Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pentax MX-1: Hands-On Review and Sample Images

Pentax MX-1: Hands-On Review and Sample Images
Pentax MX-1 Black
The MX-1 in All Black.

Pentax has entered the “serious” high end compact digital camera market with the new MX-1, a retro-styled camera with a fast f/1.8-2.5 zoom and a competitive 12 Megapixel 1/1.7” sensor.  Available in silver and black or all black for $499.95, the MX-1 comes in next to the standout retro designs from Olympus (with its OM-D EM-5 and XZ-series) and FujiFilm (with its X-series).

The fast SMC f/1.8-2.5 lens includes 4 aspherical elements and covers a strong 28-112mm 35mm-equivalent zoom range.  Rounding out the MX-1’s spec sheet is ISO sensitivity to 12800, a (very bright and crystal clear) 3” 920k tilting LCD, macro shooting to 1cm, “shake reduction,” and, naturally, full HD movie shooting.

Brass Plates

Pentax MX-1 Silver and Black
The MX-1 in Silver & Black; the Silver portions are brass.
The buzz surrounding the camera is its use of brass top and bottom plates, which harken back to Pentax’s tough and reliable (film) SLR’s—and which complement its tough, highly water-resistant DSLR’s.  Indeed, that most reviews must state that Pentax is using “real” or “actual” brass serves to punctuate this unique feature; the spin is that the brass will get “brassy”—show wear—over time, a somewhat odd pitch given the inherent turnover of digital cameras.

The MX-1’s brass plates certainly feel more durable than plastic, aluminum or even some magnesium offerings, and the faux-leather rubber surface is nice and grippy—and it had better be, since there is neither a front nor a rear thumb grip, making the camera feel a bit loose especially considering its size and weight.

In the Field

It seems that the MX-1’s retro-styling comes at a cost, however:  there’s no hot-shoe on the top plate (and the pop-up flash is manually controlled) or options for an electronic viewfinder (EVF), no wheel surrounding the lens for aperture control or manual focusing, and there is only a single dial on the back of the camera for spinning through various settings (so that true manual shooters must use the same dial for speed and aperture controls, although most typically shoot in Aperture Priority (Av)). 

Pentax MX-1 Sample Images
The MX-1 is a capable street shooter with its fast f/1.8-2.5 28-112mm 35mm-equivalent zoom.
Yes, the small buttons on the back of the camera are quite well-spaced and well-designed and an Exposure Compensation dial sits atop the camera, but there is still a feeling of lack of control.  

On the positive side, the LCD is very, very clear and bright, making for easy and accurate review of images.

Image Quality
Ultimately the question should be whether the camera delivers good photos.  And the MX-1 does deliver very good pics—not spectacular, but very good.  Images tend to be very sharp, particularly in close-focusing situations, such as with these oranges.

Pentax MX-1 in Aperture Priority Mode.
Pentax MX-1 in Av Mode, f/4.5 at 1/250 sec, ISO 800.
I would have liked to shoot some portraits with the MX-1, but wasn't able to get much in the short time I had it.  I did take four pictures of a local fruit seller and was not happy with any of the results.

Here are several other samples taken on a cloudy February day in New York City.  Again, colors tend to be relatively accurate with decent contrast.

Pentax MX-1 Sample Images
Pentax MX-1 in Av Mode, f/4.5 at 1/50 sec, ISO 200, slight cropping.
I would have liked to see slightly faster focusing and much, much faster image processing (the camera often states that images are being processed) and shot-to-shot times.  


If you're looking for a retro-style camera, I would certainly consider options from Olympus and Fuji along with the MX-1.  The MX-1 stands out in only a few respects, most notably its retro styling and brass plates.  While the macro mode on the MX-1 is excellent, the LCD is clear, focusing is good and the lens is fast, none of these are particularly compelling reasons to pick the MX-1 over, say, the XZ-2 or even the Canon G15.

Additionally, if you're looking for a great all-around camera, I would consider sticking with the stalwarts from Canon with the PowerShot G15 and Panasonic with the Lumix LX-7.  Indeed, the MX-1 is not a standout by any means, and will likely have a difficult time making its way in this very competitive sector.
Pentax MX-1 Sample Images
Note the purple fringing on the high contrast areas in the coins above.
Pentax MX-1 Sample Images
The MX-1 had some difficulty with reds; these plums were not quite as red/pink as this image portrays.

Pentax MX-1 Sample Images

Pentax MX-1 Sample Images

Pentax MX-1 Sample Images
Pentax MX-1 Sample Images

Enthusiast compact camera comparison
Canon PowerShot G15
4.2 x 3.0 x 1.6 in.
(107 x 76 x 40 mm)
12.4 oz
(352 g)
Nikon Coolpix P7700
4.7 x 2.9 x 2.0 in.
(119 x 73 x 50 mm)
14.0 oz
(397 g)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 in.
(111 x 67 x 46 mm)
10.5 oz
(297 g)
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS
4.4 x 2.6 x 1.9 in.
(113 x 65 x 48 mm)
12.2 oz
(346 g)
Pentax MX-1
4.8 x 2.4 x 2.0 in.
(122 x 61 x 51 mm)
13.8 oz
(391 g)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Olympus TOUGH TG-2 Hands On Review and Sample Photos

Olympus TOUGH TG-2 Hands On Review and Sample Photos

When the Going Gets Tough . . .

