Qutest Companion – Pentax Q First Thoughts

In recent months I’ve shot almost entirely with my Ricoh siblings, the GRD III and GX100.

Collectively these invisible cameras have changed the game for me.

The liberation in using such a compact, yet capable, sophisticated, yet refreshingly simple camera has made me start to question whether I need a DSLR at all any more. 

Given that the final image from the Ricohs is more than adequate for my needs, the obvious difference between them and a DSLR (especially the fixed lens 28mm f/1.9 GRD III) is the ability to use a range of lenses on one body.

I’ve had this in the back of my mind while using the Ricohs, and have done a little reading on potential other options.

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During five years of shooting film I would guess that over 80% of my total shots were with a 50 or 55mm lens.

So what I’ve been focusing on in my explorations is something that gives a different option lens wise (including one around 50mm), but without the weight, bulk and general cumbersomeness of a DSLR. 

Of course I had a Sony NEX for years, but whilst hugely capable, and unbelievably adaptable, it never felt like a camera, just a rather clever device.

My requirements – a compact body, a 50mm lens plus maybe others too, an intuitive design and interface, plus the feel of a proper camera (sorry iPhone) meant I was essentially looking for the photographic love child of my Pentax K10D DSLR and the compact and minimal Ricoh GRD III.

Enter this little beauty…

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The Pentax Q feels, in a few words, like a baby DSLR.

It has all the major functionality of my K10D (plus a few extra neat touches) in a body that’s smaller than a Ricoh GRD III.

Compared to the K10D, the Q is comedically small. Or the K10D ludicrously large, depending which way you look at it.

Plus the K10D, even with the lightest lens I have, the featherlight Pentax-DA 35/2.4, weighs 950g, compared with the Q’s svelte 240g. Mount a Takumar or Pentax-A 50/55mm to the K10D and it becomes well over four times the weight and bulk of the Q. Yikes.

Pentax Q meets K10D

The Q is a very compact, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera.

There are eight lenses available in Q mount, and mine came with the one I wanted most, the 8.5mm (equivalent to 50mm in 35mm camera terms) f/1.9 prime.

I don’t want to go into endless technical details, but rather share my first thoughts on what I like about so far, and some shots I’ve been happy with.

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What I like about the Pentax Q

Size and handling. Super compact, but not so much that it’s a fiddle to use. The contours and rubberised grip are really good, but it still feels more natural using two hands, like a DSLR – one on the body, one under the lens.

Build quality. Is excellent, with a metal chassis, and relatively large dials and buttons that have the just the right weight of dampening to assure you it was built to please, and built to last. Lovely large clear screen too.

Ease of use. Coming from the K10D, it’s largely similar in the look and layout of the menus and functions. It took me very little time to set it to Aperture Priority (Av), JPEG only, 3:2 aspect ratio, spot AF and so on. Essentially the same as I have my GRD III set up. I haven’t yet needed to look up anything in a manual.

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Customisation. Like the GRD III (though not quite so easy to figure out at first), the Pentax Q has a dial to store custom user settings. The “Quick Dial” on the front can be set to adjust one parameter of four sets of features – Smart Effect, Custom Image, Digital Filter, Aspect Ratio.

Or, within the Smart Effect set, you can simply save all of the current settings in the camera to a user preset. So I’ve used this feature to store my settings and have easy access in future.

Settings like Av, ISO etc remain on what you set them as with their dedicated dial/button so don’t get forgotten when the camera is switched off.

At some point when I explore colour again (I’ve started with b/w as I’m still very much in that season) I’ll set another of the user settings for colour photography.

Because this is a physical dial, you just leave it on that setting the whole time, you don’t need to activate it each time you switch on the camera. I can just power up and be ready for action in a second. Sweet.

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Adjustments out in the field. The main things I might need to adjust are aperture, ISO and exposure compensation. The Q has a very clear and well place dedicated exposure compensation button on the back. Same with the ISO.

