Pentax Q-S1 Hands-On: Cute and Compact

Rocoh hopes to attract a very specific crowd with its latest compact mirrorless camera the $500 Pentax Q-S1 -- a smartphone photographer looking to move up the ladder. I got an up close and personal look at the Q-S1 a day after its announcement to see if it is worth the investment. Available for sale Aug. 28, the Q-S1 comes with a standard 3x zoom kit lens and will be available in 40 color combinations.

My first impression of the Q-S1 left me really enjoying the fit and finish on the diminutive camera. My coworker's petite hands dwarfed the pint-sized shooter. Even the pocket-sized iPhone 5s was bigger than the compact Pentax when we laid them back to back. The Q-S1 is easy to pocket, making it a great choice for DSLR owners who want an alternative to a smartphone  when they are without their primary camera. And with its small size and weight, you may even forget its there unless you are wearing the skinniest of jeans.

Just don't confuse the Q-S1 with a point and shoot. Pentax will offer more than 15 attachable lenses available for the Q-S1, including the amusing fisheye that I tried out. The Q-S1 features a handy pop-out flash that extends 2 inches from the top left of camera, which helps to prevent red eye by putting distance between the lens and flash.

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The white Q-S1 stood out even among its attractive siblings in gunmetal, silver, champagne and black. There are also eight grip finishes that will be user replaceable, so your Q-S1 need never get lost in the crowd.

The most prominent feature on the Q-S1 is the large effects knob located on the front left. It offers on-the-fly application of filters such as Antique and Faded that will be sure to please the Instagram crowd. You can customize this knob to apply different settings via the camera's menu. The dummy knob on the opposite side is merely used to get a better grip on the tiny camera. This not only improves ergonomics on the small camera, but balances out the filter knob for a more symmetrical appearance.

The Q-S1 features a max shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second and ISO light sensitivity of up to 12,800. While that's an impressive range, I noticed image quality started to degrade above ISO 1600. The 3-inch LCD screen on the back was bright and easy to use, while common settings were just a flick away between the mode dial, aperture wheel and button cluster on the back.

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Below are two quick sample images directly from the Q-S1. The first is a shot on aperture priority at f2.0, 1/60th of a second and ISO 800. You can see the details on the dusty teleconference machine, with sharp focus on the number pad and display, and accurate colors from the auto white balance even in the tough indoor lighting.

The second photo shows the silver body QS-1 at f2.8, 1/60th of a second and ISO 2000. Even just barely above 1600, you can see the grain becoming more noticeable, especially toward the top of the photo.

Ricoh is hoping its cute new shooter will attract new customers to the Pentax family, and is focused on bringing cameras to the market that can compete on both features and pricing.

Stay tuned for a full review of the Pentax Q-S1 to see how it stacks up against competing mirrorless shooters.

Sam Rutherford is a Staff Writer at Tom’s Guide. Follow him @SamRutherford on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @Tom’s Guide on Facebook and Google+

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).