*** Update 8th December *** Pentax obviously realised that they totally missed the mark with the pricing of the Q at launch, and have slashed the price by over a third. This makes it a realistic proposition, and I'm adding a point back onto my original score, giving it 4/5.
Firstly, I have to declare an interest - I didn't stump up my own cash to buy the Pentax Q. Like everyone reviewing for Amazon Vine, I was sent one specifically for the purposes of reviewing it. It's not a camera I would necessarily have chosen to supplement my collection, as its functionality has significant overlap with cameras I already own, but that in mind, I thought it would be useful to review it by comparing it with them. Before using the Pentax Q, I'd mentally grouped it with the Nikon J in the category of cameras which, although technologically impressive, fall between two stools in terms of functionality when targeted at the enthusiast, and yet are priced at a sufficiently high price point that they are unlikely to appeal to a broader market. That said, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I took delivery of my Q and started to shoot with it.
The first thing which immediately strikes you is quite how tiny the Pentax Q actually is. Looking at photos and video of the Q, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's roughly the size of the Canon G series. In reality, it's actually a lot smaller. The main body is proportioned like a squat Canon S95 - slightly thicker from front to back, and a shade shorter. This is of course without the lens attached. Once the equally miniscule 8.5mm f/1.9 prime lens (47mm equivalent) is attached, it becomes rather less tiny, but remains incredibly compact - it can easily be slipped into the smallest of coat pockets, and in the pocket of your trousers if they're reasonably loose fitting.
In the hand (I have large hands) it's surprisingly easy and comfortable to use. The dials and buttons are very small, but so well placed and spaced that even people with sausage fingers should have little trouble operating them. The grip on the right hand side of the camera allows you to easily hold and shoot with one hand (as long as it's your right hand). Interestingly, because of its size, I think the Q would make a wonderful camera for a child to use. Small hands would really feel at home with it. Of course, because of its relatively high price - only the most indulgent of parents would likely consider this as a stocking filler for a 6 year old.
The publicity photos of the Pentax Q do not do it justice. I think it looks very plasticky and toy-like in the shots I've seen - specially in white. In the flesh, the black model I have looks very classy indeed. The faux leather grip covering across the front face is rubberised with the same high quality of finish as my Nikon D700 - nice and grippy without feeling sticky and picking up dust and lint. The rest of the body has a lovely subtle crackle finish which accentuates the glossy dials and controls. I'm surprised by quite how classy it looks - and feels too - it has a really nice `heft' which betrays its magnesium alloy moulded shell and the wealth of technology packed into its bijou frame. The finish is completed in fine style by the silver lens, which looks to me like anodized aluminium. The weight and finish take what could very easily have looked like a silly toy camera, and instantly make it a thing of beauty. In terms of sheer looks, it comes second only to my Fuji X100. I certainly did not expect to have that reaction judging purely from the photos I'd seen.
Digging into the functionality of the camera, I believe you will not be disappointed. It has several modes of operation - including the usual Full Auto, Program, Aperture and Shutter priority as well as Manual - all the modes in fact that most enthusiast photographers will need. In addition it has `Blur Control' (digitally enhanced bokeh) and Scene modes. Full Auto does pretty much what you'd expect - automate everything including choosing the focus point. I had a play with it, and it seems to work well enough. I don't imagine many people splashing this kind of money on a camera this sophisticated will be using it for the majority of the time though. Aperture and Shutter priority are very straightforward - the thumb button works very well to control aperture or shutter speed, and you can have auto ISO turned on or off as needed. I generally have it turned on. Manual mode requires that you manually adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Fortunately each of these are no more than a button press and a thumb wheel away. I wish manual ISO adjustment on my X100 was that easy.
The more you dig into the menus, the more you realise quite how sophisticated this little camera is. It can shoot JPG, RAW (in DNG format - which is super for Adobe Lightroom users), and RAW+JPG. It can also do what my Canon S95 can't, and that's display and shoot in B+W while shooting RAW+JPG. This is my preferred shooting mode, as I like to shoot B+W JPGs while retaining the RAW in case I want to render in colour later.
