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Pentax Q7 Review - First Impressions

by Mike Tomkins and Dan Havlik
Preview posted: 06/12/2013

Pre-order the Pentax Q7 with 5-15mm lens for $499.95 from Adorama!

Two years ago, Pentax turned convention on its head with the tiny Pentax Q compact system camera, the smallest interchangeable-lens model on the market by a significant margin. The Q was almost small enough to double as a key fob, and in our Pentax Q review we actually attached it to a keychain for a memorable photo opportunity, but its small size was achieved thanks to its most significant drawback.

The Pentax Q was hobbled by an image sensor that was tiny not only in comparison to those of its mirrorless rivals, but was smaller even than the chips used in typical enthusiast point and shoots. In fact, the sensor Pentax chose to use was the exact same size as that of a typical consumer camera. Although it turned in a better result than was expected for the sensor size, the Q's noise characteristics coupled with a very limited lens selection and a hefty price tag led us not to recommend the camera.

A year later, Pentax followed up with the more affordable Q10 -- featuring an updated image sensor, but retaining the sensor size -- and also launched an additional zoom optic. Thus far, we've not put the restyled Q10 through our labs, but others have, and their results suggest that the sensor has once again proven to be something of a stumbling block.

Now, Pentax follows up with a camera that aims to answer Q-series image quality criticisms while retaining the advantage of a truly tiny body. The Pentax Q7 mirrorless replaces its predecessor's tiny 1/2.3-inch sensor with a much larger 1/1.7-inch chip, the same size used in typical fixed-lens enthusiast compacts.

Given the image quality that Pentax was already able to derive from the original imager, the arrival of a chip which offers a 52% greater surface area bodes well for the Pentax Q-mount. And it's not just going to show an improvement in terms of image quality, either: more light captured means better low-light autofocus, too. Since it uses a larger portion of the Q-mount's image circle, the larger chip also promises greater wide-angle possibilities.

Despite the larger sensor, there's still room within the image circle to cater for Pentax's sensor-shift shake reduction system, as well. That's interesting, because it implies the use of a larger chip may have been the plan all along. Speculating for a moment, we'd guess Pentax went with a smaller chip in the early models to help it keep costs of the brand-new system down.

Alongside the Q7, Pentax has announced the release of another lens whose development was revealed way back in February 2012. The Pentax 07 Mount Shield lens is essentially a body cap with small pinhole-like lens, capable of shooting only at one focal length and aperture: 11.5mm at f/9. (That's 53mm-equivalent on the Q7, and 63.5mm on other Q-mount cameras.) It offers a fixed focus range of 2.3 feet to 6.6 feet (0.7 to 2m).

The idea is that the Shield lens is placed on your camera when not in use, but you can still grab a quick unanticipated portrait or snapshot without first fumbling for and mounting another lens. Like the Unique-series lenses for the Q, the Shield lens will have lots of distortion, and that's being marketed to the Instagram / Lomo crowd as a benefit rather than a drawback.

But let's return to the Pentax Q7 body, starting off with a quick walkaround. (And it will be quick; it's essentially identical externally to the existing Q10, so if you're familiar with that camera you can skip ahead to the technical info.)

Looking at the front of the camera, you'll notice pretty much the only noticeable difference between the Pentax Q7 and its predecessor, beyond the branding -- but only if you take off the lens. Comparing side by side, the Pentax Q7's image sensor is visibly larger, and the masking around the sensor on its stabilization platter has been backed off slightly to give a little more room.

Pentax has retained the five-position Quick Dial used to make creative selections, above which you can see the popup flash that can also be fired in its lowered position. (But with an increased likelihood of red-eye.) At the bottom, snugged up against the lens mount, is the single-hole microphone port. On the other side of the Q lens mount, there's still an AF assist / self-timer lamp near the top of the body, an infrared remote sensor in the handgrip, and a lens release button at the base of the mount.

The top deck, too, is unchanged. Starting from the leftmost end behind the flash, you'll find the mechanical flash release lever, playback button, intelligent flash hot shoe, three-hole speaker port, Power button, shutter button, and one behind another, the Mode and rear dials.

And finally, to the rear panel. Here, again, there are no noticeable changes. Alongside the LCD -- fairly typical in size, but it consumes most of the real estate thanks to the Q7's small size -- is a stack of controls and indications. From top to bottom, these are the secondary infrared remote receiver (we're still impressed that Pentax managed to fit two into a camera of this size), along with the Aperture / Exposure Compensation button, Delete / Green button, card access lamp (beneath the three dots for the thumb grip), four-way controller with central OK button, and the side-by-side Info and Menu buttons.

