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back to article Pentax Q takes mini system camera crown

Not long after Sony announced the NEX-C3, Panasonic revealed its Lumix DMC-GF3, as the two tech giants slugged it out to take the title for world’s smallest interchangeable lens camera. Pentax Q And just when you thought the dust had settled on that particular crown, along comes the Pentax Q which those with long memories may …

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Silver badge

So many questions

I guess this is going to answer the question "how small a sensor are people willing to accept to get in to an interchangeable lens system?"

Also "how much are people willing to pay for a camera with a 1/2.3" sensor in 2011?"

And "how much are people willing to pay for an f/11 equivalent prime lens?"

However there is also the question "will people care?" and it might end up selling like hotcakes. I'm in the pessimistic crowd on that one, though.

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Target audience...

It very much depends on the target audience for the camera. For enthusiast photographers, they'll balk at the small sensor and inevitable lower quality images. f/11 is a pretty tight aperture which is fine for many uses but abysmal in low light (and given the small sensor, I can't imagine high ISO settings working well...). Also, smaller apertures minimises the opportunities for Bokeh etc.

I suspect this is aimed towards the user who would like to have interchangable lenses but doesn't want a full-size SLR and either doesn't care about the limitiations of the size or simply doesn't care about them.

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F11?

The kit prime is F1.9, in depth of field terms the crop of the sensor will add probably 5 stops making subject isolation difficult true. However it also means you will be able to shoot wide open in low light and still get (for example) the whole group of people you are trying to shoot in focus. Swings and roundabouts.

Personally I've been looking for a compact lightweight camera to carry all the time for taking opportunistic shots mostly of landscapes/city scenes where shallow depth of field really isn't often a problem. If the image resource samples at medium to high isos stand up then this could be very useful. A 28 or 35mm equiv lens would add even more attractiveness.

Interested to see what the street price ends up as and IQ with the final firmware (the Image Resource samples are with a pre-release firmware)

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Anonymous Coward

Bokeh

It's not the aperture of the lens that will bugger up depth of field control for bokeh effects. It's the size of the sensor. For a standard lens (equivalent fov to f=50mm is on 35mm film) f/1.9 should be adequate to have a pretty shallow dof. But the dof gets deeper the shorter the focal length of the lens, irrespective of fov. The tiny sensor means that the focal length of the "standard" lens will be much shorter than for a larger sensor.

There are a lot of supposed quality problems with this size of sensor due to the tiny photosites, but I've recently been trying out a Ricoh GRD III and I must say images in reasonable light are stunning even for large print sizes. Sure the quality falls off more sharply than a larger sensor as the light level drops and you crank up the sensitivity, but if you want really good low light capability at the moment then you really need a Foveon X-3 sensor rather than a Bayer.

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Canon G- and S- series.

"For enthusiast photographers, they'll balk at the small sensor and inevitable lower quality images."

This factor doesn't seem to hurt the G-series or S-series Canon compacts much. An enthusiast isn't going to make this their sole camera, but it would be a useful and flexible alternative when you don't want to drag a big DSLR (or film gear, in my case).

They might balk at the price though. Owww...

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TANSTAAFL: An explanation of f/11 etc.

They say the 8.5mm f/1.9 lens is equivalent to 49mm on 35mm. If they wanted to be 100% honest they'd mention the crop factor's effect on effective aperture too. An 8.5mm f/1.9 lens has a 4.5mm aperture; the equivalent aperture for a 49mm lens works out to f/11.

Take a photo with the 8.5mm f/1.9 lens on 1/2.3" and an identically framed photo with a 50mm lens set to f/11 on a 35mm format camera, both of which are taken from the same distance, and you'll get the same depth of field. As IanPotter pointed out the difference is five stops. Assuming equivalent sensor technology, if you set the Pentax Q to ISO100 with its 8.5mm f/1.9 lens and the 35mm DSLR to ISO3200 (five stops faster) with its 50mm lens at f/11, you'll also get an image with identical noise characteristics, because the same amount of light will be collected by both sensors and with those settings they both have the same exposure. The 1/2.3" system is also going to be diffraction limited five stops sooner than the 35mm system for the same output image.

