PENTAX MX-1 Compact Camera Hands-On Preview

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Mirrorless cameras these days have become all the rage stealing the thunder from other categories. DSLR’s are still popular, but all the excitement seems to be with these little interchangeable lens cameras that can do almost everything their much larger cousins can do. What that leaves us with are the compact cameras having to find a way to stay relevant. PENTAX for instance has a brand new compact camera out this year, the MX-1. It follows a growing trend of designing cameras that look like vintage film cameras. With the MX-1, it is styled after the original MX-1 film camera and is even crafted in a similar fashion. Will this be enough to make the MX-1 an attractive alternative to mirrorless cameras for those who don’t necessarily need interchangeable lenses?

Design and Build

The PENTAX MX-1 is a classically styled camera. It is modeled after the original MX cameras of the past and is even made in a similar fashion. I’ll explain a bit about that later. The only real visual difference from the old film camera is the lack of a viewfinder. The MX-1 is a fixed lens compact camera which means no interchangeable lenses. Instead, it has a fixed lens that allows for a range of focal lengths with a 4x optical zoom. For this review, I am mainly dealing with the overall look of the MX-1 and what you can expect from it. There will be another post later on that deals with usage and overall photo quality.

IMG_6620Up front, the PENTAX Mx-1 sports a very clean face. Most of the front is devoid of any buttons, switches, or toggles. Instead what takes up most of the face is the fixed F1.8-2.5 4x optical zoom lens. The lens looks like it has a functional feature ring around it but it’s purely decorative and doesn’t move. The lens itself does not have a built in lens cap/shutter mechanism like smaller compact cameras and instead has a lens cap like an interchangeable lens camera. You might think that this could make the separate cap easy to lose, but lucky it includes a little string you can use to attach it to the body so you wont lose it.

On the face of the camera, you’ll also find an autofocus assist light on the right side of the camera as well as two strap eyelits. Yes, the eyelets are on the front instead of on the sides as they are on most cameras. There is a simple explanation why though. It’s mainly a design choice and mimics how the original MX film camera had them. Taking up the rest of the front face, you’ll find a rubbery textured layer that aides with grip. It does have the look of textured leather, but it’s more rubbery than it is leathery.

If we rotate the camera now clockwise, you’ll see the rubber covering extend past this portion as well. Here you will find the flash release switch located near the top. Push this forward to release the popup flash from up top. Other than that, not much more to see on this side.

IMG_6622Now looking at the rear of the camera, this is where you will spend most of your time using the MX-1. Like most cameras, the rear viewscreen takes up almost the entire rear. Unlike most compact cameras however, the MX-1 includes a 3-inch tilt screen that allows for easier shooting from up high or down low. This is a feature I really like with cameras as it allows for more creative picture taking angles. To the right of the screen you’ll find a familiar button layout that is pretty standard now with all cameras. You get the standard 4-way directional controls with center button. The other buttons surrounding it are pretty standard except for the AV/AE-L button which you don’t see too much on compact cameras, and the PENTAX “green” button which changes depending on what mode your in. The last bit of goodness you’ll find is the inclusion of the upper dial which allows you to easily scroll through settings and features. You’ll note that the right side of the rear also includes a nice rubber finish for additional grip for your thumb.

Moving to the side of the camera again, we see that this side houses the two ports that come on the MX-1. they are hidden beneath a plastic door. These are a PC/AV port and a HDMI display port. I’ll include the bottom of the camera in this section too as all you see here is the battery/SDHC card door and the tripod mount screw. The tripod mount screen is not center mounted with the axis of the lens which some people may or may not like. I usually like centered, but since this is a compact camera, I’m not really going to be using it with a tripod. One other tiny gripe, but it’s a design issue is that I with the battery door was the same color silver as the brass base instead of a matte black.

IMG_6624Now we move to the top of the camera which will probably be the second most important part of the camera. Here you’ll find that PENTAX included a couple DSLR-like dials. There is a mode selection dial, which I always love when companies include as it makes selecting modes a lot easier than digging through the operating system menus. The second dial we find is an EV adjustment dial for quick EV adjustments. Up top, you’ll also find the power button, a dedicated movie record button, the shutter release button, and a zoom toggle that surrounds the shutter button. That means the MX-1 has a power zoom and is not manually adjusted. Like the bottom of the camera, the top is also made out of solid brass painted silver. The only other thing of interest up top are the stereo mics and the flash.

I do want to make note of the fact that the top and bottom of the MX-1 are brass, but painted silver. PENTAX wants the paint on these areas to wear out eventually to give the camera that old school, retro look that many older cameras have now where you can see the brass underneath. It gives it a class worn out finish over time.

Final Thoughts

In terms of design and aesthetics, I really like how the PENTAX MX-1 looks. It’s got that whole vintage/retro thing going on while still adding a bit of modern flare. I’m also digging the fact that PENTAX used brass for both the top and bottom of the MX-1 which means that through normal wear and tear, the MX-1 will actually start looking even better, giving it even more of a vintage look to it.

When it comes to features, I like that a tilting screen was included, though I would have liked touch functionality on it to allow for touch focusing. It would have also been nice if an optical or electronic viewfinder was included but then that may have made the already bulky body even larger. Other than that, PETNAX has created a wonderful looking compact camera with a few features you’d find in a more expensive DSLR. This is a compact camera for power users who don’t mind the added weight or bulk over something that is pocketable.

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