CP+ 2018: Insights Into the Future of Pentax
A look at direction and upcoming products
Earlier this month, we conducted our annual Pentax interview with Ricoh Imaging representatives at the CP+ 2018 show in Japan. We were particularly enthusiastic about this year's interview, as it was a great opportunity for the Pentax community to catch up on what Ricoh has been working on following a very quiet 2017 amid an industry that's otherwise moving and changing rapidly. The representatives we spoke with were equally enthusiastic and spent several hours answering our questions and showing us around the booth and the newly-announced products.
The newly-announced Pentax K-1 II was the main focus of this year's show, as we previously covered in our booth report. Its key innovation is what Pentax calls Dynamic Pixel Shift, which brings the benefits of pixel shift resolution to hand-held shooting. To the best of our knowledge, Pentax is currently the first and only brand to offer this fully automated technology in an ILC.
K-1 II Dynamic Pixel Shift: data processing takes longer when hand-held
In addition, the K-1 II has inherited the Image Accelerator Unit, previously seen in the K-70 and KP, to improve the signal-to-noise ratio and ultimately yield more accurate colors and less noisy images. Here's an example of this technology in action.
What all this shows it that Pentax is first and foremost interested in maximizing the still image quality of its cameras. Despite not being a sensor manufacturer, the company is extremely competitive in this respect. We are looking forward to reviewing the K-1 II alongside the K-1 to see just how much of a real-world gain there is with the 36 megapixel sensor.
Along these lines, 8 lenses are currently roadmapped, with the D FA★ 50mm F1.4 and DA★ 11-18mm F2.8 due for release in the coming months. Per our interview, we learned that Pentax's short-term lens development efforts will be focused on (but of course not limited to) full-frame star lenses, and later Limited lenses. In the distant future, we might see a full-frame teleconverter, too. All this fits perfectly in line with the overarching strategic focus on image quality.
New APS-C Flagship!
Given that the Pentax K-3 (APS-C flagship) line was launched over 4 years ago, we also asked about plans for a successor to the K-3 II. Ricoh confirmed that such a model is now being developed, and that the KP is in fact not going to be positioned as the most advanced APS-C model. We can only speculate about a concrete release date.
While we were at it, we asked about the possibility of an entry level DSLR below the Pentax K-70. Ricoh confirmed that there were no plans for a lower model, suggesting that the company's focus going forward will indeed be on "premium" DSLR models rather than stripped down variants. Even at its competitive price, the Pentax K-70 has most of the features of the flagship K-1, which is quite a feat!
Of course, Ricoh Imaging does have an answer for the consumer market segment: the Theta line. These handy 360° cameras have been bestsellers within a rapidly expanding market. At just $179, who can say no to a Theta SC? The latest Theta V added 4K video support and an extensive API.
Stepping back for a moment, it's evident that Pentax development is quite resource-constrained. Not only is the K-1 II a small update on top of the K-1's base hardware, but the rate at which lenses are being released is much slower than what the competition offers. The focus on full frame has shifted the spotlight— at least at this show— away from the 645 and Q lines. Of course, Pentax users value quality over quantity, but in the absence of drastic changes, it seems that slow and steady image-quality-centric development is what we can expect from Pentax in the short term. This also establishes Pentax's clear niche in the camera market.
But slow development does not mean Ricoh forgot about its customers. In fact, for the first time ever, a Pentax camera hardware upgrade service is being offered that can turn any K-1 into a K-1 II (we confirmed that upgraded K-1's get all the features of the K-1 II). Per the interview, Ricoh is also looking to enhance communication with customers and to expand hands-on storefront presence. Regardless of how quickly any such changes might happen, it's good to know that customer concerns in these areas are being considered. Pentax fans are Ricoh Imaging's core customers, and it looks like the company wants to do its best to deliver what they want. This is especially true in India, where Pentax cameras will continue being sold despite the bankruptcy of Ricoh's copier division there.
Through tweaks to its AF algorithms, the K-1 II will deliver improved tracking for moving subjects and faster general focusing speed. In addition, the upcoming 50mm lens will debut a new ring-type SDM motor for quick, reliable focusing. While these aren't major developments, it's nice to see some incremental improvement in this area. Furthermore, future advanced models might see the incorporation and development of on-sensor PDAF for live view, just like the K-70.
Still image quality remains the core focus of Pentax, and a recent survey we conduced on the forum confirms that the demand for video is relatively low among the Pentax fans who frequent PF. However, there's no denying that the video capabilities within the current Pentax DSLR lineup are becoming increasingly dated. In last year's CP+ interview, Ricoh Imaging representatives hinted that mechanical video stabilization would make a return through a firmware update. This year, they apologized for being unable to do so, citing implementation difficulties following plenty of internal consideration.
Adding 4K video support is one of the few ways in which Pentax video capabilities could be enhanced. We learned that Pentax plans to add 4K support, but also that it would require new hardware (i.e. a new image engine such as PRIME V) in the DSLRs.
GR news has recently been quiet, and the current GR II "pro compact" traces its origins all the way back to 2013. Thus, GR fans are eagerly awaiting a GR model that delivers the latest in imaging innovations. Ricoh Imaging told us that they will "relaunch" the GR web site in both English and Japanese in April. Whether or not this will coincide with a new model is an interesting question!
We hope that these insights have left you with a meaningful look into Pentax's modern product philosophy. We also hope that they dispel fears and rumors of the "imminent doom" of Pentax that tend to circulate the forums in between major announcements. As long as we accept that Pentax won't be delivering the state of the art in areas such as focusing and video, all around Pentax is doing an exceptional job for a brand of its size. Full-frame users can look forward to lots of new lenses in the years to come, while APS-C users will hopefully see a new flagship model soon enough. We know less about future plans in the 645Z department, but surely it's a priority given its popularity. In the mean time, the current lineups are not too shabby— keep calm and shoot on!
As this concludes our CP+ 2018 coverage, we leave you with a quick video showcasing everything else on display at the show:
CP+ 2018 Tour