Ricoh's tagline for the Pentax Q7 is, "Real Camera. Real small. Real fun." So, we at DigitalCameraReview.com wanted to find out if these three statements were really true. Straight out of the box we could see why the first two sentences in the tagline are "Real camera. Real small." The Q7 is a compact ILC that has some very pronounced toy-like characteristics--especially when used by someone with large hands. But the real question remains: Is the Pentax Q7 real fun? Stick around as we answer that question during our review.
Build and Design
The best ways to describe the Pentax Q7 is cute, compact and customizable. The Pentax Q7 offers users 120 color combinations from which to choose--plenty to satisfy even the most style conscious photographers. The Q7 is a compact interchangeable lens digital hybrid camera. Upgraded from its predecessor, the Q7 has a 12.4-megapixel 1/1.7" backlit CMOS sensor that boasts a primary color filter. The camera records still images as both RAW and JPG files. The overall build and design of the camera has changed marginally from the original Pentax Q. It boasts a small footprint of only 4"(w) x 2.3"(h) x 1.32"(d) and weighs 7 oz with the battery and removable card installed. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, SDXC and Eye-Fi memory cards. The Pentax Q7 sells for $497 when paired with the 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 kit lens.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Pentax Q7 has a basic body style that can easily be compared to a plethora of point and shoot cameras. Its boxlike structure has a small, but useful hand grip. The back of the camera has three circular bumps that are supposed to be used as a thumb grip. Regrettably, my thumb chose instead to land on top of the Av button. And despite all of the attempts at ergonomics, the Q7 is just not comfortable to hold. My fingers crunched together and bouts of cramping were inevitable with extended usage.
The front of the camera features a handy quick dial for accessing customized setting with ease. The top of the camera sports a chunky mode dial fully equipped with P, Tv, Av and M modes. The dial also features an auto mode, video mode, scene mode and an interesting blur control mode. The top of the camera also houses a click dial for adjusting settings like aperture and shutter speed, an on/off switch, a shutter release, a playback button and a flash release.
The back of the camera looks similar to most other cameras with the addition of a green button used for auto exposure also found on the Q10. A nice sized 3-inch TFT LCD screen featuring 460k dots of resolution is located as far left as it can get.
Either side of the camera is flanked with the memory card slot or the battery slot leaving the bottom of the camera open for a dedicated tripod mount, blocking only the HDMI and AV ports.
Menus and Modes
The menu can be accessed via the dedicated menu button on the back of the Q7. Pressing this button gives you right of entry to a multifaceted page layout. There are 5 main categories. Several of those categories include additional pages within them.
The camera's shooting modes are pretty standard with the addition of the "BC" blur control mode (available on JPGs only) which attempts to recreate a defocused background. Although it takes almost 10 seconds and quite a bit of data computation to complete the entire process, the camera will render a finished image that gives you a more defocused image than you would receive otherwise. If in-camera creativity is what you crave, the scene mode gives you 21 options from which to choose.
Like so many compact ILCs the Q7 does not have a viewfinder. We have come to accept this as a reality as the LCD screens are getting better and better while using them to compose and view images. Although the 3-inch TFT LCD screen is large enough to easily compose images, the resolution of the screen and glare in bright sunlight makes this process unnecessarily challenging. The brightness of the screen can be changed, but we did not find the adjustment to make a dramatic difference.
The screen is not touch sensitive; therefore all setting must be adjusted via the dedicated buttons on the camera body or in the menu. The lack of a touchscreen did not bother us in the least.
A lot has changed in the world of digital cameras since the release of the original Pentax Q. However the Q7 does not seem to be making the same incremental advancements as other ILC camera systems. The Q7 lacks the autofocus performance needed to truly impress this girl. Photographing still subjects can prove troublesome, but photographing moving subjects can be a real test of patience.
