theQ sets out to be the ultimate hipster camera by fusing the low-fi aesthetic of a Lomo with the social sharing of a smartphone.
Trendy features include wide angle lens, manual focus and an attention-grabbing ring flash. While built-in 3G lets you send photos instantly to your private online archive and share them on your preferred social networks. But, despite these unique features, theQ is like a “surprise” third child: it struggles to carve out space for itself … and you’re not even sure you wanted it in the first place.
The camera comes in nine bright colours, so there’s one to match your fixie. Graffiti-inspired typography and a photo of a smiling girl in a beanie are there to further remind you that you have bought yourself a hipster camera.
The industrial design is simple and practical: a rubberised finish that’s rugged and won’t slip in your hand, a ring flash that looks great surrounding the lens, simple buttons and a non-touch-screen.
Lens: 24mm, F 2.4
Image resolution: 5 megapixel
Waterproofing: IP67 waterproof to 1m
Connectivity: Micro USB, 3G Micro SIM
Battery life: Enough to shoot 200 pictures
Controls are very basic and quick to master. Hold down the power button to start up. Then give it a tap at any time for a quick on-screen reminder of what the other buttons do. You’ll mostly just use two of them: one to take a snap, another to take a snap using the ring flash. Press one of these to shoot, or press and hold to use the 8-second self timer. It can’t zoom, do HDR or take videos, but selfies are a doddle, which is all that really matters, right?
Get some focus
theQ’s wide-angle lens has a manual focus including a macro mode. The macro has a super-short focal length, so 99.9% of the time you’ll want to leave focus set to far or infinity, or risk very blurred snaps. Its F 2.4 aperture is nearly half an F-stop up from most smartphone cameras, but the larger aperture lets more light in, which makes theQ a bit better at handling low light conditions but more susceptible to motion blur. It also gives a shallow depth of field that lets you blur backgrounds and create arty bokeh effects.
Eight LEDs surround the lens to form a ring flash. It looks great, but does it do the job? Yes and no. It puts out plenty of light, making theQ good as a pub-cam (sorry, a hipster bar-cam). But the ring is, by definition, a small one. So the stunning effects that made ring flashes so popular – diffuse shadows, circular highlights in your subject’s eyes, shadowy halos – are sadly absent. Still, it is much better than a smartphone flash: slightly diffuse and bright without bleaching.
Sharing is caring
3G is built in to theQ. Yep, you’re going to need to fork out for a SIM card and data plan for yet another gadget because it doesn’t include an alternative such as Bluetooth or wi-fi.
After taking a snap, you can press a button to upload it to your private online archive at theQ LAB. Press twice and it also shares to your chosen social networks. You can even apply favourite filters automatically.
What we found hardest about the instant sharing was discerning which pictures were good enough. Previewing on the 2.7-inch screen won’t tell you whether your picture is sharp, good-blurry or bad-blurry. And you can’t zoom in to check. So you find yourself sharing photos that, in hindsight, look pretty darn shoddy.
Flat white friendly
As mentioned, the design is practical as well as purdy. So theQ is IP67 waterproof to 1m. Not scuba diving waterproof, but it will survive a dunk in the toilet or a flat white spillage in exactly the way that your phone doesn’t.
We took photos fine with the camera in a glass of water but the hatch at the bottom for SIM card and USB did take in a few drops. The waterproofing basically just makes it tough enough to be a party-cam.
theQ struggles to carve out a niche for itself. Its photos are only a shade better than smartphone snaps. Sharing is great but it’s not exactly hard to do that on a smartphone. Creative types will prefer an old school Lomo or a cutting-edge Lytro. And the Canon IXUS 125 HS makes for a much better pub camera. Which leaves theQ just one target audience, the “arty, farty, we like to party” hipster crowd. They’ll love the look, and its low-fi controls will inspire them to have a lot of fun taking creative pictures.