The Pentax MX-1 has been designed to appeal to photographers who want a capable compact camera with a solid build and traditional styling. Superficially, it looks a bit like the film cameras of the last century, but the MX-1 features an up-to-date 1/1.7-inch type (7.6 x 5.7 mm), backside illuminated CMOS imager and has an effective resolution of 12 megapixels. Its 4x optical zoom lens covers a focal length range equivalent to 28-112mm in 35mm format and it’s supported by sensor-shift image stabilisation.
The MX-1 is offered in two ‘colours’: all black or black with silver top and base plates. It’s very solidly built. Beneath their enamelled surfaces, the top and base plates are made from solid brass, while the rest of the body is aluminium.
Who’s It For?
It could suit DSLR users who want an affordably-priced second camera that’s a cut above the average digicam in features and performance. It could also suit digicam users who want to improve their photographic knowledge. So, let’s look at how well the MX-1 is suited to specific tasks these photographers might use it for.
1.Landscape photography: The 28mm angle of view may not be wide enough to provide the dramatic coverage some landscape photographers desire. However, it’s a good general-purpose focal length that shouldn’t introduce excessive distortions. The moderate zoom will be convenient for framing shots when you can’t move to the viewpoint you want to cover.
2.Portraits: The zoom range is wide enough for environmental portraits but closes in to a good focal length for head-and-shoulders shots. However, the 112mm limit may be slightly too short for candids. Remote control support will be handy for interacting with subjects when shooting format portraits.
3.Wildlife: Although the optical zoom range is limited, the ‘intelligent’ (digital) zoom can extend the effective focal length to the equivalent of 218mm in 35mm format for close-up shots. Remote triggering will allow the camera to be operated from a distance, overcoming the limitations of the zoom range. The tilting monitor could be useful in such situations.
4.Sports and Action: The 112mm limit is probably too short for close-ups of action but the zoom range should be adequate for general views of sporting arenas and shots of teams in action. The tilting monitor could be useful for these shots.
5.Close-ups and Macro: The close focusing limit of 1cm will enable users to record dramatic ‘macro’ shots and the relatively small sensor size will provide adequate depth of focus in most situations. The tilting monitor will allow a wide variety of shooting angles to be used.
6.Photojournalism and Street Photography: The camera is small enough to be overlooked and the black body will be inconspicuous. Key manual controls are easy to adjust on-the-fly. The sensor-shift stabilisation will be handy in poorly lit situations but the small sensor may not be able to deliver noise-free images at ISO settings above 1600.
7.Indoor Photography: The zoom lens will provide versatility for shooting angles but may not be wide enough for cramped situations. The built-in flash can provide fill-in light poorly-illuminated situations ““ but only for relatively close subjects.
8.Architecture: Distortion and vignetting could present problems, although in-camera corrections are available.
Where Does It Fit?
Features all these cameras have in common include the availability of P, Tv, Av and M shooting modes, the ability to record Full HD movies and support for raw file capture. The MX-1 is the only one to use the ‘open’ DNG raw file format, rather than a proprietary format which requires dedicated (and often indifferent) processing software until third-party software developers can update their conversion software. The MX-1 is also the cheapest by a significant AU$100.
How Does it Handle?
As expected, the lens dominates the front panel. It’s reasonably fast (f/1.8-2.5) and covers a focal length range of 6-24mm, which equates to 28 to 112mm in 35mm format. The optical design uses 11 elements in eight groups with four aspherical elements included. The minimum aperture of f/8 is typical for a lens of this type.
Just below the engraved MX-1 name plate is a LED that doubles as an AF-assist lamp and self-timer indicator. Beside it is a sensor for the IR remote controller, which is compatible with Pentax’s DSLR remote controllers. Metal strap lugs stick out from the bevels on each side of the front panel, allowing the camera to hang with the lens pointed slightly upwards.
