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Pentax Q Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Despite its price, the Pentax Q doesn't feel quite as snappy as similarly priced interchangeable lens cameras. The table below summarizes the Q's performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.6 sec Below average
Autofocus *
(Normal light)
0.2 - 0.4 secs Average
Autofocus *
(Low light)
~ 1 sec Average
Shutter lag Barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 2.5 sec Average
Shot-to-shot
(With flash)
~ 3 sec Below average
* With standard prime lens

Average is definitely the take-home message when it comes to performance on the Q.

The Pentax Q can shoot at 5 frames per second, but only for JPEGs. For RAW and RAW+JPEG, you must use the significantly slower low speed option. Here's what kind of burst mode performance I was able to get out of the Q:

Image quality Low speed High speed
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 4 shots @ 1.2 fps N/A
RAW 6 shots @ 1.2 fps N/A
Large/Fine JPEG 10 shots @ 1.3 fps 6 shots @ 6.0 fps

All-in-all, a pretty disappointing performance for an $800 camera. While the high speed burst rate is good, it's 1) limited to five or six shots and 2) the LCD is blacked out the entire time, so you cannot track a moving subject. In addition, burst sequences involving RAW images take a long time to be written to the memory card, during which time the camera is essentially locked up. When the Q reaches the limits listed in the table it pauses briefly, then continues shooting at a much slower frame rate.

Let's talk about photo quality now, starting with our infamous macro test.

I took the photo of our usual macro subject with the 8.5mm (47mm equiv.) standard prime lens. Colors look good here, and noise levels are low. The only real negative is that the figurine is on the soft side.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. The standard prime has a minimum distance of 20 cm, while the standard zoom's distance is 30 cm across its range. Pentax doesn't make any dedicated macro lenses for the Q, and I have no idea if they ever will.

I used the the standard zoom lens (which is equivalent to 27.5 - 83.0 mm) to take our night test scene, and it's not nearly powerful enough to get as close as I normally do. I suppose I could've used the telephoto toy lens, but I figure this probably takes sharper photos. Anyhow, the camera took in plenty of light, as you'd expect given its manual exposure controls. There's quite a bit of highlight clipping here, but it's not surprising, given the size of the sensor. Sharpness is good at the center of the frame, but falls off slightly toward the edges. There is a bit of noise here, but it's not enough to concern me. Purple fringing was not a problem.

Let's use this same night scene to see how the Q performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 125

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

There's a bit more noise at ISO 200, but it doesn't become really noticeable until ISO 400. I'd stop at ISO 800 in low light, saving it for small prints (and using RAW if possible) only. ISO 1600 and higher should be avoided, as there's quite a bit of detail loss.

I always enjoy showing off the benefits of RAW on digital cameras, so let's see if we can't make that ISO 800 night shot a little better:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

While the post-processed photo is a bit cleaner than the original JPEG, it's not dramatic. While it may be worth using at ISO 800 and 1600, don't expect miracles.

We'll do this all over again in normal lighting in just a moment.


Straight out of the camera


After using Redeye Correction in playback mode

Even with its pop-up flash, the Pentax Q still had noticeable redeye in our test. Thankfully, there's a tool in playback mode which did a perfect job of removing it. My guess is that you'll need to use this tool often, as the flash is quite close to the lens, even when it's popped up.

Distortion correction on (default) Distortion correction off

As I mentioned earlier, the Q has automatic lens distortion reduction. Above you can see what the standard prime lens looks like at default settings: there's very little distortion to speak of. However, if you turn correction off, you'll see some very strong barrel distortion. You'll also see this if you open up the Q's RAW files, but most editors can correct for it fairly easily.

Now it's time to see how the Pentax Q performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years, so now's a good time to perhaps open up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and Nikon 1 J1 reviews. Keep in mind that the crops only show a small portion of the test scene, so view the full size images too. Okay, let's begin:


ISO 125

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

Noise levels are reasonably low at ISO 125 and 200, and a bit more noticeable at 400. Details start getting fuzzy at ISO 800, so that's a good point to stop, or switch to RAW. If you are going to use ISO 1600, I would shoot RAW, as you'll get a lot more detail out of the photo (see below). The top two sensitivities are far too noisy to be usable. For those who didn't look at the Nikon and Panasonic reviews to compare, I can tell you that both cameras wipe the floor with the Q as the sensitivity increases. The Q's high sensitivity performance is closer to that of a good point-and-shoot camera, which isn't surprising, given that they use the same-sized sensors.

Can we close the gap a bit by shooting RAW and spending a minute post-processing? For the studio shots, the answer is yes. Let's look at the ISO 1600 and 3200 photos now:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

The biggest improvement here can be found at the ISO 3200 setting, where a fuzzy, seemingly out-of-focus image has gone to something you might be able to use for a small print. The difference between RAW and JPEG at ISO 1600 is noticeable too. Bottom line: shoot RAW at higher sensitivities on the Q for best results.

Overall, the Pentax Q's image quality is good at lower ISOs, but as the sensitivity increases, it quickly falls behind the competition. While exposure was generally spot-on, the Q loves to clip highlights. I'd make sure that you turn the highlight correction feature on, though do note that it'll increase the ISO to 250 (and thus produce noisier photos). Colors looked quite nice -- no complaints there. While sharpness will vary from lens to lens, overall things were slightly soft, but not enough for me to knock points off of the Q's score. Images have noise visible even at the base ISO, but it's not really an issue until you get to ISO 400. Higher sensitivities are not as good as what you'd get from an ILC with a larger sensor, though shooting RAW helps to a point. The Q smudges fine details a bit, though I've seen (much) worse. Purple fringing depends on what lens you're using. The two "standard" lenses didn't have much fringing to speak of, while the fisheye had quite a lot.

That's my opinion -- now it's time to come to your own conclusion. Have a look at our standard and Maui photo galleries and see if the Pentax Q's image quality meets your needs!

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