Lighting and the mirrorless Pentax Q: the cake is a lie?

Do DSLRs really have to be a permanent entrance requirement to off-camera flash photography?

Aputure Trigmaster II with Pentax Q and CY-20

The Pentax Q is a superb little camera. Haters will always hate, but the Q – the world’s smallest interchangeable lens camera – is unique. It will fit into your pocket with a lens attached – unlike, say, an Olympus PEN. It can fit any number of third party lenses – unlike, say, a Canon G1X. It has a standard hotshoe – unlike, say, every Sony NEX camera.

With full manual controls and an encyclopaedia of customisable digital filters, you can shoot in Jpeg, spend more time taking pictures and less time in front of a computer. And since it’s so pocketable, you can take it to parties to get told “I’m impressed you still use film these days” thanks to its retro styling.

Pentax Q with 01 Standard Prime, Camdiox 25mm f/1.4 and Fujian 35mm f/1.7

With the Q’s tiny sensor, you can fit cheap C-mount glass – normally found on CCTV cameras – without any of the vignetting experienced adapting the same lenses on to Micro 4/3 or NEX systems. As well as Pentax’s own 01 Standard Prime (an 8.5mm f/1.9), I’ve also acquired a Camdiox 25mm f/1.4 and Fujian 35mm f/1.7 – both minuscule lenses intended more for security than photographic art.

So how can we use the Pentax Q with lighting?

The Q has its own built-in P-TTL flash that pops up (you can fire it retracted, too) but it has no manual control, so results can be a bit unpredictable. Fortunately, there is also a hotshoe. It supports P-TTL, but the size of the camera means that even Pentax recommend using a TTL cord rather than putting the speedlight on-camera, to stop your set-up getting top-heavy.

Aputure Trigmaster II with Pentax Q and CY-20

Wires are so 20th century, so I like to use radio triggers instead. To get them to work, you need to make sure that flash is switched off in the menus. Then you can happily take pictures using a flash trigger and any manual off-camera flashes.

Despite the fact the lens shutter can physically synchronise up to 1/2000 second (the built-in P-TTL flash can be used at any speed), the firmware stops signals being sent to the hotshoe at any shutter speed above 1/250 second. Poor show, Pentax.

Pentax Q, Fujian 35mm f/1.7 and built-in P-TTL flash

Further disappointment looms. Fit a lens without a compatible integrated shutter (which includes any third party lens) and the sync speed now depends on the Q’s electronic shutter, dropping to a useless 1/13 second. That’s just with P-TTL flashes. Use a manual radio trigger and the hotshoe just doesn’t seem to do anything at all. This means that there are only two lenses in existence – the Pentax 01 Standard Prime and 02 Standard Zoom – which work with non-P-TTL flash on the Q.

The cake is a lie! My dreams of using the Pentax Q in the studio with CCTV lenses for long-lens portraiture have been dashed. Or have they?

Outdoors, the Pentax Q is great because you don’t need to sync anything to work with continuous light. The Sun will last for several billion years, which will hopefully include the period when Pentax bring out some proper Q-mount telephoto lenses that’ll work with flash. In the meantime, you can make your own continuous light without setting your house on fire, since LED panels are getting cheaper every day.

Pentax Q, Camdiox 25mm f/1.4 and Aputure Amaran 198A

Mounting an Aputure Amaran 198A LED panel on the Q, I now have a light that’ll work with any eccentric lens I feel like using. It doesn’t look ridiculous at all. Admittedly: you need quite skinny fingers to reach the shutter button, but it works for video and there’s nothing stopping me putting the LED on a bracket or anywhere off-camera. This is decent for stills as well since the Q’s high-Iso performance isn’t terrible – and I have access to lovely bright f/1.4 and f/1.7 apertures with usable depth of field.

In time, we can hope that mirrorless cameras develop to a point where off-camera flash works without irritation. Olympus’ Micro 4/3 system has its flaws, as do the Sony NEX cameras. With the exception of the expensive Sony NEX-7 + Pixel King combo, there aren’t any radio TTL triggers for mirrorless cameras either.

Do DSLRs really have to be a permanent entrance requirement to off-camera flash photography? Here’s hoping for a Phottix Odin for Pentax, a PocketWizard FlexTT5 for Samsung and a Yongnuo YN-622 for Micro Four Thirds. Meanwhile, let’s look at those LEDs.

David Selby
David is a keen photographer and has been editor of Lighting Rumours since 2010. When not writing about lighting, he works as a data scientist at the University of Manchester, UK.