While 1/2.3" vs 35mm is almost an apples to oranges comparison, these are the facts of what you're getting. The loss of performance and flexibility is no doubt going to be an acceptable tradeoff against system size for some people. It's hard to imagine Pentax not having done thorough market research, but I'm not so sure about it. You lose a lot even going from a compact entry level DSLR system to Micro Four Thirds, let alone this.

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its not that much smaller

Why compare carrying this to carrying a 'big DSLR" ...?

Compare it with carrying a Nex5 and everything in that vain coming out this Fall from Canon, Nikon etc etc.

APS-C and Micro 4/3 is gonna be the new sedan of cameras, everybody wants their piece of the market, so features to price ratio is going to be even better than it is now.

Of course if you're enamored with retro-look over picture quality, this might be your ticket.

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Anonymous Coward

The new sedan of cameras

What is that supposed to mean?

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I want one

That is all.

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What's the point?

Why have the smallest (i.e., fractionally smaller than competitors) camera body, if you anyway have to carry a large bag of lenses and thingymajigs? Its smallness makes absolutely no difference in the final carrying case.

If you have all that mess, why not a 30% larger body with a larger sensor??

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You don't need a large bag of lenses

The lenses themselves are small. Part of the benefit of a small sensor is that the lenses scale with it. They'll also be lighter and should be cheaper. It's easier to make small flawless glass than large flawless glass.

Some people will only own one lens. They still benefit from the lens being changeable because they will be able to pick the lens they own. Others will own several, but leave some in England when they travel abroad, or leave them back in the hotel when they go on day trips (or night trips), depending on what they expect to encounter. And even if they do carry several lenses with them, they'll be small. I have a few Pentax Limited primes, and it's easy to have a spare in a pocket because they are already so small and light.

I have a K-x The Q isn't just fractionally smaller, it's a lot smaller, not much bigger than a credit card.

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Ah, the 110

I have fond memories of the Pentax 110, which I used in dodgy situations in dodgy places in the South Africa of long ago. It could be hidden behind two fingers, if you see what I mean. The glassware was a thing of beauty. A pity the images were so bad, because of the tiny negs. Makes me wonder if they have miniaturised the sensor of this one just beyond the point of acceptable images.

Nostalgia - better through a tiny tiny sensor....

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WTF?

I don't get it

Surely someone interested enough in photography to want a camera that takes different lenses is going to want to a camera that has a sensor large enough to take reasonable quality pictures?

I really don't understand the market for cameras like these.

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FAIL

Yes, but 110 film...

,,,is the size of a 4/3 sensor, many times bigger than the tiny fleck of silicon this thing uses.Might be a fun toy, but it's unlikely to be much use.

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Bronze badge

Digital compacts and sensor size.

You can likely get a good idea of the image quality by checking reviews of digital compact cameras. This seems to be close to the Pentax Optio range. Not toys, I think.

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Anonymous Coward

Small Sensors

This size of sensor is generally found in all sorts of "serious" compacts. The likes of the Canon G series are one example the Ricoh GRD series is another and plenty of very serious photographers carry one of those where a larger camera would be impractical. Many professionals will opt for something like a GRD III for street photography. Sometimes your camera has to be compact and unobtrusive. Toting an SLR, for example, would make you too conspicous.

These cameras can produce stunning results generally only falling down in low light, or when it comes to depth of field control.

I would certianly be willing to give the Pentax a try for that sort of work.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Small Sensors

"This size of sensor is generally found in all sorts of "serious" compacts."

There are quite a few not-so-serious compacts with larger sensors and cramming fewer pixels onto the surface. I have one which was made four years ago with a considerably lower pixel density that produces reasonable images at ISO 800.

"These cameras can produce stunning results generally only falling down in low light, or when it comes to depth of field control."

