Photokina 2016 Pentax Interview

By PF Staff in Photokina 2016 on Sep 23, 2016

360-degree view of the Pentax booth (click to pan and zoom)

We had the opportunity to sit down and interview Kazunobu Saiki, one of the Ricoh Imaging representatives at this year's Photokina show.  As there were no new Pentax products on display, we focused on more general matters related to current Pentax- and Ricoh-branded cameras as well as the future direction of the company.

Photokina 2016 is the first major trade show following May's public launch of the Pentax K-1, the company's long-awaited full-frame digital camera.  In addition, we've recently seen a mid-range DSLR (the K-70), the Theta S, a silent-focusing 55-300mm lens, a 4K action camera, and a host of full-frame zooms coming out in the past several months.  Thus, there was no dearth of new gear— just no announcements at this particular show.

From the interview, we learned that the K-1 is doing very well, and that Pentax/Ricoh will continue primarily focusing its efforts on DSLRs and the Theta system.  The company wants its products to be seen as premium offerings with superior performance in terms of still image quality.

The interview was conducted in English.  Some responses have been paraphrased for clarity.  Without further ado:

1. How would you describe the response so far to the Pentax K-1? Has the camera attracted users of other camera brands?

We are very happy to see the result of the Pentax K-1. It has attracted a nice audience, so we can say it's very successful, more than what we expected.  Even today, in some markets including Japan, some customers are still waiting for delivery.

We don't have the exact data, but we've gotten a big response from users of other brands, and some users have gotten the K-1 on top of their existing bodies.  Another trend is a big interest in Limited lenses.  Since some are full-frame compatible, those users go for the K-1 plus the FA Limiteds.  Those more "emotional" customers have been interested in Limiteds from the start.

2. Pentax now has product lines within the medium format, FF, APS-C, VR, action, and mirrorless market segments. Do you feel this diversity has strengthened the position of the brand, and the size of the user base?

At Photokina, we have two separate zones: the DSLRs (K-1 and 645Z) and the Theta section.  We believe these two are real assets of Ricoh/Pentax.  With the traditional cameras we have a visual revolution with framing, whereas with the Theta we get visual revolution beyond the frame.

Within the first category, we have full-frame, medium format, APS-C, compact (GR), and compact mirrorless (Q series).  The many formats are a strong point of Pentax/Ricoh, but the various format may cause a bit of confusion in the market.  Overall, we want to develop all products under one slogan: "premium cameras".  We will continue developing cameras that can be recognized as premium products.

Within the Theta, we are the pioneer and want to be the leader in 360 imaging.

3. How would you describe recent trends in the broader camera market? Are there any key changes affecting Pentax product planning?

More applications for cameras are emerging, such as 360 and VR.  These might change the market trend.  However, like I said for question #2, visual revolution "with framing" (such as high resolution imaging) is still the essential part of photography.  While we will adapt our products to the market trend, we are confident that we can define market trends through our premium offerings within existing lines.  The Theta currently gives us room for experimentation.

4. The full frame format is highly competitive in terms of image quality. Do you feel there is still room in the K-mount lineup for APS-C flagships?

I think the market for APS-C will continue.  Also, full-frame lenses on APS-C sensors can deliver very high image quality.  Similarly, when 645 lenses are adapted to the K-1, you can use the best part of the optics.

5. Do you still plan to maintain an "innovation line" within the K-mount (i.e. K-S1, K-S2), or will we be seeing a return to more traditional bodies such as the K-70?

We had used the name "innovation line", but now we consider all of our cameras to fall under the "premium" category.  We will not be differentiating between a standard line and an innovation line, and are returning to how things were before.

6. What are your plans for the development of the Theta line? Do you think 4K spherical video is a possibility?

We know that a lot of Theta users are requesting 4K and HDR, as well as live streaming.  We listen to our customers and our product team is considering these requests, though I can't confirm any exact plans.

7. More and more competitors are now making 360 cameras, but the Theta continues to be one of the overall best-sellers. To what would you attribute this success?

We need to keep our position as the pioneer within 360 imaging.  For example, we are confident that our 360 stitching technology is very advanced. 

A lot of customers also really appreciate the form factor of the Theta, as it makes the camera easy to carry and operate.  This is one of our most competitive points.  We also want to stay on top of the latest technology.

Theta is not only about the gear, but also the applications.  We will continue developing applications for users to share images.

8. Speaking of video, are there plans to bring 4K video to Pentax DSLRs, as well as 1080/60p?

First and foremost we want to deliver premium cameras.  Once a camera will not be able to be considered premium without being equipped with 4K, it is something we will need to add. Since we are not a video manufacturer, we prioritize delivering what's essential for still photography.

9. Similarly, are you still making efforts to restore mechanical SR to Pentax DSLRs in video mode?

We believe that Pentax SR is one of the most advanced stabilization systems.  Because of the superiority of our SR, users are starting to be interested in SR for video.  It's not decided if mechanical SR will be added for video at this time, however.

10. For the Pentax K-1, will electronic front curtain shutter support be added for viewfinder shooting?

An excellent suggestion! Pentax K-1 firmware v1.30 adds EFCS for live view. This is just the first step.

11. How does the hybrid live view autofocus system in the K-70 work?

It is used solely for continuous video autofocus.  In live view, standard contrast detection autofocus is used, as on the Pentax K-S2.

12. Are there plans to bring KAF4 support to cameras such as the K-3 or K-50?

We can't answer this question.

13. Now that you have DC and PLM, do you have any plans to modernize the original DA* lenses (16-50mm, 60-250mm, 200mm, 300mm), especially in terms of AF technology?

After the release of new lenses such as the 55-300mm, we know a lot of customers are talking about this matter.  We can say that we are listening to their requests.

14. Do you have any updates for Pentax Q fans?

The Q line will continue, and the Q-S1 is still a current model.  However, since there are no new Q models at this time, we did not display the Q system at Photokina.

15. Are you reconsidering K-mount or larger format mirrorless at all?

The mirrorless market is getting bigger and bigger.  For example, Fuji has just announced a medium format mirrorless camera.  At this moment, for our "premium camera" strategy, we need to know (and find) the real value of Pentax.  One, of course, is the pentaprism.  While this does not answer the challenge of mirrorless, we will consider options, but we will not reduce the priority of our existing DSLRs.

16. Can K-1 users still expect new prime lenses starting next year? If so, which roadmapped lens is a priority?

As per our roadmap, prime lenses are currently in the development stage.

17. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Do you have any closing thoughts to share with Pentax fans?

Of course, we really appreciate our fans and we want to listen to their ideas and requests.

After the release of the K-1, we are getting a lot of nice hints.  We want to communicate with our fans more closely, through the forum as well as direct events.

We want to listen to the customer's voice, because our success only comes from the users.  We want to satisfy users, and then they will respect our products.  We can then deliver new products according to their advice.

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