Pentax produces a small-sensor digital camera with interchangeable lenses, a first for the digital camera industry. It's early to tell, but we think the Pentax Q could give both the enthusiast digital cameras like the G12 and the compact system cameras a run for their money, provided it's not too small for the average user.
This new camera uses a new Q-mount lens system and will ship as a kit with a 47mm/F1.9 prime lens. Along with the Q, Pentax also announced four separately-sold Q-mount lenses.
Although this is the first compact interchangeable-lens digital camera in Pentax's lineup, the company has a storied history in the realm of miniaturized swappable-lens cameras.
The Pentax Q's physical dimensions are significantly smaller than the two most-compact interchangeable-lens cameras we've seen before the Q was announced today. At just 1.2 inches deep, 3.9 inches wide, and 2.3 inches tall, the Pentax Q is tinier in every dimension than the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 (1.31 by 4.38 by 2.38 inches) and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 (1.28 by 4.24 by 2.64 inches). It's much lighter, too, clocking in at 7.1 ounces with a battery and storage card inserted, compared with the Alpha NEX-C3's 10-ounce weight and the Lumix GF3's 9.31-ounce weight with the same insertions.
More-creative options include an automated exposure-bracketing HDR (high dynamic range) mode and in-camera modes that apply color filters, fish-eye and toy-camera effects, and color-isolation features to shots as you're taking them, as well as post-shot effects that include a tilt-shift lens simulator and a watercolor effect. Full manual controls, aperture- and shutter-priority modes, and an array of automated scene modes are also in the mix.
In its Continuous Hi-speed burst shooting mode, the Pentax Q can capture images at a swift five frames per second, although burst depth is limited to just five JPEG frames. By switching to the Continuous Lo drive mode, the burst speed falls to 1.5 frames per second, but the buffer depth can be extended to a much more useful 100 JPEG frames.
In terms of features, the Q is pretty typical for any modern camera. There are Smart Effects, the usual assortment of shooting effects plus the more unusual Cross Process option; you can combine them. It also offers a time-lapse shooting mode, which I'm surprised more cameras don't offer, and customizable presets. There are a couple of unique aspects to the design, including a clever flash that pops way up to decrease the occurrence of red eye. A dial on the front of the camera can be used to change settings contextually; I'll reserve judgment on that, because it seems an odd choice.
According to the press release, "the Q carves out an entirely new camera category that extends beyond traditional digital compact, APS-C or 4/3 digital cameras." This is a bit disingenuous; the Q isn't so much smaller than models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 or Sony NEX series that it's in a category all by itself. All of them are jacket-pocket-friendly equipped with a pancake prime lens, but none of them are with a standard zoom.
The Q's body is roughly the size of the Canon PowerShot S95, but as with all ILCs, the lens can't retract into the body and so, unless you have TARDIS pockets, there will always be an issue. It is lighter, though, and like Panasonic and Olympus, the lenses are much lighter than Sony's E-mount offerings.
The choice is yours.