Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: Pentax Q & 01 Standard Prime Lens (8.5mm f1.9)

This review was originally posted on my tumblr blog towards the end of November 2012. I did not originally plan to write as much as I ended up writing but I guess I had quite a bit to say about the camera and lens combo.

When I bought it I thought I'd try it out, take some nice pics, take it to a holiday or two, then sell it and hopefully make a bit of a profit. Even if I don't make any money from the sale, I thought I wouldn't lose too much since I got it for a good price.

Here we are, 1.25 years later and I'm still loving it. These days I mainly use it to shoot with C-mount lenses that I can't use on my Micro Four Thirds cameras. I'm too cheap to buy a proper fisheye lens but I have a nice Kowa CCTV lens that works pretty well as a fisheye lens on the Q. I don't use the 01 Standard Prime all that much these days but when I do, I continue to be amazed at the image quality even though the sensor is small compared to my other cameras. 

Reading this old review again, I find myself disagreeing with some of the things I've written and I must say that I like this camera a lot more now than I did back then. I really didn't think I'd be with the Q system this long but I'm actually now interested in adding the Pentax Q7 to my collection which has a slightly larger sensor than the Q and the Q10.

Anyway, on with the review!

The Pentax Q was not exactly a camera that I greatly desired and its original price was somewhere upwards of $700 so I wasn’t even considering it. As the price dropped to just below $400 I started to take notice of it again. I’ve amassed a number of C-mount lenses and I was curious to try them out on the Q. I still didn’t think it was worth it at that price but I started looking for some cheap second hand Qs. No luck.

Last week I received an email from Ted’s Camera Store saying they’ve slashed the price to $200 (probably since it’s been discontinued in favour of the Pentax Q10) so I thought, "let’s do this thing!"

Just a little warning before I get started. I’ll be comparing the Q to my Sony RX100 but more on usability and not on image quality. Yes, they’re in different categories but the RX100 is my go everywhere camera and the Q will be competing for that spot.

First Impressions

First thing that came to mind when the mailman delivered the Q was that I finally got my hands on Desmond Llewelyn (R.I.P.) and John DeLancie’s camera of choice! (To anyone who got that, I love you.)

Second thing that I noticed was that this camera is tiny! Just the body without the lens is smaller than my Sony RX100. The Q and the 01 Standard Prime can actually fit in my front shirt pocket (although it’d look super weird carrying it like that). Check out the pic below to see how it compares with the Olympus Pen E-P2 (left) and Sony RX100 (right).

And you can get an idea of how small it is when it’s next to an AA size battery.

I'd like to point out that it looks a lot better in person than in any of the pics I’ve seen online. And it feels like a quality product when it’s in my hands.

Autofocus is pretty quick but nothing to write home about. It sometimes has issues locking onto the subject if you're shooting something small. I wish the focusing rectangle can be smaller than what it is now but no big deal.

Shake reduction works pretty well. I'm able to shoot at 1/5 of a second without any issues. In fact, I'm finding it hard to take a blurry pic. And it's not like it's a weighty camera which is easy to hold steady. It's so light so I usually end up shaking it a little when I'm pressing the shutter. But most of my pics look great so the stabiliser must be doing a good job. Nice going Pentax!

Battery life isn't the best but during our three day Melbourne trip, I shot probably just under 150 pics and the battery meter was still green when we got back to Sydney. I made sure to turn it off though when I wasn't shooting so maybe that helped. Plus it wasn't my main camera although I don't see myself having it be my only camera (I'll usually take the RX100 along) so I might be able to make do with one battery. If it's your main camera, definitely get spare batteries.

White balance seems to be all over the place when using auto white balance. It's nice though that you can customise it because it's been skewing closer to blue and magenta a lot lately. I might just need to get the hang of it.

Miscellaneous Features

Built in neutral density filter - I wish more cameras had this. It might be built into the lens though and not the camera body since I'm not able to use it when using my non Pentax Q lenses. Since the 8.5mm lens is at its best at f2.8, you're gonna wanna use this when shooting in bright light. It's useful too if you just want to be able to shoot at f1.9 without blowing highlights or if you just want to play with longer shutter speeds (like shooting moving water).

Intervalometer - same as above, I wish more cameras had this. It may not be something that most people will use all the time but it's a really nice feature to have. You can make some cool time lapse videos with it.

The implementation of focus peaking isn't as nice as how it's done with Sony cameras (the preview image when focus peaking is on looks really weird) but it's effective nonetheless. I can see it being of use when using older manual focus lenses (or using manual focus on native lenses). And hey, at least it has focus peaking. I wish more cameras had it. (I'm looking at you Olympus and Panasonic!)

If you're shooting in JPG, you have the option to save the last pic you took in RAW. It's good to have on here for when you're shooting in JPG and you take some super awesome pic and would like to have it in RAW.

It also has in camera HDR which can be useful if you're shooting a scene that has a mix of bright and dark areas. HDR Auto produces a more natural look whereas HDR 1 and HDR 2 gives you the overly processed look.

Nice going with the tripod screw mount being in line with the lens. Not really a feature but it's a bit of a pain when other cameras don't do it so it's nice to see it here.

1/8000 shutter speed... wow. I consider myself lucky when a camera has 1/4000.

There's a lot of other neat features (some that I've yet to discover and really play with) but the ones I mentioned are the standout features for me.


