Pentax Q10 at a glance:

  • 12.4-million-pixel backlit CMOS sensor
  • Customised Quick Dial
  • 5 frames per second continuous shooting
  • 3in, 460,000-dot LCD screen
  • JPEG and DNG raw capture
  • 58x102x33.5mm size
  • 200g weight (with battery and memory card), 180g body only
  • Street price around £379 with 5-15mm lens

Pentax Q10 review – Introduction

When Pentax released its Q system in 2011, it was the smallest and lightest compact system camera in the world. The design of the camera is simple, showing a fairly classic style but with a full complement of shooting modes and all the features one would expect from an entry-level DSLR. There is a catch, however – the Pentax Q is able to be so small because it uses a standard-sized compact camera sensor, which is tiny when compared to the APS-C and even four thirds-sized sensors used in other CSCs. As such, the Q’s image quality is much more like that of a consumer compact camera than it is a typical CSC.

In September last year, Pentax announced the second camera in the Q system, the Pentax Q10. Although this new model is based largely on the original Q, a few new features have been included. I was interested, then, to take a second look at the Q system, to see whether this updated model can really be a useful tool for enthusiast photographers.

Pentax Q10 review – Features

Image: The fisheye lens can be used to produce some interesting images

The defining feature of the Pentax Q10 has to be its sensor, a 12.4-million-pixel, 1/2.3in, backlit, CMOS unit. Although it is of the same resolution as the original Pentax Q, the company has tweaked it to improve image quality. The sensor measures 6.17×4.55mm, which is the same size as that found in a standard or travel-zoom compact camera. To put this into perspective, the surface area of the Q10 sensor is 28.5mm2 compared to around 370mm2 on an APS-C-sized sensor.

For such a small camera, the Q10 has an imposing feature set. Alongside JPEG image capture, it is also possible to save DNG raw images. There is also a full range of manual and automatic exposure modes, as well as evaluative, centreweighted and spot metering. In-camera lens corrections can be turned on or off for JPEG shooting, and there is also a dynamic-range function that allows for separate adjustment of both the highlight and shadow areas.

Sitting on the camera’s top-plate is a pop-up flash with an interesting double hinge, which pushes the tiny flash diagonally upwards away from the lens, thus helping to reduce the effects of redeye. The Q10 even has a hotshoe that is compatible with Pentax flashguns.

It really is impressive just how many features the Q10 packs in. Going through the menu system, it has nearly everything an enthusiast photographer would want, including multiple exposure and interval shooting modes.

Pentax Q10 review – Build and handling

Although the button arrangement remains much the same as its predecessor, the Q10 has undergone some slight cosmetic tweaking. The result is a camera that looks far more like a classic Pentax DSLR. This has been achieved by adding small features such as a sliver finish to the camera’s top-plate and an angular design above the lens mount and below the hotshoe to give the appearance of a prism housing.

Given the size of the camera, Pentax hasn’t scrimped on the level of control on the Q10. Including the shutter, a total of 12 buttons, as well as two dials and two switches, adorn the camera’s body. The plastic buttons are quite small, and certainly won’t be easy to use when wearing winter gloves. However, in general use it is easy enough to change shooting settings and to navigate the camera’s menu system.

Handling the camera while taking photos is quite comfortable, and the controls don’t feel too cramped. The hand grip on the front of the camera is rather pronounced, allowing for good purchase. Similarly, the design of the camera’s rear allows the thumb to rest happily.

When you see images of the Pentax Q10, it is difficult to really get a sense of scale. After all, it isn’t lacking any controls, and it does look like it could be a full-size compact system camera. It is only really when holding and using it, along with the equally small lenses, that one realises just how tiny it is.

The Q system is an interesting concept for the enthusiast photographer. I can’t think of many camera systems that would have allowed me to carry a camera and four lenses in the side pocket of a parka jacket. This is impressive when compared to an APS-C-format DSLR or CSC, but remember that the Q10 only has a compact camera-sized sensor. A travel zoom compact with a similar-sized sensor, such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30, offers a 24-480mm equivalent focal length in a body not that much different in size than the Q10, but without the need to carry any additional lenses.

One of the few improvements to the Q10 over its predecessor is its speed of handling and autofocus. The Q10’s start-up time is reasonable when compared to a compact camera. I found I could take an image within around 1.5secs of switching on the camera on.

The Q10’s contrast-detection autofocus is also quite fast in daylight, with the lens snapping into focus relatively quickly, about as fast as a good compact camera might be expected to. In more subdued light it is much slower, although it did manage to find focus without too much hunting back and forth. Overall, the focusing is about as fast as one would expect to find on a good compact camera.

Not all the Pentax Q system lenses have AF, but focus peaking is available to help those attempting to do it manually. A further help is the fact that the lenses produce quite extensive depth of field, so even roughly focusing using the focus-peaking indicator is usually good enough when shooting outdoor scenes.

