CP+ 2014 Interview with Pentax in Japan

PentaxForums exclusive: a look at new products and future plans

By PF Staff in CP+ 2014 on Feb 23, 2014
CP+ 2014 Interview with Pentax in Japan

Today, we're pleased to be bringing you this year's exclusive CP+ interview with Pentax (Ricoh Imaging) representatives.  Because the show was cancelled on our original interview date, we had to reschedule and ended up condicting the interview last week at the Pentax headquarters in Tokyo.

In this interview, we discussed current Pentax equipment and future plans with Takashi Arai (Product Planning Group) and Hiraku Kawauchi (Public Relations Manager) of Ricoh Imaging.  Most of the questions were based on forum user suggestions.

Without further ado, let's get to the questions:

Question 1: Do you have any updates on the status of the Flucard development for the Pentax K-3?

The launch date for the Japanese market is February 27th with other markets following soon after.

Pentax K-3 Flu CardA dedicated Flucard enables wireless tethering on the Pentax K-3.  Details here.

Question 2: None of your cameras currently have built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Is this something you might consider in upcoming models, especially now that many competing compacts and DSLRs do support Wi-Fi?

It's true that none of our DSLRs have Wi-Fi.  Not all users really required this feature so far, however the potential demand is increasing and we will study the possibility to have built-in Wi-Fi in the future.

Question 3: The Ricoh GR is a very popular and successful camera, and many of our users are enjoying it and the Pentax MX-1. Do you see “enthusiast compacts” as a key market segment and will we see more such cameras in the future?

Demand for enthusiast compacts, which we call premium compacts, is relatively stable, but the overall compact digital camera market is facing a declining trend.  I imagine this is due to the emergence of smartphones, however the super zoom, waterproof and premium compact categories are still strong within the compact market.  We will continue to develop and release compacts mainly in those categories.  

Question 4: What are the highlights of the new 645D 2014 that you have on exhibit compared to the original model?

The new 645D will have a CMOS sensor instead of CCD.  Due to this change, the new model will be able to offer some new features that CCD could not.  That’s all we can say at the moment about the new 645D.

Pentax 645D 2014 Prototype

Above: 645D 2014 Prototype with tilting LCD (click to enlarge)

Question 5: Last year you re-entered the entry-level DSLR market with the Pentax K-500. How strong was the demand for this camera compared to the very similar K-50, which seems to be much more popular among our members? Will you continue supporting entry-level DSLRs?

The demand for the K-500 depends on the market and account.  Some accounts require an item that can sell for a lower price than the K-50, while others appreciate the weather sealing offered in models such as the K-50.  We found that the K-50 had a higher demand and was more popular than the K-500.  The entry-level users are important to us, so we will continue to support that market.

Above: the Pentax K-50 is available in 120 different color combinations

Question 6: Now that the K-mount to Q-mount adapter is available, many users are putting telephoto lenses on their Q cameras. However, at times it is difficult to use telephoto lenses without a viewfinder. Would you considering adding EVF support to further improve the versatility of your mirrorless lineup?

The currently available Q bodies do not have a terminal to support an optional EVF, so unfortunately there’s no way to add one.  We are aware there is some demand for an EVF, not only for telephotos users, but also for those who want to use the camera outdoors since it’s easier to view than the LCD in bright light.  We will consider the possibility of offering EVF if demand increases.

Pentax Q with K-mount lens adapterAbove: Pentax Q with K-mount lens adapter and 50mm F1.2 lens

Question 7: Over the course of the past few years we have seen a decline in third-party Pentax lens availability from manufacturers including Sigma, Tamron, and others. Do you see this as an issue and do you have any plans to expand third-party support in the future?

We cannot manage what third-party manufactures plan and produce, so we cannot reply to this question fully.  However, we are ready to communicate with them.

Question 8: Many of our Pentax DSLR users have been asking for a camera with a “de-crippled” K-mount that includes the aperture coupler, similar to how you designed the 645D mount with aperture ring support. Is this something you would consider doing?

There are fewer and fewer lenses available on the used market as time goes on.  Also, it’s a completely analog operation, so the metering is not as accurate as current technology.  For those two reasons, we are not prioritizing to reintroduce this function.

Question 9: While we're on the subject of the K-mount, are there any plans to do the opposite: modernize it, by removing all mechanical linkages for example? Backwards-compatibility is nice to have, but electronic control as in the Q mount also has its advantages of course.

It’s true that if we were to modernize the mount specifications and removed the legacy linkage we could save a lot of work for lens development and manufacturing.  However, compatibility with existing lenses and accessories is as important as our readiness for the future.  That’s why we always care about compatibility.  We will not suddenly stop compatibility with current products.

Above: the Pentax Q camera lineup uses a 100% electronic lens mount

Question 10: Looking at your current DA lens lineup, there are many offerings, but only one lens with an aperture of F1.4 or faster. Historically, Pentax lenses have always focused on compactness over speed. Is this still your design philosophy for K-mount lenses?

