I have a soft spot for underdogs. When I learned that Pentax was rebooting their camera line in the USA market back in 2006, I was one of the early buyers. I snagged the k10d, and turned into an evangelist for Pentax. I praised the camera to anyone who’d listen.
And it deserved the praise. It had a spankin’ new sensor that no other camera maker was using. It had waterproofing and was extra rugged, which was perfect for hiking and some light abuse. No other camera company offered a camera with that feature. It also had a sensor-shake feature to clear its sensor of dust. Also unprecedented. On and on. There were oodles of new features that very few or no other camera companies were using. And best of all: it used the famous Pentaprism for its focusing mechanism (a Very Good ThingTM).
In other words, it was innovative. Pentax had positioned itself to be a industry leader by introducing new features and tech to its camera that no one else was doing. Canon and Nikon scrambled to catch up.
So, yeah, I was excited for Pentax. It was a dark horse that had the potential to turn the camera industry upside down.
In its heyday, the brand was a household name. The Pentax ME and k1000 film cameras were the cameras that every wannabe Photographer had to have back in the 70s and 80s. The LX was the pro model (if anyone has a mint one somewhere in their attic, please let me know! I’d love to get my hands on it). They were so successful they were The First camera company to produce 1 million SLR cameras, back in 1981. That was a huge deal at the time.
Somewhere in mid-80s, something happened, and Pentax all but disappeared from the USA market. I’ve no clue why — details are sketchy.
Anyway. Back to late 2000s. I thought, perhaps a little naively: “If they keep setting industry trends, they’ll get huge in no time!”
A few short years later, in 2010, Pentax introduced the digital medium format successor to their insanely popular film 645. And it was affordable! In comparison, most medium format cameras are $20k and up.
Ricoh, an office equipment company, bought Pentax out in 2011, and I thought: “This is great! More money, more resources for R&D and marketing!”
However it appears Ricoh had little interest in its subsidiary and I now suspect it was more interested in cannibalizing Pentax’s lens IP for its own compact camera line and copiers.
Pentax slogged ahead.
Pentax released cameras at a steady clip, about 1 or 2 new bodies each year. Compared with Nikon and Canon, this was slow. But as long as they innovated and set themselves apart from the en masse, that was fine. Except…they stopped innovating.
A camera company with as few model lines as Pentax has needs to be continuously investing in R&D and to set themselves as a industry leader. They did this the first few years, but the past few has been unimpressive. R&D is hard — I get that.
Pentax’s seemingly lackluster update to the excellent K1 model reinforces this line of thinking (related post in which I rant about the so-called upgrades).
IF R&D is no-go, they should be marketing heavily, and working on getting their products in camera shops. Especially in the USA. Aside from a couple major retail camera companies like B&H and Adorama, that’s not happening at all. Meanwhile Canon has TV commercials. Nikon, I can’t recall seeing tv commercials in recent years, but they’re in most department stores with electronics category like Best Buy, Costco, Walmart, etc. There’s a stark difference in their marketing strategies.
On top of that, Ricoh recently rebranded Pentax.
This was their logo in 2013.
And this is the logo now, which quietly made its appearance late 2017.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on: Ricoh is distancing itself from Pentax. I would not be surprised to learn that Ricoh has been quietly shopping around for a buyer.
That’s disappointing. I really hoped that Pentax, as a dark horse, would regain its former glory.
We’ll see what happens at the Photokina, which is a trade expo for camera companies. Tech companies often use the event to reveal new cameras, gadgets, and technologies. The next one is scheduled for September 2018. If Pentax doesn’t bring something wholly new to the table…it won’t look good for the company’s future.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Pentax’s cameras are excellent. They’re not exciting and innovative, true, but they’re solid. They perform well. They take great pictures. And considering that my current camera, the original k5, is still kicking butt 7 years later, that says something about its longevity.
For the moment, I still recommend their cameras, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as ~10 years ago. If you’re in the market for a new camera, do consider them.