• Pentax Q7
  • Pentax's lilliputian Q series finally gets a better sensor. Is it too little too late?

Pentax Q7 Digital Camera Review

$499.99
7.8
  • 0
  • 10
Better than 49% of Reviewed Digital Cameras

Pentax's lilliputian Q series finally gets a better sensor. Is it too little too late?

Unwilling to compete directly with Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, and Fujifilm, Pentax's mirrorless offerings have instead relied on body designs that are different at best and downright wacky at worst. Last year saw the release of their "love it or hate it" K-01: an oversized system cam dreamed up by fancy-pants industrial designer Marc Newson. But before that, Pentax was already hard at work on their Q series of undersized mirrorless cameras, so much smaller than the competition that they look rather toyish.

This year's model, the Q7 (MSRP $499.95 kitted with the 02 Standard Zoom lens), still offers portability and general cuteness, but while both the Q and the Q10 had to make do with underperforming 1/2.3-inch point-and-shoot sensors, this year Pentax is hoping to boost image quality by incorporating a bigger 1/1.7-inch sensor.

Design & Handling

It's hard to get a grip on this tiny camera.

So yes, this is a bigger sensor. But 1/1.7-inches is still point-and-shoot grade—a far cry from the APS-C sensors offered by many other mirrorless cameras. Yet the real controversy of the Q7 is its body and mount designs, both of which are suspiciously unchanged. You'd think a larger sensor would necessitate some sort of Q-mount adapter, but this isn't the case. Furthermore, the Q7's chassis is also nearly the same size as its predecessors. Evidently, Pentax could've easily incorporated this larger chip years ago, but didn't. Were they planning this the whole time?

Handling the tiny Q7 isn't comfortable. While Pentax has wisely included a protruding hand grip on the right side of the front panel, it's more like a "finger grip" since it seems designed to support only the middle digit. On the rear panel there's a small thumb rest, but this offers even less support. The point is, either we've been playing too many videogames, or the Q7 causes hand cramps. ...Possibly both.

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She's got some tiny hands, but even they dwarf the miniscule Q7.

The shooting interface is reminiscent of Pentax DSLRs, navigated via a combination of the directional pad and the rear command dial. It works, but again the button and dial layout is so cramped that actually configuring your settings isn't much fun. Like all other Q series cameras, the Q7 is equipped with a frontside quick dial that can be customized, though not in any great depth. The best available options here are the digital filter effects, but not even these were compelling, and we found ourselves barely using the feature.

A final annoyance is the Q7's battery life, which is certainly more like a point-and-shoot camera than what we're used to with mirrorless cameras. Maxing out at only 260 shots, the Q7 is barely suitable for a full day of heavy shooting.

Performance

The new sensor isn't perfect, but image quality has improved overall.

The Q7 takes better photos than its predecessor, but the transition to a totally new sensor has caused performance drops in a few key areas. Color accuracy, for one, is significantly worse, even when using "Natural" (the most accurate color mode). Saturation is nearly perfect, which is important, but reds are still a bit too hot for our liking, and this will cause human subjects to appear too flushed.

The noise reduction algorithm is also less powerful. We did most of our sample shooting in RAW, but if you decide to go with JPEG, choose the higher of the Q7's two noise reduction settings. If not, you'll notice distracting grain as early as ISO 800.

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Better dynamic range is one of the Q7's key improvements.
On the other hand, sharpness has seen a modest improvement since the Q10, and since we're testing with the same lens, this can only be a result of the new sensor. For once we're happy to announce this uptick in resolution is not due to software enhancements (though we did observe occasional oversharpening in excess of 10%), but rather a genuine performance increase. Barrel distortion is much worse this time around, perhaps due to the new geometry of the larger sensor, but chromatic aberration is less severe, especially at the wide angle.

Dynamic range has also improved dramatically since last year. The Q7 is capable of as many as 7.9 stops of high quality range, while the Q10 maxed out at just over 7.5. This resulted in some spectacularly successful landscape shots over the weekend. The Q7 also surprised us with amazingly accurate white balance, which struggled under incandescent light as all cameras do, but produced accurate JPEG color temperatures in all other situations.

For in-depth image quality data, please visit the Science Page.

Features

Expanded customization options, plus decent video

Customizable colors... does that count as a feature? It's possible to customize both the body color and grip color of your new Pentax Q7. More color choices are available for this model than the Q10—and our new favorite is red body on yellow grip, for that classy "ketchup and mustard" look.

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Gorgeous...

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Size is relative.
Pentax has gone out of their way to emphasize the Q7's four filter effects by defaulting them to the customizable quick dial. Unfortunately, minus monochrome, the few available effects are all ugly. Scene modes are more appropriate (and more numerous) for software-based creativity, and Pentax has carried over the software "Blur Control" mode for adding artificial bokeh or, as we're dubbing it, "faux-keh."

For some reason videos aren't as sharp as those captured with the Q10, but motion is more fluid and the footage looks more realistic overall. Low light sensitivity is great too: the new sensor requires only a tiny amount of light to record a properly exposed video. We wish a video hotkey had been included, instead of requiring the user to turn the mode dial to a dedicated video mode, but there's simply no more room left on the tiny rear panel.

Conclusion

Is Pentax chasing rainbows?

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What's wrong with black anyway?
We nailed more than a few high quality shots with the Pentax Q7, yet most of those shots were successful despite the camera's atypical design, not thanks to it.

The novelty of shooting with such a tiny, inconvenient camera doesn't last long. Sure, Pentax has done all it can to make the process easier, but the company has built its mirrorless line on uncertain ground. The Q7 certainly turns more heads and garners more questions from the public than an average camera, but the shooting process simply isn't as fun as it is with a full-sized mirrorless camera, or a DSLR, or even a truly pocketable fixed-lens camera.

We come away from this review thoroughly impressed by the Q7's upgrades over the Q10, but only on an academic level. Would we recommend this camera to a friend? Probably not. And as for you, only buy this camera if the form factor is your primary interest. Image quality is good enough, and yes, this is more than just a toy, but there's a multitude of better values already on the market.

Christopher Snow 801898d387dd3a187c9d411a89164dcb?s=48&d=mm
Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecommunications industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.
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