Compactness, not only the camera body, but the whole SLR system, is one of our advantages.  On top of that, the level of high ISO sensitivity and the quality of image processing is far better than it used to be.  So for the moment, producing lenses faster than 1.4 is not our first priority.

DA* 55mmAbove: the Pentax DA* 55mm F1.4 is the only DA lens with a F1.4 aperture

Question 11: Do you plan to eventually replace screwdrive AF with SDM and DC as other manufacturers have done? Will you be doing anything to improve the AF speed of your lenses?

We have been selecting the optimal focus system for each lens based on what is best for each design.  For example, for lenses that are prioritized as compact such as the 40mm, in-body focus is selected.  Other lenses, such as the new HD 20-40mm lens comes with a DC motor for a smoother and quieter feel.  So it depends on the character of the lens.

As for the AF speed; at the moment the in-body torque is stronger, but we are also looking carefully into the development of faster lens-based motors.

Video: modern DC vs. traditional screwdrive AF sound

Question 12: Do you have plans to fill the big gap that exists between the DA* 300mm and DA 560mm lenses with another prime lens? What changes been made to the lens roadmap since last year?

We have updated the roadmap for K-Mount lenses.  It’s not a prime lens, but a longer zoom lens that covers somewhere between those lenses is planned.  We’re also launching a 1.4x tele-converter which gives 420mm if used with the DA* 300mm.  So we hope this will be a big help for those who need more reach.

Video: a tour of the new Pentax 1.4x teleconverter

Question 13: How do you see the typical Pentax/Ricoh camera user? Is he/she an amateur, semi-pro, outdoorsman, etc.? Is your target audience different in different markets?

The target audience differs from model to model, but the target users for each specific model does not differ from market to market.  It’s our impression that Pentax users are more likely to use their cameras outdoors - what we call a field photographer.

Question 14: Since the company was renamed to Ricoh Imaging, we have noted a loss of visibility of the PENTAX name at trade shows, on your website, and on Facebook. From a marketing point of view, has this had any negative effects, and if so, what are you doing to improve brand awareness among users and potential customers?

The Pentax name for SLRs is very important to us.  It has a very long history.  The Pentax brand name will remain.  The marketing impact by changing a company name is not always a negative impact.  For example, there are some Rocoh branded imaging products that are well known such as projectors and 3D printers in Europe.  By also using the Ricoh name, there will be a possibility to connect the two brands, which will help growth and bring positive impact.  We have not seen a negative impact in sales.  In fact, now we can use the Ricoh sales channels in some countries to sell Pentax products where they were not available before.

Question 15: Which camera products will continue under the Pentax brand name, and which ones will use the Ricoh name?

It depends on the model.  It’s not a matter of category, but by product.  One compact can have the Ricoh name and the other the Pentax name.

Ricoh WG-4 Digital Camera
Above: the Ricoh WG-4, a clone of the Pentax WG-3, is the first Pentax digital compact to be re-branded

Question 16: Other major DSLR manufacturers don't seem to be focusing their efforts on APS-C DSLRs at the moment. Do you plan on take advantage of this and continue pursuing the advanced APS-C market aggressively, as you did with the K-3?

If you look at the statistics, APSC still dominates more than 90% of the DSLR market.  I think this will not change very soon.  APSC is still in large demand.  APSC also has some advantages such as size, weight and pricing.  We will still continue to put effort and development into manufacturing APSC models.

Question 17: In the long term, how do you envision the evolution of the camera market? It's clear that smartphones are putting immense pressure on compact cameras, but what about more serious cameras?

The smartphone market is expanding.  This also means that the number of people who buy smartphones and engage in digital photography is also expanding.  Some of those consumers unhappy with smartphone camera specifications may want to become a more serious photographer and will come into the world of digital SLR photography.  Smartphones have had a negative impact on low-end compacts, but we have seen a positive impact on premium compacts and DSLRs.

Question 18: Does Ricoh Imaging plan to tackle the full-frame / professional DSLR market, and do you see cameras with full-frame sensors as something that would fit into your product lineup? Are you still developing this type of product?

Research and development into full-frame is still ongoing.  We cannot talk about it yet.

Talking about the professional market, we have the 645D, which has far better image quality than full-frame.  So this product can also fit the market for some professional photographers.  Of course the 645D is not targeting news photographers, but can be a good partner for high-end market professionals such as fashion or studio work. 

Pentax 645D and Nikon D800e

Above: the Pentax 645D and traditional full-frame cater to very different target audiences

Question 19: In 2013 Pentax cameras started being sold in India. Are there any other key markets which you will be expanding to in the future?

Yes, India is an important country.  We do plan to start marketing in other countries as well.  We cannot say more about this at the moment.

And that's it for this interview.  We expect to speak with Pentax representatives again at Photokina 2014 in September.




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