Two dials adorn the top panel, along with a shutter button, which is surrounded by a lever zoom with ‘W’ and ‘T’ markings. Only one speed is supported for zooming and a linear scale is displayed on the monitor so you can gauge how far you have zoomed.
The mode dial sits proud of the panel between the shutter button and the edge of the lens. It carries similar settings to Pentax’s DSLR cameras, covering the main shooting modes as well as providing a single User memory for storing frequently-used combinations of settings.
Between the mode dial and shutter button is a small power button, which is close to the rear of the panel. Behind it, on the top of the rear panel is an ON/OFF stamp. The button glows green when the camera is powered-up.
An exposure compensation dial is semi-inset into the rear right hand corner of the top panel. Its range is a bit limited, spanning from +2EV to -2EV in 1/3EV steps but its click-stops are firm so there’s little likelihood of changing settings unintentionally. In front of it sits a button with a red dot, which can be used to start and stop movie recording. A pair of single-hole microphones lie between the mode dial and pop-up flash.
The flash is inset into the camera, with its cover flush with the top panel. A small lever on the left hand side panel raises the flash, positioning its head slightly forward. The flash is lowered by pressing on its top, which is engraved with the camera’s model name, brass construction, resolution and ‘digital camera’ tag.
You can’t turn the screen to face into the camera body so it’s protected from fingermarks and bumps. Nor can you raise it above the camera to take self-portraits. Unlike many recent cameras, the screen also lacks touch controls, which would have been advantageous for many potential buyers.
Unfortunately, when shooting outdoors the screen becomes almost unusable at any angle, which means you’re forced into ‘point-and-guess’ shooting. Brightness adjustments are provided for addressing this situation but even when you ramp the brightness up to the maximum +3 setting, the screen still doesn’t provide a workable view of subjects in bright, contrasty lighting (particularly for backlit shots). This camera REALLY needs a viewfinder.
Clustered to the right of the monitor is an array of button controls plus a semi-inset ‘e-dial’ for adjusting settings like ISO, shutter speed and aperture value and controlling playback zoom. Below it is a button marked ‘AV/AE-L’, which is used to memorise the current exposure value (AE Lock) or specify the aperture or shutter speed value in Manual mode.
To its right the rear panel has a textured rubber inset for a thumb rest, in the middle of which is a second RI remote receiver. Below the AE-L button is a ‘Green’ button, which re-sets the camera to a default exposure value or deletes the image shown on the screen.
The arrow pad’s directional buttons are clearly marked with the functions they control, which include the drive mode, sensitivity, flash mode and focus mode. A central OK button engages the selected item. The playback button lies level with the ISO button on the arrow pad, with standard Info and Menu buttons below it, close to the base of the rear panel.
A plastic hatch on the right hand side of the camera lifts up to reveal the combined PC/AV terminal and HDMI (Type D) port.
As usual, the rechargeable battery and SD/SDHC/SDCXC card slot share a compartment in the camera’s base. There’s an outlet for a DC-in coupler under a cut-out in the compartment’s cover but the small rubber hatch that fills it can only be lifted when the cover is open and is difficult to replace. A metal tripod socket is located nearby, slightly offset from the optical axis of the lens.
Sensor and Image Processor
Sensor-shift shake reduction (SR) claims compensation of up to three f-stops for camera shake. Digital shake reduction processing is also available and both systems can be used together.
The MX-1’s ISO range spans from ISO 100 to ISO 12800, with an upper sensitivity of ISO 1600 in the Handheld Night Snap and Green modes. Users can set the upper limits for the Auto range in 1EV increments from ISO 100-200 to ISO 100-12800.
The Pentax website provides no name for the MX-1’s image processor so we don’t know whether it’s the same chip as used in the company’s DSLRs or one that’s completely new. What we do know is that the MX-1 supports both JPEG and DNG.RAW capture with four aspect ratio settings available: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1. Typical image sizes and compression ratios are shown in the table below.
RRP: AU$499; US$499.95