Sure, but you can get good results with any compact in good light, thus making that Nikon D3 a bit overkill for those Web-sized or print-sized shots, but a lot of people are looking for better quality at the limits of those compacts - low light photography being the obvious example - and then the Canon G-series and Ricoh's offerings which often get mentioned quite a bit by people who like the whole "enthusiast compact" segment come up short.

The result is that touting a G11 or whatever might give its user the feeling of being a discerning enthusiast, but it isn't really giving so much more bang for the buck than a lot of other compacts, many of which differentiate themselves more effectively (consider the Panasonic travel zooms, for example). I wouldn't want to pay a premium for "DSLR-like handling" and a RAW mode I shouldn't need to use on a 5x zoom or whatever the G-series offers these days.

The real action in the compact-like class is coming from Panasonic (G3) and Olympus (new PEN models next week, apparently), along with the Sony NEX offerings. This Pentax really does look like a toy in comparison.

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Anonymous Coward

no title thanks

Having looked at the samples at Imaging Resource, this looks really, really interesting. The quality looks very decent and noise is well controlled... but there's two problems: it will be difficult to get any real depth of field control with such a small sensor and the price is crazy.

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sensor size

Canon G12, is the sensor of similar size? It does RAW and I believe the results are not bad.

For me, the key feature I want is DSLR focussing speeds.

Constantly missing moments because the focus was still working is a major negative.

That's why I recently bought the Panasonic GH2.

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Not promising...

The sensor of this thing is smaller than the G12's. And as for the Pentax compacts, they've hardly got the best reputation for image quality. Given Pentax themselves describe two of the lenses as toys, it seems fair enough to me to brand the whole exercise as such.

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Go

You know what they say about a small sensor?

Big zoom!

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You're missing who the target market is

iPhone 4 owners, the ones who are using all the toy camera apps and services like instagram. This camera is a trendy geeks wet dream, especially with that funky toy fisheye.

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Size estimate

You can see from the pics that the lens is marked at taking a 40.5 mm screw-in filter, which is the same size as my old Rollei 35 LED took (one of the really small 35mm cameras), and some Leica lenses. The Rollei was wider and higher, size forced by the 35mm film cassette and frame-dimentions.

The standard lens on the Auto 110 camera used a 25.5mm filter, and so I reckon this new camera is a little larger.

A lot of small compact cameras have hi-res sensors which are this small. On what I've seen from such cameras, the lens quality is more of a limit. I suspect diffraction effects would be the limit on the image with this camera.

I'd be inclined to put the effective sensor revolution as comparable to the first Pentax DSLR cameras, which does give you quite decent large prints.

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quite a lot to ask

for a camera with sensor as small as this. interchangeable lens, ok but the sensor size will lead to noise results on higher ISO. sure there will be customers for this but i'd rather save some money and get fujifilm x100 - if the size matters

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sensor sizes

who invented this stupid notation for sensor sizes? What on earth does "1/2.3in " mean? why use something so daft, if not to pull the wool over our eyes? I make that 11.04mm, if it means what it looks like. a 35mm film is 35mm top-to-bottom. Is this 11.04 tall, wide, diagonal, or what?

Please can the reg translate all these into mm tall? for those of us who refuse to be bamboozled by advertising?

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Anonymous Coward

Standards

Sorry, but this is the industry standard way of referring to sensor size, nothing to do with advertising. If you don't know what it means take the time to look it up. El Reg is supposed to be a site for those with some technical knowledge after all.

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Anonymous Coward

Missed a bit...

Sorry I hit send too soon on that last:

Nobody talks about sensor size in terms of height. Always measure the diagonal. BTW a 1/2.3in sensor would have a diagonal of something like 7 or 8mm. It's not an exact science.

However, if somebody says one sensor is twice as big as another they generally don't mean that the linear measurement is twice as big, but that the area is twice as big. That can throw some people as a sensor that is described as say nine times as big will only have linear dimensions three times as big as the other sensor.

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Unhappy

Re: Missed a bit...

