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Pentax MX-1: retro good looks on the outside, high-end components within

Pentax’s new camera announcements at CES were light this year, but its introduction of the new MX-1 makes up for it. The solidly constructed metallic-and-synthetic-leather camera is made with brass covers at the top and bottom. The color of the brass will age over time, and owners of old-school Japanese rangefinder film cameras will find this aging patina familiar. Like Fujifilm’s new X-Series models, the MX-1 falls into a category of its own: far more advanced than your ordinary point-and-shoot in image and build quality, but not as flexible as an interchangeable lens camera. The ideal buyer would be someone who wants the advantages of a DSLR but needs the compact form factor, like a street photographer or a pro’s backup cam, for example. The camera was named after Pentax’s MX film SLR, which had the same design cues as the MX-1.

Inside the MX-1 is a newly designed 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor that Pentax says offers a balance of fast performance and cost. It also notes that the sensor’s low-light handling is impressive. The 4x optical lens is fast at F1.8-2.5 (allowing for fine exposure and depth of field control), with a range of 28-112mm. The MX-1 has a hybrid shake-reduction system that utilizes a mechanical sensor-shift with digital compensation to prevent camera blur. The DSLR-like qualities include RAW image capture, a high ISO of 12,800, and focus down to 1 cm. The camera can shoot high-definition video at 1080p/30 fps or 720p/60 fps. The tilting 3-inch LCD is rated at 920K dots.

In our brief hands-on time with the MX-1, the camera looks great. Construction wise, we think Fujifilm’s new X-Series models offer a higher quality build, but the Fujifilm models feel far heavier than the MX-1. Specs wise, the Fujifilm models are also stronger, of course, it’s too early to compare performance. We especially love the mode and exposure compensation dials at the top. We find that these physical dials allow for faster setting changes than having to go through the menus, which makes shooting that much easier. The MX-1 will go on sale in early February for $500.

In another announcement, the Pentax Q10, the smallest interchangeable lens camera that was announced last September, is now available as a custom-order model available through Adorama and the Pentax website. Customers will be able to choose from 100 color combinations; the order is sent to Japan and then to the factory, where the camera will take four-to-six weeks to build. For people who love the ability to customize their stuff, it’d be worth the wait. Pentax says there won’t be an extra fee for this service, and the camera remains at $600 with a kit lens.

Customized Q10 cameras line the wall inside the Pentax briefing room.

A close-up look at four of customized Q10 cameras.

During our meeting with Pentax, we asked about industry trends and where the company is heading. Pentax acknowledges that the low-end digicam sector is in transition as smartphone usage continues to rise, and that they are pursuing markets that don’t overlap with smartphones. Essentially, they will focus on features that smartphones can’t offer, like weather sealants and fast optical zooms. When asked about wireless connectivity, Pentax says smartphones have the advantage there. They are exploring that feature, but currently have no plans to introduce wireless models.

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