The Q7 is not a speedy camera. The camera takes about 1.5 seconds to start up and take the first shot. AF acquisition time is where the Pentax Q7 starts to show its shortcomings. We found that the Pentax Q7 would take anywhere from 0.35 seconds to slightly over 1 full second to acquire autofocus depending on the ambient lighting. The camera only boasts 1.5 frames per second for JPG files on continuous lo and about 5 frames per second on continuous hi.
The Q7 has a corner mounted flash that offers a nifty pop-up feature. When the flash release is triggered, the Q7 extends the flash by way of a jointed arm that is reminiscent of Jonny Number 5 from Short Circuit or, a more recent robot, Wall-E. The flash design is creative and does help to reduce the effects of red-eye.
The Pentax Q is powered by a Pentax D-LI68 lithium ion rechargeable battery. This is the same battery that charges the other Q cameras. The battery gives uses about 250 images on a single charge. The battery is charged out of camera via the D-BC68P charger.
The lens performance of the included 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 (aka 02 standard zoom) was a mixed bag of tricks. Although it had the ability to produce some relatively sharp images, in real world testing the lens was inconsistent with producing repeatedly sharp images. At least half of my handheld images were soft or blurry. Of course, user error can account for some of these images that are less than ideal, but 50 % is a little too much for me to swallow. I am interested to see if a different lens would produce a higher number of acceptable images.
Video is recorded at 1080p or 720p at 30, 25 or 24 frames per second as a QuickTime file. Video quality is good and on par with current point and shoot cameras as well as ILCs.
The Q7 was able to produce some high quality images with good color reproduction and decent high ISO results. But overall, the image quality from the Q7 varied from shot to shot. Below is a sample of consecutive images yielding very different results.
Here is an example of the 02 zoom lens at different ends of the focal length.
The image below was taken at ISO 3200. The camera does a great job at producing low image grain and maintaining good color quality, but softening of the image is present.
Additional Sample Images
The Pentax Q7 is in a precarious predicament. Should it be compared to other ILCs due to its interchangeable lens system or to point and shoots due to its sensor size? My initial reaction is to compare it to other ILCs. In that case, I believe it rests pretty close to the middle of the group. I tend to prefer the fast AF of the Olympus Pen cameras over the Q7. That being said, the Pentax Q7 still beats out the Canon EOS M camera in many categories including having a dedicated flash and a hot shoe plate. If you compare the Q7 to point and shoot cameras, the Q7 has a lot of great features that most PNS cameras cannot compete with like a mode dial, adjustable settings click dial and a dedicated custom settings dial.
At the beginning of the review we aimed to answer one burning question. Is the Pentax Q7 "real fun" as their tagline states? Unfortunately, I didn't feel like the Q7 (as it was shipped to us with the kit lens) was real fun. My overall experience with the Q7 was lackluster. I am not a fan of the kit lens that comes shipped with the camera--the 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 lens. Maybe a different lens would have rendered a better experience. Unfortunately this lens was not able to produce enough consistently sharp images to impress me. In the long run, the camera didn't make me want to pick it up and use it.
If you are already a Pentax Q owner and comparing the Q7 to the original Q or the Q10, the upgrades to the sensor will make this camera superior to its predecessors. I understand the concept for this camera and the desire to produce a photographic tool with an interchangeable lens that is as small as currently possible. Plus, with the ability to use a plethora of lenses due to Q-mount adaptors, the Q7 offers a huge range of focal lengths and photographic styles. For those looking to make the most of Pentax's sensor combined with a 300mm lens, telephoto heaven is within arm's reach as the image produced from this combo will have an outrageous 1650mm focal length. Pentax's toy lenses also have quite a bit of appeal amongst their circle of users. Those that are not familiar with them may not quite understand the draw.
Unfortunately I can't wholeheartedly recommend the Q series cameras to those debating on choosing an ILC system. The Q7 just isn't consistent at giving the user a high quality image straight out of camera. With the Olympus E-PM2 being $50 less than the Pentax Q7 it makes more sense for the average ILC user to choose the Olympus unless a smaller camera with more physical buttons trumps image quality and AF speed.