Pentax MX-1 Review

February 18, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |


The brand new MX-1 is the first premium digital compact camera from Pentax, aimed at the more discerning photographer. Featuring a 4x optical zoom lens with a fast maximum aperture of f/1.8 and 28mm wide-angle coverage, the Pentax MX-1 has a 1/1.7", 12 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS image sensor, ISO range of 100-12,800, support for the Adobe DNG RAW file format, 1080p movie recording, a built-in pop-up auto flash, sensor-shift shake reduction system, and a 3.0-inch tilting high-definition LCD monitor. The retro-styled Pentax MX-1 features a textured-rubber grip, genuine brass top and bottom panels, and a metallic lens ring. The Pentax MX-1 is available in black or black and silver priced at £399.99 / $499.99.

Ease of Use

The Pentax MX-1 is quite a large compact camera by current standards, measuring 60 (H) x 122.5mm (W) x 51.5mm (D) and weighing 363g body only, making it one of the bigger and bulkier premium compacts. When you actually pick the MX-1 up for the first time, though, it actually feels impressive. Very little about the Pentax MX-1 build quality feels compromised - the mostly plastic body feels very durable, helped in no small part by the actual brass plates on the top and bottom of the camera. Pentax hope that you will use the MX-1 so much that the paint will wear away to reveal the brass underneath, just like their film cameras of yore.

The front of the MX-1 is coated in a rubberized compound to aid grip, that enabled me to just use three fingers to hold it and my right forefinger to operate the shutter button, although there's no handgrip as such. On the rear there is a small rubberized area where your right thumb sits, with the rest of the body finished in a textured matt black plastic.

The MX-1 features an infrared remote control system, also found on some Pentax DSLRs and the Q-series of compact system cameras, the sensors for which are built-into the handgrip and the rear thumbgrip. This allows the shutter to be wirelessly triggered from behind or in front of the camera using the same remotes as used with Pentax's DSLRs. Completing the front of the MX-1 is a small window for the autofocus assist lamp and self0timer indicator.

One of the main attractions of the Pentax MX-1 is undoubtedly its ultra-fast, 28-112mm equivalent zoom lens. The company is heavily touting the f/1.8 maximum aperture at the 28mm end, but it's not so unique as it may seem at first glance - both the Samsung EX2F and Panasonic LX7 have lenses with a slightly faster f/1.4 at the wide end, not to mention that both offer a wider, 24mm equivalent field of view, while the Olympus XZ-2 actually seems to share exactly the same lens as the MX-1. There's also a built-in ND filter so that you can use that fast f/1.8 aperture even in bright sunlight.

Pentax MX-1 Pentax MX-1
Front Rear

Images are saved to SD / SDHC / SDXC cards, the most common media format currently available, with a slot accessed on the bottom of the body. The supplied rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery which powers the MX-1 is good for around 290 shots. The metal tripod mount is located inline with the middle of the camera body. On the right-hand side, when viewed from the back, are the PC/AV and HDMI ports, the latter providing a direct connection to a HDTV set, both of which are protected by a plastic cover.

On top of the Pentax MX-1 is quite a powerful built-in flash unit (range of 0.4m - 12.2m at 28mm focal length), which is popped-up via a sliding switch on the left of the camera. There's also a shooting mode dial which offers dedicated modes for program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual. These are backed up by full auto (the Auto Pict mode) and 21 different scene mode settings which are all indicated via the rear screen by unthreatening cartoon icons. The Auto Pict mode automatically detects scenes that require the Night Scene Portrait, Portrait, Landscape and Macro modes. The camera automatically sets the aperture, shutter speed, white balance, saturation, contrast and sharpness, leaving you to get on with composing the scene and taking the picture.

The Pentax MX-1 shoots Full HD quality video, recording high-definition video at 1920x1280 pixel resolution at 30fps in the Quicktime MOV format. 720p video can also be recorded at 1280x720 pixels at 60fps or 30fps. There's also a high-speed movie mode that records VGA (640x480 pixel) video at 120 fps and a time-lapse movie function. The maximum size of a single video clip is either 4 gigabytes or 25 minutes. There's also built-in microphones for stereo recording, but sadly no socket for connecting an external stereo microphone. The MX-1 also has a small but useful one-touch movie button set into its brass top-plate.

The Pentax MX-1's HDR Capture shooting mode (only available for JPEGs) takes three images with different exposures, and then records a single image that combines the properly exposed parts of each one, expanding its dynamic range. Although the MX-1 can microalign images before combining them, allowing hand-held HDR shots to be taken, for best results it's important to always use a tripod to prevent camera shake from blurring the HDR image, and it still doesn't work very well for moving subjects.