It's apparently based on television tube diagonal measurements or something archaic. I've read at least one long rant about this, but such obscure metrics serve the manufacturers nicely, cause punters' eyes to glaze over, and appeal to those who are "in the know" and like arcane factoids, so it won't change any time soon.

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Sensor size

There's a nice illustration of just how ridiculously small this sensor is at <http://www.ephotozine.com/article/pentax-q-system-camera---in-detail-16807>

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Unhappy

Thanks for the link.

It realy does show how tiny that senso is.

I read a few years back that there was little point going over 10MP on the larger CCD's (as used in the Nikon Dx and Sony DSLRs), as it is not possible the focus visible light down to produce an image any sharper.

Just think to make these things they have use the extream UV wave lengths posibly with liquid submersion of wafer and projecting lenses.

Now I could be wrong, but I have just done a search and could not find a single example of an image taken by this camera anywhere on the dozens of web sites that have "reviewed" this thing. Makes me think its about a good a camera as the average modern phone.

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Anonymous Coward

You could be wrong.

Imaging Resource published a load of samples but they had to remove them because it was a pre-production unit. I didn't get a chance to compare them with other cameras, but they were very free of noise, even at ISO 1600.

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Nobody talks about sensor size in terms of height

Yet 35mm is not a diagonal.

Weird.

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35mm

No 35mm is not the diagonal. Nor does it have anything to do with the frame size at all. It's the width of the film stock. The frame height was usually 24mm.

And while 35mm (strictly 135 type film) is generally used to refer the standard of 36x24mm frames some cameras had other sized frames on the same stock. Such as the "half frame" size of 18x24mm popularized by Olympus. And there were others. Various panoramic formats around the 23x60mm mark (give or take a few mm on the width). Nikon used 24x32mm at one point and there were other odd ones too, some of which were not even 24mm high.

So people who blythely make comparisons between a given sensor size and "35mm" should remember that there were lots of frame sizes other than 35mm.

The interesting thing about the diagonal of film stock is that well it was seldom mentioned most people knew what it was without realising as focal length the "standard" prime lens for any given size was approximately the same as the diagonal. This was said to render perspective similar to the naked eye. Many early 35mm cameras shooting 24x36mm frames had a 40mm standard lens. Later for some reason 50mm became the standard. I have heard it alledged that it was easier and cheaper to make a lens in this focal length that would clear the mirror in an SLR than it was to make one of a shorter focal length.

Likewise the standard lens for 6x6 120 roll film's frame of 56x56mm was generally 80mm and so on. I often smile when I hear people with APS-C sensor sized DSLRs going on about how you need a large sensor to achieve bokeh. BITD I used to shoot with a Pentax 67 and you could achieve bokeh on that which would make the average DSLR user's eyes water. Even with a relatively wide lens you could still get a tight depth of field.

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Arcane

The sensor size can be reasonably well derived as follows.

The origin of the size metric is vacuum tube television sensors. The listed size is the diameter of the tube. This isn't the size of the sensor. The sensitive spot on the tube is about two thirds of the tube diameter. You inscribe your rectangular sensor in a circle of this diameter.

So, 1/2.3 inch, is 0.4.48 inches, is 11mm, times 2/3 equals about 7.3 mm diagonal. So, about 5.9 mm by 4.4 mm is my calculation for a 3:2 format sensor. That is pretty tiny. The original 110 film format was 13 x 17mm.

35mm was the width of the film, sprocket holes an all. The format was developed for the movie industry, not still cameras. The actual still camera picture format was 24mm x 36 mm.

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Anonymous Coward

One more time.

"The actual still camera picture format was 24mm x 36 mm."

No. The still camera format was usually 24x36mm, but not for all cameras. It irritates me that people discuss "35mm" as if it was only one frame size. I have owned 35mm cameras with frame sizes from 18x24mm to 63x24mm.

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wow

I love that flash mechanism. It's so sweet!

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nice design

From what I've seen, this sensor produces better results than most APS-C SLRs from a few years ago. But the other thing about using a smaller sensor is that you can make the lenses smaller too, which gets around the stupid "beer can on a pack of smokes" handling problem of the Sony NEX.

