Shaka a Laka O Magic 8 Ball, what does Pentax cameras’ future look like?
My money is on one of these two responses:
- Cannot predict now
- Outlook not so good
I have mused/speculated and even ranted about Pentax a few times (see: Is Dark Horse Pentax Fizzing Out? and The new Pentax K1 Mark II). Pentax’s business decisions like retiring the flagship aps-c K3ii without introducing a new replacement are concerning. Their 2017 Annual Report came out a few months ago, and it revealed that their camera division took a loss.
Last spring, I hedged that any decisions on whether to buy Pentax or not should wait until after Photokina in September.
The Photokina is the camera world’s equivalent of CES, or Apple’s and Google’s Keynote events. It’s The Event at which camera companies and camera-accessories companies show off new products and gadgets.
To be fair, Pentax did announce that they were bringing back their GR camera, a very nice point-and-shoot camera.
But…that was it. No new flagship APS-C model. No new medium format 645. No new FF. No new mirrorless. Nothing competitive. Meanwhile Canon, Nikon, and Sony are all cranking out innovative, new cameras.
Although Ricoh’s main business is successful, the camera division has been struggling. Their 2017 annual report indicated that the camera division was not profitable.
I Pestered Ricoh-Pentax
This fall I tweeted at Ricoh-Pentax when I had a spare minute here and there. They ignored me. Until about two weeks ago, they tweeted bragging about their fabulous customer services (sarcasm here).
Of course, I couldn’t resist and tweeted at them, snarking about how they ignore their fans on the social media channels and how that wasn’t representative of great customer services. That caught their attention, and they asked for my email to give to someone on their marketing team.
I don’t know what my face looked like, but it probably was something like this.
After a couple days of waiting, one of their marketing reps emailed me asking for my questions.
Because it’s so unusual to get actual conversation with a non-executive at the Ricoh corporation, I opted to crowdsource questions from other Pentax fanboys and make them a part of the conversation. They had some “interesting” (air quotes here) comments and diatribes, and most of the questions boiled down to three topics:
- Is Ricoh-Pentax making more dSLRS? Will they attempt to compete?
- Will they seek out partnerships with third-party lens makers, which would give consumers more options?
- Why aren’t they actively engaging with their fans on social media platforms or advertising/marketing in USA?
I didn’t expect to get straightforward answers. After all, Japanese companies – camera companies in particular – are known for keeping their cards close to their vests. It’s a part of their corporate culture. However, the rep with which I was communicating was a part of the American division. Maybe I’d get lucky and get a few solid hints.
After a week of waiting, the rep responded. I’m sure that the delay was to vet the response and make sure she didn’t give away too much. I’ll copy/paste the relevant bits:
In regards to the future of Pentax cameras, our camera division is very important to us and will not be going anywhere. While Ricoh has no plans for a new DSLR camera at this time, we are not discontinuing the line.
Depending on how you read this, this is pretty concerning.
[…Regarding marketing…]We are committed to increasing our social and digital presence and are currently working on executing new strategies to do so.
The rep did not address the lens question. However, depending on how you interpret the dSLRs’ future question, it might be moot anyway.
Of course, I shared this with the fanboys, and they’ve been discussing how to interpret this.
To me, it sounds like this: while they’re continuing to manufacture dSLRs (their k70 and KP lines) , they are not developing or planning on launching a new one. It possibly could mean they have a mirrorless in the pipeline, which is technically not a dSLR.
This is likely an indication that they plan to focus on the GRiii and Theta (a 360 camera) lines; these two cameras are fairly profitable because they don’t have much competition in this camera niche.
This is further reinforced by a tidbit in a Nikkei article (translated), which suggests that Ricoh is looking into restructuring the camera division to expand into commercial applications using their compact camera and Theta cameras. (source)
If so, this is disappointing news for serious photographers and pro photographers.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
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This Post Has 2 Comments
Hi Jen – I interpret the answers in a similar way to you. It’s as though there’s no commitment from Richoh/Pentax to develop any new SLR cameras, but they won’t be discontinuing them for for forseeable future (recover R&D costs / milk the cow fully). I agree that Theta is seen as the future instead DSLR but they probably want to remain ‘serious’ in the market by being able to say they have a full range of photographic products on sale for brand credibility. Nikon and Canon moving into the now crowded mirrorless space means they must go mirrorless to be a serious player in the mainstream market, and they probably know that Pentax has missed that bandwagon now. So they need a different niche.
Once being one of the largest players in the industry, Pentax made a string of bad decisions, missed a bunch of important developments, and got itself into the unenviable spot where it is now too small to still compete with the bigger players technologically. For some time it had some rather unique advantages that set it apart from other manufacturers, like weather-sealing in mid-range bodies, IBIS, and some major disadvantages (poor AF, poor flash system, poor third-party support), but it offered enough to defend its small market share. But rather than catching up to the competition over the past few years it has lost its advantages (IBIS is pretty much standard now, weather) without catching up anywhere else.
Pentax being doomed has been a bit of a running gag, and Pentaxians revel in pointing out to anyone how often such predictions have been wrong, but we are now at a point where their development has slowed down to a snail’s pace (five new lenses in 2016, three in 2017, two in 2018, none this year), their market share fallen to somewhere around 1.5%, their presence all but disappeared from brick-and-mortar stores, Tamron and Sigma have completely abandoned it – and all of that in a shrinking market that even has the big players struggling.
Honestly, my money is on Pentax disappearing in the next five years the way Samsung did a couple of years ago. No definite announcement initially, so people are still buying up old stock. And then it vanishes. I wish it wouldn’t, because I quite like my K3, but I cannot see them going anywhere.