We've got a bit of a bee theme going this week in the mag and I was reminded of the opening line from the film Bee Movie: "According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly.

Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway. Because bees don't care what humans think is impossible."

The same, it seems, could be said of Pentax. Originally used as a brand title by a German camera manufacturer in the 1950s then a few years later by a rival Japanese firm, the Pentax name has changed hands several times over the intervening decades through various sales, mergers and partnerships.

Most recently Pentax was sold to Ricoh, a technically accomplished if slightly dull rival that is far better known for its beige photocopiers than cameras (though I confess to owning one of their dull, competent cameras).

Undeterred by all the flux, Pentax has spent the past decade producing some of the highest-quality, best-value digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras on the market. With DSLR models that look great, feel great and often beat their mainstream Nikon and Canon rivals on raw specs, it's surprising more keen amateurs don't opt for Pentax.

Now the brand is branching out with the MX-1, a sturdy compact pocket camera with thick brass panels and a retro black, leather-look grip.

Compact cameras tend to come in two varieties – idiot-proof and insanely complex. Few models occupy the middle ground for amateurs who want to take sharper, more creative pictures than their phone allows without the need to take a photography course.

The MX-1 does a nice job of filling that gap. A comprehensive automatic mode lets owners point and shoot if they wish, while top-mounted dials allow adjustment of image brightness, shutter speed and focal depth without needing to fiddle with screens or menus.

Photos produced by the MX-1 are impressive. It doesn't give the cartoon-like vibrance some cheaper, crowd-pleasing cameras do. Instead it rewards you with natural, well-controlled tone and colour reproduction. Extremes of light and shade are handled surprisingly well for a camera this small, with even tricky forest scenes cramming details from the darkest shadows.

Being hyper-critical, shots can sometimes look a little washed out, lacking in contrast and saturation. The good news is that, on these rare occasions, it's fairly easy to boost the levels back to normal on a computer with no loss of quality.

A variable-tilt LCD screen makes it easy to compose shots at awkward angles while a pop-up flash adds a splash of light. Sadly there's no option for an external viewfinder or flash gun, limiting the potential of the camera among those looking for full creative control.

Positives Looks good, takes great photos and it's easy to use.

Negatives Bigger and heavier than many rivals.


Twitter: @grant_gibson