When looking at the Q, it looks like Pentax took an Optio camera an inserted some of their K-series dSLR features inside. The sensor used is a CMOS type unit, which boasts higher IQ (Image Quality) compared to CCD type sensors of the same size, especially in low-light situations thanks to it's more sensitive nature. CMOS sensors also claim to offer better battery life, due to their more conservative power consumption profiles. The Q-mount system is what really gives the Q an edge over other prosumer type cameras. Pentax currently has five lens options, the Standard Prime kit lens, a 3x Zoom, and three 'fun' lenses; Fish-eye, Toy Camera wide, and Toy Camera telephoto. These give you a great deal of versatility in composition, and Pentax is sure to add more lenses to this line in the future. The Q also boasts their DRII (ultrasonic vibration) dust removal system, ISO sensitivity from ISO 125 - 6400, sensor-shift Shake Reduction system, Full 1080p HD video recording, a 3.0-inch LCD, loads of custom functions, Smart Auto, and a plethora of exposure modes and digital filters that will allow you to explore your creative side.
One area where the Q has all other EVIL cameras beat is size. Measuring just 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 inches (WxHxD) and weighing in at only 7.1 ounces with the kit lens, battery and memory card installed, the Q is by far the smallest EVIL camera on the market currently (as of 12/2011). Although small, the Q still fits in your hand or hands quite well thanks to an enlarged hand grip on the right hand side. The control layout is a bit cluttered due to the small size of the camera, and the buttons can be a bit small for those of us with 'fat' fingers. While I didn't have any real issues, I did find using the 4-way controller to be cumbersome at times. The control dials are very welcomed accessories, which can control a variety of functions depending on the exposure mode being used. The rear dial is mostly used to control the aperture and shutter speed values in A/S/M modes, however it can also be used to quickly navigate the menu system. The front 4-position dial is used to control more creative features, like the Q's Smart Effects, Custom Image settings, Digital Filters, or the Aspect Ratio.
One unique feature of the Q's body is the flash. When you first look at it, the flash appears to be nothing more than your typical built-in unit found on most point-n-shoots. But, with the press of the flash release on the top, the unit springs up about an inch or more. According to Pentax, the purpose of this pop-up option is to help reduce red-eye in your portrait photos. We found this was very true while testing the camera on a close-up portrait subject. Using the flash down did create some slight red-eye in the model's eyes, however with a simple press of the release the red-eye was gone. You can see two examples on the Samples Page.
When it comes to exposure modes, the Q offers a plethora of options that make the camera appealing to a wide range of users. Whether you're a seasoned photog, or a complete noob, you can find an exposure mode to suit your needs and skill level. For those who just want to point-n-shoot, the Q's Auto mode is the best bet. This is an intelligent exposure program that chooses the appropriate exposure settings for the shot being framed, while also applying specific Scene mode settings to the shot by analyzing the scene at hand. This allows the most inexperienced users to capture appealing snap shots with little to no fuss. The Q also offers a wide variety of Scene modes, including a unique Blur Control mode, and in-camera HDR (High Dynamic Range). For those who desire more control, the Q offers as much control as you can handle with options like Program AE, Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority, and full Manual. You also have access to two pages of Custom Functions (13 total options), which allow you to tweak the Q to your liking.
When looking closer at the Blur Control and HDR modes, you will see that each of these settings utilizes multi-frame technology to help enhance the look of your photos. By taking information from several photos and then combining that information into a single frame, you have the ability to greatly increase detail and/or effect. Both settings capture three frames almost instantly, then merge them together into a single photo. HDR mode enhances dynamic range (increases detail in both shadow and highlight areas of the photo), while Blur Control lets you create photos with very shallow DOF (Depth Of Field). Both settings offer three options to choose from, allowing you to choose how strong the effect is. One odd thing about HDR mode is that you can initialize HDR in any exposure mode using the short cut or main menus. You can choose HDR Auto, Mode 1, or Mode 2. However, if you choose the HDR scene mode from the SCN position on the mode dial, you are stuck with HDR Auto. This is a bit confusing honestly, and we recommend you simply choose the desired HDR setting from the menus; instead of the SCN mode list.
We tested the Pentax Q with the kit "01 Standard Prime" lens, which offers a fixed focal length that is equivalent to approx. 47mm. This gives you an angle of view of approx. 49.5°, which is great for a wide range of snap shots. The lens also boasts an appealing maximum aperture of f/1,9, which makes it a great option for low-light and shallow DOF photos. We found that the lens performed best when the aperture was more open, as when we stopped it down the images actually seemed to get softer.When wide open up to f/5.6 or so, the lens helped the Q produce nice sharp photos. We felt that aberrations and other distortions seemed to be well controlled when inspecting our samples.
