Pentax Q at a glance:

  • 12.4 million effective pixels
  • 1/2.3in CMOS sensor
  • Pentax bayonet Q mount
  • Sensor-shift Shake Reduction
  • Magnesium- alloy chassis
  • 200g including battery and card
  • Street price around £599 with 47mm (equivalent) f/1.9 prime lens

Around three years ago the ball well and truly started rolling for manufacturers producing cameras of compact size but with the versatility of interchangeable lenses – what are now commonly known as compact system cameras (CSC). In light of today’s market, ‘smallest interchangeable-lens camera’ is a title many manufacturers strive towards.

This brings us to the Pentax Q, which enters a crowded market focused on size, where the latest models are released at a steady rate boasting ever smaller dimensions. Claims about such models being ‘the smallest interchangeable-lens camera’ often come with qualifications, such as: ‘with built-in flash’, or ‘with an APS-C-sized sensor’, or ‘with a sensor larger than 1in’. The Pentax Q need not include any such clauses. It is the smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens camera. Period.

Some will be reminded of the Pentax Auto 110 (aka ‘Pentax System 10′), which is a clear inspiration for the design of the Pentax Q. This non-digital counterpart took its own special 110 film to cater for its diminutive size. It is fair to say the Pentax Auto 110 was way ahead of its time; being produced between 1979 and 1985 and with dimensions of 99x56x32mm, it is smaller than any other CSC. This is, however, a film camera, and 110 film production ceased in September 2009.

Pentax was able to achieve such a small size with the Q because, much like the film of the Auto 110, the Q uses a smaller sensor. It becomes interesting, therefore, to consider just who this product is aimed at. Given its size, sensor and features, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Pentax Q is just a bit of fun, and one for the party perhaps. However, as it offers interchangeable lenses, including fixed prime lenses, image quality should be sharp – so could it be a serious second body and a useful street camera?


Of all its features, it is the size of the Pentax Q that draws the most attention – and rightly so. At 98×57.5x31mm it is, without qualification, the smallest interchangeable-lens camera in the world. Its diminutive size is thanks largely to the sensor, which at 1/2.3in (4.6×6.2mm) is the same size as many compact cameras, such as the Fujifilm FinePix F600 EXR, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7, Nikon P300 and, indeed, Pentax’s own Optio I-10. This means the sensor is significantly smaller than those in high-end compacts and CSCs.

We are not used to seeing the physical size of a compact camera sensor because such cameras feature a built-in lens that keeps the insides hidden. But here, in the first interchangeable-lens camera with a 1/2.3in sensor, it reveals its tiny size. This makes comparison with other system cameras all the more obvious. The graphic on page 51 shows just how small the sensor in the Pentax Q is compared to those in other CSCs: roughly 1/8 the size of the micro four thirds format, and 1/13 the size of an APS-C-sized unit.

Given its price – which puts the Q in the camp of high-end CSCs and the photography enthusiast – it is easy to feel a little disappointed that it does not feature a larger imaging sensor for best-quality images. This does, however, have a direct benefit in that the body and lenses can be smaller. After all, one gripe that many have about CSCs with larger, APS-C-sized sensors, is that bulky lenses render the systems less compact.

There are 12.4 million pixels packed onto the Q’s newly developed, backlit Sony CMOS sensor, with the option for raw DNG and JPEG capture at 4000×3000-pixel output in 4:3 aspect ratio. Also available at best quality is 3:2 (4000×2664-pixel), 16:9 (4000×2248-pixel) and 1:1 (2992×2992-pixel) aspect ratios.

The imaging sensor features a Shake Reduction (SR) mechanism, which moves the sensor to offset hand movement for sharper images at slower shutter speeds. Likewise, a vibration mechanism shakes the image sensor to remove dust from its surface, and this can be set to activate during start-up or shut-down, or both.

For its first foray into the CSC market, Pentax has created a new Q mount to match the compact size of the camera. At the time of launch five lenses were announced alongside the camera, with more to follow. Three of these are described as ‘toy lenses’, lending a fun feel to the Pentax Q.

As with most new systems, photographers will want to know if an adapter is available to allow the use of other lenses. Currently there is not, although there are rumours of third-party manufacturers creating one. How successful it will be is another matter, although the 5.5x magnification factor means that converted lenses will possibly offer extreme telephoto focal lengths. A 50mm lens at 5.5x becomes the equivalent of a 275mm lens.

Given that this is the smallest sensor (and therefore has the largest magnification factor) on an interchangeable-lens camera, an adapter could make the Pentax Q the most versatile camera for those who like to get in close, such as birders. On the flipside, wideangle lenses are difficult to produce and as a consequence there are optical downsides, such as barrel distortion and limited depth of field.

As far as the various drive and shooting modes go, the Q offers a burst rate of 5fps for a 1sec burst, interval shooting (which surprisingly is still fairly rare these days), and more scene modes than you can shake a stick at, including HDR, blue sky, quick macro and backlight silhouette.