I really like that after pressing the ISO button you can either set a fixed ISO (between 125 – 6400) or auto ISO between 125 and a max ISO of your choosing.

In practice I’ve set the auto ISO to 125-800 so the camera will drop down to a maximum ISO800 if the light is low enough, but otherwise prioritise using the lowest ISO possible. I intend to use this most of the time, again like the Ricoh.

The fixed ISO I have set to 400, because sometimes I just want to force a certain more grainy look than the native ISO of 125 will likely give. It’s early days, I might find the fixed ISO I prefer is ISO800. Results so far suggest the Q is more resilient at higher ISOs than the K10D, where I never go faster than ISO400.

The aperture is dead easy to adjust with the main thumbwheel dial at the top of the camera (on Av mode). I’ve been leaving it at f/1.9 and only going smaller if the shutter speed and ISO max out. Just like I do with the Ricoh.

Green button. Again this is familiar from my Pentax DSLRs, and can be set up to serve a variety of purposes. Given that I’m shooting Av with the Q, I don’t need the green button to do any of the shutter speed matching or program shifting it can do in Manual or Program modes. I’ve simply set it up to be the exposure (AE) lock button. Much like the Fn button on my Ricoh GRD III that is in nearly exactly the same place on the rear of the camera. Just below the exposure compensation button. Handy when you want to fix the exposure on a part of the scene, and the AF on another part, or to force the camera to expose differently than it wants to.

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Zero processing potential. At first I used the BW mode on the Q, and upped the contrast, which works fairly well on the GRD III. But the images were still coming out very much middling tones of grey rather than the deeper inky blacks and crisp whites I favour.

So I’ve been experimenting with one of the “Smart Effect” custom modes, called Bold Monochrome, which does seem to give a lot more punch and bite to the images. Initial impressions suggest I might get away with no further processing, something I can’t quite do even with the Ricoh. The images in this post all are straight out of camera JPEGs with the Pentax.

Enjoyment. The Q is brilliant fun to use. Not fun as in oh what a quirky little thing, it’s so different to anything else I have, but I wouldn’t want to use it all the time.

More like fun as in, how does such a tiny camera still offer very good handling, intuitive user interface (I’ve only used it about three or four hours in total), satisfying build and quality and excellent images? You can’t help but smile using it.

Oh yes, so about the images…

Final image. Coming to the Q, I knew it had a smaller sensor than the GRD III, so expected the images to be a little inferior. I’ve also read that it’s much harder creating a shallow depth of field with smaller sensors.

But what I think I overlooked was the Q uses interchangeable lenses that have each been specifically engineered and made for the camera by Pentax, who have been making incredible glass for six decades. (My oldest Takumar is from around 1959 I think.)

I have been delighted with the images, and with the Monochrome mode I mentioned above, I haven’t needed to touch the images with Hipstamatic or anything else.

This is the delicious icing on an already glorious little cupcake.

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Where to from here? 

Of course I want to use the Pentax Q far more and really get to know its capabilities inside out. After spending only a few hours with it so far, I’ve been mightily impressed in pretty much every way.

I bought it mainly to see if it could at all even suggest there’s a compact alternative to a DSLR and 50mm lens. On this evidence it’s vastly exceeded my expectations, and I’m really struggling to see why I would use the K10D again.

Early days, but maybe I’ll go down the road of selling a few of my DSLR lenses, getting one or two more for the Q (a wide zoom that goes from 21-33mm is the most appealing, though it’s very expensive) and be compact all the way. Food for thought indeed.

The Ricoh GRD III remains safe. It’s such a joyous camera, and the 28mm lens I’ve come to know and love very well too. Even if the Q had an equivalent focal length lens (that wide zoom would cover it) the GRD III retains so much appeal in other ways. I have no plans to replace it with anything.

I’ll post more photos and maybe some more field notes, in the coming days and weeks.