Available from August 2013 in a bundle with an 02 Zoom lens, the Pentax Q7 will be priced at around US$500, another US$100 below launch pricing for the Q10 with the same lens. (And about one-third -- US$250 -- below the list price of the original Q with 01 Standard Prime lens just two years ago.) Pentax will offer the Q7 in a choice of body and grip colors, and a total of 120 color combinations will be possible.

The Pentax 07 Mount Shield lens, meanwhile, is a no-brainer at just US$80 list, and ships from July 2013.

 

Hands-On with a Pre-Production Pentax Q7

by Dan Havlik

Along with the two new DSLRs from Pentax -- the K-50 and K-500 -- I got some hands on time with the new Pentax Q7 compact system camera today and I came away impressed. Like the K-50 (but not the K-500, which is only available in black), the Q7 comes in 120 different color combinations which you can custom order through Pentax's "Color to Order" online system. Place a custom color order for the Q7 and it should arrive in about four weeks, according to a Pentax representative we spoke with. Some of the color combos are quite snazzy, reminding me of fun, Lomography-style toy cameras.

The Pentax Q7 is not a mere toy though. It has many of the same features as its predecessor, the Q10, but upgrades others, including a new, larger, 1/1.7 inch, back-illuminated CMOS image sensor which is bigger than those of the Q10 and the original Q. You can shoot at up to ISO 12,800 with the Q7, and it performed better than expected in low light during my brief, hands-on time with the camera at the Pentax sneak preview today. Lighting at the event was dark, and yet images I shot with the Q7 looked surprisingly crisp.

The Pentax Q7 has an enhanced, Q Engine processor, and it was noticeably faster than its predecessor, starting up quickly and moving adeptly from shot to shot. Along with the cool colors, the Q7's light weight -- just seven ounces -- and small body make it highly portable. It was a bit of a tight fit but I was able to slide the Q7 with its new, 11.5mm (53mm equivalent in 35mm format) 07 Mount Shield lens into the pocket of my pants. If you add the optional external viewfinder, however, it will be a tight fit.

The Pentax Q7 is also packed with advanced and automated features including nearly two dozen smart effects, filters, and simulated lenses to provide more image tweaks than Instagram and Hipstamatic combined. Like the K-50 and K-500, the Q7 gives you wireless control over an Eye Fi SD card in the camera, letting you more easily share images over the Internet or via a nearby smartphone. Overall, the Pentax Q7 was a fun and chic compact system camera to shoot with in the brief time I had with it, letting me photograph models, food, and still lifes with equal aplomb.

 

Pentax Q7 Technical Info

by

Sensor. Pentax says the new 1/1.7-inch backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor offers 60% better signal-to-noise ratio compared to the smaller 1/2.3-inch BSI chip used in previous Q-series models. That sounds about right, for a chip with 52% greater surface area.

Sensor resolution is 12.4 effective megapixels, from a total resolution of 12.76 megapixels. We're happy to report that's unchanged from the resolution of the original Q and Q10: Pentax used all the extra sensor real estate to increase pixel size, rather than to cram in more pixels.

The sensor-shift stabilization system is retained -- more on that in a minute -- a pretty good indication that Pentax must have reserved itself plenty of room to play with inside the image circle to allow this upgrade.

Performance. Like those of the Pentax Q and Q10 before it, Pentax hasn't branded or identified a revision of the image processor used in the Pentax Q7, calling it only the Q Engine. It's said to be enhanced though, and startup time has been reduced from a manufacturer-claimed 1.8 seconds in the Q10 to just one second in the Q7.

The processor's enhancements aren't felt in burst shooting performance, however. In its Continuous Hi-speed burst shooting mode, the Pentax Q7 captures images at the same five frames per second as its predecessors, with a burst depth of just five JPEG frames. In the Continuous Lo drive mode, the burst speed falls to 1.5 frames per second, but the buffer depth can be extended to 100 JPEG frames.

ISO. The Pentax Q7 has a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 12,800 equivalents, in 1/3 EV steps. That's a wider range than was offered in the earlier, smaller-sensored Pentax Q10, which topped out at ISO 6,400 equivalent, and the Q7 should also show an improvement in noise levels across the board thanks to its larger sensor. When using Bulb mode, the Q7's sensitivity is capped at ISO 1,600 equivalent, just as in Pentax's digital SLRs.

