My recent One Month, One Camera adventures have helped me see the benefits of extended time with one camera, and that one doesn’t have to spend very much at all to find a camera that’s fun and rewarding to use, and delivers satisfying photographs.
Also, having tried in the first half of April to bond with the Panasonic Lumix GF1 but finding that despite it being a lovely camera, it doesn’t really fit any of my needs, I’m revisiting my favourite Gang Of Four, the best cameras I’ve found after playing with hundreds in recent years.
Of these four, the Pentax Q is the one I’ve used least. But it’s quite probably my favourite of all of them, and almost certainly the most versatile and customisable.
I never feel the need to go into in-depth reviews of the technical features of cameras.
But here are some of the simple reasons why the Pentax Q puts a big smile on my face.
– It’s very small, but not at the expense of handling. The curved front grip and rubberised surface mean you can hold it between your thumb and middle finger, leaving your forefinger perfectly poised over the shutter button. The screen takes up most of the rear, but leaves enough room for your thumb to hold (via a cleverly raised grip/rest) and adjust the buttons. Though I usually use my left hand to steady any camera, with the Pentax Q you can genuinely shoot one handed and feel in control.
– It’s light, but feels very robust, the build quality is excellent. The feel of the dials is as good as on any camera I’ve used. The Mode Dial and E-Dial on top, and the Quick Dial on the front have just the right balance of firmness, and all inspire confidence. Not many cameras encourage me to just move the dials for no reason other than to enjoy how they move. The battery and SD card flaps both feel decently made and not like they’ll break, as with many small cameras.
– There are dedicated buttons in obvious places for exposure compensation and ISO (which I use frequently) and white balance (which I don’t but I know some people do).
– The ISO button gives two simple options – Auto ISO between a set range of the native 125 and a maximum of your choosing (up to 6400) or a fixed ISO (between 125 and 6400). I leave the Auto ISO range from 125 – 400 and use this nearly all of the time. Occasionally if I want a specific ISO of say 125 for highest image quality, or 400 or 800 for added noise/grain with b/w shots, I can quickly switch it via this function.
– The 01 Prime 8.5mm (equivalent 47mm) f/1.9 lens is very good, and tiny. If I had to stick with just one lens and forget the Q was an interchangeable lens camera, this would be it.
– AF is fast and once locked, fine tuning can still be done on the lens barrel. A focus assist function can be set to automatically magnify part of the image as soon as the lens focus barrel is moved. The default can be 2x or 4x and the E-Dial switches between the two. Or you can set to MF (Manual Focus) and use the lens barrel, and again that magnified focus assist instantly kicks in. All very intuitive and useful.
– The AF confirm square turns from white to green when focus is locked, but the screen can be difficult to see in bright light, as with every digital camera I’ve used. So I’ve set the AF confirm beep only to sound when focus is locked, and muted all other sounds as I prefer my cameras to be silent. The little AF confirm chirp reassures me of locked focus when I can’t quite see the square on screen in dazzling sunlight.
– The Custom Image menu offers plenty of colour and b/w options (including Muted, Bleach Bypass, Reversal Film and Cross Processing), and each of these is further tweakable.
– Continuing the point above, the Monochrome Custom Image setting for example (which I’ve used more than any other) allows you to add a filter (eg yellow, orange, red, even Infrared), Toning (graduates from blue tinted through completely neutral, through to sepia tinted), High/Low Key Adjust, Contrast and Sharpness.
– The Digital Filter menu offers further customisation. For example I use the High Contrast filter in combination with the monochrome setting in the Custom Image menu, which gives me the kind of higher contrast and dare I say slightly film like b/w images I favour, straight out of camera. Zero processing is possible!
– Image stabilisation helps me get shots in low light without worrying about blur. The maximum aperture of f/1.9 on that 01 Prime lens helps too!
– There’s an Info button which gives direct access to all your main settings, like Custom Image, Digital Filter, AE Metering, Focus Method, AF Method, Aspect Ratio, Image Quality etc. Very simple, and means once initially set up, one rarely needs to go into the more comprehensive main menu.
– There’s a memory function where you can tell the camera which settings to remember. I have everything ticked so the camera is exactly as I left it when I switched it off. Even where I was in the menus.
– The Quick Dial (on the front of the camera) can be set for further saved options, like a Smart Effect. For this there are nine presets, like Bold Monochrome, Vintage Colour and Cross Processing. I haven’t explored these much (as mentioned above, I’ve stuck with Custom Image and Digital Filter combos), but they’re further fun options to explore in the future.
– The green button on the rear of the camera can be set as a custom button for various functions. I usually have it as Exposure Lock, but sometimes it’s handy as depth of field preview, something I used to use plenty with 35mm (and digital) SLRs, but is rarely seen on smaller cameras.
– With the 07 Mount Shield lens (fixed focal length of 63mm (equivalent), fixed aperture of f/9 and fixed focus (good for 0.3 – 2m)) the Q is even smaller, lighter, and a pure point and shoot. This lens is huge fun, and I’ve combined this combo with a cheap Holga close up filter held over the lens when I want to focus closer.
Overall, as you can see, there’s is plenty I love about the Pentax Q. I didn’t plan to write 1000+ words about the camera!
It is something of a paradox of a camera.
The excellent build, depth of control and interchangeable lenses make it feel very much like a full size Pentax DSLR that’s miraculously shrunken to rival most digital compacts.
It was a very smooth transition going from using my Pentax K10D to the Q, and it feels significantly different to most compacts, in that build quality and depth of control especially.
But it’s also very clearly a fun camera with its breadth of Digital Filters (like “Toy Camera”, “Fish-eye” and “Extract Colour”) and Smart Filters (eg Vintage Colour, Cross Processing) and that half of the eight lenses available are deliberate toy and holga-esque (Toy Lens Wide, Toy Lens Telephoto, Fish-Eye). It strongly encourages you to play and experiment.
You can use the Q as a purely experimental camera to emulate lo-fi classics like the Holga and Diana film cameras and ignore the more serious and high quality lenses and features.
Or vice versa – attach the 01 Prime Lens, stick to Natural colour or Monochrome on the Custom Filter and disable the Digital Filters (or shoot RAW) and go for high quality images that might not be quite up there with an SLR, but will go a long way, and especially in such a tiny yet eminently usable camera.
Alternatively, it’s all of the above options in one body, enough for those of us who crave consistency, but also appreciate a little variety too.
I’m not going to commit to One Month with the Q – that project seems to have run its course and proved its points, at least for now.
But for the foreseeable future it’s likely to be the camera I want to reach for first when I head out on a photowalk.
How about you, which camera are you using above all others currently, and why?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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