Pentax MX-1

The MX-1 is a sprightly camera that looks, feels and performs like a more expensive model.

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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

The resurgence in retro-styled cameras continues with the Pentax MX-1, a compact camera with plenty of features targeted toward enthusiast photographers.

Design and features

Fortunately, the MX-1 has more than just good looks going for it, as inside is a 12-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor at 1/1.7 inch. This puts it at the same physical size as cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P330, Samsung EX2F and Canon PowerShot S110, though smaller than the 1-inch model on the Sony Cyber-shot RX100.

A nice, bright f/1.8 lens at 4x optical zoom sits at the front, though there's no rotating element around it that lets you adjust exposure or focus.

The tilting 3-inch LCD screen is nice and bright, boasting a resolution of 920,000 dots. It doesn't rotate or swivel around on itself, but just tilts up and down on its fixed point at the back of the camera.

Overall, the MX-1 is a sturdy camera with clean finishes, and is put together incredibly well. The top and bottom brass plates, painted silver, lend an authentic feel to the shooting experience. Also at the top is a pop-up flash, with manual lever just to the side of the camera, plus a mode dial, shutter and zoom rocker, exposure compensation dial and power and record buttons. The rubber grip surrounding the body is easy to hold, and ensures that the camera won't slip out of the hand.

Controls are all within easy reach, and the dials give a pleasing amount of resistance to ensure that you don't knock them out of the desired selection too easily.

The mode dial gives access to a range of shooting options, including semi-manual and fully manual modes. There are also HDR, scene, movie and a full auto mode to choose from. Plus, Pentax has equipped the MX-1 with a built-in ND filter.

By default, the screen displays levels for pitch and roll, which is useful for photographers who want to make sure their shots are level. The menu interface will be familiar to anyone who has previously used a Pentax SLR, and provides plenty of options for display overlays, such as a histogram.

The MX-1 can capture images in RAW (Adobe's DNG standard) or JPEG. This means that the DNG files can be opened in any program that understands the DNG format, such as Photoshop or Lightroom — a definite advantage for anyone who doesn't like installing a camera manufacturer's conversion software. In-camera RAW developing is also available, as well as a range of other adjustments, such as red-eye removal, resizing, cropping and rotating.

Compared to

EX2F vs
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Samsung EX2F Canon PowerShot S110 Pentax MX-1
20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor (1-inch) 12.4-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor (1/1.7-inch) 12.1-megapixel high sensitivity CMOS sensor (1/1.7-inch) 12-megapixel backlit-CMOS sensor (1/1.7-inch)
3-inch, 1.2-million-dot (VGA resolution) LCD 3-inch, flip-out 614,000-dot AMOLED 3-inch, 461,000-dot touchscreen LCD 3-inch, 920,000-dot tilting LCD
3.6x optical zoom, 28mm wide angle 3.3x optical zoom, 24mm wide angle 5x optical zoom, 24mm wide angle 4x optical zoom, 28mm wide angle
Aperture range f/1.8-4.9 Aperture range f/1.8-2.5 Aperture range f/2.0-5.9 Aperture range f/1.8-2.5
Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080p) Full HD video (Motion JPEG, 1080p) Full HD video (H.264, 1080p) Full HD video (H.264, 1080p)


General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
    Panasonic Lumix LX7
    Samsung EX2F
    Pentax MX-1
  • 2.5110.1
    Sony RX100

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

  • 11
    Panasonic LX7
  • 10
    Samsung EX2F
  • 8
    Sony RX100
  • 4.5
    Pentax MX-1

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Autofocus performance is accurate thanks to the 25-point system, though it does slow down slightly in low light. The MX-1 is also able to focus as close as 1cm in the dedicated macro mode.

The 1cm macro mode is incredibly useful for grabbing shots like this, creating a nice bokeh effect.
(Credit: CBSi)

The MX-1 can take a burst of 10 shots in high-speed continuous mode (JPEG) before stopping to process them. Then it takes around five seconds to process the burst. In contrast, the camera can only take six shots in regular continuous mode (RAW) before stopping to process them.

Pentax rates the battery life at 290 shots.

Image quality

The Pentax MX-1 produces very good quality images for a camera of its class. Expect photos with good tonality, punchy colours and plenty of detail.

The lens is nice and sharp at the centre, with only slight barrel distortions towards the edges of the frame. Also, dynamic range is very good for a sensor of this size — though when shooting, you should still watch the histogram, as the MX-1 does tend to overexpose highlights just a touch.

While serious HDR enthusiasts will merge their exposures together in post-processing, the MX-1 has a very decent HDR mode built in. There are three intensities to choose from: standard, strong 1 or strong 2. The standard effect is subtle but effective in boosting shadow and highlight detail rather than giving an over-the-top HDR look. If you prefer a strong HDR effect, the other two options will be ideal.

The MX-1 in standard photo-taking mode (top) and HDR on the strong 2 setting (bottom).
(Credit: CBSi)

White balance is accurate both indoors and outdoors when shooting on AWB (auto). In terms of JPEG rendering, the MX-1 does a lot of processing and distortion correction of images compared to the original RAW file, as you can see in the example below. When shooting in RAW, be prepared to wait a while for the camera to process the image — you'll soon learn to make friends with the message "Data being recorded".

Along with some sharpening, the MX-1 alters the colour palette slightly when processing JPEGs depending on the filter selected in the "custom image" sub-menu. These include bright, natural, vibrant, reversal film and black and white. The example shown above is on the bright setting.
(Credit: CBSi)

An ISO range of 100-12,800 is welcomed. A very low-level noise profile starts to appear on images taken at ISO 200, though it is hardly noticeable and would not present any problem whatsoever for photographers who wanted to make enlargements or prints. Noise starts to affect detail at ISO 1600 and above, with coloured noise in particular affecting images even when inspecting at a reduced resolution.