Lens mount. The Pentax Q7 still has the same Pentax Q lens mount as in its predecessors, and accepts all the same lenses. The larger image sensor means that it will have a lower focal length crop of about 4.6x, versus the 5.6x crop of earlier models. That means all lenses will act as if they were wider than on the original Q and Q10, improving the camera's wide-angle capabilities, but at the expense of the telephoto possibilities. The larger sensor will also mean that more of each lens' image circle will be used, so we'd expect corner softness and vignetting to be more of an issue than was the case previously. (Although for the "Unique Series" optics, which emphasise these lens defects as an advantage, this could be seen as a bonus.)

Optics. To date, Pentax has released six lenses for the Q mount, and one more will ship before the Q7 does. There's also an official adapter available for K-mount lenses, and third parties offer more adapter types. These will all function with a 4.6x focal length crop versus 35mm.

Following are the available lenses for the Q-mount, their focal lengths for existing models, and their approximate focal length on the Q7:

Lens Name Equiv. Focal length
(Q / Q10)
Equiv. Focal length
(Q7)
Pentax-01 Standard Prime 47mm 39mm
Pentax-02 Standard Zoom 27.5 - 83mm 23 - 69mm
Pentax-03 Fish-Eye 17.5mm 15.5mm
Pentax-04 Toy Lens Wide 35mm 29mm
Pentax-05 Toy Lens Telephoto 100mm 83mm
Pentax-06 Telephoto Zoom 84-252mm 69-207mm
Pentax-07 Mount Shield 53mm 63.5mm

Stabilization. Not only has Pentax somehow managed to keep a sensor-shift image stabilization system in the Q7 while increasing the sensor size, it's actually boosted the corrective range from a manufacturer-claimed two stops to three.

Dust reduction. The Pentax Q7 also retains the company's DR II dust reduction system, similar to those used in earlier Q models, as well as its flagship K-series and 645D digital SLRs. Based around a piezoelectric element, this system represents a worthwhile step up in efficacy from the sensor shift-based systems used in many consumer DSLRs.

Display. The Pentax Q7's rear panel is dominated by a 3.0-inch LCD panel with a total resolution of some 460,000 dots, just like that in its predecessors. That equates to an HVGA (half VGA) array where each pixel is made up of adjacent red, green, and blue dots. The Pentax Q7's display is said to offer 100% frame coverage, and has an anti-reflective coating.

Viewfinder. The Pentax Q7 doesn't offer any form of built-in optical viewfinder, and unlike some compact system cameras, still doesn't accept an external electronic viewfinder either. Pentax does offer a shoe-mounted O-VF1 optical viewfinder accessory, but it only includes guide marks for the 47mm kit lens, and this combined with its $200 price tag -- close to half the cost of camera plus kit lens -- will correctly persuade most photographers to instead rely solely on the Q7's LCD display.

Focusing. While the Pentax Q7's autofocus system is essentially unchanged -- it still has 25 points and operates via contrast detection -- it now has a wider working range of EV 0 to 18 at ISO 100. The earlier models bottomed out at EV 1, by way of comparison. Translation: You'll be able to focus in lower light, thanks to the larger and more sensitive image sensor.

Flash. The Pentax Q7 includes a relatively weak, built-in flash strobe with a guide number of 4.9 meters / 16 feet at ISO 100, just as in its predecessors. At first glance it looks to be fixed in place, and it can in fact be fired in the lowered position if desired, but it also includes an unusually tall articulation mechanism that allows coverage sufficient for a 28mm-equivalent wide angle lens. There's also a full-sized hot shoe compatible with all of Pentax's current flash strobes, although larger units will be too unwieldy with such a small camera body.

When using the internal flash strobe, X-sync is possible at 1/2,000 second, but only if the attached lens includes an internal shutter mechanism -- something true only of the High Performance lens series. X-sync falls to 1/250 second with an external flash strobe, and plummets to just 1/13 second for Unique-series lenses that must rely on an electronic shutter. Flash exposure compensation is possible within a range of -2.0 to +1.0 EV.

Modes. As you'd expect, the Pentax Q7 includes the usual selection of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure modes. There's also an Auto mode that can automatically select between Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Scene Portrait, Night Scene, Blue Sky, and Forest shooting modes as the camera deems appropriate. For those who want a modicum more control without the need to understand basic exposure variables, there's also a Scene mode that offers a healthy selection of options: Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Moving Object, Night Scene Portrait, Sunset, Blue Sky, Forest, Night Scene, Night Snap, Food, Pet, Kids, Surf&Snow, Backlight Silhouette, Candlelight, Stage Lighting, and Museum, plus three JPEG-only modes, Night Scene HDR, Quick Macro, and HDR.

