Pentax Q7 Review
The new Pentax Q7 is one of the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens cameras currently available. At its heart is a new 1/1.7"-type back-illuminated CMOS sensor and the super-compact Q-mount lens system. The Pentax Q7 also features improved low-light auto focus, an upgraded Shake Reduction mechanism, full HD movie recording, in-camera HDR exposure blending, digital level function, Eye-Fi card compatibility, a multi-exposure mode and a 3-inch, 460,000-dot rear screen with an aspect ratio of 3:2. The Pentax Q7 is available in no less than 120 camera colour combinations (including three standard models) and is priced at £369.99 / $476.95 body-only, with a standard zoom for £399.99 / $499.99, or in a double-zoom kit for £539.99 / $699.99.
Ease of Use
Although Pentax’s inaugural, numberless ‘Q’ compact system camera was one of the last to join the mirror-less ‘CSC’ party, 2011 already seems like an age ago. On a positive note, the smaller than average size and lighter than usual weight of said model and subsequent Q10 was what, personally, we’d always hoped a true compact system camera would deliver, whilst the retro styling rested easy on the eye.
Perhaps inevitably, however, there was some sniping regarding what exactly the point of the Q system was, when a 12.4 megapixel, 1/2.3-inch sensor size (the same as that found in ordinary snapshots) fell not only short of CSC competitors, but also the APS-C sensor incorporating digital SLRs to which it hoped to offer an alternative. In addition, on a less sensitive note, there was the fact that photographers had yet another lens mount and system to invest in from scratch; even if there’s now an adapter that now allows the attachment of larger Pentax K-mount lenses for existing Pentax owners.
Keeping all bases covered, Pentax, latterly Pentax-Ricoh, or just the Ricoh Imaging Company as it is now confusingly known, has pressed ahead with both DSLRs, including recent K-500 and K-50 models, and CSCs, of which the Q7 is the very latest, following on directly from the Q10. The most notable bit of news this time around is that the ‘7’s sensor size is bigger at 1/1.7-inches, though the resolution hasn’t followed suit and has, perhaps sensibly, remained at 12 megapixels.
As with its latest DSLRs, the brand is offering the ‘7’ in a range of colours; we had the hard-to-miss canary yellow version in to take a look at, which was certainly a conversation starter with those who witnessed us using it. That said, whilst this and some of the other available colour choices can seem a tad eccentric if viewed in isolation, if you’re lucky enough to witness a larger display of ‘Q’ models stacked together in a Japanese camera store, then its impact is greater and what’s initially gimmicky starts to make some weird sort of sense. The suggestion would seem to be that in the Q7 we have a camera that, to use that well worn advertising cliché, can be ‘as individual as you are.’
This all has relevance to a review of this model as more so than most the Q7 will be sold on its looks. For one it is tiny compared to most rival system cameras, being almost the size of a credit or business card, albeit wider than your thumb in depth. Its official dimensions are 58x102x33.5mm and it weighs just 200g with lithium ion rechargeable battery and SD card inserted, but naturally without Q-mount lens attached.
Secondly both its diminutive proportions and wacky colour offerings conspire to make the camera look distinctly toy like. You’ll either think that’s cute or, if more serious minded, find it a turn off, but on a practical note the backplate buttons are so tiny as to require a precise fingernail operation; the rear LCD isn’t a touch screen here. That said we can imagine the Q7 being very popular with females, or simply those who prefer a device that is properly small and compact above the requirement for the ultimate in image quality that perhaps a larger sensor and bigger glass would ensure. No claims are being made for this camera as a professional tool.
Unsurprisingly the Q7 further omits an eye-level viewfinder, whilst its LCD is of the non-tilting, non-angle adjustable variety. Since we don’t get Wi-Fi either, we are offered Eye-Fi card compatibility as compensation to still enable wireless image transfer/back up. What’s included in the box however for a manufacturer’s asking price of £399.99 – with street prices inevitably lower still – is an impressively compact 5-15mm standard zoom, the colour of which matches the canary yellow camera body. Suggesting the opportunity to expand the system with further accessories we get a vacant hotshoe on the Pentax’s top plate, whilst there is a powerfully sprung pop-up flash provided that resembles a robotic pelican when erect.
From the front the Q7 looks its best, resembling a shrunken DSLR and signifying, outwardly at least, that this is a better proposition for better photos than your 3x pocket snapshot or smartphone. However the smaller form factor has thrown up some compromises naturally. A case in point: the bulb for the flash is located top right of the lens mount, sufficiently close to the camera’s edge that a stray fingertip can partially block it leaving a shadowy black ‘smudge’ visible in the image. Interestingly the flash doesn’t actually have to be manually raised for it to fire as, unlike most competing CSC’s that sink a pop-up flash into their top plates, the flash window remains constantly visible at the front, retaining its line of fire to our subject.