What are your thoughts on compacts versus DSLRs? Please let us know below, we’d love to hear them. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

32 thoughts on “Qutest Companion – Pentax Q First Thoughts”

  1. I’ve dreamed of a compact mirrorless. I’ve specifically dreamed about the Olympus OM-1D.

    I took my S95 and my K10D out yesterday to do some comparison shooting. Post forthcoming, but bottom line: the Canon was sooooo much easier to handle, but the K10D had actual usuable JPEGs from the camera. So it’s still a tossup.

    1. Strangely enough I picked up an Olympus mirrorless in a shop the other day. The old school knobs and controls were pretty appealing. But I wasn’t sure about the EVF – it seemed very good quality but it just seemed a bit odd looking through and seeing so many settings displayed. I guess you could switch that off though and have a more “pure” experience.

      Panasonic (Lumix) make some lovely compacts and micro four thirds cameras too, many with Leica branded glass. I’ve been looking at these too! And I understand that all the Panasonic and Olympus micro four thirds lenses are completely compatible with each other. Plus very adaptable to vintage glass.

      Having said this, somehow I found my Sony NEX fell between two stools. Not compact enough (with a vintage lens + adapter) to be compact, but not as pleasing to handle and no optical VF like a DSLR.

      The Pentax Q doesn’t have any VF, but it fits the style of camera, ie a compact.

      Apparently there are adapters to use K mount lenses, but with the sensor size there’s a 5.5x crop factor! There’s quite a thriving sub group of Q lenses that do this though and use quality K lenses (like an A 50/1.4 for example that I think gives a field of view of 275mm on the Q) for telephoto work like bird and wildlife photography…

      Look forward to your comparison post. Maybe a successor to your Canon, or one of the G series would be the perfect balance in between? I was looking at the G11 I think it was recently. Looks like a lot of camera these days for around £100. Similarly the Panasonic Lumix LX3…

      1. For a preview of my comparison post, check out my Flickr space — the photos I’m using are already uploaded there, and are at the top of my photostream!

      2. Jim, just had a look and commented on your Flickr… Very impressed how close the Canon comes… I really wonder if a slightly more sophisticated Canon (like one of the G series) might be a great option for you, and maybe dispense with the need for a DSLR… Says the guy who raved about the K10D, which IS a fantastic camera, but most of the time now I just want something small and direct.

  2. I am totally happy with my change from the Canon dSLR to my Olympus mirrorless; none of that weight and bulk and the pictures are as good as I will ever need them. The EVF on mine is just like looking through a normal viewfinder although with this it shows exactly what I will get by changing to black and white of I am in that mode or any other settings. I get a quick flash of what I have just taken so almost never use the screen which I have folded closed 95% of the time. I don’t see any benefit of a dSLR for my purposes.

    1. SF, thanks for your thoughts. Which Oly do you have? Do you use vintage lenses or a modern one/ones? Interesting about the screen being closed, I’ve gone a similar way with the Pentax Q, strangely. I have the “review” mode set to off so once I’ve taken a picture I don’t see it, unless I manually press the Play button. Reminds me of shooting film… I’ll probably post in more depth about this soon…

      1. I have the Pen-F digital and yes I 80% of the time use a vintage lens from the original Pen-F (F.Zuiko 38mm 1.8) I also have used Jupiter 50mm. Recently been using a modern Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm 2.0; for landscapes mainly. All three manual focus. I do have the kit zoom autofocus which I really only use when I am being a tourist (for it’s flexibility). The only drawback I have found with MFT mirrorless is the 50% crop factor which means getting a wider angle lens is more difficult. I have found the Pen-F Digital to fit me perfectly, its comfortable to hold and all the dials are easy to hand (or finger) meaning I rarely need to take my eye off the viewfinder.

      2. SF, just looked up the Pen-F, wow that’s a piece of kit! Glad it’s working so well for you. Did you have the vintage Pen lenses anyway, or buy them to use with the digital Pen?

