Friday, June 24, 2011

The Came Ra Evolved: The New Pentax Q Small-Sensor, Mirrorless, Interchangable Lens Camera

The World's Smallest, Lightest and Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera: THE PENTAX "Q"

The Pentax Q is the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market. And, just like the company's famously diminutive Auto 110 SLR from the late 70's, it achieves this by embracing a smaller format than its peers. Being built around a 1/2.3" sensor, the Q is a fraction of the size of even the smallest existing mirrorless cameras and is the first really pocketable model (though the protruding lens still means that'll have to be the pocket of your jacket, rather than your shirt or trousers).

To make clear what the rather opaque 1/2.3" figure actually means, it equates to a surface area of around 28mm2. This is around 1/8th the size of the sensor used in Micro Four Thirds cameras and 1/13th the size of the the APS-C format sensor in Sony's NEX. The advantage of this is that the lenses for the Q mount can be made a lot smaller than those for other systems, but the downside is that the image quality is more likely to resemble that of a compact camera than a DSLR.

You can glean a lot about Pentax's approach to the Q from the lenses it has announced: a 47mm equivalent F1.9 prime lens for the enthusiasts but accompanied with a healthy dose of fun in the form of two fixed focal length 'toy' lenses (a wide-angle and a telephoto version, both sub-$100). On the fun side of things there will also be a fisheye lens or, at the more serious end, a 28-83mm equivalent standard zoom with a built-in shutter, allowing flash sync at any shutter speed.
Coupled with the 47mm equiv. prime or the standard zoom the Q, with its sturdy magnesium-alloy build, appears to be offering an alternative take on the photographers' compacts such as the Canon G12, Olympus XZ-1 and even the Ricoh GRD. However, the fact that it can take different lenses means that in a matter of seconds it can be converted into a fun little camera that should still offer a more satisfying shooting experience than a mobile phone and image processing app.

And the Q is no toy camera, despite its modest sensor size it boasts a magnesium alloy body with rubber front coating, a 460,000 dot LCD on the rear and raw output in the DNG format. Interestingly, Pentax bucks the recent trend of trying to attract point-and-shoot users by removing those intimidating buttons with all those mysterious symbols on them, and includes plenty of external controls.

Pentax Q key specifications:

  • 12.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor (1/2.3" size - 6.17 x 4.55 mm)
  • Q-mount interchangeable lens mount
  • 12-bit DNG raw file option
  • 3" 460,000 dot LCD
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization and dust-removal
  • 1080p30 HD movie recording in H.264 format
  • 5 frame-per-second continuous shooting capability
  • Quick-dial control giving access to four image settings
  • In-camera HDR option blends three images
  • Built-in flash
  • Flash hot shoe (also used for mounting optional viewfinder)
  • Front and rear IR remote sensors

Compared to the Sony NEX-C3

The Q's well-proportioned design makes it a little hard to work out how large it is until you see it in comparison to another camera. The sensor is around 1/13th the size of that in the NEX-C3 but does means it's the closest a mirrorless camera has yet come to being truly pocketable. 
Placing the Q side-by-side with the NEX helps give some idea of how small it is, but taking the lens off also reveals how small its sensor is. The Pentax doesn't trigger quite the same wonder about how the engineers managed to fit so much into so little space - suggesting that there's a minimum size a camera can currently be, regardless of sensor size.

The camera’s tiny size, lightweight design, and superior image quality are made possible by an innovative PENTAX developed imaging system. With a high-resolution 12.4 megapixel, 1/2.3 inch CMOS image sensor, the Q carves out an entirely new camera category that extends beyond traditional digital compact, APS-C or 4/3 digital cameras. The backlit sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering instrument that produces very little noise at high sensitivity levels particularly in low light settings. Further, the new Q lens mount is a perfect match with the new sensor and every interchangeable Q lens is designed for more advanced image quality than may be found on traditional compact digital cameras. This innovative PENTAX design is the foundation of the Q’s position as the world’s smallest, lightest ILC system with superior image quality.

