The Pentax Q operates very much like a Pentax DSLR. The feature set, menu system and control panel are largely the same. There are a few additions like the Quick Dial and the leaf shutter (in some lenses), and some omissions mostly in the area of exposure and drive modes and custom functions. From the point of view of operating the camera, the Pentax Q would be a fine second camera for a Pentax DSLR shooter.
The exposure mode dial is easy to operate even when holding the camera with one hand. It has the following settings:
Further detail on some of the modes:
Setting of the shutter speed and aperture is assisted by an easy to read exposure bar calibrated in on-third stops on the monitor. The histogram is also available.
The shutter speed is set by turning the e-dial. The aperture is set by first hitting the Av button and then turning the e-dial.
Hyper program has been with Pentax since the days of auto-focus film SLR cameras and we are pleased to see it continued on the Pentax Q. The idea is simple but useful. In Program exposure mode, if you want to keep the aperture at a set value for a series of shot you just turn the e-dial to the desired aperture. The camera is now effectively in Av mode and will only change the shutter speed (and ISO if auto-ISO is enabled) from now on. A press of the green button brings the camera back into traditional Program mode.If you'd rather set and hold a shutter speed, the e-dial can be customized to do that instead of changing into Av mode.
In lieu of any customization the command wheel will shift the program line. The camera will continue to set both shutter speed and aperture. A press of the green button will reset metering to follow the program line.
We are not big on using anything but a dedicated video camera for movies and have not tested the movie mode. From the specifications we see that the Q includes some features over and beyond what is available on the Pentax DSLR cameras, hereunder auto focus.
Available settings in movie mode:
The file format is MPEG-4 AVC/H.264. Custom Image and Digital Filter settings can be used. Interval movies are supported (recording movie clips at set intervals).
We found auto white balance spot on except in artificial light and we never resorted to any other setting. The Pentax Q does offer all the detailed settings of a DSLR, including presets for sunlight, shade, etc, and fine tuning same. There is no Kelvin setting. White balance can be set manually by shooting, say, a grey card.
The following drive modes are available:
One press of the Info button brings up the Control Panel in the traditional Pentax style with large, easy-to-read, icons. This is a very convenient way to set many of the image parameters. The parameter selected for change has the e-dial symbol superimposed on the icon. Icons are grayed out if they do not pertain to the shooting mode currently in effect.
From the Control Panel you can set the following:
There are 11 ways of setting the finishing tones, the so-called Custom Image settings Bright, natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, radiant, muted, bleach bypass, reversal film, monochrome, and cross processing.
For each of these settings some or all of these image parameters can be fine-tuned: Saturation, hue, high/low key adjustment, contrast and sharpness/fine sharpness.
As has become the norm with Pentax how to perform the various adjustments are self explanatory. A glance on the screen tells you what button/dial to use.
There are 11 digital filters to pick from when shooting JPG. The filter menu is disabled when shooting RAW but is available for in-camera processing of RAW files into JPGs.
The effect of the filters can be fine tuned. Which parameters can be tweaked depends on the specific filter.
The 11 filters are: Toy camera, high contrast, shading, slim, HDR, invert color, extract color, color (the traditional film-era filters yellow, red, green etc.), water color, posterization, fish-eye.
On the front of the camera we have the Quick Dial which has five positions: Off, and 1 to 4. The dial is customized in the record menu. It can be set to hold:
The settings from these groups cannot be mixed. As an example you cannot have an Aspect Ratio on position 1, a Smart Effect on position 2, a Custom Image on position 3, etc. However, what you can do is store your favorite image parameters in the three user memories in the Smart Effect group.
The three user memories can each store a combination of these image settings: White Balance, Custom Image, and Digital Filter. As an example you could store White Balance as Shade, Custom Image as Vibrant, and Digital Filter as HDR in one of the positions.
There are two ways to store your combination of settings, each is done in the USER Mode Manager: You can simply save an image that was shot with the desired settings into a user memory, or you can save the parameters as currently set.
While Custom Image, Digital Filter and Aspect Ratio can also be set in the Control Panel, the Quick Dial is the only way to select from the Smart Effects.
The camera uses the imaging sensor for the auto focus function (contrast detect). Auto focus is fast, silent and accurate, there is no hunting for focus. The focus motor is built into the lenses. After focus has been achieved one can adjust it by turning the focusing ring (Pentax calls it Quick Shift), there is no need to turn the camera into manual focus mode first.
The auto focus mode is set from the Control Panel and the options are:
With an auto focus lens mounted, you switch into manual focus from the Control Panel. You can set the image on the monitor to be magnified 2x or 4x (or not at all) during manual focusing. If magnification is set, the live view image gets magnified as soon as you start turning the focusing ring. This feature makes it much easier to achieve proper focus, and also works when touching up auto focus with Quick Shift. Oddly enough, magnification during focusing is not available with manual focus lenses where you need it the most and we struggled a bit with achieving proper focus with the manual focus lenses.
The Pentax Q has 13 custom functions most of which would be familiar to Pentax DSLR shooters:
We had the electronic shutter enabled most of the time. We did not notice any exposure difference between using the leaf shutter or the electronic shutter so we recommend the latter so as to get access to shutter speeds all the way up to 1/8000s. Only when using flash would the leaf shutter be advantageous due to the faster flash synchronization speed.
The responsiveness of the Pentax Q is good but not at the level of, say, the Pentax K-5 DSLR. We had image correction turned on so some processing time was natutally required for each shot. During processing and file save some settings can be changed, others cannot. We sometimes had to wait a bit before we could adjust settings and capture the next image.
The Pentax Q is by far the easiest camera to operate with its e-dial, well laid out and easy to read Control Panel and menus. And the buttons are tactile and located where you'd expect them. During night shots it was easy to find the buttons by feel on the Pentax whereas we had to use the monitor on the Pentax as a light source to find our way around the Olympus.
The Olympus is more responsive, though, there was basically no wait from shot to shot. This could be due faster lens correction processing.
Auto focus was a disappointment on the Olympus with the 17mm prime lens. It was slow and inconsistent in accuracy. Even if the camera already was in focus from the previous shot and the scene didn't change, the lens would hunt before traveling back to the focus point when the shutter button was pressed for the next shot.