The MX-1 offers 1080p video recording at 30fps, and 30/60fps at 720p. Video quality is very good, and you also get the ability to use the optical zoom and autofocus during filming (though these options must be selected from the menu before recording). The MX-1 has a stereo microphone on the top plate.

One operational quirk we noticed with the MX-1 is that, when in the dedicated video mode, you have to press the shutter button to start recording, rather than the record button itself.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/125, f/2.5, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/640, f/4, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/500, f/3.2, ISO 800

Exposure: 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 100

(Credit: CBSi)


The MX-1 presents excellent value for money. At times during the review process, we thought that it was a much more expensive camera than its AU$499 asking price. With very good photo and video quality, the MX-1 comes recommended for photographers looking at buying an advanced compact camera with bells and whistles to keep things interesting for times to come.

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AndrewM6 Facebook

"Great camera"

AndrewM6 posted a review   

The MX-1 retro look is image quality is great


"The MX-1 retro looks and lower price than Fuji has perhaps attracted buyers.. me included but its basically a "12 meg compact digital" like mom uses! Except this is dresses up as an old film camera,they even sell it on the expectation that the silver /bl"

VinnyVG posted a review   

The Good:It does allow some manual exposure control and it looks good!

The Bad:"photographers" will find its image quality suspect. Quirky menu's and really needs a MODE button, needs a filter to protect the front of the lens.

I will not comment to much on technical Specification... the professionals do it much better than I could.
Long ago I acquired my dream camera a Asahi Pentax Spotmatic 35mm. It left me with a Pentax "thing". AS Pentax failed to hold its own in the digital age and not able to afford Nikon, I purchased a Fuji S2 Pro, later the S3 Pro and after that Nikon D300 only to be miffed when 40 days after my purchase without prior public notice they added video and named it D300s. I mention this only to "qualify" my finding of the MX1. Having filled in a survey online and forgot about it.. A Pentax Optio WP turned up in the post I used it for shirt pocket " Just in case" while out and about.Impressed I later purchased the Optio A20 again an excellent little camera.
Out shopping one day I spotted the Pentax I-10, its shape and styling - reminding of the old 35mm SLR's was enough to force a purchase!
The I-10 is again and excellent compact camera and give quality images. It fits in a shirt pocket and weighs very little.
Seeing reviews praising the MX-1 I decided the manual options it has would allow a bit more use of my 35mm manual camera's exposure control knowledge.... which it does.

The Pentax MX-1 to me is quirky, if you want to use the SCN option turn the top dial and if you have not read the manual and have previously use the MODE button.. the MX -1 does not have one. So who would think that to access SCN mode, you need to press the INFO button that done you now have to uses the left -right-up-down arrows to move around the current setting info thumbnails to locate the SCN thumb current set..THEN press OK on the menu dial to open the other options and again troll around the thumbs to select a different option.

I have yet to find a way to turn off face detection on AUTO PICT.. and if there is no way.. why not ? Face detection can be turned off in other modes.

I am a fan of panorama's and use PS to this end without any issues.
The MX-1 deals with "Panorama" by taking taking one exposure.. the you have to line the picture up with a portion of the first picture..and repeat. Moving any camera if its original position and making a second separate exposure and expecting it to line up pixel perfect is impossible. Further trying to even see the screen in sunlight is hard enough, stitching in camera 3 images calls for a tripod a pan d and tilt head to steady the camera and line up the images on a small not easy to see view screen. I tried doing a panorama on a friends Samsung WB150 F ( I think) as a camera it was not really very good, but the method creating the was simple and seamless. Pentax would do well to get a licence to use the software.

While messing about with tricky all over the place menu's, I realised I had lost my way! I did'nt buy the MX-1 one to make panorama's or in fact use any of the built in modes. I had been sold on the manual exposure options and so called picture quality.
Back to my I-10 - it is also a 12 meg camera - and like the MX 1 offered 16-9 - 4:3 etc. In fact I can see no difference in quality of images when compared with those from the MX-1 ! OK, mine is a visual comparison using Adobe PS CS6 and viewing at 100%

Ignoring the "Scenes" mode as I suspect most will, I am left with a camera that can only better my little I-10 by having manual exposure options and in doing so its housed in a case which is almost twice as heavy as the I-10 and around 25% - 30% larger in all dimensions.

There is now iris protecting auto shutter and no filter ring thread, so the front element whether its a plastic protector of the lens front element is still open to scratches and fingerprints. Pentax allowed for a lens cap... surely have the front end threaded to accept a UV filter would have been better and lens caps alway fit the filter ring!
A minor groan.. the lens cap has slots to allow a cord to the threaded through to attach to the camera and prevent loss... so why not include a bit of cord!

Viewing screen. Buy a screen protector film and put it in place before you do anything else! Apart from that, I doubt the minimal tilt of the viewfinder will be of much use. Better for me at least had this been left out and recess the screen to remove a little of the cameras bulk.

I am not fully happy with the camera- even allowing that I am likely to ignore all the SCN options and try to use it like an old 35mm rangefinder.

I think it allows those who really use bulky DSLR gear, to take the MX-1 out because it looks like a "real" camera and not a silly little compact that snappers use.

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User Reviews / Comments  Pentax MX-1

  • AndrewM6



    "The MX-1 retro look is image quality is great"

  • VinnyVG



    "I will not comment to much on technical Specification... the professionals do it much better than I could.
    Long ago I acquired my dream camera a Asahi Pentax Spotmatic 35mm. It left me wit..."

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