Reflecting on the CP+ Pentax Interview

First-hand commentary from the interviewer

By PF Staff in CP+ 2014 on Mar 10, 2014
Reflecting on the CP+ Pentax Interview

Hello there! I'm a Tokyo-based journalist who also covers all things photo in Japan for Pentax Forums. I conducted the interviews with Pentax/Ricoh at CP+ for the past three years (2012, 2013, and 2014). As such, I feel there is a bit of a misunderstanding on the last one. I'd like to take this opportunity to make an informal post to give my reactions to your reactions. I'll also reply to some the questions posted in comments about the interview. So let's get started!

Remember, these are my personal views and understandings based on speaking with the Pentax reps. The following is not official information in any way.  Some of the interview questions have also been paraphrased to simplify things.

Interview Question Commentary

Q1: What's the status of the Flucard?

A1: The launch date for the Japanese market is February 27th with other markets following soon after.

Not much to say about this as it's already out. Also, it will work for all Pentax DSLRs released after the K-3.

Q2: Will you consider adding Wi-Fi to future camera models?

A2: 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.

My impression from them is that they are actually considering it, but there really is not enough of a demand at the moment. Until recently, there really was no use for such a feature for a brand that is primarily used by field (outdoor) photographers. This can change and it’s not out of the question to have it in future bodies. Smartphones are helping to push the general usefulness of WiFi on a camera.

Q3: Do you see "enthusiast compacts" as a key market segment and will we see more cameras like the MX-1 and GR in the future?

A3: 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.

It’s clear that compact cameras are losing ground to smartphones. Consider that this is the first time Pentax/Ricoh has not launched a new budget compact camera along with their other announcements. Demand for the compact cameras is vanishing. The only area where they can really complete with smartphone is in the premium and specialty applications. Smartphones can only do so much if they want to stay small. You will not find a smartphone with a large sensor, fast zoom or super zoom. I think the days of budget cameras are over for Pentax/Ricoh, but they will continue with the premium models.

Q4: What are the highlights of the new 645D 2014 compared to the original model?

A4: 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/Ricoh cannot say much about the 645D, but I think it’s clear that having a tilting LCD would be pointless without liveview. The red button is an interesting curiosity. Does look like a record button to me. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Q5: How strong was the demand for the entry-level K-500 compared to the very similar K-50, which seems to be much more popular among our members? Will you continue supporting entry-level DSLRs?

A5: 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.

I'm under the impression that the K-500 did not do as well as hoped simply because it was so close to the K-50 that people preferred to make the jump to the higher model. In any case, I think the K-500 was made mainly for some markets that required a camera under $500 USD. The K-500 was not available in Japan for example.

Q6: Would you considering adding EVF support to further improve the versatility of your mirrorless Q-series lineup?

A6: 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.

I’m sure they’re testing out the idea of an EVF for future Q cameras. They know some people want them, but for now I do not expect one. You typically only see them on premium mirrorless cameras. Right now there is no premium Q-mount camera. It’s interesting to note that the Q series is selling well in Asia. Pentax/Ricoh does plan to continue and expand the system and are even considering a smaller flash designed with the Q in mind.

Q7: 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?

A7: 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.

It’s obvious that Pentax/Ricoh has no control over third-party lenses, but in all honesty, it’s not that big a deal in my view. Most people tend to stick with genuine lenses. If you consider this on top of the fact that Pentax has a much lower market share than other brands, it should be no surprise that there are some lenses not available for it. You don’t see people complaining about not being able to buy Sigma lenses for Leica or even Tamron lenses for Sigma bodies, do you?

Q8: 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?

A8: 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.

Forget about it. As they said, the older lenses are less and less available and don’t meter properly using modern technology. It would be a costly and time-consuming effort to make them work well with a modern system. In my view, there really is no point to making a “de-crippled” K-mount anymore.

Q9: 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?

A9: 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.

I doubt Pentax/Ricoh will kill off the current system. They have too much to lose if they do for little gain.

Q10: 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?

A10: 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.

The answer to this is pretty clear. They prefer to keep lenses small. High ISO is already far better than film days, so that in part makes up for the slower lenses. Anyway, they already have fast lenses that are about just half a stop slower than the competition. Not really that big a deal in my mind and honestly part of the reason I decided to buy into Pentax myself. I prefer small and high-quality. With other brands, you either get large and high-quality or small with average quality.

Q11: Do you plan to eventually replace screwdrive AF with SDM and DC? Will you be doing anything to improve the AF speed of your lenses?

A11: 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.

Their answer on this is also pretty clear. They select the focus type that best fits the general idea of the lens. Pancakes with screwdrive for small and others with DC or SDM for size or speed.

Q12: 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?

A12: 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.

I'm not too keen on the lack of a 400mm lens, but they do have a point that they will release a zoom in that range. Anyway, adding the new 1.4 TC to the 300mm will give you a similar result as having a 5.6/400mm lens, which is what would be expected considering that Pentax does not have the market for anything faster in that range at the moment.

