Pentax The Pentax Q - a real World user review


1st post here, but I'm also a poster at the m4/3 forums.

Just want to liven up the Q sub-section a bit with my user review, focusing on using the Q in real shooting rather than debates over sensor size.

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


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.
Edit2 : I later realized that that the camera can be totally silent with the electronic shutter turn ON.
With non-auto aperture lenses or adapted lenses, its totally silent.
With lenses that have an auto aperture, one will just here the closing down of the aperture at the click of the shutter.


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


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. :confused:
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 the street.


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.


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:





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 :




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 :
Imageshack - imgp1062imgp1083and2mor.jpg


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.


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 :D
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


Crop Engine - Long Range Applications

So far, I've only had a sample shot of the Moon as a long reach application of the Q crop engine capability.
Frankly, that's not a generic application for most folks.
I'd probably get bored with shooting the Moon after the nth time. (Full Moon... Lill' bit done Moon....Half boiled Moon... yawn..... )

Before I got the Q, I thought of the crop engine capability making a 200mm lens a 1100mm lens.
Wow! no need to buy a expensive 500/4.5, I imagined.
But when I finally got one, I realized that it would be a tall order.

1. With the small sensor and pixel density, any good lens would still do fine. Bad lenses, would have their bad points accentuated by the crop factor.
2. Its MF only, and not that easy for live subjects that would shift about (still doable though).
3. At these magnification and pixel density, any mis-focus is very apparent.
4. Its still a crop engine at the end of the day.
Perhaps on best of conditions (perfect focus; very good lens at max sharpness; stopped down less than diffraction limit of about f4.5-f5.6 for the small sensor, ideal DOF ) , the result will still be stunning at 100% crop. Otherwise, I'd be happy to walk away with an image that was good up to 50% crop (thats already very very good over what can be cropped out of any APS-C sensor)

Since I'm not a birder nor have the field craft and tenacity of one under our tropical heat (my :thumbsup: to the birders out there) , I opted for the easy way out to showcase what is possible with the Q+telephoto lens.
Went to the Zoo for a short while and got some animal shots instead.
All shots taken with Pentax Q and FA*80-200/2.8 at f4.


Cropped about 1/10th for composition


Cropped about 40% for composition and details are still there, so its not a 'dud'


Cropped about 1/10th for composition

Those familiar with the Zoo will roughly know how far these fellas are and how much cropping or lens firepower is needed to get shots this close.

Edit : For those not familiar with the Singapore Zoo : Distances are typically 6-12m (or further) away as a moat separates viewer to animals.


Newcastle, Australia
Real Name
Thanks for this, pinholecam :) I've been one of the naysayers from the outset. I've poked fun at the Q, swore blind I would never have one, and tbh I havent ever been very impressed with Pentax's small sensor cameras overall. However.. its now possible I could change my mind :)


Conclusion and Personal Impressions (for Now)

I guess if there is a right time to wrap this up, its now.

In short here are the Pros and Cons (IMO) :


1. Smallest pns and MILC out there
2. Fast AF speed in bright/fair conditions
3. Very well built and soild
4. Wealth of buttons to eliminate menu diving
5. Quick Dial on the front makes it easy to switch modes and have fun with photography like no other camera.
6. Very good tweakability in settings via the menu
7. Very quiet mechanical shutter
8. Totally silent electronic shutter
9. Good range of In-camera filters to play with
10. Good max flash sync speed with native lenses (1/2000 with built in flash and 1/250 with external flash)
11. Lenses can be brought over to the next new body unlike a conventional pns (saving part of the initial investment)
12. Fantastic tele/macro ability when coupled with DSLR lenses via an adapter, which is not provided on any other pns system and in fact unique as a system at time of writing.


1. Short Battery Life
2. Rather typical pns like AF in low light; (CIRCA late 2011-2012 are already seeing pretty fast CDAF on some cameras).
3. 1/15 max flash sync speed limitation on non-native lenses without a built in shutter.
4. Slow start up time of about 4s with non-clear indication that camera is still starting up.

Personal Impressions and Thoughts

Though there are some rough edges to the Q, I must say that having used it for just over a month and pushing it for the review.
I am thankful that Pentax was willing to take the risk and imagine up as well as produce such a system.

In the market today, there are pns ver#1, 2, 3, etc, coming out year after year and they basically provide the same bottom line.
To get pictures in a smaller form factor than their larger MILC/DSLR brothers.
A form of duplication of purpose or 'backup' to their larger counter parts.

The Q stands out in this respect.
Not only does it perform the purpose as mentioned above, with an adapter, it adds to what the enthusiast has without much duplication.
The extreme tele and macro shots presented is no mean feat, on any system, which would have need pretty hard-core use of extension tubes, diopters, teleconverters, expensive lenses or DIY jury-rigging to get to such extremes.

The incredible flexibility of the Q is really its biggest benefit over other premium small compacts.
IQ is "good enough" and the size is really a boon to taking it everywhere, which results in the ability to challenge and grow the users photography on a daily basis.

To me, if you like cameras and admire them, the Q is unique.
Sort of like how some camera makers went out there in the film days and did the 110, PEN, 44 cameras.(ie. smaller film size and all)
The Q is like a digital version of those (and those days)


Bangalore, India
Real Name
Firstly, you really know how to work that camera! A really nice review covering a wide range of focal lengths. By far the best 'real world' review on this camera I've seen till date. Though I doubt an average user would be able to get as much out of this camera as you have.

The only thing this review leaves me wondering about is the Q's performance in average to poor lighting conditions, which is the one reason that most people haven't opted for this system or given it a serious thought.


Zemun, Serbia
Thanks for this detailed and very interesting review! I confess being also one of those who considered Q as a rather bizarre offering; your writing and images made me stand corrected:)


Minnesota USA
Real Name
Kyle Krug
Great review and images - thanks for sharing!

I was also one of the Q naysayers when it first came out, mostly due to the original price tag. Picked one up for my wife during an Amazon one day sale and she is getting good shots with the camera and it leaves the house with her more than the E-PL3 did.


Sunny Frimley
I really enjoyed reading your review. I played with one in a shop and it feels very nice and well made. The camera has really nice output as your pics have shown. I'm hoping that the more new cameras that come out, the more they will drive the price of the Q downwards!


Zen Snapshooter
SW Virginia
Real Name
Thanks for all that work, writing and great shots. The insect/spider shots are great. I tried some Q macros and really appreciate your ability to focus manually with only 4x magnification.

Latest threads

Top Bottom