Pentax Q Review
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:
- AUTO:Auto picture mode. The camera analyzes the scene and selects what it determines to be the optimal shooting mode from these modes: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Scene Portrait, Sunset, Blue Sky, Forest
- SCN: Lets the user pick from 21 scene modes displayed on the monitor
- BC: Blur Control, creates the effect of a shallow depth of field. Refer our test of this mode later in the reveiw
- M: Metered manual exposure mode. The user sets shutter speed and aperture
- Av: Aperture priority: The user sets the aperture with the e-dial, the camera sets a shutter speed to match (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged). This is the mode we used the most
- Tv: Time priority: The user sets the shutter speed with the e-dial. The camera sets a matching aperture (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged)
- P: Program mode. The camera sets shutter speed and aperture (and ISO if auto-ISO is engaged). Turning the e-dial will either shift the exposure off the program line (but maintain the metered exposure) or bring the camera into hyper program. The desired behavior (program shift or hyper program) is set through customization of the e-dial in the menu system
- Movie mode.
Further detail on some of the modes:
Manual Exposure Mode
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:
- Full HD 1920 x 1080 px, 30 fps
- HD 1280 x 720 px, 30 fps
- VGA 640 x 480 px, 30 fps
- Manual or auto focus
- Manual or auto exposure
- Sound (mono) or silent
- Shake reduction enabled or disabled
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:
- Single shot
- High (5 fps) and low (1.5 fps) continuous shooting (high is mot available when shooting RAW)
- Self timer with 12 and 2 seconds delay
- Remote control shooting with no delay or 3 seconds delay
- Remote control continuous shooting
- Three step exposure bracketing with and without remote control. The steps can be set to 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV up to an adjustment of +/- 3EV
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:
- Custom image. Select from 11 finishing tones and fine tune the settings (see below)
- Digital filter: Select from 11 filters and fine tune the settings
- HDR (High Dynamic Range) off/auto/level 1, 2 and 3
- Highlight correction off/auto/on
- Shadow correction off/auto/on
- Meter pattern: Multi-segment, center weighted, or spot
- Focus mode: Auto focus/manual focus
- Auto focus method, refer the section on autofocus below
- Neutral Density filter off/on
- Shake reduction off/on
- Aspect ratio: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, or 1:1
- File format: JPG, RAW, or save in both formats RAW + JPG
- JPG quality, three levels
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:
- four Smart Effect settings of your choice (brilliant color, unicolor bold, vintage color, cross processing, warm fade, tone expansion, bold monochrome, water color, vibrant color enhance, user 1, user 2, user 3),
- four Custom Image settings of your choice (bright, natural, landscape, etc.),
- four Digital Filer settings of your choice (toy camera, shading, HDR, etc.), or
- four Aspect Ratio settings (4:3, 16:9, 1:1, 3:2).
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:
- Face detect, the camera identifies up to 12 faces and focuses accordingly
- Tracking, keeps focus on a moving object
- AF 25 points, the auto focus frame is divided into 25 segments ("AF points"). The camera typically picks the one with scene elements closest to the camera. The size and shape of the AF area can me modified by pressing OK and using the e-dial. The position of the frame can be moved by pressing OK and using the four way buttons
- AF Select, by pressing OK and using the four way buttons the user can move the AF area to the desired location, even quite close to the edge of the frame. We found this mode easy to use and convenient when the camera was tripod mounted
- Spot, the AF point is fixed at the center
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:
- AE-L with AF Locked. Default is locking auto exposure when focus is locked
- Link AE to AF point. Default is to not take the AF point into account when measuring exposure
- Auto Bracketing Order
- Shake Reduction Options. Default is that SR is active only during image capture. It can be set to be active continuously during live view (uses more power)
- WB When Using Flash: Options are Auto White Balance (default), "Unchanged" and "Flash"
- AWB in Tungsten Light: Subtle correction (default) or strong correction
- AF Release Options: Focus priority (default) or release priority. The latter allows a picture to be taken before proper focus is achieved
- AF Assist Light: On/Off. Default is On.
- AF with Remote Control: Off (default), On
- Flash When Retracted: Allow (default), disallow.
- Release While Charging: Off (default), On
- Save Menu Location: Reset (default), Save.
- Electronic Shutter: Disable (default), Enable
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.
Pentax Q vs. Olympus E-PL3
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.