The Pentax Q may be the smallest interchangeable-lens camera, but there is more to this model than just its size and retro charm
Build and handling
Sometimes the written word or printed image just cannot adequately express a first impression. In all honesty, to appreciate the Pentax Q you really have to hold it in your hand.
Certainly, I cannot remember many other occasions when I’ve smiled with such sheer delight.
The main part of its charm is, of course, its tiny size – roughly half the size of the Canon PowerShot G12 and Nikon Coolpix P7100 compacts, which both carry a built-in lens.
The smaller the camera, the easier it is for the photographer to remain inconspicuous, so together with its range of lenses and quick access to colour modes, the Pentax Q is an ideal tool for street photography.
Image: The Pentax Q with its film counterpart, the Auto 110. The cameras share virtually identical dimensions
Further satisfaction is taken from its retro appeal. A faux leather front panel feels solid and has a curved right edge to aid a secure grip. The pop-up flash springs forth, reminiscent of the robot Johnny Five from the film Short Circuit. It can be operated in its closed and elevated position, and has a guide number of 5.6m @ ISO 125. When used elevated, it should help to reduce redeye and offer extra clearance from bulkier lenses (although none is available at this time).
Make no mistake, look beyond the fun and the build is of high quality. A magnesium-alloy chassis provides durability, the shooting mode dial and navigation dial offer a satisfying level of resistance, and the four-way pad on the rear gives direct access to ISO, flash, white balance and drive mode, although here the buttons are so small that a fingernail is often required to press the correct one.
There is also a hotshoe mount to use with other external flashguns and accessories, such as the optical viewfinder. However, at the time of writing, there has not been a compact flashgun released to complement the size of the Q.
Users of any digital Pentax camera will be immediately familiar with the in-camera menu system, which is straightforward to navigate. From here useful features can be accessed, such as interval shooting, highlight and shadow correction and sensor-shift Shake Reduction.
On the front panel is an intriguing ‘quick dial’ with five settings marked 1-4 and off. Here, smart effects can be combined with digital filters, aspect ratio and colour mode for four different custom creative shooting settings, and then rapidly accessed via the dial. I settled with a high-contrast monochrome, a vintage colour and cross-processing, and found the dial useful in street scenes, where the mood would take me to shoot a quick monochrome image.
As well as PASM, auto, scene and video modes, bokeh control (BC) is an interesting inclusion on the shooting-mode dial. It is included because the 5.5x magnification factor of the 1/2.3in sensor means that achieving a shallow depth of field is much more difficult. Even in the f/1.9 setting of the prime lens, there is a fair amount of depth in focus.
Bokeh control analyses the depth of field and adds extra blur to out-of-focus areas, to lift the subject. I found it a bit hit and miss, and generally viewing images at 100% shows its flaws. For instance, subject edges are at times blurred along with the background. What’s more, in a crowded frame, the blur can make its way onto the subject itself. The control performs best when the frame is uncluttered and the subject is clearly defined.
At around 3secs, the start-up time of the Q is a little on the slow side. Other operational frustrations include no auto orientation of images (which means that during the post-processing of files, portrait-format images need to be rotated), as well as poor battery life. On the first day I took the Q out, I had to return after a couple of hours to recharge the battery. This is a good reason to consider the optional optical viewfinder – to limit the use of the power-draining LCD screen However, like the camera, the viewfinder is not cheap (around £239.99).
Supplied with the camera is the 8.5mm (47mm equivalent) f/1.9 ‘prime’ lens. Sharp images of close subjects are very possible, but the lens suffers from significant barrel distortion. This is helped somewhat by the lens distortion correction, but is still present even when this control is applied.