Otherwise the Pentax Q7’s control layout is a mix of the conventional and the less so. Over at the opposite side of the lens mount, located top left if viewed from the front, we find a more familiar pin-prick of a porthole housing the AF assist lamp/self timer indicator. This is housed next to the ridged edge of a small, penny-shaped shooting mode dial, its positioning meaning that it falls under the forefinger. Here we have a snug eight options to choose from when setting up our shots, from the familiar all auto and video mode options, through program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual settings, to a comprehensive 21-option selection of scene modes. The last setting on the dial, the enigmatic ‘BC’, is not a date reference to the charmingly archaic design but translates here as ‘Blur Control’, a means by which users can selectively blur their subjects’ surroundings via a partial rotation of the Q7’s rear command dial. The latter is the exact same size as the shooting mode wheel, and conveniently sits just behind it on the camera’s top plate. The small form factor here at least ensures that no control or button is too much of a stretch to access quickly.
That being said even though not excessively fast/bright at a maximum aperture of f/2.8 (running up to f/4.5), we did manage to achieve an attractive ‘bokeh’ with the manual use of the Q7’s supplied zoom. That’s not that bad a spec for a bundled zoom lens.
Staying at the front of the camera, below the shooting mode dial we get a narrow yet comfortably rounded handgrip with leather effect padding. There’s enough room here for two fingers to curl around the grip, whilst the user’s forefinger hovers between the shooting mode wheel and the raised shutter release button to the left of it. Unusually, this padding is mirrored on the opposite side of the lens. It almost looks as if the Q7 is sporting a pair of sideburns when the camera’s viewed lens on.
And in truth it is more a visual thing than a practical concern. Though the camera can be held in both hands, a further front-mounted dial on the bottom right side of the lens slightly interferes with this. Settings on this dial are numbered one to four and out of the box we are provided with access to image-enhancing colour settings, applied at the time images are captured. These are the self explanatory ‘Brilliant Colour’, the colour isolating ‘Unicolour Bold’, the desaturated tones of ‘Vintage Colour’ plus a Cross Processing-style option. These are in addition to a set of effects filters accessed via the main menu button on the backplate, and present ready-made options to fall back on in an instant if you want to add extra visual ‘oomph’ when conditions are dull.
A note of caution; whilst it’s a fun feature, we did find this front-facing dial easy to jog when fetching the camera out of a jacket pocket or bag, so became gradually accustomed to checking we hadn’t accidentally arrived at an option we didn’t want before lining up a shot. In bright sunlight it isn’t always easy to tell via backscreen alone, which somehow feels smaller than the 3-inches quoted on the spec sheet. Resolution is a fairly ordinary 460k dots by current standards; put simply, whilst adequate it lacks a certain wow.
We’ve mentioned at least three of the controls on the top plate already. Add to these a small, partially recessed power button and an identically sized playback button, mirroring each other at either side of the hotshoe. To the left of the playback button, if looking down on the camera and viewing it from the back, is a slider switch for raising the pop-up flash which literally springs to attention; plus, as we noted earlier, the flash doesn’t actually need to be raised for it still to work – but the further away from the lens it is the less chance of red eye, naturally. The flash settings here are pretty comprehensive too: we get auto flash, auto with red eye reduction, forced flash, forced flash with red eye reduction, slow sync, slow sync with red eye reduction, trailing curtain sync and off.
Though the Pentax Q7 may outwardly seem quite toy-like and cute, switch the camera on and you begin to get the impression that its maker is taking things a little more seriously than first impressions might give us rise to believe. A case in point is that the camera powers up in a second or so, meaning that, as with an entry-level DSLR, we never felt in danger of missing the moment we anticipated before firing the Q7 up. Squeeze the shutter release button down halfway and there’s a momentary pause before auto focus points appear on screen highlighted in green, the image visibly adjusting for focus and exposure. Squeeze the shutter release button down fully and a Large size, maximum resolution JPEG image is written to memory in all of two seconds. There’s also the option to shoot in Raw or Raw + JPEG. Image aspect ratios offered are 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 and perhaps more unusually 1:1.
As video mode exists as a setting on the top plate shooting mode dial, on the Q7 recording starts and ends with an initial and subsequent press of the shutter release button. Complete novices may find it tricksy to adjust focus using the manual lens ring, but like anything it’s possible with a bit of practice, the LCD screen just large enough to tell whether the subject’s sharp or not.
