Overall, the Pentax Q is a very well appointed little camera that offers a generous feature set and plenty of scope for customisation. This very much mirrors what we’ve seen with Pentax DSLRs in recent years, as the company attempts to increase its market share by producing cameras that offer class-leading value for money.
The Pentax Q is built around a 1/2.3inch CMOS sensor that is backside-illuminated for better low-light performance, and which delivers 12.4-megapixels of effective resolution. This is allied to what Pentax describes as a “new generation” of Q image processor that is claimed to deliver “clear, high contrast images rich in gradation and texture”. It’s a bold claim, and one that we’ll discuss the accuracy of in more detail later on in this review, but first let’s look at what else the Pentax Q offers in the way of specifications and features.
The Q can be set to record lossless Raw image files and compressed JPEGs at the full 12MP, with further options to record JPEGs at 9MP, 5MP and 3MP, with three levels of JPEG quality to choose from. While the default aspect ratio is 4:3 (4000 x 3000 pixels max output), the Q can also record in 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1 albeit at slightly lower maximum resolutions. Sensitivity, meanwhile, ranges from a credible ISO 125 to ISO 6400, and has the additional benefit of rising in small numerical increments rather than just doubling up as is more common.
The Q offers the familiar quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual shooting modes, alongside a fully automatic AutoPicture mode (essentially an Automatic Scene selection mode), 21 individual Scene modes and a Blur Control mode that’s designed to let you create a shallower depth of field through clever image processing (again, more on this later).
Elsewhere, the Q offers all kinds of handy shooting tools, including Interval Shooting, a built-in Neutral Density filter, and a Distortion Correction tool. In addition, there’s also an automatic HDR capture tool, along with separate controls for Shadow and Highlight Correction. The Q also offers built-in Image Stabilisation and a full-size hotshoe connection that’s able to accommodate the Pentax VF1 optical viewfinder that’s sold as an optional extra. Hopefully we’ll see more accessories designed specifically for use with it in coming months.
What the Q really excels at, however, is in-camera special effects. These take the form of Smart Effects and Digital Filters, backed up by a wide range of Custom Image (JPEG processing) settings. Smart Effects are a new addition to Pentax cameras and are essentially a set of processing presets that can be applied either pre- or post-capture. The nine Smart Effects on offer are: Brilliant Colour, Unicolour Bold, Vintage Colour, Cross Processing, Warm Fade, Tone Expansion, Bold Monochrome, Water Colour, Vibrant Colour, and a user-defined Custom preset.
In addition to its Smart Effects, the Q also offers an equally generous array of Digital Filter effects. With 19 filter effects in total it’s by far the most generous set we’ve seen in a camera of this size, with specific options including: Toy Camera, High Contrast, HDR, Invert Colour, Extract Colour, Posterization, Fish-eye, Starbust and, of course, our old favourite Miniaturisation.
While these Smart Effects and Digital Filters can’t be combined, they can be accessed in an instant via the prominent four-point dial that sits on the front of the Q. Easily set up via the main Menu, this dial allows you to flick between stored presets in an instant, which in turn actively encourages you to make use of the Q’s built-in creative potential.
In addition to quick-accessing the camera’s Smart Effects and Digital Filters, this dial can also be used to switch between Custom Image presets and aspect ratios. Sadly, you can’t mix and match your presets, but overall it remains a flexible arrangement that enables you to shoot normally, but with your favourite creative effects available in an instant.
Lastly, the Q is able to record movies at a maximum 1920 x 1080p Full HD at 30fps, with further 720p and VGA options. Audio is strictly mono only, as there’s no port for an external microphone and recorded movies are stored as MPEG-4/H.264 files. While you can apply Custom Image settings to movies, it’s not possible to apply any of the Smart Effects or Digital Filters.