Pentax Q Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: November 1, 2011

Last Updated: November 1, 2011

The Pentax Q (priced from $799) is the world's smallest interchangeable lens camera -- by far. Just how small is it? Look at this:

Pentax Q next to Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS
The Pentax Q versus the Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS

Your eyes aren't playing tricks on you: the Pentax Q is actually smaller than this compact Canon ELPH! How did Pentax manage to make such a small interchangeable lens camera? The secret is in the sensor: the Q's sensor is exactly the same size as what you'll find on the ELPH in the above photo: just 1/2.3". That makes it significantly smaller than APS-C, Four Thirds, and even Nikon's new 1-System cameras. We'll see later in the review if the Q produces photo quality that's closer to a compact camera, or an interchangeable lens camera. Naturally, the Q also uses a new lens system (not surprisingly called Q-mount), and there are currently five lenses on the market (more on that below).

Other features on the Q include sensor-shift image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD, manual controls, lots of special effects and filters, 5 fps continuous shooting, and Full HD video recording. There are plenty of other features, as well, which I'll tell you about as the review goes on.

And with that in mind, let's begin our look at the Pentax Q!

What's in the Box?

The Pentax Q is available in two kits, with your choice of a black or white body (so that's four configurations in total). You can get the camera and its standard prime, 8.5mm lens (equivalent to 47mm) for $799, or get that plus the standard zoom, 5 - 15 mm (lens 27.5 - 83.0 mm equivalent) for $1049. Here's what you'll find in the box for both of those:

  • The 12.4 effective Megapixel Pentax Q camera body
  • F1.9, 8.5mm (47mm equiv.) standard prime lens
  • F2.8-4.5, 5 - 15 mm (27.5 - 83.0 mm equiv.) standard zoom lens [dual lens kit only]
  • D-LI68 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring SilkyPix Developer Studio for Pentax
  • 251 page camera manual (printed)

The Q with its entire lens collection

There are currently five lenses available for the Q-mount, and you can get up to two of them in the box with the camera. These lenses are the definition tiny, though build quality is mixed. The bundled lenses are of decent quality, while the optional fisheye and toy lenses feel like plastic toys (though I think that's the point, at least for the toy lenses). All of these lenses support image stabilization, since it's built right into the camera body. The table below tells you a bit more about the five lenses and their various quirks:

Lens Name Price Focal range
(Native / Equiv)
01 Standard prime N/A 8.5 / 47 mm Not available separately
02 Standard zoom From $299 5 - 15 / 27.5 - 83 mm -
03 Fisheye From $129 3.2 / 17.5 mm 160 degree angle of view; MF only; aperture is fixed at F5.6
04 Toy lens wide From $79 6.3 / 35 mm MF only; aperture is fixed at F7.1
05 Toy lens From $79 18 / 100 mm MF only; aperture is fixed at F8.

So those are the first five Q-mount lenses. While I'd like to think that Pentax has more lenses in the pipeline, they produced any kind of road map yet. All of these lenses have a much larger crop factor than you're probably used to seeing on an interchangeable lens camera: 5.5X. I found that the standard prime is a bit too telephoto for my taste, though portrait photographers may disagree. I found myself using the standard zoom lens a lot more often due to its more useful focal range. Both of the standard lenses have mechanical shutters, in addition to the electronic one on the camera. Lenses 03 through 05 are manual focus only, and they have focus rings on the lens (albeit not very precise ones) to help you adjust the focus distance. They are also fixed aperture, and the camera will operate in Av mode regardless of what the mode dial says.

I admit that I've done almost zero "toy photography" before I got the Pentax Q. Despite their flimsy build quality, the two toys lenses produced better quality photos than I was expecting. If you add the Q's Smart Effects into the mix, you can come up with some pretty crazy looking photos.

Interchangeable lens cameras (which include D-SLRs) never come with memory cards, so if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The Q supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend a 4GB card for most folks. If you think you'll be taking a lot of Full HD movies, then an 8GB or 16GB card may be a smart purchase. Pentax recommends a high speed card (presumably Class 6 or better) for best camera performance.

The Q uses the D-LI68 lithium-ion battery for power. This batter packs just 3.4 Wh of energy, so that doesn't bode well for battery life. Let's see what kind of numbers the Q puts out:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 J1 230 shots EN-EL20
Olympus E-PM1 330 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 * 320 shots DMW-BLE9
Pentax Q 230 shots D-LI68
Samsung NX200 330 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-C3 400 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the Q's battery life is tied for the worst in this group of compact interchangeable lens cameras. Thus, I'd highly recommend picking up a spare battery, which will set you back around $38.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes about 115 minutes to fully charge the D-LI68, which isn't too bad. The charger does not plug directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable.

Pentax Q with optical viewfinder
The Q with standard prime lens and optional optical viewfinder

There are plenty of accessories available for the Pentax Q. Here are some of the highlights:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies Described earlier, all of these lenses have a 5.5X crop factor.
External flash AF200FG
The AF200FG is a compact flash that doesn't tilt or swivel. The AF360FG is much larger and more powerful, and has all the functions you'd expect from a flash at this price.
Optical viewfinder O-VF1 $249 Designed to work with the standard prime lens and provides 90% coverage. Pricey, too!
Off-camera shoe adapter Shoe Adapter F From $24 Attaches to the hot shoe and adds a PC sync port (while still allowing you to mount an external flash).
Remote control Remote Control F
From $27
Take photos without touching the camera. The waterproof remote offers a few more buttons than the "F" model.
AC adapter kit K-AC115 $95 Includes an AC adapter and DC coupler, which allows you to power the camera without draining the battery.
A/V cable I-AVC7 $14 If you want to connect the camera to a television using composite cables, you'll need to buy this.
Vintage leather case 85226 $99 A tan-colored leather case which screws onto the tripod mount and lets you shoot with the case attached. Has a cover piece which fits over the standard prime lens, as well.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

So there you have the most exciting extras that you can buy for the Pentax Q. Some of them may be hard to actually find in stores (or online), so you've been warned.

Pentax includes SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 with the Q. This software suite is included with cameras made by several other manufacturers (such as Panasonic), and while it's powerful, the interface and poorly translated menus make it a bit hard to use. You can also use Adobe Photoshop to edit the Q's RAW files, as long as you have version 6.5 of the Camera Raw plug-in.

Oh, and in case you don't know: RAW files contain unprocessed image data straight from the camera's sensor. This allows you to adjust things like white balance, sharpness, color, noise reduction, and more -- all without degrading the quality of the image. The downsides are larger file sizes, slower processing speeds, and the need to post-process every photo on your computer before you can share them.

In many ways, Pentax is an "old school" camera manufacturer -- and I'm not just talking about their antiquated menu system. While other camera companies have mostly moved to "digital" camera manuals, Pentax stills gives you a thick, printed manual in the box with the Q. On top of that, it's actually pretty good, with lots of detail and a large typeface. Documentation for SilkyPix is installed onto your computer, and it's not nearly as good as what Pentax supplies.