Even those who think small is beautiful may have cause to pause as we review the back of the Q7 however. As flagged up in our intro, the camera’s rear features buttons so small as to require fingernail (as opposed to fingertip) precision to operate. It’s achievable but is verging on the fiddly. As said controls are arranged to the right of the LCD screen, it’s the thumbnail of your right hand that does all the work.
Top right of the backplate is an exposure compensation control button; press this and we get the usual range of +/- 3EV offered, an on-screen slider provided for adjustment.
Beneath this again we find a green ‘easy mode’ button that doubles up as a dedicated delete control when in playback. This sits above a familiar four-way control pad arranged as a set of cross keys. At twelve o’clock is a setting for ISO. With the camera in auto mode, settings can be adjusted so that it operates within different parameters – for example ISO100-200, 100-400, 100-800, 100-1600, 100-3200, 100-6400, or 100-12800. Twist the dial to program mode instead and we have the chance to go for the same or instead manually choose all individual points in between via a rotation of the command dial at the back edge of the top plate. At three o’clock on the backplate pad meanwhile we find a self-timer setting that also doubles up as a drive mode button. Thus we have the option of single shot or continuous shooting, using the camera with an optional remote, placing the camera in exposure bracketing (+/- 3EV) or multi exposure modes, as well as accessing interval shooting; so, though it is perfectly possible to just point and shoot, more creative options are provided within the Q7 than initially meets the eye.
At six o’clock on the cross key selection we have a white balance button, with a full selection of daylight and artificial light balance options plus the ability to set white balance manually if you happen to have a piece of white paper or white board to hand. The final ‘key’ of the line up positioned at nine o’clock is for the flash options, as already covered.
Bottom right of the backplate we have the Q7’s final two controls in the self-explanatory info and menu. Whilst a press of the former brings up a comprehensive array of options that basically floods the screen with information reducing the captured image to small thumbnail in the corner or selectively subtracts it to let the shot ‘breathe’, in capture mode we are handily – and unexpectedly – presented with a graphical display of key shooting settings. Think the ‘Quick Menu’ of Panasonic Lumix compacts, but on steroids. Here we are offered custom control over the image – choose from bright, natural, portrait, landscape, vibrant, radiant, muted, bleach bypass, reversal film, monochrome or cross-processing options.
Next up, digital filters are accessible via this button also. The almost exhaustive options in this mode are toy camera, high contrast, shading, tone expansion, invert colour, extract colour, unicolour bold, water colour, posterisation, a slimming mode, plus fish eye. The third icon offers a trio of high dynamic range options: either auto, HDR1 or HDR 2 mode, depending on how pronounced you’d like the effect to be.
Highlight correction and shadow correction options are up next (both either auto, on, or off), followed by a choice of three metering modes: the all-encompassing multi segment, centre weighted or spot. The seventh option in the custom menu meanwhile allows us to turn on or off an in-camera neutral density filter, whilst the eighth offers us the ability to switch between auto and manual focus – something it might have been worthwhile offering a dedicated button or lever for elsewhere on the body perhaps? Next we have the ability to swap auto focus method and either to use multiple AF points which we relied on in the main, manually select your AF point, chose spot or tracking AF, or finally go for face detection. Focus peaking, distortion correction, as aspect ratio, image capture format, resolution and activation of built-in shake reductions make up the final options here – so a comprehensive selection by any estimation.
Some of the above options can additionally be accessed – though not quite as quickly or as readily – via a press of the ‘menu’ button located alongside ‘info’. Menu options are divided into a DSLR-like series of numbered folders, split between stills options, video options (which includes the ability to utilize each of the digital filters accessible in stills mode), plus the usual playback, set up and custom menu options – the latter enabling such features as being able to access the focus ring even when shooting in AF mode and, as previously stated, fire the flash when retracted. Otherwise, via the same menu, both these options can be turned off. It all adds up to the impression that the Q7 is pitched at some hitherto undiscovered market that may or may not exist between complete amateurs and photo enthusiasts.
The rechargeable lithium ion battery of the Q7 is good for up to 260 shots, slightly bettering the performance of something like the Nikon J3 at 230 shots, but is in truth pretty average when compared to the market as a whole. Rather than being a bottom loader, on the Pentax the battery in inserted into one side of the camera, whilst a slot for manner of SD media exists on the opposite side. Thus both can be added or removed easily when the camera is mounted on a tripod, for which a central screw thread is provided on the base.
So, what of the images the Q7 produces? Is it a case of seven deadly sins or the magnificent seven? Read on to find out…