        Yes the whole crop factor issue I had with my NEX, and continue to have with my Pentax DSLRs, though they are all APS-Cs with a 1.5x crop factor not 2x. If you don’t need any wide lenses it’s fine, and on the plus side all vintage lenses are naturally optimised as the sensor is only “seeing” the central part of the glass. But it is a bit annoying at times if you’re trying to get used to a certain focal length and using the lenses between film and digital cameras, which I was for a long while.

        I do like the styling of the Olympus bodies I’ve seen and they seem to handle well and feel very well built. Sticking in the Pentax and Ricoh camp for now though!

  3. So, you took the plunge on a Pentax Q…. glad to hear that it’s showing promise… having had the Q10…. I can tell you that they are fine little cameras…. and the adapters available for older glass make it a brilliant little camera for astrophotography…. forget the issues regarding the small sensor, it’s well up to the job of taking pics for the average Joe… I will be surprised if you pass it on …. plus the added bonus of dedicated lenses just adds icing to the cake…
    I’m a little upset that you’ve brought one to be honest…. the secret is now out…. bang goes getting lenses for little money…lol… Seriously, they are a very underrated camera… and the 06 lens is spot on for general duties whilst out and about….
    Dan, enjoy….
    Can’t wait for some “zero processing” pictures to arrive….
    Lynd..

    1. Lynd, good to hear your thoughts. Yeh I remember you mentioned the Q favourably when we were talking previously. I’m very impressed as you might have gathered!

      I’m not sure about the K mount thing. At the moment I’m happy with the standard 50mm lens, especially as it’s f/1.9 and can create pretty shallow DOF up close. The K adapter is around £200, about the same price as the wide zoom, which also has future appeal. I’m not sure I want to go down the route of adapting lenses again, especially with the 5.5x crop factor. Something like my DA 35/2.4 might be interesting, giving around 190mm equivalent field of view. And in theory I assume you can use the K to M42 adapter on top and utilise all M42 lenses too.

      But this kind of defeats the point of the Q for me, a very small and great to use high quality body to potentially replace a DSLR. At the moment I’m seeing it as a fixed lens 50mm too, as that’s the only lens I have. It’d make more sense (than the K route) getting another tiny Q lens, like that wide zoom (21-33mm), or even the standard zoom (28-83mm), and keeping the overall package really tiny, even carrying a spare lens. The 06 is a bit long compared with what I’m most comfortable shooting, and I don’t think I’d use it much. But who knows, it’s early days. Lots of experimenting to come!

      Oh and all of these photographs above in this post were taken with the Q in Bold Monochrome mode, and JPEGs straight out of camera, so zero processing.

  4. I finally get to post on “Dan James and the Skinflints” my name for this site and a band I will one day start.
    I had almost given up on you once you started to post too much about iphone “photography”.
    I wanted to tell you about the Q, but I didn’t think you wanted to spend the money. I have the Q-S1 and with it’s larger sensor the crop factor of 4.6 rather than 5.5. making the 8.5mm into a (better for me) 39mm. I also leave my Q-S1 in bold mono.
    It’s a great camera that customers request I use sometimes because it compares favourably with much more expensive cameras.
    It is also amazing for macro work because of the small sensor.
    Also if you put a very small Leica 135mm on it you can walk around with a pocketable 621mm.
    I have sold 2′ x 3′ pictures of the moon done with the Q-S1 and various Canon lenses (longest combination of 7360mm.)
    Great camera.

    1. Corvus, ha ha, yes that is a great name for a band…

      The Q does fit in with my general skinflint approach, it was less than the Ricoh GRD III even with the prime lens included, and in my view a steal. I can see why it was overlooked on its release though, given the launch price was around £600 I think.

      iPhones are capable of great photos (for my needs), with the fun and accessibility of Hipstamatic and the convenience of always being in your pocket. But their fatal flaw always has been the handling and controls compared to a real camera is rubbish. I can’t see that changing, unless someone optimises a new phone physically so it handles like a great compact camera, like a Ricoh GRD for example.

      Pleased to find another Q user, and I did consider the different models when I was researching. Many said the build quality was best with the original, so I thought I’d start there. But I’m curious about one with the larger sensor in the future, even though right now I’m highly impressed by the images the original little Q is producing.

