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A few quirks aside, we're impressed with Pentax's brawny compact.
The Pentax MX-1 (MSRP $499.95) is the first attempt at a premium compact camera from a company known primarily for its DSLRs and medium format bodies. Curiously, it shares many common components with another high-quality point-and-shoot, the Olympus XZ-2, including its lens and likely its sensor. We heaped a decent portion of praise on that camera, so we're understandably excited to test the MX-1.
Our initial impressions after a week in the field? The brass-encased MX-1 seems built to last and its solid construction gives it a heft uncommon in cameras of this type. We're glad to see that Pentax has finally gotten with the times and included a tilting LCD, but we would have loved to have a viewfinder as well. Image quality looks to easily equal the XZ-2. Shots from the MX-1 are sharp, well-exposed, and richly colored, though there's evidence of noise reduction even at low sensitivities.
The camera is simple to use—employing a variation on the same menu system used in Pentax's DSLRs—and operates quickly and fluidly. The super macro function lets you get quite close to your subjects, and combined with the fast f/1.8-2.8 lens it gets you some surprisingly shallow depth of field.
We did note a few quirks, including a strange grid of magenta flare in images containing a bright light source, but on the whole the MX-1 looks to provide excellent value for your dollar—especially given its recent sub-$400 street price. (We're still puzzled at the absence of a hot shoe, though.)
We should have the camera in the lab soon, but until then...