The Pentax Q may be the smallest interchangeable-lens camera, but there is more to this model than just its size and retro charm
Of all its features, it is the size of the Pentax Q that draws the most attention – and rightly so. At 98×57.5x31mm it is, without qualification, the smallest interchangeable-lens camera in the world. Its diminutive size is thanks largely to the sensor, which at 1/2.3in (4.6×6.2mm) is the same size as many compact cameras, such as the Fujifilm FinePix F600 EXR, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7, Nikon P300 and, indeed, Pentax’s own Optio I-10. This means the sensor is significantly smaller than those in high-end compacts and CSCs.
We are not used to seeing the physical size of a compact camera sensor because such cameras feature a built-in lens that keeps the insides hidden. But here, in the first interchangeable-lens camera with a 1/2.3in sensor, it reveals its tiny size. This makes comparison with other system cameras all the more obvious. The graphic on page 51 shows just how small the sensor in the Pentax Q is compared to those in other CSCs: roughly 1/8 the size of the micro four thirds format, and 1/13 the size of an APS-C-sized unit.
Given its price – which puts the Q in the camp of high-end CSCs and the photography enthusiast – it is easy to feel a little disappointed that it does not feature a larger imaging sensor for best-quality images. This does, however, have a direct benefit in that the body and lenses can be smaller. After all, one gripe that many have about CSCs with larger, APS-C-sized sensors, is that bulky lenses render the systems less compact.
There are 12.4 million pixels packed onto the Q’s newly developed, backlit Sony CMOS sensor, with the option for raw DNG and JPEG capture at 4000×3000-pixel output in 4:3 aspect ratio. Also available at best quality is 3:2 (4000×2664-pixel), 16:9 (4000×2248-pixel) and 1:1 (2992×2992-pixel) aspect ratios.
The imaging sensor features a Shake Reduction (SR) mechanism, which moves the sensor to offset hand movement for sharper images at slower shutter speeds. Likewise, a vibration mechanism shakes the image sensor to remove dust from its surface, and this can be set to activate during start-up or shut-down, or both.
For its first foray into the CSC market, Pentax has created a new Q mount to match the compact size of the camera. At the time of launch five lenses were announced alongside the camera, with more to follow. Three of these are described as ‘toy lenses’, lending a fun feel to the Pentax Q.
As with most new systems, photographers will want to know if an adapter is available to allow the use of other lenses. Currently there is not, although there are rumours of third-party manufacturers creating one. How successful it will be is another matter, although the 5.5x magnification factor means that converted lenses will possibly offer extreme telephoto focal lengths. A 50mm lens at 5.5x becomes the equivalent of a 275mm lens.
Given that this is the smallest sensor (and therefore has the largest magnification factor) on an interchangeable-lens camera, an adapter could make the Pentax Q the most versatile camera for those who like to get in close, such as birders. On the flipside, wideangle lenses are difficult to produce and as a consequence there are optical downsides, such as barrel distortion and limited depth of field.
As far as the various drive and shooting modes go, the Q offers a burst rate of 5fps for a 1sec burst, interval shooting (which surprisingly is still fairly rare these days), and more scene modes than you can shake a stick at, including HDR, blue sky, quick macro and backlight silhouette.