The Pentax Q is the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens camera. a title that seems to change hands every week in this young summer. Any new camera system is a head-turner, but the Q is also a head-scratcher.
There’s plenty to like about the Pentax Q. The retro-styled magnesium alloy body feels solid, but still light, and it’s more compact than even some point-and-shoots. It captures reasonable 12.4 megapixel stills at up to 5 frames per second, shoots 1080p video, and has some trendy extras like in-camera HDR processing.
Its control scheme is robust for a camera of its size, including a mode dial, jog dial, and a front-mounted, quick-access dial. All the manual exposure modes are here, as well as RAW capture. It sports a built-in flash, as well as a hot shoe for more powerful flashes or an optional add-on optical viewfinder.
But then, there’s one critical detail that’s sure to scare away most potential buyers: The Q is built around a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor. Yes, a point-and-shoot sensor. It’s 1/8th the size of a Four Thirds sensor, and 1/13th the size of the APS-C format. Since it has such a tiny surface to gather light, there’s no way that the image quality can compete with any dSLRs or large-sensor mirrorless cameras. As good as CMOS sensors are in low light, high ISO shots will still fall victim to brutal noise and detail smearing, much more obviously than their serious counterparts. It’ll be nearly impossible to create the shallow depth-of-field effect that many users seek from serious cameras (though the Q kit will include a filter that can fake it). Detail will have a tough time resolving, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it struggle with the dynamic range. (Imaging Resource briefly had some half-size samples up this morning, but pulled them at the behest of Pentax.)
What’s more, it’s an $800 kit. That’s more expensive than any entry-level dSLR (including the Pentax K-r) or big-sensor mirrorless camera (including the APS-C mirrorless system that Pentax is widely rumored to be announcing in August -- which also makes the timing of the Q announcement even more puzzling). Unless Pentax redefined the laws of physics for their tiny sensor, it’s inaccurate and unfair to put the Pentax Q in the same league as those shooters. It’s more like an overpriced superzoom with no built-in versatility.
Whether Pentax is aware of it or not (they must be, despite the message the press release tries to send), the Q is a boutique product. Like the camera it was modeled after, the Pentax Auto 110 film SLR from the late 1970s, it could catch on with a small but dedicated base of Pentax fanboys. It could even put up some decent numbers in Japan, where the market tends to support quirky, niche products like this. But in Europe and North America, the Q will have a very narrow audience, if the widespread confusion, disappointment, and disdain already expressed on message boards and blogs is any indication.
To its credit, the Q’s diminutive sensor was developed in-house by Pentax (unlike the Optio compact line). They’ve worked wonders with the APS-C sensors in their recent dSLRs, all of which are characterized by outstanding high ISO performance, so it’s conceivable that the Q could churn out decent results at ISO 3200 or even the maximum ISO 6400 setting.
Pentax also announced a pretty decent starting set of Q-mount lenses alongside the camera body, so early adopters can keep themselves entertained for a while. The $800 kit comes with a 47mm f/1.9 prime lens, and a 28-83mm f/2.8-4.5 metal-body zoom lens will also be available for $299. Some lower-priced, plastic-body “toy” lenses round out the lineup, including a fish-eye, a wide-angle prime, and a telephoto prime. They’re all set to hit North American shores in fall 2011.
Official Press Release:
GOLDEN, CO. (June 23, 2011): PENTAX Imaging Company has announced the PENTAX Q -- the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable lens camera (ILC).* The Q offers the versatility and precision of an advanced DSLR in a body that is significantly smaller than every other digital ILC body available on the market today.
The camera’s tiny size, lightweight design, and superior image quality are made possible by an innovative PENTAX developed imaging system. With a high-resolution 12.4 megapixel, 1/2.3 inch CMOS image sensor, the Q carves out an entirely new camera category that extends beyond traditional digital compact, APS-C or 4/3 digital cameras. The backlit sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering instrument that produces very little noise at high sensitivity levels particularly in low light settings. Further, the new Q lens mount is a perfect match with the new sensor and every interchangeable Q lens is designed for more advanced image quality than may be found on traditional compact digital cameras. This innovative PENTAX design is the foundation of the Q’s position as the world’s smallest, lightest ILC system with superior image quality.
Several important features of the PENTAX Q include:
- A newly designed PENTAX Q-mount lens system for convenient interchangeability with a variety of specialty Q lenses including prime, zoom, fisheye and more.
