From the start, the Pentax Q has one thing going for it: it’s the smallest interchangeable lens camera in the world. At first glance, this little guy seems like the photojournalist’s dream. But does it do better than your average point and shoot?
The Good Stuff:
The small size of the Pentax Q is unassuming. You can take it anywhere fairly unnoticeably. Yes, the lens sticking out might not make it pocketable, but the Pentax’s entire Q lens system could be crammed into your girlfriend’s (or boyfriend’s) clutch. And that’s a whole new kind of portability for mirrorless cameras. Yes, the idea of the mirrorless camera is to get quality into a small body. But this size takes it to a new level.
Additionally, the Q features a neat quick dial on the front that’s easily rotatable with the left hand while you’re composing. By default, the dial switches between what I find to be rather awful image ‘effects.’ But you can easily change what this dial does in the menu. All in all, I find it to be a useful feature. When you’re in a bind, you can just rotate the dial quickly to select a predetermined setting that you want for your image -- all while still composing, being sure not to miss the shot.
The use of space is rather impressive. The SD card and battery slot are on opposite sides of the camera body -- which I don't really mind because I don't usually change the two out at the same time anyway. And the micro HDMI and USB ports are on the bottom next to a tripod mount. In all of this, Pentax even found room for at least one adjustment dial for your thumb and a nifty pop-up flash for fill or to bring out subjects while shooting on the street (not to mention there's still a hot shoe on the top of the camera). And the body is entirely magnesium alloy. I'm impressed.
The Not-So-Good Stuff:
The main thing I can’t stand about this camera is the menu system. It’s just so crude (from the 90s, maybe). Naturally, as with anything, you do get used to it after a while; but I still don’t understand what would have been so hard about refining the look of the menu system.
Also, a body this small means you can’t fit a large APS-C sensor in the camera. And you can have all the megapixels in the world, but when it comes down to it, image quality is largely dependent on the size of the sensor -- especially when it comes to low light. It's here that I noticed the main problems, in my opinion. A 10-megapixel sensor is plenty for 13x19 prints, and then some. But when you look at high-ISO images or images taken in general low light, there’s simply little to be said for such a small sensor. I didn’t expect it to compete with much else, and it didn’t.
Finally, general use can be a little slow. Autofocus takes a moment, as with all of these cameras. But even once you press the shutter, there seems to be a fraction of a second delay. It's not awful...it's near instant, but not quite. And small buttons on the back of the camera slow me down a bit. I can deal with a small menu button, but when the D-pad (or equivalent in 'arrow buttons') is this small, I really have to concentrate not to press any of the other buttons on the back of the camera. But maybe I'm just starting to develop my cook grandfather's fat fingers...
Instead of the usual image quality section, I’m having a rebuttal for two reasons. One, I’ve already discussed the image quality. Two, it’s not fair to look at the Pentax Q dead-on with its ‘competition.’ It’s not meant to take on the NEX-7, let alone the M9.
So if you will... This camera’s purpose is not to blow other cameras out of the water with its stellar images. The point is to be as portable as possible while staying incredibly flexible and not sacrificing too much image quality. And to that extent, this camera does a great job. The Q is a true documentary camera, assuming you don’t need to blow your images up to gargantuan sizes. Up to 8x10, you likely won’t notice any flaws in this camera’s image quality.
I still want a camera that reacts more quickly than one that’s small, but many documentary and street photographers will say that doesn’t matter as much as being invisible. Though I agree, I still prefer speed to invisibility as a path to spontaneity.
If you’re among those that likes to keep it tight while staying flexible, then go for the Q.