Monday, March 9, 2009

Post-PMA09 news from Pentax...past, present and future:

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

Post-PMA09 news from Pentax...past, present and future:
By: Yvon Bourque

As you probably know, I'm just back from the PMA09 exhibition show that was held in Las Vegas. I had the privilege of interviewing all of the Pentax Executives present, as well as three official Pentaxian photographers. I even had the pleasure of chatting with Ned Bunnell, President of Pentax Imaging USA. I was given the opportunity to try all of the equipment they had at the show. That included the DA* 55mm f/1.4 , the DA 15mm f/4 Limited and the DA* 60-250mm f/4 mega zoom lenses. (I will post more about these lenses and other equipment in the coming week). Let me start by saying that as Pentax equipment owners and users, we made the right choice. Pentax will not let us down and will continue to be in existence for a long time. I have been a Pentax equipment user since I was in high school, and believe me, that was a long time ago. In the following, I am recapitulating Pentax's history of innovations from the past, reiterating the present value added of owning Pentax equipment is and what the future holds for all of us Pentaxians. I will not reveal any secret projects nor will I show pictures of future cameras and equipment. That is not for me to do. It's a competitive market out there, and trade secrets are paramount to the success of any and all Companies. One also has to consider that products currently in development may be revised in mid-stream to meet directions at which the general market is going. I was fortunate enough to see what is in the works, but I also signed an NDA (Non Disclosure agreement) and I will respect the terms of the agreement. Here we go:

PAST:

For those who don't know, Pentax has always been an innovative company. Ever since 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.

Pentax was a little late in embarking the DSLRs market, but there was a sound decision behind that. Pentax had a new DSLR that was shown at the PMA 2000. It was under a glass cabinet. The model was to be the MZ-D, a full frame DSLR with a 6MP sensor developed by Phillips. See what DPReview was saying about the MZ-D back in 2001. That was a beautiful camera. Pentax should reintroduce it with a CMOS Full Frame sensor this time around. Contax also had a DSLR that used the same sensor. The Nikon and Canon DSLR of the era were in the 2MP range and APS-C sized. Again, Pentax was about to change history. Unfortunately, the Phillips sensor proved to be troublesome and the project had to be stopped. Contax continued their endeavor and introduced the Contax N Digital with the Phillips sensor. Contax is no longer in the race as the bad sensor got them in so much trouble that they closed their doors. Pentax's decision not to pursue a DSLR with the Phillips sensor was the right one. It took a few years to reinter the DSLR market, but Pentax did not have to abandoned the DSLR market like so many companies did back then. It is my opinion that Nikon and Canon were just lucky, and although their DSLRs weren't exceptional, they were the first to invade the new market.

PRESENT:

Pentax is not a Company that can throw away tons of money, like Sony is currently doing, just to get its share of the market. Sony has probably lost more money in the last two years than Pentax has earned in the last five years, and yet, Sony DSLRs still feel like toy cameras and their goal of getting 25% of the market has not been attained. I have yet to see anyone with a Sony DSLR around their neck.

Pentax does not allow obscene lines of credits to the tune of a combined $50 million like Nikon and Canon allowed "Ritz" camera to have. Ritz in now in chapter 11 bankruptcy and that money owed may never be recuperated. I wonder how much money was lost in the "Circuit City" bankruptcy as well and how much credit they have allowed Brick & Mortar stores to have. It's no wonder that sales people push their brands. It looks to me that the top of the market share is divided amongst the Companies that can buy their way in. Sooner or later, quality and value will triumph over money.

Pentax is constantly analyzing the market and defining it's niche. Nikon and Canon have dominated the digital market for years and their niche tends to be the high end professional and rich people market. Yes, more Professional use them and the amateurs with lots of disposable income. Inherently, the " wanna be" entry-level photographers purchase the low-end DSLRs from these companies, only to find out that they are poorly designed, and lack the features that the top of their lines has.

The features of the current Pentax line of DSLRs makes them a super good value. The K20D can now be purchased for $700 - $800 street price. We are talking about a 14.6MP CMOS sensor with weather sealing, in-camera shake reduction, live-view, in-camera processing of RAW files to JPEG, dust reduction and dust alert, expanded dynamic range, 36 custom functions, front and back focus adjustment, interval shooting, available battery-grip with room for a spare SD card and a remote control, 11 AF point with 9 cross sensors, and the list goes on. See the complete description and specifications here: K20D specifications.

Reviewers have mixed feelings about the K20D. The problem is that they compare the features of the K20D with the competition's DSLRs that have similar features, but at a price often two to four times more expensive. Don't they get it? Reviewing the K20D with the competitors equally priced DSLRs would tell a completely different story. Nobody offers a 14.6MP sensor in the same price range. The weather seals and the ability to adjust front and back focus and to retain the adjustment of up to twenty lenses is only found in the top of the line DSLRs of other manufacturers, costing up to $8,000.

The K200D is another DSLR with more features and a reasonable price, when compared to other DSLRs in its price range. You can feel the quality difference by holding a K200D and any of the other manufacturers DSLR in the same price range. The K200D is a serious DSLR and does not feel like a toy camera. You check it out, it's obvious.

The K2000, is undoubtedly the best "bridge" DSLR on the marlet. It can be used like a point-and-shoot, but has the ability to take you as far as you want to learn. A dedicated "Help" button describes each mode on demand, as you are using the camera, helping you learn the craft. As you learn, you can progressively use the typical advanced modes, taking more control over your composition.