At the time of writing, there are five lenses in the Q system. The camera comes supplied with an 8.5mm (47mm equivalent) f/1.9 AL [IF] standard prime lens, suitably numbered 01. Also available is a 5-15mm (27.5-83mm) f/2.8-4.5 standard zoom (02), for £279.

The final three lenses are described as ‘toy lenses’, and consist of a 3.2mm (17.5mm) f/5.6 fisheye (03) at £149, a 6.3mm (35mm) f/7.1 wideangle (04) at £129 and a 18mm (100mm) f/8 telephoto lens (05), also at £129. The company states that more lenses will be released in the near future.

Each toy lens is light, and complements the compact body beautifully. It does mean, however, that these lenses do not contain any real glass. As a result, and as their name and price suggest, they are for fun rather than optimum image clarity. Each lens is a little soft, but when used with the quick-dial digital filter effects, such as toy camera and vintage colour, they replicate the Lomo and Hipstamatic effects.

I can imagine these lenses becoming something for collectors, rather than those seeking image quality.

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.

White balance and colour

Consistent with the rest of Pentax’s digital cameras, the Q offers several colour modes, all of which can have their parameters adjusted for saturation, hue, contrast, sharpness and high/low key. Natural mode is likely to be the most commonly used by experienced photographers, which provides an authentic colour rendition. Bright adds a little extra saturation, which is particularly noticeable in blue skies, while vibrant is far too punchy, as is landscape.

User-defined settings can be assigned to the quick-mode dial for speedy access. Perhaps it is the fun aspect combined with the quick dial, but in use it is easy to revisit the creative shooting again and again, and even look out for situations where it will be of use. Usefully, monochrome has a filter effect that can add, for example, a red filter, which is ideal for skies with greater tone.

White balance is generally reliable, but does behave peculiarly in certain settings, namely tungsten light, where at times I noticed a strong green hue and needed to take a manual reading to get a more accurate colour temperature. Handily, CTE white balance emphasises the dominant colour in a scene, which can be particularly effective for dramatic light during the magic hour of sunset.


Image: In this scene of high contrast, I opted for evaluative metering and exposure compensation to make sure the white of the building was not overexposed.

It is fairly standard these days for a camera to include spot (centre), centreweighted and multi-segment metering, and that is the case here.

In situations where there is a wide dynamic range, such as on a sunny day with shaded buildings, the multi-segment metering tends to overexpose a little for detail in shadow areas, which can result in the whites of clouds in the sky burning out.

By and large, though, sticking with the multi-segment metering will cover all circumstances. For complex situations where the metering system struggles, tweaks can be made to the exposure using the direct control for exposure compensation, which is next to where the thumb naturally rests.


Focus modes are simply labelled as MF/AF, although within the AF menu is tracking, 25-point, centre spot and face detection AF modes. The manual focus assist (2x and 4x magnification) is useful given the poor LCD screen. Generally, the contrast-detection AF is very responsive, which, along with the rapid shutter response time, means that once ready to shoot, the Q is quick to operate.

A smaller sensor (and lens) is less able to capture light, and in this context the AF system is more likely to struggle in low light. As I would expect, the Q hunts for the focus point in the low light of a tungsten-lit room, but is not unusually slow compared to similar systems at this level.

 Image: Once the image has been sharpened, detail like the blades of grass is crisp

Dynamic range

For a camera with a 1/2.3in sensor, the dynamic range is rather good. Detail in both a sunny sky and shaded buildings is present.

Compared with cameras at this level that boast larger sensors, I would expect this situation to be one in which the Q comes up a little short. However, comparing images with those of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, I would say the performance of the Q is a little better, and close to that of the Sony NEX-C3.

Like most cameras, virtually all Pentax models offer a feature to increase the dynamic range, and in this case it comes as shadow and highlight correction. The former can be set to any one of three levels, while the latter can only be switched on or off.

As these modes cause extra information to be processed into the final image, a little more noise is created in those areas. In most situations, switching the highlight correction on and keeping shadow correction off strikes a good balance between punchy results and a wider dynamic range.

Noise, sensitivity and resolution

Image: In this blow-up of a statue in a cathedral with low-contrast light, shot at ISO 1600, noise is evident but does not compromise resolved detail greatly 

Direct competitors of the Pentax Q, such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and Olympus Pen E-PM1, also feature around 12 million pixels, but use a larger and therefore less densely populated imaging sensor. This should result in similar resolution detail capabilities, but the Q is less able to handle noise levels that will in turn affect resolved detail.

The Pentax Q offers a sensitivity range of ISO 125-6400. In our lab, the resolution charts show that noise levels are fairly well controlled at ISO 125, but at ISO 200 luminance noise starts to creep in, with some patches of chroma noise. At ISO 400 it is more noticeable and by ISO 800 there are clear signs of luminance noise.