Given the size of the camera, it is impressive that the Q10 is fitted with a 3in, 460,000-dot screen. The screen’s resolution may not be as high as other current cameras, but this helps keep the cost of the camera down, and the bright, clear screen is perfectly fine to use.

The metering system of the Q10 generally produces bright images; in fact, they are often slightly too bright, producing a little too much burnt-out detail. I found myself adjusting the exposure compensation by around -0.3 to -0.7EV to rein in the exposure a little. Overall, the evaluative metering worked well, and spot and centreweighted metering are on hand should they be required.

Image: Colour and detail reproduction are good at low sensitivities, but for best results it is advisable to shoot raw images

Pentax Q10 review – Image quality

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Pentax 5-15mm lens set to around a 50mm equivalent focal length. 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 at the specified sensitivity setting.

As one would expect from a 1/2.3in sensor, the images produced by the Q10 are comparable with those from a compact camera. The camera’s sensitivity range starts at ISO 100 and peaks at ISO 6400, which is sensible given the sensor size. As is fairly typical of most compact cameras, noise is well controlled at ISO 100 and 200, although its effects and those of noise reduction start to appear at ISO 400.

At the highest ISO 3200 and 6400 sensitivities, a lot of detail is lost through the blurring effect of luminance noise reduction, while slight purple and green bruising is noticeable in patches of images. I would suggest that for most photographers the usable range runs from ISO 100-400, pushing to ISO 800 if necessary, but avoiding the two higher settings completely. Again, this is hardly surprising – in fact, it is to be expected with a compact camera.

The advantage that the Q10 has over compact cameras with the same-sized sensor is the ability to capture, and even edit and convert, raw images in-camera. The DNG raw files can be opened in almost any raw-conversion software, and I found that I could dramatically reduce the colour noise in Adobe Lightroom. Luminance noise could be reduced, although at higher sensitivities I opted to keep the reduction to a fairly low level to retain as much detail as possible.

Colour rendition in the Pentax Q is very similar to the company’s DSLRs, which is good. All the colour settings from the DSLR range are available, and the menu interface to manually adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness of each colour style is also identical. The default natural setting works as expected, although at times it can look a little too natural, but in those situations the vivid setting is on hand to add some punch. Similarly, there is a range of white balance settings, including an option in the custom menu to set a natural or neutral tungsten white balance.

Pentax Q10 review – Our verdict

Packing so much into a tiny camera while retaining a good level of handling is quite a feat, as is the small but interesting range of lenses offered for the Pentax Q10. However, as small, convenient and feature-packed as the camera is, there’s no getting over the fact that it produces images that are only as good as a compact camera.

With a system price of around £379 (with 5-15mm lens), the Pentax Q10 may struggle against the high-end compacts such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 and Fujifilm X10, both of which cost around £70 less. The focal length of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 covers all the Q-series lenses, except the fisheye optic, and it is around £100 cheaper – more so if you include the purchase of
the additional Q telephoto zoom lens.

While the additional Pentax K-mount adapter does make it an interesting camera for those who wish to shoot macro or telephoto images, once again the image quality is restrictive and will always be worse than other CSCs.

Pentax Q10 review – Lenses

There are currently six lenses available for the Pentax Q system. Three of these are what Pentax calls standard lenses, which are optics built to a good standard and include autofocus. A -2EV neutral density filter is also built into the standard lenses, which, given that the lenses don’t have especially small aperture settings, will help to increase exposure times.

Complementing these standard lenses are three toy lenses. These are built to a lower specification and are manual focus only with plastic lens mounts. While the standard lenses are aimed at enthusiast photographers, the toy lenses are designed more with fun and creativity in mind than high quality.

Overall, there is a nice selection of lenses for the camera. The standard ones feel just like smaller versions of optics you would expect to see from any other compact system camera, although the toy lenses are far lighter and cheaper, and the image quality generally isn’t as good. That said, they are interesting to use, particularly when combined with the creative image styles on offer in the Pentax Q cameras. They give the Q10 the sort of creative effects that one is more used to seeing from plastic toy or mobile phone cameras, and this is clearly the audience at which Pentax is aiming.

Of much more interest to many enthusiast photographers will be the Pentax K-mount adapter. This allows Pentax K-mount lenses to be used on the Pentax Q, although the smaller sensor will significantly reduce the angle of view. A 100mm lens used on the Pentax Q10 becomes the 35mm equivalent of a 550mm lens. This may have some appeal for macro photographers, as the minimum focus distance would remain the same, but the image would effectively be a 12.4-million-pixel, 5.5x magnification crop of what it would be on a full-frame camera. This will also be of use to those interested in telephoto photography, particularly of wildlife.

However, there is a catch. As well as the actual scene being magnified, so will any faults of the lens. Thankfully, as it is the image at the centre of the lens that is being used, vignetting and curvilinear distortions should not be an issue, although chromatic aberrations and purple fringing may present a problem, depending on the quality of the lens.