Tag Archives: pentax q-s1

Model refresh – an appraisal

10 Aug

“It’s not enough of an upgrade” – a phrase frequently heard on gearheads websites when new models are announced for an existing product line. It was one of the responses to the recent Pentax Q-S1 as much as for the Canon EOS 700D or Nikon D3300. The air is getting thin in the digital camera market, and manufacturers need to cut corners – their manufacturing needs to become more modular, the model refreshes more incremental.

Sony did this masterfully from 2008 to 2011 – their Alpha 200 was chased by an A230, then an A290; likewise, the A350 was succeeded by an A380, then A390, almost at 12-month intervals. They repeated this with the A500 and A550 DSLR lineages. then the A33 and A55 SLT lines, the latter of which endures in the shape of the A58. Most of these models were relatively simple upgrades of a previous one, differing by a few megapixels or a small saving on the sale price.

The downside to this strategy is that not every new model will get fully reviewed by photography and tech publications. For instance, many did not review the Pentax K-50 because while the body was completely redesigned, the internals were nearly identical to the K-30, except that a higher maximum ISO had been enabled in the firmware. Similarly, in the Sigma DP line, many publications will review only one model from each generation as the DP1, DP2 and DP3 do not differ in anything other than focal length and the slightly different properties of the lens; however, even the widest aperture is the same among them.

Nonetheless, each new model release creates headlines in technical publications. Pentax has arguably followed a similar concept to advance coverage of its DSLR by announcing new colour choices or special editions at certain points in the product life cycle. Canon’s “Rebel” entry level DSLRs get extra column inches by having three names each – the 700D mentioned above is also known as the Kiss X7i, or Rebel T5i, depending which market you’re in. International coverage always has to try and address readers from all regions, so each name must be mentioned when referring to the camera. (At other times, redundant words are included in the model name, such as EOS, Lumix DMC, Coolpix or Cyber-shot DSC, in the belief that they confer a particularly sought-after brand identity.)

It is clear that some companies follow such schemes to a lesser extent. While Panasonic’s GH4 is in many ways an incremental upgrade of its GH3 model, it does include one big headine feature – 4k video. Other Panasonic interchangeable lens models have generally stood on their own in this reviewer’s impression. Olympus mixes up its models only in the PEN series (where the difference between E-P, E-PM and E-PL models is generally small, and some upgrades have been minimal), whereas each model in the OM-D series has been individually designed for its intended market.

Samsung has only very recently shown inclinations towards incremental upgrades, whereas Fujifilm has only upgraded one X-series ILC so far, with the X-E2, which was widely considered a success.

In some cases, a quick succession of model increments can be an indication of the health of a model line – Sony’s RX1 was followed by an RX1R, and its RX100 is now on its third model iteration. Nikon’s 1 series has similarly exploded in model lines and generations – again, we are counting the third generation of this mirrorless interchangeable lens camera line. Both the RX100 and Nikon 1 series have undergone significant changes during their existence, however.

And while Olympus and Pentax (with their K-500) have succeeded in diversifying their price points in the entry market by adopting a more incremental and modular approach to design, none of these manufacturers can escape the truth that more radical redesigns are necessary from time to time. The ability of manufacturers to correctly judge the best time for such redesigns, and ability to get them right on the first release will be a large factor in their ability to stand their ground in this highly competitive market.

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Gunmetal gray – Pentax’ new black

8 Aug
Pentax K-3 Prestige Edition

Pentax K-3 Prestige Edition

It struck me that among the colour combinations available in the Pentax Q-S1 Color Simulator, a sort of gunmetal gray was an option for both the top plate and the lens barrel. So I went to recreate a Q-S1 with as close to the colour scheme of a Pentax K-3 Prestige Edition as I could. It made me think that gunmetal gray might become a colour option that we’ll see in Pentax products more often after this point. I have to admit it looks sleek.

Pentax Q-S1 in what looks like gunmetal gray

Pentax Q-S1 in what looks like gunmetal gray

Updated 2014/08/28: There are two other recent grey models from Pentax/Ricoh, one being the limited edition Ricoh GR and the other a grey K-S1, just announced. The K-S1 colour is called “tweed grey”. Officially, the GR edition is green.

GR Limited Edition

K-S1_Tweed_Gray-HD

Pentax Q-S1: refresh of most compact system camera

5 Aug
Black Pentax Q-S1: frontal view of compact system camera with lens, aspect ratio two wide by one high; two dials either side of the lens and Pentax written in white above lens mount

Pentax Q-S1

Pentax has taken the wraps off the previously-leaked Pentax Q-S1. The Pentax Q series lays legitimate claim to being the smallest digital camera system on the market. Although the Panasonic Lumix GM1 is smaller in some respects, Pentax’ system has smaller lenses for the same effective focal lengths since its sensor is smaller – a 4.7 crop factor in this new incarnation as well as the Q7, whereas the original Q and its Q10 refresh had a 5.6 crop factor. This gives the Q7 and Q-S1 higher resolving power than the original model.

As a result of the high crop factor, very high magnification can be achieved when the Q is combined with an adapter for K-mount lenses, limited only by the resolving power of the K-mount lens used (K-mount is the standard mount for Pentax’ larger DSLR cameras). Essentially, this would be like taking a crop from a sensor with very high pixel density. Since it has a twelve megapixel sensor (and, by the way, a 4:3 aspect ratio), the pixel density is about the same as a 250 megapixel full frame sensor. In a very simple calculation, that could give it over two and a half times the resolution of a current generation Nikon 1 sensor. However, there isn’t yet an autofocusing adapter – focus is manual with focus peaking and/or magnified view in the viewfinder. The native tele lens is numbered 06 and goes to 249mm equivalent.

However, its fans maintain that the Q is not about crop factors, but rather, about fun. And you can’t escape the fact that this camera makes you smile, right from the moment that someone suggests that the sensor should be bigger (they haven’t handled the camera and can be forgiven for missing the point) all the way to the final, charmingly grainy image at higher ISO settings. This is a camera you can always have with you, and you can change lenses to get the shot that you want. Don’t go looking for shallow depth of field here – you’ll have to shoot this in a similar way to a point and shoot, deliberately isolating your subjects, or including your sharp background into your composition. On the flipside, it’s easy to get everything in focus for cityscape or landscape shooting.

I mentioned the charming grain, but that’s not where the analog feel stops – there are a number of art filters in this camera for various degraded looks, in addition to separate colour filters such as bleach bypass and cross-process, and there’s a toy lens with a deliberately lo-fi look and plenty of aberrations – probably the most tongue-in-cheek lens from a major manufacturer (lensbaby et al. excluded). Along the same lines, this Q generation, like its predecessors, will have quirky custom colours for you to choose from as a special order.

Some fun colour variants of the Pentax Q-S1 - separate blue and pink variants with silver/chrome top plate, and yellow with a champagne top plate.

Some fun colour variants of the Pentax Q-S1

The Q has been praised for including a lot of functionality that you would expect in a much bigger, more “professional” camera, such as inbuilt flash, an additional flash hotshoe (now missing from the Nikon 1 series’ top model, the V3), in-camera HDR and RAW processing, In other news, there’s a new mystery dial on the front of this camera that is missing from previous models. We’re waiting with bated breath to hear its purpose revealed

There’s only one little salty tear with this launch, and that’s the fact that this camera once again has a polycarbonate plastic rather than magnesium alloy metal body. Can’t we have everything? Please?