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EXCLUSIVE: Pentax Q0-Smaller is Beautifuller

Well CES 2014 is over, but the breaking news just keeps on breaking. Following the news about Nikon’s plans for 2014, we’ve got an exclusive, secret hotel room suite, hands-on preview of the Pentax Q0, a super-secret project that the good folks at Ricoh-Pentax have been working on for some time now. We hinted at the project in our “10 Predictions for 2014 That Will. Blow. Your. Mind.”, but we have to admit that back then we were half-joking.

You can imagine our surprise then, when the NCN news team walked by the Ricoh booth when a representative at the booth slipped us a business card and whispered in our ear, “We want to show you our little thing…” Intrigued by the unconventional offer, we looked at the back of the business card, where a time and suite number were listed. By the time we looked up though, our mysterious booth person was gone!

We freshened up before our surreptitious rendezvous, bathing twice and lathering ourselves in Drakkar Noir, and then knocked on the door at the appointed time. The door swung open unexpectedly to a dark suite. It was empty, but at a small table by the window was a single lamp illuminating a tiny, tiny thing. It was the Pentax Q0, a handful of lenses, and a note that said, “Go take some pictures. You have 24 hours.” So we took a Q0, left, and took some pictures. This is our report.

Ricoh Pentax Q0 (Quarter shown for scale only. Not included with purchase.)

Ricoh Pentax Q0 (Quarter shown for scale only. Not included with purchase.)

This is the Q0, and we predicted it’s arrival but got some of the specifications wrong. The Q0 does not have a single pixel sensor, rather it has a comparatively generous 40 pixel by 30 pixel sensor, giving it sub-VGA resolution but ultra-high crop factors in an ultra-small package. Each camera is a compromise of features and factors, of course, and Ricoh has put a tiny little stake in the ground…more like a toothpick, actually…with the Q0.

The production methods for the Q0’s sensor is interesting to say the least. Ricoh says that they purchase APS-C Foveon sensors from Sigma and then use “lasers” to cut out the heart of the sensor–the best 40 pixel by 30 pixel area available. When asked about what they do with the rest of the sensor, Ricoh representatives were coy, and then whispered, “Sigma has a generous return policy for ‘defective’ items. We figure that we have three or four months before they catch on.”

The unique sensor of the Q0 yields other interesting specs. While this is a pre-production unit that we are testing, here are some of the basic specs:

Specifications

Camera Name: Pentax Q0
Type: Interchangeable Lens Camera
Manufacturer: Ricoh
Sensor Size: 320µm x 234µm
Resolution: 40×30 pixels
ISO Range: 50-128,000
Shutter: Leaf
Frame Rate: up to 20,000 FPS

The high frame rate is especially interesting, but understandable considering the tiny amount of data that needs to be processed with each photo. Three prime lenses are expected to ship with the Q0–a 24mm EQ wide, a 50mm EQ normal, and 105mm EQ portrait. The whole package will fit inside a 35mm film canister, and we can see a whole new accessory ecosystem evolve as artisans fashion tiny leather pinky straps and cases for the system.

You might expect that handling and ergonomics would suffer with such a small camera, but both Ricoh and Pentax have a reputation for make photographer-oriented cameras. The Q0 is no different. Once you get used to the glove-mounted tweezers (think a kinder, gentler, tinier Edward Scissorhands), controls are quick and easy, with minimal menu diving into the .125” diagonal rear LCD.

Enough talk though, let’s take a look at what this camera can do. What follows are representative sample photos and comments.

Cat Test

Cats are a favorite subject of nearly all photographers so we thought that it was our solemn duty to show how the Q0 performs with this furry cute genre.

Sample-Cats-logo

As you can see, these two cats (or were there three, it’s hard to remember) are well taken, with good contrast and color. Just look at how curious the kitty is on the right!

Celestial Body Test

Due to the extreme crop factor of approximately 29,000 (vs. 35mm), the Q0 will likely be of interest to stargazers. And here’s a pretty convincing example – a 300mm Pentax K-mount telephoto mounted via an adapter to the Q0 to yield an effective focal length of 8.7 x 106.

That's not the Earth's moon, it's Europa!

That’s not the Earth’s moon, it’s Europa!

That’s good enough to grab this handheld shot of Jupiter’s moon Europa, with the Q0’s shake reduction worth at least 4,000 stops of stabilization.

Portrait Test

While many like taking portraits with backgrounds blurred beyond recognition, the Q0 enables more environmental-style photos, where the context is included.

We think this is a guy. We think this is at home.

We think this is a guy. We think this is at home.

We are pleasantly surprised with the rendering of skin tones here along with the nice reds and are not put off by the lack of DOF. In this photo, it’s nice to see the subject in his living room (or maybe it was an office). We think the Q0 may very well start a whole new style of environmental portrait photography.

Sports Test

Youth sports is another area where the Q0 will see use, the tiny camera right alongside those Rolex-wearing soccer moms and dad with their oh-so-fancy white lenses and full-frame bodies and monopods and stuff for shots that are going to be crapped up by Facebook’s poor JPEG algorithm. No matter, the Q0’s AF is snappy (which is another way of saying that it pretty much has endless DOF) and metering and exposure are spot on, with framerates as high as 50 frames per second. You’re hard drive won’t sweat though, as a 2GB card can store over 400,000 RAW files from the Q0.
This photo highlights the responsiveness of the Q0, catching the height of the action with ease.

We're pretty sure this is soccer.

We’re pretty sure this is soccer.

Flower Test

You can nearly smell the roses in this photograph.

Sample-Orchid-logo2

A rose by any other name may in fact be an orchid.

Oh wait, I think they were orchids.

Landscape Test

One area where the Q0 surprised us was with landscapes, enabling us to take vibrant, colorful photos from as far as three counties away. Lens adaptability is key here, yielding focal lengths that would make a superzoom blush.

Taken from 3 counties away.

Taken from 3 counties away.

We expect the Q0 is going to save landscape photographers a lot of gas.

Initial Conclusions

As you can see, the Q0 is a unique and dare we say groundbreaking camera. We can’t wait to get our fingers on a production unit and put it through its paces.

Stay tuned to NCN, as we continue to accept dubious invites from complete strangers to look at their things.

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Review overview
Small
Really Small
Really Really Small
Tiny

6 COMMENTS

  1. This cam sucks – it doesn’t even have a fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh SD card slot.
    Holy Shrek, won’t those Pentax-Ricoh guys ever learn???

  2. I heard there’s a Lytro-like program in the works for it so you can change the pixels into dots, triangles, hearts, and smiley faces. Instagram has already created a section for these, designated “milligram.”

  3. Get your finger(s) on it? More like get it under your fingernail. I think I’ll have one implanted in my forehead, as long as the battery comes out easily!

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