When looking at the camera's design, the first thing that strikes you is that the Pentax Q really is tiny. In fact, it’s currently the smallest interchangeable lens camera available, and by some distance too. Remove the lens and the camera body is small even by regular fixed-zoom compact camera standards. And yet, with its all-metal outer construction the Q feels decidedly robust and well made. At 200g body only, or 237g with the 8mm standard prime lens attached, the Q has a nice, reassuring weight about it, too.
Styled very much like a miniaturised rangefinder, albeit one without a viewfinder, the Q sports a rounded-off finger grip. Given the tiny overall dimensions of the camera it’s at best a two-finger grip, however its rubberised finish along with a raised thumb-rest at the back combine to make the Q feel fairly secure in the hand. The big question for many users will be whether to secure the Q with a neck-strap (which makes the camera look somewhat toy-like and out of proportion), or to just settle for a wrist strap instead.
Lenses can be swapped by pressing the release catch on the front of the camera and then twisting the lens off as you would with a DSLR. You do need to be careful when swapping lenses though, as the sensor sits almost immediately behind the lens, which means it’s fully exposed once the lens has been removed and therefore highly susceptible to damage from fingers and dust. While the camera automatically activates a sensor-cleaning action every time it’s shut down, you really don’t want to be getting any dust on a sensor of this size in the first place as, proportionally, it’ll cover a larger part of the sensor’s surface than it would on a MFT or APS-C sensor, making it a) more noticeable and b) harder to correct.
The Pentax Q takes its name from the new Q-mount (reportedly the ‘Queen’ to Pentax’s ‘King’ K-mount for DSLRs). At present Pentax offers a range of five lenses – a 8.5mm f/1.9 Standard Prime, a 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 Standard Zoom, a 3.2mm f/5.6 Fish-Eye, a 6.3mm, f/7.1 Toy Lens Wide and an 18mm f/8 Toy Lens Telephoto. Given the Q’s compact-sized sensor, a crop factor of 5.5x needs to be applied to work out the 35mm equivalent of these focal lengths. In this way, the 8.5mm Standard Prime equates to 47mm on a 35mm film camera.
The Q’s in-camera enu system should look instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever used a Pentax DSLR, although thankfully it remains easy enough to navigate for those who haven’t. While in shooting mode the directional buttons can be used to directly access ISO, White Balance, Drive mode and Flash settings, while the INFO button accesses a kind of ‘quick menu’ for other regularly accessed settings such as Custom Image, Digital Filters, Aspect Ratio, Image Stabilisation, Metering mode, AF mode, JPEG size/quality and suchlike. The only real complaint we have with overall operation is that the Q’s physical buttons are very small, which makes them a bit fiddly to use.
Start-up time is around the three second mark, which isn’t particularly quick. Using the Q in Single-shot mode we were able to shoot around one full-res JPEG every two seconds, which is pretty slow. There was no upper limit on the number of shots we could take in this way though. Switching to Continuous (Low) we were able to shoot at just under 1.5fps, again at full resolution with no upper limit on the number of shots. In Continuous (High) we were able to shoot at the claimed 5fps, although we actually managed 10 shots (as opposed to the claimed five) before the buffer filled and the camera slowed right down to approximately 0.5fps.
Autofocus performance, while adequate in the majority of situations, is still a little slow overall. Indeed, we found the Q’s AF speed to be more comparable to a regular mid-range compact than a £600 CSC – we’d expected something a bit faster. There’s also a notable delay between pressing the shutter button and the camera actually firing – again, in much the same way as a regular compact.
The 3in, 460k-dot monitor is fine when used indoors or away from direct sunlight outdoors, but doesn’t cope very well with direct sunlight. Somewhat annoyingly, when in shooting mode the Q displays underexposed and overexposed areas with yellow and red fill-colours. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a way to switch this function off. Battery life isn’t great either; we managed just over 200 images on a single charge before the juice ran out.