Just over a week ago at the 2012 CP+ show, we had a chance to sit down and interview Mr. Hiraku Kawauchi, the planning and product manager of Pentax Japan. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Pentax Japan for taking the time to speak with us and generously giving us access to closely examine the new products that were on display!
Here is a brief summary of what we took away from the interview:
- The merger with Ricoh has had a very positive impact on the Pentax and has given rise to exciting new marketing and product opportunities
- The FA 50mm lens will be continued as-is, with the DA* 55mm as a premium alternative and the DA 50mm F1.8 as a budget alternative.
- A Pentax Full-Frame is not a mere myth. Pentax are toying with Full-Frame ideas but will only produce such a camera if they can make something unique that other manufacturers haven't already covered. Furthermore, if such a camera is released, it won't be mirrorless (though Pentax has considered the idea).
- Pentax DSLRs will continue being a key part of the Pentax lineup, despite the fact that no new DSLRs have been announced so far this year. We expect to see two new DSLRs later this year: an intro-level replacement for the K-r, and a replacement for the K-5 (likely to be on display at Photokina)
- The focus of the Pentax K-01 is on image quality and performance rather than small size
- A replacement for the DA* 16-50mm is planned (as per the lens roadmap)
- There are unfortunately no plans to make an EVF for the K-01
- The new 560mm telephoto lens will likely feature some new AF technology
Below is the transcript of our interview. See also the full video of the interview. Please note that none of these questions were rehearsed or presented to the interviewee in advance.
Q (not filmed): To start, we'd like to ask you if you have visited our web site? It has now been over 5 and a half years since we launched the site, and it's been evolving tremendously ever since. Did you know that we have databases complete with every Pentax lens ever produced, as well as thousands of user-submitted reviews of new and old lenses alike? Since 2010, we also regularly report on Pentax news on our homepage, and write in-depth reviews of the most exciting equipment for and by Pentax. While the forum remains at the heart of everything we do, these two sections now account for a major portion of our site traffic. In the United States, we are regarded as the largest Pentax-dedicated community, with over 5 million monthly page views and 1 million unique visitors. Our users are extremely loyal and enthusiastic about Pentax- unlike almost any other community out there! While we have a significant international presence, and only about 30% our our visitors live in the United States, Japanese visitors – who represent the largest Pentax market – account for less than 2% of our traffic, unfortunately.
A (paraphrased): Kawauchi was aware of the web site, and asked us more about our traffic distribution by country. He was impressed that we have a complete database of every Pentax lens ever made. He said that he's very happy that we're out there and was excited to build a relationship between Pentax Japan and the site.
Q: The K-01, which is a great new camera, is the first APS-C camera for Pentax without a mirror, and we hope it represents a whole new chapter in Pentax camera development.
What does this camera mean to you and do you think mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras will define the future of the camera industry?
A: First, regarding the K-01... The concept is first of all about the design... industrial design. The objective was not to create a mirrorless (camera), rather the mirrorless architecture was adopted in order to attain greater flexibility. What we hope to achieve from the K-01 is not a very small, light mirrorless camera, rather it is to use the K-mount. This hasn’t changed much, but it is a form within the mirrorless category. We think even if it may not become mainstream, this type of mirrorless could exist.
Q: The K-01 was launched with a stylish new 40mm lens which seems to be a must have for the camera.
If you could choose any other current Pentax lens for your K-01, which one would you take and why?
A: For instance, for shooting a movie, a lens with a built-in motor like SDM makes extremely silent autofocus possible. Lenses with enjoyable characteristics such as a fish eye lens, etc. Since the K-01 features a larger APS-C sensor than the Q, telephoto lenses with autofocus, which could give you bokeh. Mirrorless from other manufacturers lose their balance when attached to telephoto lenses. In contrast, the K-01 could be held steadily with extremely good balance since it is a normal K-body with a mirrorless design. Thus, besides standard and zoom lenses, I think it could be enjoyed with telephoto lenses.
Q: Alongside the K-01 announcement, we’ve noticed that you’ve also published a new lens roadmap and many of those lenses are available right now on display here at the show.
Which one of these lenses do you believe to be the most exciting?
Are any of these lenses designed for K-01 apart from the 40mm you’ve shown us?
A: The most anticipated lens by Pentax users so far is the 560mm
super telephoto lens. Although it is not a lens exclusive for K-01, we've announced it officially. When talking about lens specially designed for K-01, there is also a prototype on display. The optics extend to the rear a little bit with this lens. I think it’s a promising and interesting product for a K-mount
Q: Is the new DA 50mm f/1.8 going to be a replacement for the FA 50mm f/1.4, or are you going to have both on the market?
A: The FA 50mm will be continued as it is. The 50mm prototype shown has a whole new optical design. When compared to the current 50mm, we aim for a reasonable
price point. We plan to sell both the FA 50mm f/1.4 and DA 50mm f/1.8 as
Q: Will the new DA 50mm f/1.8 feature quick-shift autofocus, or is this going to be similar to the DA 35mm f/2.4?
A: I cannot talk about the detailed specs since they are not finalized. Considering the concept, we aim for a fast lens with a reasonable price, so expect what you've seen so far in similar lenses.
Q: Is the new DA 560mm Super Telephoto going to cover only the APS-C circle or is it going to be full-frame compatible? Is it an SDM lens? What details can you tell us about that lens?