The Pentax lenses are legendary. The Pentax SMC (Super-Multi-coating) introduced in 1971 has always been head and shoulder above the rest. Actually, Pentax innovations have been copied by all other camera manufacturers. The FA 31mm f/1.8 Limited, acclaimed as one of the best lens ever is an example. All of the newer DA Limited Prime lenses are the envy of photographers using other brands of DSLR cameras. The lens are custom hand-built, using aluminum instead of polycarbonate, and the best glass available. Their sizes are ideally suited for travel photography, street photography and for anyone looking for top quality lenses with a small footprint and lightweight. The DA* series, are invaluable for all photographers as well as Professional photographers. With the weather seals, one can keep shooting in the most inclement weather. The built-in supersonic motor drastically improves auto focusing, while being silent. It is my opinion that the K20D paired with the DA* lenses is indeed a Professional camera. Pentax is too humble.

Future:

Will Pentax go Full Frame? Will Pentax introduce a replacement for the K20D and the K200D? Will the 645 Digital ever be launched? Of course I don't have a concrete answer to these questions. However, I spoke with Ned Bunnell, John Carlson, Chris Pound, Michelle Martin, all executives at Pentax Imaging USA, and I was fortunate enough to have a look at what's in the works at Pentax. I signed an NDA and I will not break my agreement.

Medium Format 645 Digital:
Apparently John Carlson spoke with UK's Amateur Photographer magazine and said that Pentax has revived plans to launch its long-awaited 645 Digital medium-format camera. The camera will go on display at the Photo Imaging Expo show in Tokyo later this month, said John Carlson, product marketing and support manager at Pentax USA. He told Amateur Photographer that the 645 Digital is expected to go on sale in Japan.

These above paragraph are not my words, but new camera developments are never scrapped. It's always a matter of timing. A medium format DSLR is a great idea, but the cost would have to be high as large sensor manufacturing is extremely expensive. Add to that the file sizes that would have to be manipulated and saved on current computers, which are not yet available or not affordable by the masses. That said, I am very confident that the 645D will eventually see the light of day. It's a matter of timing.

Full Frame DSLR:
The Full Frame DSLR is not an impossibility from Pentax. Remember that their first try at DSLR was the Pentax MZ-D, which would have been the very first Full Frame DSLR, except that the Phillips's sensor did not deliver the quality expected from Pentax. It is not inconceivable that Pentax will introduced a Full Frame camera. Personally, I think that this Full Frame frenzy will eventually go away. The APS-C sensors allows a 1.53 factor to all your lenses and as example, the DA* 200mm f/2.8 gets an angle of view of a 300mm, but still at an aperture of f/2.8. That's a big advantage. Yes, the wide angle lenses also get the 1.53 factor, but when paired with a DA 12-24mm lens, you still get a very respectable angle of view of 18-36mm. Telephotos are much more expensive to make that wide angle lenses. At the end of the day, it's the image that you capture that counts. In 99% of the case, it's not the camera that is the weakest link, it's the photographer.

I read most of the Pentax forums and many photographers are worried that if they keep purchasing the current Pentax DA lenses, which project a smaller image circle than the full frame, they will be stuck with useless lenses. I can assure you that Pentax will not let us down, even if they were to also make a Full Frame DSLR cameras one day. The APS-C format is here to stay for many many years to come. Who knows what other formats will be introduced in the future! In the film era, the 35mm format was the most popular but not the biggest media at all. There were the medium formats, (6x4.5, 6x7, 6x6) and there were also large formats, (4x5. 5x7, 8x10, and bigger). That didn't stop the 35mm format become the most popular size. National Geographic only used 35mm cameras and they did pretty well, don't you think? Today, the APS-C outperforms the best of the 35mm film SLR cameras so what's the problem? There are room for many formats and each format will have it's niche. A good photographer can produce great pictures with the cheapest point-and-shoot but a bad photographer still produce bad pictures even with an Hasselblad H3DII-39 with its 39MP sensor. It's not the camera...it's the photographer!

Future DSLRS:
Oh...that's where it gets touchy. The K20D was announced in January of 2008. It's a little too soon to bring a new model, but rest assured that Pentax is working on what will come next. Pentax will not let you down. It's easy to complain about the lack of introduction of new cameras and lenses, but be patient. Learn to fully use what you have now. You and me are the weakest link in the picture taking process. The K20D is capable of giving us extremely good pictures, we just need to learn about all its capabilities. Judging from what I read on the various forums, most of us don't utilize our DSLR to its full potential, and yet we scream for something better. By the way, the criticism of slow focusing, noise, number of consecutive shots, might just be addressed in the next generation of DSLRs. If you think that Pentax is not introducing new equipment as fast as they should, let see what Pentax has introduced in the last year or so:

Cameras:
The Pentax K20D, the Pentax K200D, Pentax K2000, the White K2000, the Pentax X70, the Optio W60, the Optio P70, the Optio E70.

Lenses:
The DA* 200mm, DA* 300mm, DA* 60-250mm, DA* 55mm, DA 17-70mm, DA 35mm Limited, DA 15mm Limited

Accessories:
The AF160FC Auto Macro Ring Flash and an array of camera bags, straps, etc

That's a lot of introductions...have you already purchase all of them? Although I love to read about or attend the various Camera Conventions, Expositions, Exhibitions and Trade Shows, I think we have too many of them. Once a year, a global show would suffice.


Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for the interviews with three of the Pentaxian photographers, Julie Quarry, Mark Dimalanta and Charles Waller (Charles is the newest Pentaxian photographer and I do not have his website yet. His macro photographs are exceptional.) We will also review many of the products presented at the PMA09 that are compatible with the Pentax equipment.

Yvon Bourque
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