Pentax Q-S1 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Pentax Q-S1
Resolution: 12.40 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/1.7"
Kit Lens: 3.00x zoom
5-15mm
(23-69mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 100-12800
Shutter: 30-1/8000
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
(105 x 58 x 34 mm)
Weight: 7.2 oz (203 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $500
Availability: 08/2014
Manufacturer: Pentax
Full specs: Pentax Q-S1 specifications
12.40
Megapixels
Pentax Q-mount 1/1.7"
size sensor
image of Pentax Q-S1
Front side of Pentax Q-S1 digital camera        

Pentax Q-S1 Review -- First Impressions

by
Preview posted

Back in 2011, Pentax launched its first compact system camera, the tiny little Pentax Q. In true Pentax fashion, the original Q was extremely small, yet had surprisingly good handling. (Doubly so, when you consider how many physical controls Pentax placed all over its solid little magnesium-alloy body. Clearly, this was a camera designed by and for photographers -- at least, from an ergonomic standpoint.

Unfortunately, to achieve its extremely small body size, Pentax opted for an equally-tiny 1/2.3-inch type sensor. That was far smaller than the sensors used in most fixed-lens enthusiast compacts, let alone its mirrorless brethren, and it led many to dismiss the Pentax Q out of hand.

The followup Pentax Q10 retained the same sensor size, but last year, Pentax upped the ante with the Q7, sporting a larger 1/1.7-inch type sensor. While that was still pretty small compared even to the 1-inch sensors used in Nikon's 1-series mirrorless line, let alone to those of a Micro Four Thirds, APS-C or full-frame mirrorless camera, it still provided a full 50% greater surface area than the chip used in the Pentax Q and Q10.

But although it fit inside the same lens mount, this new sensor was no longer paired with the extremely small, solid magnesium-alloy body of the original Q. Instead, the Pentax Q7 adopted the slightly larger, predominantly polycarbonate body that the company had introduced in the meantime with the Q10. Now, Pentax takes the Q-series back to its roots with the Pentax Q-S1, a camera which pairs the larger sensor size of the Q7 with a body more reminiscent of the original Q -- albeit sadly not quite as compact. (It's actually the largest and heaviest Q-series body yet, although let's be honest, we're talking a few millimeters difference in size here -- not a change you're likely to notice.)

Like its forebears, the Pentax Q-S1 is still a camera of extremes, aimed at those photographers for whom minimizing system size is the primary goal. For many photographers who need to shoot without flash in low light, its sensor size will likely still prove difficult to accept. If size is more important to you, however, the Q-S1 looks to be the most exciting Q-series camera to date -- on paper, at least! Its brand-new body now has smoother, cleaner lines than did any of its predecessors, and while its a little bigger than the original Pentax Q, it's clearly more closely-related to that model than to subsequent designs.

The new body -- we don't yet know whether it's polycarbonate or metallic -- is overlaid with faux-leather trim. As well as the Quick Dial we're used to from earlier models, it now sports a matching protrusion on the opposite side of the lens mount. While it looks like a dial, we're told that this is actually an aluminum grip. Our understanding is that it doesn't actually turn or control any feature, and its shape was chosen merely to mirror the look of the Quick Dial, giving the design a greater feeling of balance and symmetry. (And while we're mentioning it, the Quick Dial, too, is crafted from aluminum.)

Inside, the Pentax Q-S1 looks to be very, very similar to the existing Q7. It's still based around a 12.4-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch type, backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor. Its output is still handed off to a Pentax Q Engine image processor, and the pairing still yields a maximum sensitivity of ISO 12,800 equivalent, as well as a five frames-per-second burst speed. And like its predecessor, the Pentax Q-S1 will still start up in one second, and focus down to EV 0. Also retained is the 3.0-inch, 460,000 dot LCD monitor, fixed in place on the camera's rear deck.

There are some more subtle changes, though. For example, the Pentax Q-S1 is now said to offer better autofocus performance, especially for face detection and tracking. It also now allows continuous AF in movie mode, but with a couple of provisos: This is available only for Performance-series lenses with the exception of the 06 Telephoto Zoom. And Ricoh has added two new Smart Effect modes: Antique (with three effect levels) and Fade Color (offering original, warm, or cool options). There are still only nine Smart Effects in total, though, so the cross processing and watercolor effects of earlier models have been removed.

For the time being, these are the only significant differences we're aware of in the camera's imaging pipeline. The big story here is clearly the new body, which is certainly more handsome than those of the Q7 and Q10 to our eye, and hopefully should be slightly more compact as well, playing up the camera's main strength over other mirrorless competitors.

The Pentax Q-S1 will be available in a wide range of body colors, as are many of Pentax's cameras. There will be four standard color combinations (Black, Pure White / Cream, Gunmetal / Carmine Red, and Champagne Gold / Cream), and it will be possible to custom-order your own color combination, as well.

If you take the latter route, you'll have an extra 36 possible body and grip color combinations to choose from. Body colors for custom orders will include Black, Pure White, Gunmetal, Champagne Gold, and Bright Silver. Grip colors will include Charcoal Black, Khaki Green, Cream, Royal Blue, Carmine Red, Burgundy, Canary Yellow, and Pale Pink. You'll also be able to order the Pentax-01 Standard Prime lens in one of five new colors to match your body: Grainy Black, Gunmetal, Pure White, Champagne Gold, and Bright Silver (the latter being distinct from the existing Silver version).

Available from August 2014, the Pentax Q-S1 will list for around US$500 in a kit with the Pentax-02 Standard Zoom kit lens. (On the Q-S1, this 5-15mm f/2.8-4.5 optic is equivalent to a 23-69mm wide zoom, after accounting for the focal length crop.) Body-only and twin-lens (02 Standard Zoom and 06 Tele Zoom) kits will also be offered, priced at US$400 and US$700 respectively.

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