The Olympus TOUGH TG-2 iHS: not just for underwater photos!

Olympus pushes the rugged camera envelope again with its new flagship Tough model, the STYLUS TOUGH TG-2 iHS—but the latest in super-durable cameras is not just for divers and explorers:  its image quality is great and features such as an optional 60 frames per second shooting and easy to navigate controls make it one of the best travel point and shoots available.  Read on for a hands-on review and for some sample images.

Specs:  Bright f/2.0 Lens, 12.4 MP Sensor, and 5 to 60 FPS Shooting
The TG-2 sports an industry-leading, bright f/2.0 maximum aperture lens at its 25mm (35mm-equivalent) wide angle, and a 12.4 megapixel CMOS image sensor and TruePic VI image processor similar to those found in Olympus’ PEN series cameras.  This combination gives it an impressive ISO sensitivity range of 100-6400, as well as a speedy 5 fps shooting at the full 12 MP for 25 frames . . . or up to an amazing 60 fps for 100 images at 3 MP.  There are several settings between 5 fps and 60 fps that allow for more or less detail.
Olympus TG-2 Sample Image.
Olympus TG-2, f/2.0 at 1/80 sec., ISO 100, slight cropping but no image manipulation.

Hands-On:  A Great Street Shooter

That lightning-quick speed makes this a fantastic street shooter and (with the shutter sound turned off!) perfect for taking travel photos unnoticed.  Focusing is quick and accurate.  Even the reduction in image size at the highest frame rate produces very good photos, fully capable of small prints or web photos.  While certainly a bit bulkier than your average point and shoot, the TG-2 isn't too heavy or too big to carry around.  In fact, its tough characteristics make it a great travel candidate.


Olympus appears to have done some testing on its user interface.  Controls on the TG-2 are excellent, a real pleasure to work with.  Flash control, self-timers, exposure compensation, ISO and white balance are easily accessed using the TG-2’s rear joystick-like control (instead of having to dive into the menus). 

Olympus TG-2, f/2.0 at 1/320 sec., ISO 100, slight cropping but no image manipulation.

Image Quality
Image quality is really quite fantastic.  Test images were sharp, with excellent color representation from reds to greens.  Even at automatic settings, the TG-2 managed to nearly perfectly meter scenes, resulting in well-balanced and accurate photos.  Contrast is great, with little or no post-production necessary in most cases.  There is a slight amount of fringing in out of focus areas, not atypical for point and shoot cameras, but the TG-2 definitely performs better than most cheap P&S’s.

Aperture Priority & Enhanced Intelligent Auto

For added creativity and control, the TG-2 allows you to bring Aperture Priority mode to places you wouldn’t take your DSLR.  Aperture selection choices are limited to three choices (wide open at the chosen zoom setting (from f/2 to f/4.9), stepped down slightly and stepped down to the maximum for the zoom (from f/8 to f/18)).  Still, the option to control some aperture is certainly welcomed. 

Olympus TG-2, f/2.8 at 1/200 sec., ISO 100, slight cropping but no image manipulation.
The camera also features enhanced Intelligent Auto for quick and accurate photos, and automatically detects the subject and lighting situation to identify what type of scene—from up to 30 different options—you are shooting.  As noted above, auto settings were very accurate and quite reliable.

High Speed 15 FPS: f/2.8 at 1/2000 sec., ISO 100, slight cropping but no image manipulation.

Video:  A GoPro Alternative?

While not specifically marketed as a challenge to the number of action sports cams gaining in popularity, such as the GoPro and Contour+, the TG-2 certainly should be considered as a viable alternative, particularly for photographers looking for only occasional but high quality video.   Naturally the TOUGH shoots in 1080p HD video (1920 x 1080 pixels) at 30 fps, but can also shoot high-speed videos at up to 240 fps (in QVGA, or 320 x 240 pixels) in .AVI format, far faster than those other action cams—albeit at a much lower resolution.  The TG-2 also includes Linear PCM Stereo audio recording, a feature typically reserved for higher end cameras.

Olympus TG-2, f/2.8 at 1/200 sec., ISO 100, no cropping or image manipulation.

Bright LCD Display
Rounding out its feature set is a 3 inch, high-resolution OLED (610,000 dot) display that is very bright, even in direct sunlight (something the aforementioned sports cameras decidedly lack).  The screen has a number of protective coatings to prevent scratches.

Not Enough?

If that wasn’t enough, the TG-2 accepts an additional fish-eye lens for wide shooting and which can be used at all of the above-mentioned extremes.  Is 50 feet deep not enough for you?  Add the Olympus PT-053 underwater housing for dives up to 135 feet.

The TG-2 is a beautiful, capable, feature-rich camera that takes fantastic photos.  While bulkier than your average point and shoot, this camera is not just for diving or taking to the beach.  Its speed and image quality make it a great street shooter/travel camera, with the added bonus of protection from drops, spills and chills.

More Sample Photos

Olympus TG-2 Sample Image.

Olympus TG-2 Sample Image. 
Olympus TG-2 Sample Image.