Pentax Q7 – Living with the smallest compact system camera in the world
Pentax recently released the latest update to their Q-mount system, the Pentax Q7. The Q7 is billed as the world’s smallest compact system camera and boasts some notable improvements over the Q10 that it replaced. Like Pentax’s entry-level DSLR’s, the Pentax Q7 can be customized in 120 different color combinations – making it uniquely yours. Clearly Pentax is making a play for the fun-loving, enthusiast crowd promising a deep range of customized bodies and a step up from that smartphone you’re lugging around , the Q7 promises style and uncompromising image quality – but does it make the grade?
SPECS, SPECS, SPECS
Like reading lots of numbers in list format that may or may not pertain to what you can do with a device? Then this is your section. The Pentax Q7 main feature is its nearly comical diminutive size, but it still has a sensor that’s on par with mid-level (and slightly better) point-and-shoot cameras.
The Q7 is crammed with a 1 1/7-inch CMOS sensor for an effective pixel rating of 12.4MP. You can expect to capture RAW and JPEGs at a maximum of 4000×3000 resolution. RAW+JPEG can be simultaneously recorded (we’ll talk a bit more about that later).
On the rear you’ll find a 3-inch TFT color LCD display (460,000 dots) with an anti-reflective coating. As of this writing there isn’t an electronic viewfinder option for the Q7 (though there is an optical viewfinder for use with their wide fixed-lens the 01 Standard Prime), which makes that anti-reflective coating is a must if you hope to shoot anything in daylight.
The Pentax Q7’s focusing system uses a contrast detection AF which is not shabby for a beginner’s system, focus peaking (crucial if you plan on shooting with those K-mount lenses), with an ISO range from 100 to 12,800.
If your last shooter was your smartphone or some sub-$100 camera you picked up at your local big-box retailer, the Q7 seems light years ahead.
Make no mistake about it, the Pentax Q7 is made for the emerging photographer. More advanced shooters may scoff at specs but if we’re to spend all day haranguing over numbers on a website we wouldn’t be out there shooting. The Q7 is without a doubt a camera that knows its greatest strength is lack of size.
It’s roughly as tall as your standard credit card and weighing in at less than 7oz. with both battery and SD card installed, the Q7 makes a very good case for being the camera that’s always with you. There’s very little reason why it shouldn’t be, every bag can be a camera bag and weighing next to nothing means it won’t be much heavier than your larger smartphones.
Despite the Q7’s size, the chunky handgrip around the shutter is solid and feels substantial enough. My hands took a little time to get adjusted but never did it ever get too uncomfortable even when shooting for extended periods of time.
The Q7 also gets tons of style points for being customizable. With over 120 different color combinations available, the Q7 can be as funky as you’d like it to be. When shooting some Street scenes, the very colorful review unit I used helped eased potential subjects helping to get a more relaxed shot.
As far as the Q7’s ability to actually capture images, it definitely is a starter camera with a great deal of room to grow. The Q7 is simple enough to use as point-and-shoot replacement and yet has tons of customization options for preset white balance programs and Art Filters. Instead of having to constantly refer back to the tiny TFT screen you can simply twist a knob and have your favorite image effect or your custom white balance setting.
A sweet feature of the Q7 allows for non-destructive editing of JPGs and RAWs right from camera. Even when you take a shot where something goes wrong (exposure is too dark or too bright for example), you can make adjustments in your camera and not have to trash a shot you can salvage. It’s not going to replace Lightroom or Photoshop (or even iPhoto) but it’s nice that it’s there.
Just as the Pentax Q7’s greatest asset is its size, the size can be a turn off for photographers with larger hands. Though holding the Q7 feels far meatier than its size lets on, we found the controls cramped and found ourselves accidentally pressing wrong or multiple buttons when adjusting our settings.
The Q10 had a notoriously slow AutoFocusing mechanism and though the Q7 makes great improvements in this area, we found it a bit lacking especially comparing it to other mirror-less cameras out there especially in low light. It’s nowhere near as slow as the Q10 was (and we really applaud Pentax for addressing these criticisms) but when you absolutely only have one chance at getting the shot, we’d like to see the Q7 perform a bit better – even if we have to sacrifice its size to get there.
However, if we had to pick only one item that we could improve upon it is without a doubt the 3-inch TFT display. The Q7’s size is again working against what it could be capable of. The 3-inch display is smaller than an iPhone 4/4S’s display (already the smallest in the smartphone market) and next to most current generation flagship handsets, like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or Nokia Lumia 1020, the Q7’s screen seems nonexistent.
Pentax did manage to cram 460,000 dots onto a 3-inch display but it still doesn’t look as sharp as it should on a smaller panel and doesn’t offer much with respects to properly framing a shot comfortably/confidently.
The Pentax Q7 is in something of an oddball category, though it doesn’t have the power of some other entry-level cameras – like the 20.3 mega-pixel sensor in the Samsung NX1100 or the extensive lens availability of Panasonic’s GF or Olympus’s PEN Mini series of cameras – the Q7 definitely has a lot of personality while still maintaining it’s roots firmly dug into offering a capable camera and supporting ecosystem. Like many mirror-less cameras, the Q7 offers an optional mount adapter if you have existing K-mount lenses but the average customer considering the Q7 is most likely new to a camera system with interchangeable lenses. That’s not a bad thing.
The Q7′s greatest strength is its ridiculously small dimensions and the its ability to be a real camera that’s always with you (and we already know that that’s the best camera to have); the ability to customize it how you want is just icing on the cake. For the more advanced photographer however, this may not be the camera for you. Yes there are some genuinely well thought out features that can appeal to a more seasoned photographer – the ability to simultaneously shoot JPEG and DNG RAW files, focus peaking, highly customizable physical jog dials and function keys come to mind – the lack of some key features like a real EVF for shooting in daylight and an at-times-unreliable/too small LCD make this a great entry way into photography but not enough substance for the more advanced photographer.
Still, if you’re looking for something that travels well, can make a great image, and has personality for days, be sure to check out the Pentax Q7.