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08-01-2012, 07:16 AM - 6 Likes   #1

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The Pentax Q - a real World user review

This is a cut and paste of what I wrote up in the local forums, so apologies ahead if there are certain local terms that may be hard to understand.

The Pentax Q - a real World user review

Pentax Q with Fisheye (Toy) lens

In Jun2011, Pentax launched a small Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) called the Q.
At that time it had a launch price of ~S$1000 with standard prime lens.
A prohibitive price indeed for a small sensor camera.

The camera is the first to use the company's Q mount and features a compact-camera-sized 1/2.3" image stabilized CMOS sensor.
This is wrapped in a magnesium alloy body no more than 98 x 57.5 x 31 mm.

Being its first foray into the MILC market and without foresight of future MILC products to come, many pundits assumed it was Pentax’s only answer to the growing mirrorless market and compared it unfavorably to existing larger sensor offerings as well as DSLRs.
Pentax, to them had certainly “missed the point”.

My interest in the camera was with its potential for unobtrusive street shots (with plenty of DOF) as well as its unique 5.5x crop capability due to its small sensor when used with adapted lenses which Pentax envisaged and promised a 2012 release of a OEM adapter to use for its DSLR K-mount lenses.
At that time, launch price was too prohibitive to buy one on an unproved 'theory' so I passed on purchasing.
But now that the price has come down to be close to other advanced compacts, I've finally got one.

I'd like to just cover more on what I'd call 'a real world user review', so more of what a user expects and can get from the camera in actual field use.
There are many sites out there which deal with the specs side of cameras and how they perform on paper, so I'd let them deal with those matters.
Photography BLOG did a review : Pentax Q Review | PhotographyBLOG
DPReview did a Preview : Pentax Q Hands-on Preview: Digital Photography Review

Specs :

* 12.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor (1/2.3" size - 6.17 x 4.55 mm)
* Q-mount interchangeable lens mount
* 12-bit DNG raw file option
* 3" 460,000 dot LCD
* Sensor-shift image stabilization and dust-removal
* 1080p30 HD movie recording in H.264 format
* 5 frame-per-second continuous shooting capability
* Quick-dial control giving access to four image settings
* In-camera HDR option blends three images
* Built-in flash
* Flash hot shoe (also used for mounting optional viewfinder)
* Front and rear IR remote sensors


Compared to a Samsung Galaxy Note

The first thing that grabs attention is the size. Its very small indeed.
Next thing that strikes me is its very solid feel.
It feels really well made, firm/solid.
Perhaps the best relation I can draw to would be a Ricoh GXR.
The wealth of buttons for fast access is also a welcome feature for the camera.

Dial selector on the front allows custom picture settings to be assigned and switch at an instant

Large 3" LCD and quite a few buttons for fast access to often used features

Top view showing off the mode dial, scroll wheel, play button, etc

08-01-2012, 07:16 AM   #2

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Impressions of Use

I'd like to handle a lens or camera for a while before commenting on it, so these are my overall impressions/comments on the camera after about 1 month of use.

I used the Q+Prime 01 (47mm equivalent lens with f1.9 aperture) for a couple of walkabouts to see how it performs in everyday use and as a street/candid/people photography camera.

Outdoors, I found the AF to zip along pretty well.
The camera + f1.9 lens copes with most situations very well, w/o needing to go to very high ISO, which is typically avoided on such small sensor cameras.

Edit : Shutter sound is very soft. Almost like the 'sl-chick' sound from my copal shutter Yashicamat TLR.

Switching to B/W is at the turn of the selector dial on the camera front

On the MRT. AF was still pretty decent in well lit situations indoors. Shutter sound is really soft for the camera.

Pretty zippy AF overall for outdoor use
08-01-2012, 07:17 AM   #3

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A camera with a small sensor will have much more depth of field (DOF) for the same field of view (FOV).
This can come as an advantage for fast reaction shooting with the camera pre-focused.
Its also one of the reasons I decided to get a small sensor camera like the Pentax Q.

These 2 shots, I basically set the focus at about 1.5m away and left the camera in MF mode.
At the need to take a picture, I just raise the camera and press the shutter release.

