Friday, September 12, 2008

Does Pentax Need a Full-Frame Camera Right Now? Article by: Miserere

Does Pentax Need a Full-Frame Camera Right Now?
By: Miserere

Does Pentax Need a Full-Frame Camera Right Now?

If you are shooting Pentax, chances are you are mindful of how you spend your money. While Pentax offers some of the best lenses in the World (which not everyone can afford, by the way) it also offers the cheapest bodies when you take into account the specs-to-price ratio. Furthermore, with the best lens backward compatibility of any brand, owning a Pentax DSLR allows you to build a good system for very little money by acquiring lenses from the used market. Having all this old, affordable, FF (full-frame) glass available has folks pining for a FF digital camera to use it on. In my previous article I explained why I thought most of us don’t need a FF camera as much as we think we do. But does Pentax, as a brand, need one?

Pentax will undoubtedly introduce a FF body at some point, but given the recent merger with Hoya (with the ensuing uncertainty about the future of Pentax’s photographic division) and the fact that Pentax Photography is a small corporation, I don’t think it would be in its best financial interest to release a FF camera right now.

Please, put those rotten eggs down and stop booing.

Look at Nikon, one of the two big players in the camera World; they only recently released a FF camera. They could have done it sooner, but they knew a lot was at stake, seeing as Canon had a lead in that sector having introduced their FF 1Ds back in 2002. So when Nikon brought out the D3 in late 2007 it was a huge success…because they got it right, the first time. Now, if Nikon, with all its mighty budget, took this long, how long do you think it will take Pentax, a much smaller company? I do hope Pentax take their time and join the FF club when they’re ready to do it with a bang, with something different to offer. This was their approach when they finally released their first DSLR in the form of the *istD, the smallest fully equipped DSLR of the day. And also how they approached the middle-tier market with the K10D, which sported specs typical of bodies costing 50-75% more. They may be late, but when Pentax eventually delivers, we discover it was invariably worth the wait.

One very important aspect of releasing a camera is providing lenses you can attach to it. Pentax’s current line-up has some left-over FA series lenses (most notably the 50mm f/1.4, 35mm f/2 and the two 50mm and 100mm macros) which are FF capable, having been designed in the film era. It also includes a growing number of DA lenses, designed for digital sensors. While lenses such as the kit 18-55mm and 50-200mm, or the new 17-70mm f/4 are clearly designed for APS-C, speculation is rife as to whether other lenses in the line-up are FF capable or not. Some of these lenses do not vignette when you look through them using a film body viewfinder, fuelling the rumour that they are FF lenses. Please note that no vignetting doesn’t necessarily imply that they will work well on a full-sized sensor, as corner performance may be extremely poor. Only Pentax knows which, if any, of their DA lenses were built with FF capabilities…and they’re not talking.

But even if most of today’s DA lenses were FF capable, Pentax would still be missing some key focal lengths that users would want; most notably the pair of standard, fast, f/2.8 zooms, 28-70mm and 70-200mm, and a fast portrait lens such as an 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8. None of these appear on Pentax’s current lens roadmap. Of course, the FF body could be a big secret and showing these lenses on the roadmap would give it away, so Pentax could be waiting to announce the new body and lenses in one fell swoop.

Is Pentax likely to announce a FF body soon? So far all we have to go on are a whole bunch of “ifs” and some conspiracy theory logic. Does anyone want to place a bet yet?

Before you call the odds, let me ask you to ponder one final question: If Pentax has struggled to fill its lens line-up for the past three years and has had no more than two digital bodies in production at any one time, will they be capable of producing FF and APS-C bodies simultaneously, and complete FF and APS-C lens lines too? Think about that.

FF DSLRs will become affordable and commonplace at some point in the not-to-distant future, but I believe there will always be a place for APS-C sensors, be it in entry-level DSLRs or/and in the recently announced P&S/DSLR hybrid cameras. When FF becomes the standard for mid-level DSLRs, you can be sure Pentax will be there with a unique offering at a great price. I just don't think Pentax can (or should) pull it off before 2010.

But if Pentax does announce a FF body at the Photokina this coming 23rd September 2008, feel free to point at me and laugh; I won’t be offended. Just don’t throw those rotten eggs at me.

Thank you for reading this great post from Miserere,

Yvon Bourque
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