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.
|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
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
(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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.