Q13: 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?

A13: 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.

Seems that most Pentasx users are out of the studio, so not much more to add to this. Just like any other brand, they have users of all levels.

Q14: 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?

A14: 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.

I'm not sure what to say about this. I prefer the Pentax name, but the Ricoh name is not the end of the world. The Pentax division is still mostly the same people as when it was actually Pentax. The engineers are genuine photographers and have a passion for it. I have met some of them and have the highest opinion of the people there. Pentax or Ricoh, it’s still the same high-quality stuff.

Q15: Which camera products will continue under the Pentax brand name, and which ones will use the Ricoh name?

A15: 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.

There seems to be a couple of answers to this online. At the moment, it seems that the Ricoh name will be used for the compacts, but the Pentax name is not fully ruled out. There may be another compact with the Pentax name in the future.

Q16: 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?

A16: 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.

This one is pretty clear. APSC is still the biggest market by far. Pentax has positioned itself as having the biggest and best designed for APSC lens lineup. I see this devotion continuing long after a full-frame camera is released. After all, the designed for equivalent works well for mirrorless brands. Pentax is the only one doing this in for DSLRs for more than just wide lenses.

Q17: 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?

A17: 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.

Not much I can add to this other than most major brands seem to have the same general opinion.

Q18: 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?

A18: 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 has a small market share. The 135 full-frame market is still small. Making a product for a small market share of a small market share was not a priority for Pentax before Ricoh came along. Under the direction of Hoya, the Pentax product line became smaller. The camera division was not their main interest. Ricoh, on the other hand, is very interested in the camera division. They are actively working on a full-frame. It’s clear that one will be released, but when is unknown. All rumors point to at least an announcement later this year. Again, rumors, nothing official.

Q19: In 2013 Pentax cameras started being sold in India. Are there any other key markets which you will be expanding to in the future?

A19: 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.

The old Pentax division seems excited about Ricoh. They understand that Ricoh can help the brand grow in other markets. Indeed this seems to be the case not just with India, but other markets will be entered as well. From my conversations with them, they really want to grow the camera division.

NOTE: I want to stress once again that the above is nothing more than my personal opinions and observations and in no way linked to anything official by Ricoh.

Me at a press event for the Saudia Arabian government

Replies To Comments

Finally, I would like to reply to some of your comments on the interview.

Didn't you claim a FF camera was coming three years ago after one of your "interviews"? This site has turned to junk..”

It was finally officially confirmed during CP+ 2013 that a full-frame camera was being worked on and possibly will be released though no date was given. The main issue is that they have few proper full-frame lenses. A nice hint is that a 70-200mm lens is now on the roadmap. It’s not at all in line with their APSC equivalent strategy, so I’m thinking it’s a hint of things to come. I’m sure we’ll see full-frame soon.

Meh, so the K and M lenses will never work as designed, and the habitual "we're thinking about 35mm" we had for 1 year and a half.”

The K and M lenses were designed to work on analog film cameras, so they are working as designed. They work well enough on digital. It’s just a minor inconvenience compared to how they worked back then, but at least they work. Try to mount a Canon, Minolta or Olympus lens from the same time period and on a modern DSLR.

Good efforts. But hey... as a company rep. I think one should at least try to excite their users? .... They didn't sound they are excited about their company at all.”

It’s a shame that they come off as not excited. As someone who meets with and chats with them often, I can assure you that they really are excited and care about their products. Having said that, they do work for a conservative Japanese company.

In their personal lives, these guys are photographers at heart. They do own and use the gear they design and sell. One of the engineers really gets good use of his 645D. I had a good laugh that he placed a SR sticker on his personal unit as a joke. Funny guy. He also got a laugh at my fix for the flash pin, which is placing a cut from a “intel inside” sticker to block the flash pin from popping out.

I'm not sure why they bother doing interviews, instead of just issuing press releases. It seems like they don't want to talk about anything, and they don't like giving straight answers. And, as usual, they show no excitement about their own products.”

They only talk about what they are allowed to talk about. Most companies are this way. Could be worse… they could be like Apple when it comes to talking. Would be nice if a full-frame prototype was lost in a bar though!

Not a single question about video? This is an important area that needed a solid response. Shame.”

Editorial note: Past interviews have revealed that video isn't a priority for Pentax, and the current product lineup doesn't specifically target videographers.  The K-3 was certainly a step forward in terms of hardware and video features, and we will therefore revisit the topic of video during our next interview.

Was that picture taken outside somewhere in sunny weather? I thought it was snowing in Tokyo. Did they make a big snowman in front of HQ?”

Yes, it was taken outside on a nice sunny day. The snow was only during the weekend. Usually the snow is cleared into piles out of the way as soon as the weather calms. No snowman as far as I could see.

I’m sure there will be more comments and questions on my follow-up, so please feel free to say or ask anything you like. Please do keep in mind that I have a busy schedule and live in Tokyo, so I might be slow to reply at times.

-Albert Siegel

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