Pentax MX-1 Pentax MX-1


The MX-1 employs a contrast-detection autofocus system, with a face recognition function and 25 selectable focus points. Focusing is generally quick and consistent in good light even with fast-moving subjects that travelled across the frame thanks to the Tracking AF mode. The 25-point AF system offers fairly generous scene coverage and the camera also happily achieves focus indoors and in low-light situations, helped by the AF Assist lamp.

The MX-1 is also quick to get going. Press the small on/off button on top of the camera and you're up and shooting in around 1.5 seconds. The MX-1 provides a fast top shutter speed of 1/2000th second, and it also has an electronic shutter with a faster top speed of 1/8000th second.

It takes about 2 seconds to store a single JPEG image at the highest Fine quality setting, with no discernible lockup between taking shots, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. For RAW images the Pentax MX-1 takes about 5 seconds to store the image, and there is quite a long lock-up between images while the image is processed - you'll quickly tire of seeing the flashing message "Data being processed" and not being able to access the camera if you shoot Raw files. In the fastest continuous shooting mode you can hold down the shutter button and take a speedy 4.2 frames per second for up to 10 JPEGS, or there's a slower 2.8fps mode available which again allows you to shoot up to 10 JPEGs.

To the right of the shooting mode dial is the raised and surprisingly tactile shutter release button, encircled by a responsive zoom lever. Completing the MX-1's top-plate is a useful exposure compensation dial (+/- 2EV), which in conjunction with the ISO button and command dial on the back makes it quick and easy to take creative control of the camera.

Pentax MX-1 Pentax MX-1
Front Tilting LCD Screen

The Pentax MX-1 has a body-based shake-reduction system, moving the sensor to provide a 3-stop improvement. Turn it on in the main menu and the MX-1 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. In practice we found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when Shake Reduction is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.

The MX-1's large 3 inch LCD screen is bright, clear and has a wide viewing angle of 170 degrees horizontally and vertically, and the high pixel count of 921,000 dots is very welcome too. The LCD is articulated at the bottom and can be tilted downwards by 45 degrees and upwards by 90 degrees, which doesn't provide the greatest amount of movement but is quite useful for waist-level shooting or when holding the camera above your head.

The rear screen also doubles up as a comprehensive status display, which can be called up by pressing the Info button in record mode. You can also change all the settings right on the screen using a combination of the navigation pad and the rear e-dial. This ingenious solution spares you the pain of having to enter the menu, and makes most setting changes very simple. The MX-1 also offers a clever dual-axial digital level for accurate horizontal and vertical alignment, making it easy to keep your photos straight.

To the right of the LCD screen is a command dial for changing the aperture and shutter speed and for zooming in and out during image playback. Underneath is a very handy AV/AE-L button, and underneath that is the Green button, which has two uses. Firstly, when shooting in Manual mode, a single push of the green button allows you to instantly set the correct exposure for the subject, as calculated by the camera, useful if you need a starting point for your own exposure. Secondly, the MX-1 offers a Hyper Program function which instantly switches to either the Shutter-Priority or Aperture-Priority mode from the Program mode, simply by turning the rear command dial. Pressing the Green button then returns to the Program mode's recommended settings.

Pentax MX-1 Pentax MX-1
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Alongside is a four-way control pad with a central OK button, a similar set-up to that found on most digital compacts that will be familiar to those trading up. It provides quick access to the ISO, Burst, Flash and Macro settings. Underneath this control pad are the familiar Playback, Info and Menu buttons. The Menu button accesses the logical main menu system with the choice of five horizontal folders. Camera, movie and and playback settings are displayed next to each other so you can make decisions and adjustments on the fly. The fourth folder contains familiar set up options, with the fifth affording access to a wealth of custom settings. A nice touch is that each folder is split into a varying number of pages, with a maximum of 7 options per page so that you never have to scroll down past the bottom of the screen.

Pentax's Custom Images, similar to Nikon's Picture Styles and Canon's Picture Controls, are 5 preset combinations of different sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone settings. You can change the saturation, hue, high/low key, contrast and sharpness for each of the options. The MX-1 can also be set to automatically compensate for the distortion of its lens.

Once you have captured a photo, the Pentax MX-1 has an above average range of options for playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view 9 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to a magnification of 16x, compare two images side-by-side, and see detailed information about each image by pressing the Info button. You can also delete single or multiple images, view a slideshow, rotate, resize and crop an image, protect images so that they cannot be deleted, and set various printing options, including creating an Index sheet of multiple thumbnails. There are also 15 Digital Filters that you can apply to an image after you have taken it, and you can develop RAW files and edit movies in-camera.

Importantly the Pentax MX-1 can display a histogram both during and after taking a photo (just press the Info button) which is a great help in evaluating the exposure, plus any areas that are over-exposed can be set to flash on and off in the LCD preview to show you want you should be compensating for with your next attempt (you can turn this on or off). If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Pentax have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you.