Shutter. Mechanical shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 30 seconds are available, and are controlled with an in-lens shutter mechanism in the Pentax-01 Standard Prime, Pentax-02 Standard Zoom, and Pentax-06 Telephoto Zoom lenses. The Fish-Eye, Toy, and Mount Shield lenses all lack an in-lens shutter mechanism, and since the camera body itself doesn't include a mechanical shutter, this necessitates use of an electronic shutter when these lenses are attached. Electronic shutter speeds range from 1/8,000 to two seconds, and the electronic shutter can be enabled in the Custom Setting menu to get a combined range of 1/8,000 to 30 seconds with shutter-equipped lenses.

The Pentax Q7 also offers a bulb position -- not supported with shutterless lenses -- in the Manual exposure mode, and this lowers the maximum sensitivity from ISO 6,400 to 1,600 equivalent.

Metering / Exposure. Three metering modes are available: Multi-segment, Center-weighted and Spot. The Pentax Q offers 3.0 EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3 EV steps. There's also a three-frame bracketing mode, plus an exposure lock function which can be tied to either the Shutter or Green buttons.

HDR imaging. The Pentax Q7 includes in-camera high dynamic range imaging, which automatically blends three shots in-camera to yield a single frame. Unlike some cameras -- typically older designs -- the Q7 can automatically microalign the source images, allowing the HDR mode to be used handheld.

Electronic level. Like Pentax's digital SLRs, the Q7 now includes a dual-axis electronic level function. It's a great addition if you shoot carefully and want to ensure your shots are level, and free from converging verticals.

Creative. The Pentax Q7 retains its predecessors' Smart Effect functionality, which offers up a selection of Brilliant Color, Unicolor Bold, Vintage Color, Cross Processing, Warm Fade, Tone Expansion, Bold Monochrome, Watercolor, and Vibrant Color Enhance effects. Each can be assigned to the dedicated front dial to provide five-step control (1-4 and Off) over the strength of the effect. Alternatively, the dial can be set to switch between user-selected effect types.

There are also a variety of capture-time digital filter modes, including Toy Camera, High Contrast, Shading, Slim, HDR, Invert Color, Extract Color, Color, Water Color, Posterization, and Fish-eye. Finally, a JPEG-only "Blur Control" mode attempts to simulate reduced depth of field, mimicking the look of images shot with larger-sensor cameras with fast lenses.

Quick Dial updates. The Quick Dial can now also be used to control more functionality on the Pentax Q7, answering a criticism we had of the earlier cameras' underutilized dials. Additional features which you can access through the Quick Dial include the focus method, focus peaking, and the ND filter for High Performance-series lenses.

Video. As well as still images, the Pentax Q7 can capture 1,920 x 1,080 pixel high definition video (commonly called 1,080p or "Full HD") at a rate of up to 30 frames per second. You can also select from high-def 1,280 x 720 pixel (720p) and standard-def 640 x 480 (VGA) resolutions. The Q uses MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, and saves movies in a .mov container. Audio is captured with a monaural microphone.

Connectivity. Options for getting your data off the Pentax Q7 include a USB 2.0 High Speed data port, as well as both NTSC / PAL composite standard definition video output, and a Type-D Micro HDMI high definition output. Impressively, given the size, the Pentax Q also includes infrared remote control receivers on both the front and rear of the camera, ensuring the remote works whether you're behind the camera or in front of it.

Storage. The Pentax Q7 accepts Secure Digital storage media, including the higher capacity SDHC and SDXC types. Eye-Fi's Wi-Fi enabled Secure Digital cards are also supported, and can now be controlled from the camera body, but no mention is made of higher-speed UHS-I cards. (They'll likely still work, but will fall back to regular SD card transfer rates.) Images are stored as .DNG RAW files, or compressed JPEGs in one of three quality levels. Movies are stored as .mov files.

Power. The Q7 uses the same proprietary D-LI68 lithium-ion rechargeable battery as its predecessors, but record-mode battery life has been improved slightly to 250 shots on a charge, to CIPA testing standards. (That's about a 9% improvement from the previous 230 shots figure.)

Body colors. The Pentax Q7 follows the company's recent tradition, being offered in a huge range of personalized color combinations. You can choose from 20 body colors, and six hand grip colors.

Watch the animation above right to see them all, or click the image below to see them all side by side in a new window. (2,048 x 1,069 pixels; ~650KB; you may want to save the image to your desktop before opening it if you're using an older machine).

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