      How does the minimum focusing distance work with adapted lenses? Is it the same as the lens would be on a native camera or different/closer because the sensor is smaller? And do you adapt straight from Canon to Q for example, or via a K to Q mount adapter in between?

  5. I’ve only used the Canons and Leicas at long range, so I can’t tell you about their minimum. I believe it was the same, but don’t hold me to that. For macro I have found lenses like the Tamron 6mm F1.8 or the 8mm to be perfect. They are machine vision lenses so they focus within 2 or 3 cm. The 6mm equals 27.6 on Q-S1 and the 8mm is 36.8mm.

    The adapters are one step. L to Q or Eos to Q. I have also tried the devils speedbooster for the Q. It fit fine but I had infinity focus problems with the Nikon lenses I was trying.

    One advantage the Q-S1 has over the Q is the Bold Mono has 2 setting to it (sort of a Bold minus) I don’t think the Q has that feature.

    I do a lot of large format printing and low light photos. So the iphone is nearly useless for me. Plus I really hate everyone having one at the ready. I don’t enjoy being photographed by strangers and it happens to me about 3 times a week.

    1. Corvus, are the Tamrons C mount? I’ve barely dipped my toe in the waters of lenses I can adapt to the Q. I kind of bought it to simplify really, not to expand. You know my style!

      But I admit I am curious about the different adapters. With K mount I’ve read that the K to Q adapter has a shutter within it and aperture control on the adapter too. Is this the same with the Leica and EOS adapters? Or are they purely to physically mount the lenses with no moving parts or electronics?

      The Q also has a degree of adjustment on many of the Smart Effects. The Bold Monochrome you can set to half or full, I have it on half as full is a bit too heavy on the inky blacks!

      About the iPhone, despite having had Apple computers since 1993, my iPhone is actually the first I’ve had, bought in 2015. I resisted for the longest time, partly because I didn’t want to be yet another person walking about with white earphones! : ) But it seems this mainstream look/fashion been almost entirely replaced by those Dr Dre Beats headphones… Oh, I just looked them up and they’ve been owned by Apple since 2014, how ironic!

      Anyway, I can’t recall being photographed, but then I don’t spend much time in large towns or cities, but being a very private person myself, I’m very uncomfortable with photographing strangers and the invasion of their privacy this represents. This is why I’ve never been able to embrace street photography.

  6. Yes Tamrons are 2/3 C mount. Terrific lenses the 2 I have.
    My Leica (both R and M) and EOS to Q are all dumb (No electronics or shutters) but they work well. But my favs are the Tamrons on the Q.

    Also I’m impressed by all of the native Q lenses. Most used is the 8.5mm 01 that you have. The wide zoom 08 is excellent but pricey.

    That’s good that the Q can also turn down the superhigh contrast in bold mono.

    About 40% of the time people ask to take my photo. But that percentage is going down. One day I will snap and destroy whatever phone they are using. That will bring a lot of consequences for me, I will have to plead insanity and reference this blog post.

    I agree about street photography. Think about it, how often is it done well? I have photogenic friends, so I can take their photos. Street photography is for very lonely pathetic losers who are crying out for attention from strangers. They need a hobby or something, maybe photography? Oh wait… scratch that.

    1. Corvus, do you have any sample shots online taken with the Tamrons?

      I bought the Q mostly for the 01 50mm (equiv) f/1.9 lens but it would be interesting trying something wider, and see how it compares with my Ricoh GRD III (28mm fixed) and GX100 (24mm at the wide end).

      The 02 zoom starts around 28mm and is pretty affordable, but yes the 08 wide zoom is most appealing. But as you say, expensive, about three times the cost of the 02 zoom it seems.

      Do you know why the Pentax K adapter is so advanced then, when “dumb” adapters work well with other mounts? I’m assuming so you can use Program modes etc and control via camera, not the lens. I’m tempted to try an M42 > Q adapter, they’re only about £20. Love to see how a Takumar renders on the little Q.