- Exceptional image quality in 12.4 megapixels from the Q’s 1/2.3 inch backlit CMOS image sensor. Capable of producing 12 bit DNG RAW and JPG images, the backlit CMOS sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering instrument designed specifically to produce very low noise at high levels of sensitivity.
- Extremely compact, durable, lightweight, scratch resistant magnesium alloy body.
- The power and flexibility of traditional DSLR shooting modes such as Program, Aperture/Shutter Priority, and Metered Manual exposure control as well as highly convenient PENTAX Auto Picture and 21 scene modes for casual shooting, including new Forest and Stage Lighting options
- A variety of creative modes, Smart Effect options, or camera settings that assign to the Q’s Quick Dial located on the front of the camera. Smart Effects modes enhance digital photography by applying a series of effects to images to achieve high quality finishing.
- Brilliant Color, Vintage Color, Warm Fade, Bold Monochrome, and Water Color are just some of the Smart Effects available and may be assigned on the Q’s Quick Dial.
- In-camera HDR capture mode shoots 3 images of varying exposures, blending them to bring out the details in even the darkest shadows and brightest highlights of extreme contrast shots.
- High quality motion video with stunning full 1080p HD clarity at 30 frames per second. The Q processes the full HD video using high quality h.264 compression for superior color and detail and offers creative video effects through custom image modes, digital video filters, and interval shooting.
- A sensor-shift Shake Reduction system with integrated DRII Dust Reduction for blur and dust free images even in low lighting.
- 5 frames per second continuous shooting mode for any fast action setting.
- Effortless bokeh control with the Q’s Bokeh Control filter. (Traditionally controlled through a DSLR lens’s aperture, bokeh is the out of focus part of the background that helps to emphasize the subject, drawing the viewer’s eyes to the most important part of the photo.) The Q offers a fine degree of extra control over image bokeh via an in-camera filter operation.
- Powerful USER modes allow the creative photographer to save a series of favorite camera settings, filters, and custom image modes for instant reuse.
- Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 30 seconds for freezing fast action or capturing long nighttime exposures. Bulb mode adds flexibility for low light photography and motion effects.
- A built-in popup flash adds the perfect amount of extra light to an image with a high extension to naturally reduce the redeye effect common to compact cameras. The Q’s flash is effective to 23 feet at 200 ISO, and covers a wide angle 28 degree field of view.
- Compatibility with the latest generation SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards for ultra-high capacity storage as well as outstanding image file portability.
Along with the Q, PENTAX introduced the PENTAX 01 Standard Prime kit lens and an optional optical viewfinder. The unifocal standard lens has a focal length equivalent to 47mm in the 35mm format. The lens offers a natural perspective similar to that of the human eye and is ideal as a multipurpose, everyday standard lens for various subjects including landscape and portraiture. With a maximum aperture of F1.9, it performs superbly in dim lighting and may be easily adjusted for bokeh. Incorporating two high grade aspherical optical elements, this lens compensates various aberrations to a minimum.
Featuring the state-of-the-art optics incorporating special optical glass elements and PENTAX exclusive lens coating technology, this lens delivers beautifully defined, high quality images that are sharp and high contrast even at the edges. The AF motor installed in the lens assures smooth, quiet focusing operation. The lens shutter mechanism allows the PENTAX Q’s built-in auto flash to be synchronized to the camera’s top shutter speed of 1/2000 second (or 1/250 second when using an accessory flash unit). This lens is also equipped with a built-in ND (neutral density) filter, which comes in handy when shooting with open aperture at bright locations or when using slower shutter speeds. The shoe-mounted viewfinder attachment is an optional accessory. This External Viewfinder O-VF1 offers outstanding compositional framing, even in the brightest sunlight where viewing an LCD screen is traditionally a challenge. (Note: The Viewfinder offers framing marks for the Standard lens.)
Available in white or black body models, the PENTAX Q and Standard Prime lens (available in silver) kit will be around $800. Initially, the PENTAX Q system will ship in Japan. Anticipated shipping time to the United States is early Fall 2011.
The optional shoe-mounted viewfinder will be available at the same time for $249.95 USD. Each may be pre-ordered now on www.pentaxwebstore.com The PENTAX 01 Standard Prime kit lens will not be sold separately. More information is available here: www.pentaximaging.com/news