Several important features of the PENTAX Q include:

  • A newly designed PENTAX Q-mount lens system for convenient interchangeability with a variety of specialty Q lenses including prime, zoom, fisheye and more.
  • Exceptional image quality in 12.4 megapixels from the Q’s 1/2.3 inch backlit CMOS image sensor. Capable of producing 12 bit DNG RAW and JPG images, the backlit CMOS sensor is a highly efficient light-gathering instrument designed specifically to produce very low noise at high levels of sensitivity.
  • Extremely compact, durable, lightweight, scratch resistant magnesium alloy body.
  • The power and flexibility of traditional DSLR shooting modes such as Program, Aperture/Shutter Priority, and Metered Manual exposure control as well as highly convenient PENTAX Auto Picture and 21 scene modes for casual shooting, including new Forest and Stage Lighting options
  • A variety of creative modes, Smart Effect options, or camera settings that assign to the Q’s Quick Dial located on the front of the camera. Smart Effects modes enhance digital photography by applying a series of effects to images to achieve high quality finishing. Brilliant Color, Vintage Color, Warm Fade, Bold Monochrome, and Water Color are just some of the Smart Effects available and may be assigned on the Q’s Quick Dial.
  • In-camera HDR capture mode shoots 3 images of varying exposures, blending them to bring out the details in even the darkest shadows and brightest highlights of extreme contrast shots.
  • High quality motion video with stunning full 1080p HD clarity at 30 frames per second. The Q processes the full HD video using high quality h.264 compression for superior color and detail and offers creative video effects through custom image modes, digital video filters, and interval shooting.
  • A sensor-shift Shake Reduction system with integrated DRII Dust Reduction for blur and dust free images even in low lighting.
  • 5 frames per second continuous shooting mode for any fast action setting.
  • Effortless bokeh control with the Q’s Bokeh Control filter. (Traditionally controlled through a DSLR lens’s aperture, bokeh is the out of focus part of the background that helps to emphasize the subject, drawing the viewer’s eyes to the most important part of the photo.) The Q offers a fine degree of extra control over image bokeh via an in-camera filter operation.
  • Powerful USER modes allow the creative photographer to save a series of favorite camera settings, filters, and custom image modes for instant reuse.
  • Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 30 seconds for freezing fast action or capturing long nighttime exposures. Bulb mode adds flexibility for low light photography and motion effects.
  • A built-in popup flash adds the perfect amount of extra light to an image with a high extension to naturally reduce the redeye effect common to compact cameras. The Q’s flash is effective to 23 feet at 200 ISO, and covers a wide angle 28 degree field of view.
  • Compatibility with the latest generation SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards for ultra-high capacity storage as well as outstanding image file portability.
Along with the Q, PENTAX introduced the PENTAX 01 Standard Prime kit lens and an optional optical viewfinder. The unifocal standard lens has a focal length equivalent to 47mm in the 35mm format. The lens offers a natural perspective similar to that of the human eye and is ideal as a multipurpose, everyday standard lens for various subjects including landscape and portraiture. With a maximum aperture of F1.9, it performs superbly in dim lighting and may be easily adjusted for bokeh. Incorporating two high grade aspherical optical elements, this lens compensates various aberrations to a minimum.

Featuring the state-of-the-art optics incorporating special optical glass elements and PENTAX exclusive lens coating technology, this lens delivers beautifully defined, high quality images that are sharp and high contrast even at the edges. The AF motor installed in the lens assures smooth, quiet focusing operation. The lens shutter mechanism allows the PENTAX Q’s built-in auto flash to be synchronized to the camera’s top shutter speed of 1/2000 second (or 1/250 second when using an accessory flash unit). This lens is also equipped with a built-in ND (neutral density) filter, which comes in handy when shooting with open aperture at bright locations or when using slower shutter speeds.
The shoe-mounted viewfinder attachment is an optional accessory. This External Viewfinder O-VF1 offers outstanding compositional framing, even in the brightest sunlight where viewing an LCD screen is traditionally a challenge. (Note: The Viewfinder offers framing marks for the Standard lens.) 

Available in white or black body models, the PENTAX Q and Standard Prime lens (available in silver) kit will be around $800. Initially, the PENTAX Q system will ship in Japan. Anticipated shipping time to the United States is early Fall 2011.

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