Perhaps the very small profile of the Q did make people feel less offensive when they saw the camera pointed their way, but I really can't tell (since I'm not them )
One thing I realized fast when shooting with the Prime 01 (47mm equivalent), proximity to the subject can be quite near for 1/2 body shots and up.

If there is a niggle of compliant about the camera at this point, its turn on time.
I have a habit of turning off power when I don't expect to shoot anything within a short period (eg. 100-200m ahead)
A habit from the old days of using AA batteries in digital cameras.

Now, on the Q, I found that the camera does seem to turn on fast, LCD showing and all.
However, it seems that there is some "internal logic routine" still running upon turn on and the camera may or may not react to button presses upon the first 2-3 seconds of the LCD display showing.
This did cause me to loose a few shots as I spied an interesting subject approaching, turned the camera on, observed the LCD display come up, raised the camera, press the shutter and ....... ?? ... Doh! no reaction!

So perhaps its my bad habit or turning off the camera that is to blame.
But this is certainly new to me having come from DSLRs and a m4/3 camera.
Moral of story, don't turn off unnecessarily and make sure its really 'ON' before taking that million dollar shot of Paris Hilton walking down Orchard Rd.
08-01-2012, 07:17 AM   #4

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The Quick Select Dial is a niffy addition to the camera.
I quickly found my favorites and assigned the following :
1. B/W
2. Reversal Film
3. Cross Process
4. Bleach Bypass

Most settings can be further tweaked to taste, which I did.
The following are photos taken with the various mode assigned to the dial.


Reversal Film (punchy colors that reminds me of film) - I use this as my 'normal' o/p

Cross Process

Bleach Bypass

The Q did seem to goad me off my usual boring adherence of standard color settings and not play with filters much.
With the Quick Select Dial, I found myself encouraged to play a bit more off the norm and leave the camera as a monochrome one or a pseudo 'film' camera.
If not, just a turn of the dial to change the mode that suits the photo at hand more.

08-01-2012, 07:18 AM   #5

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The Q proved to be nice enough for me to get another lens for it, the Fisheye (Toy lens).
Toy Lenses are manual focus with a non-changeable aperture.
IQ is decent, but nothing to shout about.
But they are pretty cheap and a fisheye is fun to play with.

Here's a brief on the lenses:

08-01-2012, 07:18 AM - 1 Like   #6

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Image Quality (Base ISO)

Typically, I'd like to keep my sanity by not pixel peeping at pns sized sensor o/p.
But here's one just as a reference.

Base ISO 125.
Found a few frogs at Clarke Quay of all places.

100% crop

Again a showcase of the o/p in "Reversal Film" setting.
I just love the colors :

08-01-2012, 07:19 AM - 1 Like   #7

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Battery Life

Up to this point, I've used the Q for a while now, on many session varying from 1-5hrs.
My take on battery life. SHORT
My typical usage pattern for the Q is to shoot a couple and review and now and then.
Camera is left 'ON' if I find myself in a roll and got a few things to shot with close proximity of each other.
As mentioned earlier, I consider myself pretty stingy with battery power, so I switch off the camera when moving from Point A to B and/or if I determine that the near 100-200m ahead does not have anything interesting to shoot.

With my usage pattern, the battery typically lasts for about 3-4hrs.
This is certainly not enough for a full day of shooting from day to early evening in a typical travel/tour scenario.
Thankfully the battery used on the Q is very standard (the same as the ones on quite a few small compacts (ie. Li-68)) and readily avaliable on ebay at cheap prices.
I got a spare at only <$5 plus shipping.
But in hindsight, I'd recommend having at least 3 batteries (if not 4), since one battery only lasts 3-4hrs.
So 2 batteries used up in a day, plus 1 spare, is probably right.
I'm certainly buying at least one more.

BTW, the batteries are small and light (like Ghirardelli chocolate squares), so carrying a few won't kill anyone. (just don't mix them up with Ghirardelli's and swallow them)

Here have a rock? Pentax Q + Prime01 @f1.9

Pentax Q + Prime01
9 stitched vertical frames
click here for larger picture :

Last edited by pinholecam; 08-03-2012 at 06:13 AM.
08-01-2012, 07:20 AM   #8

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Crop Engine

The Q uses a rather small 1/2.3", 12.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor.
In terms of 35mm format equivalence, it has a 5.5x crop factor.
It has also been one of the reasons some pundits have laughed at the Q as a viable photographic tool.
However, it is this large crop factor and the ability to mount various lenses that makes the Q unique amongst the array of PnS cameras avaliable out there.
Its also makes it a rather good compliment to an existing DSLR w/o overlap in abilities.