      I struggle with street photography, and might write a post about this. I want to love it, but yeh so much is just pointless. Oh look another random stranger slightly blurred and walking past an uninteresting billboard… Why? When I look at say landscape photography of flower photography, it seems a much larger proportion is appealing to me, the average quality seems much higher.

      I have a couple of street photography books, and to be fair there are plenty of interesting photos in there that show what CAN be done. I guess it’s just so ubiquitous (virtually everyone in every street has a phone camera) that inevitably 99% of it is pointless and forgettable and drowns out the occasional memorable shot.

  7. Pentax K smart adapters were done with more love. They loved their K lenses and wanted to show love to the Q. I assume. Don’t question it, just consider yourself lucky.
    I have smart adapters for Canon to Sony and Leica. I do prefer smart over dumb. I don’t know of any other Q smart adapters other than the K.

    I started shooting at 5 am today (triple moon). Then did some personal shots today. Plus some specific Q + Tamron shots for you. Also a 1.5 hour glamour session. I’m totally spent.

    How do I upload Q stuff to you? My professional site is being retooled so it’s a no go. Should I post on Facebook? then you can take them or can I link the Q FB folder here?

    1. It just seems a lot of outlay (£200+) for the K mount adapters, when the widest I have is a 24mm Miranda which is really good but not stunning, and would equate to about 135mm field of view. My DA 35/2.5 might be fun to try as it’s so light anyway, and would be around 200mm. Still very long for me, but usable. And for around the same price I could get that 08 wide zoom which is genuinely wide plus covers the 24 and 28mm of my Ricohs.

      I’ve emailed you, I gave Facebook up about seven years ago and haven’t looked back! Thanks very much re the Tamron shots.

  8. Hey Dan!

    Dig that you are looking at the Q! It was on my want list back when I was shooting Pentax digital. Check out the C-Mount lenses to adapt to the Q… You might get some interesting results with funky bokeh they produce! Great read!

    1. Hi Ed, thanks for your comments. Yeh I have started looking at adaptable lenses but will probably just stick to the native lenses the Q was designed for.

  9. In my exhaustion I forgot to mention that the shutter is in the lenses on the Q. So that’s why they wanted a fancy adapter with a shutter in it. You do get jello shots with the electronic shutter on the Q but the smaller the sensor the less it seems to happen. The medium format mirrorless electronic shutters are the worse. Unusable without a tripod. That is the largest reason the Hasselblad X1D is a much worse choice over the Fujifilm GFX. The Hassy has the shutter in the lens and the Fuji doesn’t. Which means the Fuji is excellent with non Fuji lenses.

    1. I think it seems to make more sense to me to just stick with the lenses the Q was designed with/for. I may invest in the 08 wide zoom in the future, because with that and the 50mm I can’t see me needing or wanting anything else. Plus using an adapter and DSLR lens defeats the point of the amazing pocketability of the Q. I’ve been there with a Sony NEX, and it was as deep in size as a DSLR.

  10. Yes. If small size is the point then stay with Q lenses. Even the Tamron 6mm makes the Q too large for what it is. I did manage to take the Q-S1 plus the Tamron and a XT2 in my very small bag. But the XT2 had to have the 27 pancake on it to fit.

    BTW; no e-mail from you. Try resending please.

    1. Well Corvus, talking of small, I just got another Q lens…The 07 Mount Shield Lens which is literally the size of a body cap and protrudes no further than the Quick Dial on the front. Makes the Q super compact, and super quick (it’s fixed focus, fixed aperture). Now to experiment with Bold Mono and ISO800…

      Have resent email, thank you. We’re on the same domain so would’ve thought it would go through ok. Please check spam too. Thanks!

  11. Yup, my computer sees you as spam. Must be the ‘skinflint’ thing.

    I’m looking forward to the 07 pics. It’s a lens I would not get. Although I really like my new fuji pancake 27. So never say never.

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