLR) camera that had a twenty year production run.
Pentax is no stranger to camera size extremes either. Anyone who has ever used a Pentax 645 (or carried one around for a while) can attest to the fact that this behemoth handled like an SLR on steroids - the relatively svelte 40 megapixel digital version (Pentax 645D) is nothing like the bulked-up beast it replaced. At the other end of the scale the ultra-tiny Pentax A110 was the smallest system SLR camera ever.
The new Pentax Q draws heavily on that long and innovative camera legacy. Olympus and Panasonic developed the Micro Four Thirds format by eliminating the reflex mirror assemblies and optical viewfinders found on DSLRs and utilizing smaller sensors (about 30-40% smaller than the APS-C sensors used in most entry level DSLRs, but still about 8 or 9 times larger than the tiny sensors typically used in point-and-shoot digicams) to create a whole new class of much smaller and substantially lighter interchangeable lens cameras.
The new Pentax Q (the first compact system camera from Pentax) takes that miniaturization concept a full step further by building a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera around a tiny 1/2.3 inch CMOS image sensor (like those found on most P&S digicams) which allowed for an even smaller footprint. The Pentax Q is the smallest interchangeable lens camera currently available - noticeably smaller even than Micro Four Thirds format cameras like the Panasonic GF3 and the Sony NEX-5 and about half the size of a Canon G12.
The Pentax Q is remarkably easy to like - it's absolutely tiny, it's really easy to use, incredibly feature rich, and it is capable of producing dependably excellent images with very little effort on the part of the shooter. Some new users, especially those graduating from long zoom compacts or stepping down from kit zoom equipped entry-level DSLRs, may find the fast f/1.9 8.5mm prime lens (47mm equivalent) a trifle disconcerting, but they will soon learn to zoom with their feet - just like we used to do back in the good old days.
The Pentax Q's new backlit 12 megapixel CMOS sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering device that (according to Pentax) produces very little noise at high sensitivity levels - even in low light shooting scenarios. The new "Q" lens mount was designed to perfectly mate "Q" mount lenses with this new sensor and every "Q" lens (there are currently five available) was designed specifically to optimize/maximize image quality with this camera. The Pentax Q provides a full range of shooting modes including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and full Manual exposure control plus Auto Picture mode (smart auto), 21 Scene modes, and a 1920x1080p HD movie mode.
The Q also provides a sensor-shift Shake Reduction (image stabilization) system with an integrated Dust Reduction function. The Pentax Q doesn't feature an optical viewfinder - all framing/composition, image review, and menu navigation chores are handled by the 3.0-inch (460k-dot) LCD.
I've only had the camera for a couple of days, but I have some initial impressions to share. The exposure compensation function has a dedicated button, making it easier to quickly and incrementally lighten or darken images in Auto and Program mode. In terms of design, the Pentax Q was obviously designed by photographers for photographers. It may be tiny, but it features a real handgrip.
The Pentax Q is versatile enough to help users capture essentially any image they can visualize. Build Quality is good - the camera's magnesium alloy frame is covered by a durable plastic/polycarbonate shell. The It's certainly diminutive, but it feels substantial and well made. The one fly in the ointment is the built-in pop-up flash. The Q's flash is deployed at the end of an innovatively designed jointed arm that raises the flash high enough to avoid the flash and lens being on the same axis for much lower red-eye potential. However, users will need to exercise some caution not to bend, break, or deform this easily damaged mechanism.
I've been fascinated by small cameras for more than forty years. I've owned a Rollei S, a Contax T, a Pentax A110, an Olympus Pen F and a Pen EE, among others. I've tested dozens of tiny point-and-shoots and written reviews of several Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds format ultra-compact interchangeable lens digital cameras. So far, I like the Pentax Q better than any small camera I've used before. I'll provide more detail and reveal whether my initial impressions of the Pentax Q stand the test of time (and heavy use) in our upcoming full review of this nifty new camera.