Pentax Q compact system camera analysis
Pentax is an old and cherished camera brand that many thought might be nearing the end in the light of a diminishing presence in the DSLR camera market and new ownership by a demanding Hoya Corporation. But Pentax can now justifiably claim to be the only camera marque with three different interchangeable lens digital camera systems covering medium format (645D), DSLR (K-series) and, now, compact system cameras with the Q-range announced today. Hoya has, effectively, placed a vote of confidence in Pentax by giving the Q system the go-ahead.
In case you aren't yet familiar with the term 'compact system camera' or CSC, this is a new segment of the camera market that describes camera systems with interchangeable lenses that don't rely on a DSLR-style reflex mirror viewfinder. Panasonic Lumix pioneered CSCs with its DMC-G1 back in 2008, followed by the Lumix Micro Four Thirds compatible Olympus Pen range a year later, then Samsung NX, Sony Alpha NEX, and now - Pentax Q.
Size is everything
In an increasingly crowded sector, what makes Pentax stand out? Well, size just about sums it up. The Q uses a 2/3rds inch sensor size, which is a quarter of the area of a Micro Four Thirds sensor as used in Panasonic and Olympus CSCs. APS-C sensors used in Samsung and Sony CSCs are about 50% larger again. The smaller the sensor the smaller you can make he body and the lenses, so the Q camera body and its lenses are really tiny and lightweight. But with a sensor as small as the Q's there must be concerns about ultimate image quality, even at low ISO sensitivities let alone at the maximum 6400 ISO speed. On top of that, the creative limiting of depth of field that is such an advantage with larger sensor cameras will be much more difficult to achieve, even with Pentax's 'bokeh control' feature.
Another big draw to CSCs has been the ability to fit old 'legacy' lenses using adapters. The extremely small size of the Q's sensor practically rules this feature out because of the necessarily high cropping factor of 5.5, making a 50mm standard lens in full frame guise equivalent to a 275mm telephoto on a Q-mount camera.
Although there is a clip-on external optical viewfinder option, there is no sign of an electronic viewfinder. The maximum 1/2000th second shutter speed is a concern, too. Another oddity is the use of 'TOY' as a lens model identifier! On the plus side the Pentax Q has a very solid magnesium alloy body, a very novel pop-out onboard flash, complemented by full-size flash hot shoe. There is also a 3-inch 460K dot LCD screen, and a generous selection of external controls given the limited space available. The sensor used in the Q is a 12MP back-lit CMOS device and should deliver better results than compacts with smaller sensors, but there is certainly no getting away from the fact that the Q depends on what is a compact camera sensor, even if it is one of the larger compact camera sensors. But this camera certainly isn't a toy.
Until we get to try a Q, we'll leave you with our gallery of official product images from Pentax:
Click on a thumbnail below to see a larger version of the picture...
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