I like how you can press the ‘info' button which will bring up a lot of the settings, a bit like how it's done with the Olympus Pens. The buttons are too small though (at least for me). And it's not like I have big hands. The RX100 has as much space for its buttons as the Q but the buttons are a bit bigger and the layout is much better. I don't think they're maximising the space that they have on the Q.

Even if we don't take into account the sensor size and image quality, it's still not the shooter that the Sony RX100 is. The RX100 just feels much nicer to use and to shoot with than the Q. The controls are better, it's more responsive, the LCD is much nicer to look at, the menus and the things displayed on screen look a lot better. Everything just works on the RX100 and it really feels like a quality product. The Q doesn't feel as intuitive although it's not exactly horrible and I probably just need some time to adjust to it. When you mix that with the small buttons, the shooting experience (at least the changing settings part) isn't as fun as with some of the other cameras that I've shot with.

I think it'll get a lot of use as the camera I use my C-mount lenses on but I can't see the Q replacing my RX100 as my go everywhere camera. I just can't get past that that massive RX100 sensor...

Just for the record, things get scary with the Q at ISO1600 whereas I'm far more comfortable with ISO6400 on the RX100. More on that in the next section.

But hey, the RX100 cost me 3 times more than the discounted Q so there's that. I'm not blown away by the Q but that's because I have a couple of other cameras that are in a different league to it in terms of quality and usability. And they're also pocketable. If the Q was my only camera and/or if it's meant to be a gateway into interchangeable lens systems then it's hard to go wrong with it (especially for the asking price).

Image Quality

Image quality is excellent considering the sensor size. The JPGs are not as sharp as they could be straight out of the box so I had to adjust the sharpness settings in the camera.

In terms of noise, I like how you don't get the blotchy digital look since the images look clean, or at least they do on lower ISOs. Pics taken at ISO 1600 aren't too good when viewed at 100%. There's some smearing going on which doesn't look pretty plus you're losing a good amount of detail. That said, it's up there among the compacts that I've used. It retains a nice amount of colour though which can't be said for some other compacts where the colours just look messed up at high ISOs. So for web viewing sizes, it looks fine. Also, if you're cool to shoot in black and white and possibly add a bit of grain later on then it can look decent at those higher ISOs.

RAW files are 20mb. That seems like a lot considering it's a 12 megapixel camera. But that might be because they're using DNG. RAW files looks better though, especially at high ISOs since you don't get the heavy handed noise reduction from the camera. It's much easier to manage the noise in Lightroom (or another capable photo editing software) than to let the Q's JPG engine do it. There's still noise but it looks uniform so it's not so bad to look at. This is one capable shooter if you're willing to shoot RAW. It's extra hassle though dealing with a RAW file compared to a JPG. Plus the difference in file size is a little ridiculous.

Long story short, if you're willing to shoot raw then ISO 1600 is fine but you'll wanna stay below this if you're mainly sticking with JPGs. Black and white JPGs look okay though if you add a bit of grain to them.

01 Standard Prime Lens - 8.5mm f1.9

The sweet spot for the lens seems to be around f2.8. It's also pretty good at f1.9. It starts to get a little bit soft at around f4 but not too much. I'd still be okay using it at that aperture. I wasn't digging the pics taken at f5.6 so I probably won't be going past f4.

With the 8.5mm lens, you can get fairly close to your subjects. You're working with a small sensor, similar to what you'd find on compact cameras. The smaller sensor, the less you're able to play with a shallow depth of field and blur out of focus areas. But when you combine the focal length and the aperture of the lens plus its ability to get close to subjects, you're able to blur the background fairly well depending on what you're shooting. I like to shoot pics of flowers, food and other objects and the Q seems to be nice for that.

Final Thoughts

The Q is a fun little camera and I can see myself picking it up for my every day random shooting. Plus I really like calling it ‘the Q'.

With a bunch of standout features that you don't see in a lot of the much more expensive (and much bigger/more ‘serious') cameras plus image quality that produces better results than the majority of cameras with similar sensor sizes, this is a camera that punches well above its weight.

This is a steal at $200.

Sample Photos

See below for some photos taken during my first week or so of owning the Q. Also please check out this post for some pictures from Melbourne taken with the Q.


  1. Nice review of the Q. I have the Q7 and like it a lot. Your shots are simply great. I liked the airplane (outdoors) the most. The colors are gorgeous. Did you use any in camera jpg setting, or any particular editing software? Cheers.

    1. Hi Daniel, thanks for your comment! In terms of the in camera settings, I sometimes use one of the in camera filters to get some interesting colours in there but I mostly tend to just stick with the regular colours with the saturation bumped up a little. Maybe the contrast too depending on the scene. All my photos get dumped into Lightroom and depending on the photo, I might lift up the shadows/bring down the highlights a little. I think with the airplane photo, I applied some split toning. Let me know if you're after anything specific. I'm at work right now but I can have a look for you when I get home.

    2. Thank you, Dan. There's realce something unique in this image, so split toning seems reasonable to me. I have never applied the technique on my shots, so I think I'm gonna give it a try. Hope it's not too complicated to get that vintage look though!

    3. Sorry for the late reply, it took me a while to find the photo. Besides the split toning (balance +85, shadow hue 360, shadow saturation 67) I played around with the white balance as well (temp +21, tint -52). There were a few other settings but those are the main ones.