A: The name DA implies that we are developing a product for covering the so-called APS-C format. Although I cannot speak about the autofocus mechanism, obviously it would be difficult to operate a super telephoto lens with the motors utilized in our normal lenses.
Q: Do you know if it will be a KAF2 or KAF3 lens?
A: Good question. That’s a secret.
Q: Last year, the Pentax Q shipped with a removable viewfinder accessory. You also released a hotshoe mounted GPS module for the 645D, the K-5 and the K-r suggesting that the hotshoe is a highly extendible interface for camera accessories.
It seems like many users are discouraged by the lack of a viewfinder or an electronic viewfinder in the K-01. Is that something you would consider releasing as an external add-on in the future? Will the Q's optical viewfinder function on the K-01? If so, which lens would it correspond to?
A: An optical viewfinder will be quite meaningless since all of the K-mount lenses can be used. As you could see (in the K-01), an electric interface for an EVF is not present. The O-GPS1 GPS unit can be used with K-01. Location information and the electronic compass can be used from the beginning, but It does not support the AstroTracer function at this time. We do plan to support it via a future firmware update.
Q: You launched the K-01 in three stylish colors. We asked our members which combination is their favorite color and more than half said they like black and silver the most. However, a large portion of people we polled answered they prefer the silver elements be replaced with black ones resulting in an all black camera.
Will you be exploring additional color options for the K-01?
A: We’re happy to hear about the high popularity of black since it was the initial design we received from Marc Newson. Since color is a key element of the K-01design, rather than just releasing more colors, the idea is to be in harmony with the camera’s body design.
Although we do not have plans to release color variations, if we do
it in the future, rather than just increasing the colors, we think it is
important to best utilize the design of K-01 from Marc Newson.
Q: With the launch of the Pentax K-01, Pentax now has almost every type of camera model covered, from entry-level point and shoots, to the stylish Q and finally to the APS-C DSLRs and professional 645D. Now that Pentax Ricoh Imaging has assumed control of your entire imaging branch, will a special emphasis be placed on any of these?
A: We’re not going to constrain our line up to anything. We are going to focus on what others are not making. Where we could differentiate and give the originality of Pentax. From here on as well, we will focus on all rather than just one.
Q: There has been a lot of discussion about a certain type of camera missing from your current lineup. Can you guess what kind of camera many Pentax users really want?
A: We continuously consider 35mm, but it has to be different from what other manufactures are releasing and lenses supporting 35mm have to be prepared. We think these are the principal challenges. So for example, even if we decide to make a full size DSLR in the future, we will release what is not available from the other makers. We cannot comment and we do not know when this will be.
Q: You’re right, It is full-frame. Everybody is asking about full-frame of course. PentaxForums.com started a fan page two months ago looking for support for full-frame and got about 1,000 likes in a few weeks. Now there are about 3,200 likes from people demanding or wishing for a full-frame Pentax camera.
With the rising popularity of mirrorless cameras, do you think that large and bulky digital SLRs will dominate the professional market for much longer?
A: Although I am not the one who decides the market, I personally think that single lens reflex will prevail. Although the EVF technology is developing rapidly, in order to capture shots at just the right moment, I think EVF is not a match for an optical finder. Holding current reflex cameras gives an exciting feeling that is essential for photographic style. So, I think relfex cameras will continue to exist, and we will also continue producing them.
Q: At CES, John Carlson of Pentax USA hinted that Pentax may be working on a mirrorless full-frame camera. Can you say anything about that?
A: That was a dream expressed to the media by our developer of what Pentax could achieve, regardless of whether it's under development or not. I think it is an interesting idea. As the planning person, that is not under our current development roadmap.
Q: Pentax has a long history of impressive super telephotos such as the FA* 300mm f/2.8, FA* 250-600mm f/5.6. Do you have any plans to reintroduce these lenses or updates of them?
A: Alongside the announcement of K-01, we have also updated the
ens roadmap. Recent plans for the launches could be seen there. We will release it in the Pentax homepage as well.
Q: There is always something secret somewhere.
A: Of course there are things that are not on the roadmap.
Q: Are you going to bring back any production to Japan?
A: Since the factories in Japan have no facilities, presently we have
no plan to move the production back.
Q: Are there going to be any updates to any of the DA* lenses? Maybe a 16-50mm version II anytime soon?
A: If you look at the roadmap, there is a lens with a shorter focal length. So, I think you could assume we are considering a replacement for
Q: How does the technology in DC lenses differ from SDM lenses? There is only one DC lens currently available, do you have any plans for using that technology in future lenses?
A: I think models with built-in motors will be on rise. Though SDM ultrasonic motors and DC motors each have their own strengths, since all cost has to be taken to the consideration, we need to apply the technologies depending on the lenses.
Q: Do you have anything you want to say to the Pentax community?
A: Thanks for coming all the way to Japan to cover our booth. We are so glad to know of the enormous number of Pentax fans. We have taken a new step forward last year by becoming Pentax Ricoh Imaging. This year though, we have announced the unique K-01.
Besides continuing to make unique products distinct from other manufacturers, we will make Pentax-like unique, Pentax-like well-made products. So, we would like to assert earnest Pentax and the unique Pentax are the same. So we will be thankful to listen your thoughts and we are hoping to release products to meet your expectations.
Special thanks go to Sriram Iyer for conducting the interview Albert Siegel for filming and producing it, and Hiraku Kawauchi for taking the time to speak with us!