Design & Usability
Film-era looks, intuitive controls, and very good build quality
Despite the lack of a prism housing, the MX-1 bears a distinct resemblance to its film-era namesake. From the font and placement of the model name to the angular corners and leatherette wrap, it's a love letter to the 1970s SLR aesthetic. Pentax is making a big deal of the brass top and bottom plates, which help give the camera a substantial heft and a reassuring solidity. We were also promised that—with time and use—the neck strap will rub away the paint on the edges of the camera to show the metal underneath, giving it an even more legit vintage look.
Functionally, the body is pretty nice. The buttons are on the small side, but have a very firm, tactile response when pressed, and they're relatively easy to navigate without looking. The rear control dial feels fine, too. In addition to the standard array of dedicated controls for flash, ISO, self-timer, and macro shooting, the usual Pentax green button is here, programmable to several functions.
The articulating 3-inch, 921k-dot rear LCD is very sharp and colorful—possibly to the point of exaggerating the quality of the actual recorded image (something we've noticed with other recent Pentax cameras). It tilts on a double-hinged arm, up to 90 degrees upward and 45 degrees downward; this isn't quite as impressive as the swing-out-and-rotate screen on the Nikon P7700, for instance, but right in line with cameras like the Olympus XZ-2.
Many have already noted that the $500 MX-1 shares several key specs with the $600 Olympus XZ-2, from the rear screen hinge to the 12.1-megapixel 1/1.7-inch sensor and possibly even the 4x zoom lens design. Of course, it also lacks several of the XZ-2's more exciting features—not a surprise, given the price difference. Most notable? The hybrid lens control ring, the excellent touch interface, and a hot shoe.
That last omission is probably the only legitimate disappointment for two reasons: first, it means you can't use external flashes, and second, it precludes the possibility of an optional electronic viewfinder. Most of the MX-1's competitors offer one, but on the other hand we're honestly not sure how many buyers actually make use of them. Perhaps Pentax is smart to leave off a feature that the majority of its users (almost certainly) won't ever touch, in favor of shaving the price by a cool hundo.
Beyond the hardware, the MX-1 offers the usual array of advanced compact features. HD video recording is here at 1080/30p or 720/60p (according to Pentax reps), and we imagine the tilt screen will be a real boon for videographers. There's also a built-in neutral density filter, which combined with the 1/8000sec max shutter speed should mean you'll never ever get overexposed shots when shooting at f/2.0 in bright daylight.
The MX-1's menu system was unfinished here at CES, with several dummy entries still lurking in the rough GUI, but we were told that the final menus will more closely resemble Pentax DSLRs than their Optio point-and-shoots.
We have no doubt that the MX-1 will be a good camera; we're just not sure it can take on similarly priced models from Canon and Nikon.
The MX-1 appears to be every bit the camera that competing models from Olympus, Canon, and Nikon are—at least when it comes to the sensor and lens. Its shortcomings versus the optically similar XZ-2 are offset by a $100 price difference, but the G15 and P7700 match the Olympus nearly spec-for-spec and cost the same as the MX-1. That's not good news for Pentax.
As usual, we imagine the MX-1 will sell in good numbers to the converted. Pentaxians are a rabidly loyal bunch, and they'll almost always choose the first-party product before going afield, even if it means paying a slight price premium. We're just not sure it will lure many outsiders away from the higher-profile G15 and P7700.
That could change if the image quality out of the MX-1 proves to be spectacular, but if our hunch about the XZ-2 connection is correct, it's not likely to stand out from the crowd. We can't wait to get it into our labs and find out for sure.
Over the past six months, it seems like we've done little else but review all the top advanced compacts on the market: the Sony RX100, the Samsung EX2F, the Panasonic LX-7, the Canon G15, the Olympus XZ-2, and the Nikon P7700. Each of them is at the very least a strong performer, and some of them are among the best compact cameras ever.
There's one manufacturer that's been conspicuously absent from this space up till now, but Pentax has finally joined the party with the MX-1, a supremely classy-looking point-and-shoot with a fast lens, tilt screen, exposure compensation dial, and all the other accoutrements you'd expect from a $500 fixed-lens camera.