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What have you seen?

Care to share a link to these fabulous SLR-beating images?

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Raw or JPEG?

JPEG can have any kind of noise suppression the manufacturer likes performed by the camera before you ever see the image. Generally, raw doesn't (and shouldn't) have that, so for an honest comparison forget JPEG altogether and use raw. Pentax has been turning up its in-camera noise reduction quite a lot lately, look at the K-r for example.

Expect this camera to exhibit image noise five stops worse than modern 35mm sensors, over three stops worse than modern APS-C sensors and 2.5 stops worse than modern Four Thirds sensors. That is, unless Pentax's sensor supplier has managed to perform some physics-defying magic.

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Bronze badge

Good points, but...

... noise generally only becomes an issue in low light and/or at high ISO settings. Down at ISO 100 or less in daylight these small sensors can produce results that are not distinguishable from DSLR images when it comes to noise. The problem with the digitial camera revolution however is that it has introduced the pixel peeper. People who are obsessed with the technicalities of the cameras rather than the simple art of creating a great image.

I've created some great images using varied equipment including an old Kodak Instamatic 100B - 126 film, fixed aperture and fixed shutter speed and you could still create a great image with it. Well you could if you happened to be a photographer rather than a technician. Likewise whenever I have felt my photography was suffering I forced myself to use a simple, cheap and basic camera for a while just to get my mojo back. Shooting with a Kershaw King Penguin Eight-20 for two weeks was an experience that really kick started my photography. That I don't even own any form of SLR anymore speaks volumes about my attitude to photographer.

The most imporant thing about photography is light (well duh!), the seocnd the subject and the third the photographer. The camera is almost incidental.

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I should add...

...and still nowhere near the "APS-C DSLRs from a few years ago" that you vaguely refer to.

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Back illuminated

Apparently this sensor is back illuminated, and this technology claimed to yield better results than older sensors of the same size. Pentax started designing the camera 5 years ago, and are only releasing it now because the sensors finally caught up.

I view the Q not so much as a camera, as the start of the new Q-mount system, which will probably still be in use in 30 years. (Pentax's previous system, the K-mount, is nearly 40 years old now. I have 30-year-old Pentax lenses that work with my current DSLRs.) Over that period, optics won't change much but hardware will. Sensors will get better across the board, and tiny sensors will yield adequate image quality. In the same way that few people bother with full-frame 35mm sensors today, in a few years APS-C will seem unnecessarily large. Pentax are being forward-looking here. Q-mount cameras will smaller than m43 ones, forever.

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Meh

So lets get to the real important issue.....

Whats the default Auto setting that it will be set in for most cases like?

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FAIL

what a waste

from the article: "its 12.4Mp, 1/2.3in CMOS sensor is a good deal smaller than the APS-C and micro four thirds formats on the Sony and Panasonic, respectively."

Fail... am I going to spend a lot of money on Pentax lenses to shoot with a tiny sensor? the severe drawbacks are too well known to bother reading the est of the article. All to save a few millimeters in the size of the case? The fat lenses make minor size differences irrelevant.

Either Pentax lost the plot completely, or they have such long development cycles, that they started working on this in 2003 and then couldn't make any changes to it ???

from the article: "Even so, the Pentax Q shoots in both RAW and JPG formats, captures 1080p video and includes a micro HDMI output."

yeah, great, so can my mobile phone...

except raw, and why bother with raw if your small sensor induced noise is already more than any compression would add?

Bah, disappointing.. I hate it when manufacturers go the wrong way... we're going to get larger sensors in point and shoots soon, that just have one built in lens, but an excellent fast lens, that's optimized for the application.

I bet the crummy old Samsung NX100 that's dropped to $250 in price is a sharper sword than this.

Then of course, if the camera spec at the very top of your personal list is to take the guinnes book of records position "I am the smallest in category x", I guess Pentax has got you covered.

But its like selling you a tiny and expensive Aston Martin with a 2CV engine in it.

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