Pentax QS Review Style Over Substance Toms Guide

“The $400 (body only, $500 with kit lens) Pentax Q-S1 is a replacement for the older Q7 that seeks to deliver an entry-level interchangeable-lens camera experience. Its 12.4-megapixel sensor is 2.5 times the size of those typically found in most smartphones, and the camera has the flexibility of eight Q-mount lenses. With a limited selection of filters, Pentax is also hoping to draw the interest of the Instagram crowd.
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For this review I focused on the kinds of shots and situations that this camera will often encounter. This includes prioritizing my assessment of JPEG performance over evaluating RAW files; someone serious enough to shoot RAW is probably looking for a higher-end camera than the Q-S1. I also wanted to challenge the camera with tough low-light situations to simulate the types of photos you would get during a night out at a bar or restaurant.
Design – Retro Chic
When the white and gold Q-S1 arrived at the office, it was greeted by chorus of “oohs” and “awws”u2014 from men and women alike u2014 as if the retro-styled camera were a puppy or newborn baby. I’ll admit I was momentarily entranced by its cute, compact design. With five color choices for the body and eight for the grip, there is surely a combination to suit your style.
Removing the lens reveals a tiny 1/1.7-inch sensor, which is 2.5 times larger than the 1/3-inch sensor in an iPhone 6. This makes the Q-S1 a decent step up from most smartphones, but it’s still overmatched compared to some of its competitors.
The front is adorned with two wheel-like protrusions: the one on the right is a dial to select filter effects, and the one on the left is a knob used for better grip and to balance out the aesthetics. The back features 3-inch, low-res 720 x 640 non-touch LCD display, and a small control cluster for adjusting settings and navigating the menus.
At 4.13 x 2.28 x 1.33 inches and 7.16 ounces sans lens, the Q-S1 is a little larger than two packs of playing cards stacked together. However, itu2019s bigger than the interchangeable-lens Samsung NX Mini (4.35 x 2.44 x 0.89 and 5.44 ounces), despite the Mini’s larger 1-inch sensor. Ports include mini HDMI and a PC/AV in, with a tripod mount on the bottom.
Image Quality – Night and Day Makes All the Difference
The Pentax Q-S1 features the same 1/1.7-inch 12.4 megapixel CMOS sensor found on its predecessor, the Q7. However, Pentax has added a few tweaks to the image processor that it says allows the Q-S1 to produce good prints all the way up to 19 x 13 inches. Nevertheless, the 20.5 MP Samsung NX Mini has a 2.6x larger 1-inch sensor (currently available for less than $400 with 9mm kit lens).
Specs include the ability to shoot up to 1/8000 of a second and a max ISO of 12,800. The ISO range is good for a camera in this price range, but short of what you get on most DSLRs. The Q-S1 also has a minimum aperture of f/8, which can make it difficult to control depth of field. This is more restrictive than many cameras that have a minimum aperture of f/20 or more for greater depth of field.
Bright Light – Proficient Daytime Shooter
Despite the small sensor, the Q-S1 performs well in bright conditions. Focus is fast, and I liked the overall color accuracy and auto-white balance performance. Differences between RAW and JPEGs in daytime shots were pretty minimal. Sam Rutherford u2013 ISO 1600, f/5, 1/60 second, Pentax 01 f/1.9, 8.5mm prime lens
The Q-S1 did a great job with this portrait in Union Square. Even without face detection on, focus is solid, with good sharpness around the woman’s eyes and face. The camera accurately captured the color of her blond hair as well as the goldenrod balloon. Even with a slightly backlit background, you can still see detail in the dark shrubbery on the right and the farmers’ market umbrellas on the left. Sam Rutherford u2013 ISO 100, f/8, 1/250 second, Pentax 02 f/2.8-4.5, 5-15mm zoom lens)
This challenging shot of One World Trade Center shows the wide dynamic range of the Q-S1. Aside from the lens flare in the upper left, which can sometimes be unavoidable, there is great detail throughout. Take a look at the clothes of the pedestrians and the intricate architecture. Cherly
Low u2013 ISO 320, f/4.5, 1/40 second, Pentax 01 f/1.9, 8.5mm prime lens
A compact camera like the Q-S1 will inevitably be tasked with a selfie (or 100) during its lifetime. This photo taken by a fellow Tom’s Guide writer did a decent job capturing details, but it lacks sharpness around the eyes and face. Note that without a flip-up display, you are essentially shooting blind on every shot.
Low Light – Low Tolerance for High ISO
The Q-S1 has a max ISO of 12,800, which, in theory, provides a great range for low-light shots. Unfortunately, cranking the ISO that high produces grainy and color-speckled photos. In my experience, usable range extends to about ISO 3,200, which is good for well-lit indoor and early-evening photos.
In aperture priority mode, the Q-S1 is incredibly hesitant to move shutter speed below 1/60th of a second, instead opting to increase the ISO. While keeping the shutter speed high helps prevent blurry images from camera shake, it results in a lot of shots at ISO 5,000 and 6,400. These photos end up being more noisy than they could have been had the camera decreased shutter speed to 1/40 or 1/50th of a second. Sam Rutherford u2013 ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/100 second, Pentax 01 f/1.9, 8.5mm prime lens
At ISO 3,200, you can see grain throughout the photo, most noticeably on the manu2019s dark shirt. This causes a lack of sharpness, which is compounded by the poor autofocus, as the camera was confused between foreground and background. The Q-S1 has a separate face detection mode, but I shouldn’t have to select it to get sharp focus. Sam Rutherford u2013 ISO 1250, f/5, 1/60 sec., Pentax 01 f/1.9, 8.5mm prime lens
Sunset in New York City is a beautiful thing, and the Q-S1 did a good job of capturing the myriad colors in the sky. Unfortunately, detail is a little soft at ISO 1,250. Sam Rutherford u2013 ISO 6400, f/5, 1/60 second, Pentax 02 f/2.8-4.5, 5-15mm zoom lens
My picture of a chef at a Japanese barbecue restaurant didn’t impress. At 6,400, grain is easy to see and severely affects image quality. Potential buyers deserve better images, even for posting on Facebook or Instagram.
Filters – Just Four Options
The Q-S1 includes four filters that you can select from the dial on the front. Brilliant color is similar to Vivid mode on other cameras, and does a good job producing very saturated colors. Vintage color provides a more muted color experience, while Antique mode adds a Sepia effect across the entire image.
Sam Rutherford u2013 ISO-100, f/5, 1/200 second, Pentax 01 f/1.9, 8.5mm prime lens
My favorite filter is Unicolor Bold, which created a compelling, highly stylized image. With just four filters, your options are limited, but they can create some stu
ing images that would normally require extra time and post-processing.
Video Quality – Worrisome Wobble
The Q-S1 supports video recording at 1080p, 720p and 480p at your choice of 30, 25 and 24 fps. This is pretty standard for a camera in this price range, but what isn’t standard is the wobble that you get in almost every video. I did my best to hand-hold the camera as still as possible, but even then video was jellylike, and that was with image stabilization turned on.”

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