Thursday, October 25, 2007

The South may never rise again, but Pentax will!

During a weekend trip to Palm Springs, I found a used books store. In the back of the store, there was a whole wall full of magazines still in boxes. Either some people cleaned their basement, garage or someone died. I searched for a little while and found a whole collection of American Photographers magazines dating from 1980 to 1985. I bought the whole lot for 50 cents per magazine. I found a treasure of resources on photography techniques that still apply to today’s digital SLR cameras. It is a five year collection. Did the person cancel the subscription or did the person die? I will never know. Since I am a devoted Pentax user, the first thing I did, once back in our hotel room was to scan all the magazines for Pentax ads and articles.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Oh, by-the-way, check this hotel we stayed at; Hotel California…is this the actual Hotel California that the group “The Eagles” were singing about? Well…it’s not. We asked the owners and its pure coincidence. They should have lied. I would have preferred it to be the actual Hotel California of the Eagles song. I could have checked in but I couldn’t have ever left.

Back to my magazines, it is so obvious that Pentax was a big player back in the eighties. They were manufacturing 35mm cameras as well as medium format cameras. They were catering to amateurs, hobbyists, as well as professional photographers. I don’t think that there are too many companies that have dominated more than one camera format ever (35mm format and medium format) . Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Olympus, etc, were always in the 35mm SLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. Mamiya, Hasselblad, Rollei, etc were in medium format but not in 35mm. Actually, Rollei and Mamiya tried to introduce 35mm cameras, but were unsuccessful. So from what I see, Pentax is the only camera maker that dominated two formats at one time. I believe they were the first company to introduce the 645 format. The Pentax 67 system is still used by thousands of photographers all over the world. Here are some ads that I reproduced from some of the magazines.

So what happened to Pentax? They were late getting into the Digital Single Lens Reflex market and that surely didn’t help them much. Pentax is often referred to as a company for the old school photographers. I suppose that since they were slow to move from film based cameras to digital based cameras, the new generation of upcoming photography amateurs and hobbyists never knew much about Pentax. It appears to me that someone, in a high position at Pentax, thought that Digital was just a fad. Someone was obviously wrong, and maybe that’s why Pentax was recently gobbled up by Hoya. I think that it is still possible for Pentax to regain its stature, but the market is tight. When companies like Sony purchase what was Minolta and vows to acquire one third of the market, you know the competition will be fierce. Nikon and Canon are introducing new cameras regularly, but I see that as a betrayal to their long loyal customers. They build what I refer to as “planned obsolescence”. Old lenses do not fit on the newer cameras, as a rule. They already know what their DSLRs of next year will be, but prefer to introduce the minimum advancements possible now and keep some for next year’s newest models of DSLRs that will replace the existing models. I feel that most companies have betrayed photographers by selling their DSLRs through other venues than camera stores. Best Buy, Circuit City, Costco, Wal-Mart, all sell Canon and Nikon DSLRs. They should have kept these outlets for point-and-shoot cameras. Try to ask technical questions about Digital Photography to a sales person at Wal-Mart. Most don’t know the difference between a DSLR and a point-and-shoot. Thus far, Pentax DSLRs are mostly available through a network of camera stores and camera mail-order stores. I believe that Pentax will rise again. Are you with me?

Thanks for reading,

Yvon Bourque

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