I like to term it as 'Crop Engine' capability.

5.5x crop on good lenses can provide unique opportunities.

Pentax Q+F*300 (1650mm equivalent)

This has got to be my best Moon shot to date.
Even after cropping off about 30-40% of the original frame for composition, the details are the best out of all the Moon shots I've done.
With APS-C, I could have cropped, but at this size of the Moon, the pixel would be close to showing and the file size would be very small 2-4MB.
I'd expect that it can be even better if not for my limited time to focus and take shots before the Moon was covered in cloud.

Nowadays, the Moon is not showing up at my window and its pretty hazy/cloudy. Perhaps I will revisit Moon shots when the opportunity arises.

08-01-2012, 07:20 AM - 3 Likes   #9

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Crop Engine - Macro

Coupled with a macro lens which can do 1:1, the Q becomes a macro tool with the capability to focus anything from infinity to minimum focus distance (MFD).
At MFD, with a 1:1 macro lens, equivalent magnification due to the crop factor is a 5.5x magnification macro.

At this point, I am using a 3rd party adapter which has no built in shutter, and flash sync speed is limited to 1/15.
This is not as bad as it sounds for macro, as the stopped down aperture and shade of the forest canopy usually means that flash power is the only contributing factor to the photo.
With flash, its motion stopping despite the camera being at 1/15 shutter speed.
If its a bright day condition that is not under shade, the user can attempt to not use flash and dispense with the 1/15 flash sync limitation.
A OEM adapter is supposed to be released this year which will have a built in shutter and a flash sync speed of 1/250.

As an additional info, for native lenses, the Q has a max flash sync speed of 1/2000 with built in flash and 1/250 for external flash.

Admittedly, I'm not a macro shooter, so my skills and standard is pretty basic, so bear with me.

The capability of the Q with a macro lens is amazing to me.
On APS-C, I would have needed a long lens + reversed 50mm and still crop a lot to get near (but still not exactly) this.
And then struggle with the limited range of focusing due to the reversed lens.

But with the Q, its easy peasy....
Just focus at the distance I need.
Far, near, no problem at all.

Jumping Spider about 4mm in size.

Hmm... he looks like a hairy crab... wonder if he's tasty
Pentax Q with 100mm macro

Pentax Q with 100mm macro

This is probably a crop off 40% of the image. I had a 1:1 version, but not enough DOF to cover from segmented eyes to mouth.

The difference between a Q+macro lens and a pns+macro filter is in the focusing range that the Q+macro lens affords.
A pns+close up filter can only focus within the focusing range of the close up filter.
The Q+100mm macro lens can focus at any range from infinity to minimum focus distance, becoming a 550mm for skittish insects and a super macro for very small one.
All at one go.
Not to mention the liberation from the need to put the macro filter on/off depending on needs, and having to keep it clean with all the handling under the sweltering tropical heat.

Pollen on the back of a Bee
08-01-2012, 09:15 AM   #10
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nice review Pinholecam !

this is exactly what i needed to convince me to click on the "buy it now" button

this review remind us that paper spec and real life use can be quite distant
08-01-2012, 10:24 AM   #11
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Thanks for this review, Pinholecam. This is an example of a very very comprehensive review.
08-01-2012, 03:00 PM   #12
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Now that is a real world review. Great macro shots and the telephoto of the moon.
08-01-2012, 05:14 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by aurele Quote
nice review Pinholecam !

this is exactly what i needed to convince me to click on the "buy it now" button

this review remind us that paper spec and real life use can be quite distant
+1, I want one now

excellent review, thanks!
08-01-2012, 07:22 PM   #14

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Excellent review and image samples.
The Q is very impressive, especially in the hands of a talented photographer.
It is a tempting bit of hardware, I must admit.
08-01-2012, 07:37 PM   #15
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Pentax Q here we come!

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