Pentax is developing new hand-wound film cameras

Dear Pentax: Please Bring Back The Beast 6x7

By cjfeola in Pentax Announcements on Apr 28, 2023

Pentax is developing four new hand-wound film cameras as part of its Film Project, and released a series of Film Project videos outlining its vision.

The move is not only a nod to the glory days when Pentax dominated the 35mm film Single Lens Reflex market with the Spotmatic; it also seeks to take advantage of the enormous resurgence in film photography. Indeed, the most successful current photography company is Fujifilm; not for its retro APS-C or high-powered medium format digital, but because of its Instax instant cameras. And Lomography has just celebrated its 20th anniversary selling everything film from Diana Fs and Holgas to instant cameras and modern versions of vintage lenses.

In an online questionnaire that Ricoh Imaging/PENTAX conducted with some 3,000 users in Japan, approximately 20 percent of camera users owned film cameras, not including disposable or instant cameras.

At the same time, few manufacturers today build and sell new film cameras. Some of film camera users expressed concerns about the aftercare service for used film cameras. Ricoh Imaging is prioritizing supporting film camera fans so they can enjoy film photography without worries, from film camera development, production, and sales to aftercare.

Ricoh Imaging/Pentax has remained coy on the exact details, beyond saying they are considering the release four new film models: two compacts, and two more advanced models. But they have continued to give interviews and release videos about the Film Camera Project.

A film camera project in digital everything everywhere everywhen 2023 may sound crazy, and it is: Crazy brilliant. Ricoh/Pentax has set sale for the blue ocean.

Blue Ocean Strategy is a business approach made famous by the Japanese company Nintendo. It’s named for the way the water turns red with blood during a shark feeding frenzy. The blood means that sharks have definitely found fish to eat. But unless you’re a giant shark yourself, you’ll have difficulty fighting your way to the food; and you may end up as someone else’s meal.

Instead, head away from the red water and out into the blue ocean. You’ll have to work to find dinner, but once you do, you’ll have it to yourself.

Nintendo was a distant third in consoles behind the Sony Playstation and the Microsoft Xbox, which were in a race to provide gamers the most spectacular graphics. Nintendo executives realized they simply could not compete.

So they didn’t even try. Instead, they focused on changing the way the gamers played, and shipped the Nintendo Wii with its motion controllers. The Wii still had crappy graphics, but it outsold the Playstation and Xbox... combined.

There’s a pretty good game plan for this kind of blue ocean strategic response when your mechanical technology is eclipsed by solid state electronics. The Swiss mechanical watch industry was devastated by the advent of the quartz watch, which was orders of magnitude more accurate at a fraction of the cost. Company after company collapsed. Then the Swiss went retro. Not only did the remaining companies survive and thrive, a lot of the dead ones were resurrected to meet the demand.

Going retro means you don’t compete on technology. Consider Rolex: the classic Datejust, introduced in 1945, today sells new for between $5,000 and $10,000 for a basic steel model which is accurate to +/- 2 seconds a day. Models featuring gold, silver and diamonds run up into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Bullova, meanwhile, offers a comparable quartz model called the Precisionist. Well named, it is accurate to +/- 2 seconds a year. It costs $316.

People don’t buy Rolexes for their accuracy. And there’s a waiting list for them, while you can order a Precisionist online and have it shipped to you overnight.

Now you might think that Leica has adopted the Rolex position, and you’d be right. So where does that leave Pentax? It looks like Pentax is modeling itself after Omega, and rightly so.

Like Pentax, Omega made its name as a precision instrument; famously, the Omega Speedmaster is the only watch approved by NASA for moon landings. (There was a Bulova on the moon, but it wasn’t official; there were Lunar Shenanigans.)  Despite the fact that the last moon landing took place a half-century ago, Speedmasters start at $5,000 and there are a plethora of special editions that go for much, much more.