Many advanced modes are available including exposure bracketing - 3 shots with up to +/- 3 EV - good enough for basic HDR imaging, plus full adjustment of contrast and sharpening for in-camera JPG rendering. Flash adjustment includes auto plus red eye reduction and trailing curtain shutter sync. It allows flash compensation of between +1 EV and -2 EV. The built-in flash can either be used on-camera, or by flipping a small release on the top, it unfurls on the end of a rather impressive articulated boom arrangement to a position a full 8cm diagonally from the centre of the lens. That really is quite an impressive feat, and the mechanism is actually quite robust and easy to slot back into place, unlike some I've seen. The hot shoe works fine with my Nikon SB-600 and SB-800s using manual mode, though to be able to use auto flash control, you will no doubt need to use one of the compatible Pentax flash guns with the correct pin-out and logic. Given all the manual controls available on the camera however, using an external flash in manual mode is still useful. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the internal flash can sync right up to the maximum shutter speed of 1/2000th, allowing daylight to be over-powered well. Unfortunately however, the hot shoe only fires up to 1/250th, which means that, although theoretically possible to sync with external flashes right up to 1/2000th, it is only possible by using an optical slave fired from the built in flash and not via the shoe itself. This is a missed opportunity.
There is a built-in ND filter, so if you want to try your luck at shooting with shallow DoF in bright daylight, you can keep to the maximum 1/2000th shutter speed without over-exposing the shot - however, given the small size of the sensor (1/2.3") achieving shallow DoF of significance will be a challenge. The Blur Control feature goes some way to improving this, by estimating the distance of objects from the lens and applying digital blur to JPGs after the fact, but this is not 100% reliable, and can make mistakes - occasionally blurring things which should actually be in focus.
The 47mm equivalent prime lens is pleasant enough, and certainly better than most compact cameras. It's actually sharpest almost wide open at f/2.0 and f/2.8, then starts to suffer from diffraction at f/4.0, getting progressively worse at f/5.6 and f/8.0 - where it's really starting to lose a lot of detail. This is not such a big problem given that the effective DoF is actually pretty deep at f/4.0. Sharpness does suffer in the corners, but not unduly, and vignetting is almost unnoticeable. It does suffer from some fairly significant barrel distortion, but this can be corrected in-camera in JPGs and in Lightroom for RAW DNG files. Happily, Lightroom 3.5 includes distortion correction profiles for the Pentax 01 Standard Prime and 02 Standard Zoom lenses. For the prime lens I have on my camera this works very well.
If there is one thing which limits the Pentax Q and makes its price point somewhat ambitious, it's the small size of the sensor, which at 1/2.3" has about half the area than that in my Canon S95, and about 1/13th that of the APS-C sensor in my X100. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it's a new generation Sony manufactured backlit CMOS sensor, and so its performance is better than might be expected, but in comparing shots with my S95 at various ISO settings (a compact known for its good low light performance), the Pentax Q falls about 1/2 EV (0.5 stops) short in terms of high ISO performance. This is not a problem if you mostly shoot in reasonable light, but if you are require fast shutter speeds in moderate lighting or want to shoot indoors in available light, this is not the camera for you. The up side of having a small sensor means that the camera and its lenses can be made far smaller than they otherwise could be, which has helped keep its size well within the 'pocketable' class, but this has inevitably compromised somewhat its ability in low light conditions.
The supplied manual is all in English and is equally as chunky and pocketable as the Q itself. I wish it had gone into a little mode explicit detail on some features, but as the camera is so easy to get to know without needing to refer to the manual, perhaps a little superfluous anyway.
So in summary - this camera is absolutely jam-packet with features, and if you can live with moderate low light performance in a camera body which is truly compact, then the Pentax Q is definitely worthy of consideration. Possibly the biggest concern of all is that the relatively high price point at the time of writing is going to put it in hard competition with cameras like the Canon G12 and Fuji X10, both of which have similarly advanced features - though both are somewhat more bulky. The other cameras of course do not have the ability to change lenses, though they do feature built-in zoom lenses.
Overall then, I'm going to rate this camera 3 stars, because it is a lovely object to behold and use, and is truly packed with features. I would have scored it 4 stars but for the relatively high price point, so this may change over time.