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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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