Indeed, the Speedmaster is so popular that it has even rescued Swatch. Swatch quartz timepieces were wildly popular, but those sales collapsed a decade ago when everyone started carrying smartphones. Swatch and Omega, owned by the same conglomerate, launched a collaboration last year called the Omega/Swatch MoonSwatch. It was so hot that there were riots at the introduction as Swatch boutiques ran out while lines still stretched around the block. Meanwhile, sales of the $5,000 and up original Omega Moonwatch are up 50 percent, and would be even higher if not for supply problems limiting production.

The Omega Speedmaster "Moonwatch" and riot-causing MoonSwatch

The Omega Speedmaster "Moon Watch" and the riot-causing MoonSwatch (Omega Press Photo)  

And that original is only the start; Omega releases a constant stream of special editions that sell for much more. For example, you could have ordered the Snoopy edition for around $9,000 when it came out in 2020. If you are still waiting for delivery - yes, there are waiting lists that stretch out for years - you have to pay the current price, which has broken $10,000. And if you cannot wait? You can buy Snoopy editions on eBay. For $24,000.

This Omega playbook looks a lot like Ricoh/Pentax’s turn away from the red water and out into the blue ocean.  Ricoh/Pentax has stuck to dSLRs, while Nikon and Canon have abandoned them for mirrorless.

Like Omega, Ricoh/Pentax has issued a series of GRIII special editions: the GR IIIx, the Street Edition, the Diary Edition…It has just released a Monochrome special edition of the K-3 III, and then a Matte Black special edition of the special edition. These are already so popular that they’ve had to shut down preorders – twice – in Japan, which has strict regulations on presales.

Leica gave Pentax a helping hand with both of these projects. A few hours after Pentax announced the $2,199 K-3 III Monochrome, Leica rolled out the M11 Monochrom. Leica being Leica, it’s … $9,195. Leica also announced an accompanying lens. The new Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is available in silver for $4,795, or in a black anodized version for $4,495.

Around the time Pentax announced the Film Project, Leica released an updated M6 35mm rangefinder. Prices were quite…Leica’ish: $5,295 for the M6 body, and $3,895 for the newly reintroduced King of Bokeh, the Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4.

Leica’s "new" M6 is basically a newly manufactured old M6. No autofocus; use the rangefinder, please. No autoexposure.

So what should Pentax do? If you’re going to go retro, then go all the way: Bring back the K1000.

The K1000 was the staple of photography schools and millions of newbie photographers. It was simple, straightforward and built like a tank. And it was beautiful.

K1000 Special EditionPentax K-1000 Special Edition

Why not Pentax’s classic pro cameras, the MX and the LX? (Full Feola disclosure: when I worked as a photojournalist an MX and two LXs were my work cameras.) The MX is a good choice: it’s a small mechanical pro-level camera. The LX was a wonder in its day, with off-the-film flash metering, interchangeable focusing screens and dual mechanical and electronic shutters.

But there’s a reason Leica brought back the M6, and not one of its R series of advanced film SLRs. And Pentax should do the same.

So, Pentax, go with the K1000 for your first “advanced” film camera. Don’t mess around with TTL flash, auto focus or the like. People who want more tech will go digital; you cannot win that way.

And for your second advanced camera? Please, Pentax, Pretty Please: Bring back The Beast.

Big, Small, Miniscule: Auto 100 Super with 70mm; 6x7 with 45mm; MX with 20mmBig, small, smallest: the Auto 100 Super, the 6x7, and the MX

The Pentax 67 was the ultimate SLR. Imagine a K1000 the size of your head. Image an SLR so large that the number one accessory was an offset giant wooden handle. (Full Feola disclosure: I have a 67 system, and when I’m feeling filmish, that’s the camera I grab.)

But the balance! It’s a hand-holdable camera that takes enormous 6-centimeter by 7-centimeter negatives. That’s 3,752 sq. mm; for comparison, full-frame digital and 35mm film are less than a quarter of that, covering 864 sq. mm

The 67 debuted in 1965 and was made with some small improvements through 2009, when it was discontinued. Film revivalists appreciate them and are putting up the cash. Good condition 67s are selling for $2000 to $4000 on eBay.

Go all in, Pentax. Photography’s film past isn’t dead. It isn’t even passed!

Bring back The Beast!

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