The Pentax Q. A surprisingly well-rounded compact camera, and it only weighs 10g more than the iPhone 4S with the standard 01 Prime lens attached. Review by Dave Wise.
We’ve had the little Pentax Q in the office for a while now, waiting to be reviewed, while we have been in the midst of Fashion Week madness and in the process of moving into our shiny new offices in Soho. Imagine our surprise when we finally picked it up, had the usual cursory glance at the manual, and found that this was no ordinary point and click compact camera.
It started with noticing the settings on the dial at the top. More akin to more professional pieces of kit, it had the ubiquitous “P Mode”, and for those of us that aren’t photographers, there is the “Auto” mode that turns the camera into the photographer and the user literally just points and clicks. The Pentax Q then does everything else for you. There are of course the modes that everyone is more or less familiar with on the top. That’s not all though, there is also Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and even Video. Yes, that’s right: full blown 1080P video. The Scene settings go far beyond the norm for a camera of this size: Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night, and even HDR. It also has some settings for shooting food and live action stills of say your kids or the local hooligans vandalising something; the list goes on.
Once armed with the fact we knew this piece of kit could shoot manually, we wanted to explore exactly how manually you could take it. To our surprise everything was manual, the shutter speed, the ISO, the Aperture and even the flash controls. Even more good news here, in video mode you could also control the shutter speed and the aperture, so this camera is most definitely not JUST point and click, despite it doing that so well.
Further exploration showed we could even attach an external HDMI monitor to the camera when shooting video, handy for focus pulling I guess, although this may cause some embarrassment when turning up to a big job with a full steadycam rig and a camera not much bigger than the director’s phone.
By now we’re actually quite excited by this tiny little thing punching well above its weight. The only thing left to make us nervous was the flash. At first glance you get the impression the built-in flash is in the housing. Again we had to take a step back, a quick flick of the flash slider on the top of the camera and out pops the flash, up and away to the left.
Ok ok, we hear you, but it’s still only shooting lame JPEG images. Right? No! It can and does, yes, but this camera even shoots RAW straight to DNG format. So what if it is only an 8Bit sensor (JPEG is only 8Bit anyway), it’s shooting raw at a more than ample 12.4 Megapixels. It comes with software for the Mac and PC, although equally because of the DNG support it worked with our installations of Aperture, Lightroom and Capture One.
So what do we have here? We weren’t entirely sure to be fair, we had a very cool looking, very compact, almost professional piece of kit. We couldn’t let it get away without putting the manual side of the camera to the test. If something says it does professional things, then it had better do them.
But what do we do? Of course take it to the studio and press buttons, but it’s got to be worth it. Late one evening, waking on the sofa with the movie Blade just starting, thoughts of Rebellious and Subculture in mind (we spend a lot of time thinking about our issue themes), a plan was hatched.
And there begins the experiment;
We contacted a music producer for a custom “Industrial House/Acid” track, never before heard. We pulled a team together, raided Gaga’s and Rihanna’s wardrobe from Mrs. Jones, borrowed a model from Profile and set to work creating. Ever the skeptics we also took along well regarded professional kit for stills and motion; in the worst case scenario of the Pentax Q not performing, we would still make something pretty. The good news is the professional kit didn’t even make it out of the bags and cases. We did however give the camera the best opportunity possible, including the purchasing of 32 Gig Class 10 SDHC cards and a steadycam designed for a mobile phone. It was also prudent to invest in a couple of extra batteries. We shot for 8 hours, both stills and film and only had to change the battery once and didn’t have to change the Memory card at all.
Setup was the hardest part, shooting manual and having the built in flash not go off was not a simple case of just not popping it up, you have to turn it off in the menu. Radio trigger installed in the hot shoe on top of the camera, set the camera to manual, adjust the lights down to the smallest aperture the lens could cope with of F8, shutter speed to 200, ISO to its lowest setting of 125 and it was set for stills.
For video, we didn’t want to flood the place with light (we are aware of how these little things normally work), there is no test in doing something that we know it will be able to do, so we kept the lighting as low as possible in order to create a dark feel (think Blade opening sequence again) and prayed to the camera gods that any noise in the results wouldn’t kill our footage. Shutter speed down to 1/30th and Aperture open to F1.9 and its setup for video.
After receiving the precursor of the track we’d commissioned, we set it on repeat and started work.
The results aren’t as-shot, but equally, they are a good example of the results that can be produced with this tiny piece of kit that will only set you back £399 here in the UK, shop around and there will likely be a deal out there for you.
Overall the experience with the kit was a happy one, with that said, we missed as many shots as we got because the camera isn’t anywhere near quick enough between frames. Which at the beginning was very frustrating, but you do get used to it surprisingly quickly.
This kit isn’t going to make it professionally on a day-to-day basis, but for travelling photojournalists, wedding photographers, street photographers and bloggers, this piece of kit will be invaluable as a backup or even main camera in places where carrying a big camera around your neck equates to having the word ‘Target’ on your head or where people keep stopping you to ask who you are. We love this camera for what it is and for what it tries to be. It punches way above its weight and we will all be very sad to see it go back to Pentax, so if you’re looking for a versatile compact camera that will give you options, go buy yourself a Pentax Q and you will not be disappointed.
So here are the results “Fear the Second Coming” in Stills and Film, remember all of this has been shot solely on the Pentax Q.