Now onto image quality. Possibly the most important aspect of any digital camera, IQ (aka Image Quality) from the Pentax Q is, well, good. We say good here because the camera has the ability to capture pleasing snap shots which compare to those captured from most modern day point-n-shoots. However they simply do not compare to other interchangeable lens cameras in this price range. This is not to say that the Pentax Q can't capture nice sharp images with good exposure and pleasing colors, but they just do not have the fine detail or low noise levels we tend to see with EVIL cameras and dSLRs.
Looking closely at our samples shows relatively good exposure under various shooting situations. We did notice that Auto mode seemed to have some white balance issues however. Unless shooting with the flash, Auto mode produced photos with a yellowish (warmer) look to them, which obviously caused colors to be less natural. Switching to Program mode took care of this in almost every instance, which is the mode I recommend for less experienced users who pick up this camera. You still get the benefits of fully automatic exposure control, and you get the best looking, most natural looking photos from the AE system. Yes, you do loose the "scene" settings applied by Smart Auto, but from my experience with this camera, the negatives of the white balance issues out weight the benefits of having the intelligent system in place.
Noise levels are pretty good for a camera with a 1/2.3" image sensor. From ISO 125 on up to 1600 look great, with 1600 showing a decent amount of luminous noise, but there's still a lot of fine detail in the image. At ISO 3200, you start to see a lot of noise, and these images will be best kept to either sharing with friends on social media sites like FaceBook, or small prints around 4x6-inches. Anything more than that and you will see the negative effects of having the sensitivity set so high. While we display our M&M Man ISO series at 1 spot EV increments, the ISO can be set in 1/3 increments. We chose to skip the settings in between for our samples page to keep it limited 10 15 or less images for the series. While I highly recommend you keep the ISO set to 1600 and below for the best quality possible, anything below 3200 will still produce usable photos; meaning you can stretch it a bit past ISO 1600 in challenging conditions if need be.
When shooting flash photography, the Pentax Q is handicapped like any point-n-shoot, or even prosumer camera. The built-in flash works well for close-up portraits and macro work, but trying to illuminate even a small to mid-seized room, or a group of people is hard. The effective flash range is noted as a guide number of 7m at ISO 200. Boosting the ISO will help you indoors or at night, and thankfully the camera can use some of its higher sensitivity settings and still produce nice photos. While the flash can be srpung upward about an inch, this only helps reduce Red-eye in your people photos, and does not extend the range at all. If you're one who has to have more flash power, the Pentax Q does offer a P-TTL hot shoe for attaching an external flash unit. With its small frame, I bet if would a bit awkward to have a flash attached, but it's still a nice option to have. The sync speed is 1/250, and right now Petnax has several flash offerings: AF 540FGZ ($479.95), AF 360FGZ ($339.95), AF 200FG ($149.95). While the AF 540FGZ is the most versatile of the options, I feel the $150 AF 200FG would fit the Pentax Q the best, and still offers a nice flash range with a guide number of 28m at ISO 200; four times that of the built in flash. The only problem AF200FG is that there are no bounce or swivel features.
Video quality is typical for a digicam; decent, but nothing to get excited about. One thing that was extremely odd with the Q was when we first started testing the camera it would not record more than 1-2 seconds of video; period. It took a fresh format of my SanDisk Extreme Pro (UHS-1) 8GB SDHC card inside the camera to get it working properly. We're not exactly sure why the camera wouldn't record video properly before, but at least we fixed it. You can record video at full 1080p HD, 720p and VGA resolution, with a fixed frame rate of 30fps and stereo sound. We choose to use the FULL HD (1920x1080) option, and found that you can record pleasing video in a variety of settings. While these videos look fine when played back on your PC or HDTV (with optional HDMI cable), they still do not compare to the quality of a HD digital camcorder; however, they can't capture pictures like the Pentax Q either.
Battery life was dismal at best. The camera uses a small D-LI68 1000mAh Li-ion battery pack, which is charged in the included AC charger; which uses a power cord, not fold-away prongs. They claim this pack can power the Q for up to 230 still images per charge. We saw about 200 photos before the battery was depleted, and had to charge the battery several times to complete our review. Now, it is very cold here in the midwest, and cold weather does effect these battery packs quite a bit. Either way, we were left wanting more when it came to power, so we highly recommend you pick up at least one extra pack to have with your at all times; about $35-50 online.
Bottom line - We have very mixed feelings about the Pentax Q. While its size and performance are appealing from a consumer point-n-shoot standpoint, with a MSRP of $749.95 USD, the Q is way overpriced and under powered when compared to other cameras in this price range; which include other EVIL cameras and many dSLRs. Currently (1/2012), Pentax shows the Pentax Q 01 STANDARD PRIME lens kit is on sale for $699.95 USD, however even at that price the Q's price tag is hard to swallow. If the Q were priced more like other Prosumer models (Canon's G-series and S-series, or Panasonic's LX-series comes to mind), we would have no problem giving it a much higher recommendation.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.