Despite noise levels being apparent early on, the resolution detail remains consistent along the whole ISO range. JPEG files are a little soft and require a good level of sharpening to reach their potential, which, as with the raw DNG files, is the 22 marker on our resolution charts at ISO 125. This is a little low compared to the Q’s direct competition, which may be a reflection on the lens itself, although I would have expected sharp results using the fixed 47mm lens. Sharpening can be added in-camera through the colour mode adjustments or using editing software.

Impressively for a sensor of this size, at ISO 6400 the camera is still able to resolve to the 20 marker. Noise, it seems, does not overly affect fine levels of detail. This is a camera among bigger competition, however, and has to be judged accordingly. In this regard, the Pentax Q has limited capabilities.

I would expect fine detail to be a little smudged given the compact-camera-sized imaging sensor, but once images captured using the supplied prime lens are sharpened detail is rather crisp. Prints at roughly 13x10in are possible from full-resolution, 4000×3000-pixel files.

Image: The high 5.5x focal magnification means that even the 47mm prime lens suffers from barrel distortion, so it is worthwhile applying the lens correction

Pentax Q – Resolution

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 47mm f/1.9 lens at its sharpest f/4 setting.

We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately.

The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

LCD, viewfinder and video

Unsurprisingly, the Q is not large enough to include a viewfinder of any kind, although the hotshoe port will take an optional optical viewfinder, which we have not tested.

A 3in LCD screen with 460,000-dot resolution dominates the back of the camera. For a good part of my testing of the Q, I was outside in the sunshine. Unfortunately, even at its brightest setting the screen is a little dull, which can make viewing images and menus very difficult. Given that all the toy lenses are manual focus, this can be an issue.

The manual focus assist (at 2x or 4x) can be activated in either manual focus or autofocus, and is useful for increasing the likelihood of sharp subjects, although a further check is needed to be sure via image playback and zooming right in. For those likely to use the Q in bright daylight, the optional viewfinder should be considered.

Full HD (1920×1080-pixel) videos at 30fps in are recorded in 16:9 aspect and MPEG-4 format. Audio is recorded in mono, with no option for an external microphone.

The competition

Images:  Sony NEX-C3 and Nikon J1

This is a very interesting time for the compact system camera market, with manufacturers seemingly taking greater risks to create a unique offering. A considered approach to investing in the right camera is therefore vital.

We have seen a difference in sensor size between such cameras. Nikon surprised us with a smaller than expected sensor in its 1-series models, insisting that features are the driving force. Such features include a 600Mb/sec processing speed and class-leading burst rate. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and Olympus Pen E-PM1 both use a larger micro four thirds sensor and Sony’s NEX-C3 uses a larger-still APS-C unit. The latter is only a fraction bigger in the body, but its lenses are larger and heavier.

In the battle to be the smallest, the Pentax Q currently reigns supreme, with retro styling to boot. Fujifilm’s FinePix X10 features the same-sized sensor, a similar style and built-in optical viewfinder, yet it is a fixed-lens compact.


No one can deny that the Pentax Q adds a little colour to the market. Its main talking points will always be its size, for reasons good and bad. The current ‘smallest interchangeable-lens camera’ uses a much smaller sensor, but this is central to its being – compact size and compact lenses (and the consequent distortion and lack of control over depth of field).

Given its build quality and price, the Pentax Q is aimed squarely at the enthusiast photographer, but such a user demands high image quality. In this regard, they will be more satisfied with cameras like the Sony NEX-C3.

Nonetheless, Pentax may well be the first to create a truly compact system, with the larger-sensor CSCs bogged down by bulky lenses. The opening salvo from a new system is always exciting and I look forward to seeing where it will go, especially in relation to a lens adapter and future Q-mount lenses. For now, though, the Pentax Q will afford its users a smile, some fun and a compact companion, if little else.

Pentax Q – Key points

Pop-up flash

Handily, the pop-up flash operates in either its closed or elevated position. Its GN 5.6 @ ISO 125 output is suitable for close-range subjects

Info button

Here the quick menu is accessed, through which several key shooting settings can be adjusted, such as colour mode, metering,  Shake Reduction and aspect ratio

Multiple exposure

Of the several handy shooting modes, a multiple exposure of up to nine frames can be recorded, with the choice for auto EV adjustment.

ND filter

A built-in ND filter offers an extra 2 stops of light, meaning using wide apertures in sunlight or a slower shutter speed for blurred movement is possible.

Scene modes

Among the 21 scene modes available, macro, sunset, blue sky, HDR, stage lighting and museum are available.


Interval shooting can be set for up to 999 images, at intervals between 1sec and 24hrs, as well as the start time of the sequence.

Exposure compensation

This direct control accesses exposure compensation, through which ±3EV adjustments can be made


The hotshoe port holds the optional optical viewfinder. As for a flashgun, there is no official model available yet for the Q, so the Pentax AF-200FG is the most complementary in size