Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Editorial: Where will Pentax go from here?

Dictionary:
editorial (ĕd'ĭ-tôr'ē-əl, -tōr'-) ';}// -->n.
1. An article in a publication expressing the opinion of its editors or publishers.
2. A commentary on television or radio expressing the opinion of the station or network.

To begin with, understand that Pentax's future as depicted herein is strictly an opinion or dream of mine and this editorial is not intended to be another rumor about what’s next for Pentax.

In the old days, (1950 -1970) Pentax had a much greater share of the camera market than they have today. They were the first in many of the cameras development worldwide. Here is a brief history:

Ever since Pentax introduced their first 35mm SLR in 1952, the Asahiflex I, backward compatibility has been a strong reason for owning a Pentax camera. This is still true today. Here is a partial list of Pentax innovations:


In 1952, the Asahiflex I was the first Japanese camera introduced to the world. Unlike its competitors, the camera was not a replica of German technology.

In 1954, the Asahiflex II was the world’s first instant return mirror system.

In 1957, The Asahi Pentax model used a pentaprism in the viewfinder of a Pentax single lens reflex (SLR) camera, introducing the concept of eye-level viewing. It was the first camera to be marketed under the name Pentax.

In 1964, Pentax introduced its Spotmatic camera featuring the first through-the-lens (TTL) metering system in a Pentax camera.

In 1971, the Pentax ES SLR camera, the world's first SLR camera with a TTL aperture-priority AE control, was introduced. Pentax also introduced the Super-Multi Coating (SMC) system for the Asahi Optical Takumar lens series. Other manufacturers followed suit.

In 1981, Pentax introduced the first through-the-lens autofocus camera, the Pentax ME-F.

In 1984, Pentax produced the world’s first multi-mode medium format camera, the Pentax 645.

In 1987, Pentax introduced the SF-1, an autofocus camera with the world’s first AF SLR with a built-in auto flash.

In 2006, Pentax announced the Pentax K10D, making history again with this revolutionary camera. It is followed by the K20D in 2008.

All the above confirm that at one time, the Pentax name was well known worldwide. Pentax cameras were selling more than Nikon or Canon. Everyone knew about Pentax and so many had Pentax 35mm cameras. Back then, the "Pros" were using Nikons F series, Leicas, etc. Even back then, Pentax cameras were aimed at the amateurs photographers, especially the 35mm market.

Pentax did cater to the Professional photographers by introducing the Pentax 645 and the Pentax 67.

These medium format cameras were very popular, and they still are well respected by "Pros" still shooting film. To me, it looks like Pentax might use a similar approach with the Digital cameras.

Did you know that only about 5% of the cameras sold are the "Pro-models" costing thousands of dollars? Yes, the "Pros" do need durable cameras that can withstand abuses. Although the big thing now is the Full-Frame DSLRs, my guess is that the Full-Frame sensors will be replaced in the not-so-distant-future with the Medium Format equivalent, such as the Hasselblads, the Mamiyas, the Sinars, etc,. That's what the "Pros" will start using. The price of these Medium Format equivalent DSLRs will likely come down.

Pentax has already designed a Medium Format DSLR but it was put on hold. Why? My guess is that the demand for non-Professional cameras is Hughes and the price for large sensors is still too high. Computers still have problems with very large digital files, but computers and software will improve exponentially in the years to come. What makes sense to me is a scenario where Pentax would continue making DSLRs with the current APS-C sized sensors, which are getting cheaper and better all the time (Look at the K20D CMOS 14.6 sensor), until the price of large sensors suitable for Medium Format equivalent are affordable.


Then, they could use the "already designed Pentax Digital 645 SLR" with a new large C-MOS sensor and introduce it as a new Professional platform. Right now the money is in DSLRs (APS-C and FF). It is forseable that through 2009 , more people will upgrade from point & shoot cameras than ever before. Soon, almost every home will have a DSLR, just like nearly every home had a 35mm SLR prior to the digital revolution. Amateurs would have the current platform and "Pros" would have a new platform with incredible image quality.

On the other hand, who knows what technology will bring in the next five years? Digicams capable of producing high resolution videos as well as 24+MP still images? Holographic cameras? Heck...maybe cell phones with all of the above capabilities. I guess it's all about timing and luck. The 80/20 rule may still apply here; 20% timing and 80% luck, or 20% product and 80% marketing.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

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