Why buy Pentax in 2016?
We offer ten reasons in favor and five against
By johnhilvert in Articles and Tips on Feb 4, 2016
What can you say when a colleague or friend asks you why you opted for Pentax?
The market for interchangeable lens devices has been contracting over the last few years. According to the most recent industry data the decline in shipments slowed but it is still down by 5% on last year.
As the niche/under-dog brand, can Pentax continue to prosper against such bearish developments?
While Pentax would rank among the top five brands offering interchangeable lens, along with Canon, Nikon, Sony and perhaps, Olympus, a non-Pentax novice deserves a considered case. Now read on....
When Pentax ruled: 1960s to 1980s
At one time a Pentax-branded camera was the single lens reflex 35mm camera to have for the student, all the way to the professional. It featured in movies of the 60s such as The Lost World – see actor David Hedison clutching a Pentax H2 while trekking through the cheesy prehistoric monster movie.
Pentax was also favoured by the Beatles.
Great photographers - English shooter, David Bailey opted for the Spotmatic over the Hassleblad when doing his legendary series on Jean Shrimpton in the sixties. If you were a consumer in the 60s and 70s, you would think of Pentax first.
Nikon was then seen as upmarket and expensive. The Canon equivalent (Pellix) was struggling in the market place due to design flaws.
But Pentax lost momentum in late 1970’s, early 1980’s. Nikon and Canon started heavily investing in marketing, sponsorships, and new tech such as auto-focus. Up to the 90s Pentax delivered great cameras such as the LX. But its initial transition to digital was difficult. Many quality makes such as Minolta, Konica, Rollei, and Mamiya went out of business or were purchased.
Rebirth with Ricoh?
The only place Ricoh/Pentax is now the absolute king lies with the medium format. The 645Z owns that category in its price range. With Ricoh’s commitment to full frame and its broader line of manufacturing, Pentax may be set for a new birth.
Moreover Pentax has been a technology and value leader with its lens range, awesome designs and ensuring compatibility for its K-mounts for many years. Flagship DSLR bodies have enjoyed class-leading ergonomics and still image quality.
Pentax had its share of missteps along the way. But its users tend to stick with it because it has character, soul and a culture that often defies market expectations. Its lenses are often used as an upgrade to up and comers such as Sony’s mirrorless series. Its offering of variable colors has intrigued the industry and charmed if not always won consumers.
This culture has seen the emergence of its mavens embrace the title of Pentaxian. There are also "Nikonians" and "Canonites" but those tags fail to generate the panache of a Pentaxian. It has spawned community forums such as PentaxForums.com which has almost 63,000 members, numbers that Nikon, Canon & Sony can only dream of.
PentaxForums.com is truly an international community with members dispersed throughout the world. Europe is the best-represented continent and accounts for over 40% of all visitors. If we break things down by country, the top five are: US (31%), UK (8%), Canada (7%), Germany (5%), Australia (4%). Australian members, I am proud to say, are ranked as most engaged and spend an average of 7.5 minutes on the forum per visit.
So what are the most compelling features of a Pentax device to engage a non-user you ask? What might be its unique selling propositions? This issue was canvassed in a recent thread and is summarised below.
Top 10 reasons to buy Pentax
- Built-In Shake Reduction (SR) in all current DSLR models: This photographer-friendly approach allows Pentax users to operate at lower shutter speeds that would normally require a tripod. SR works with all lenses, even manual ones. This overcomes other manufacturers' lack of optically-stabilized primes.
- Weather Resistance (WR) built into most bodies and many lenses: This makes Pentax a go-almost-anywhere-in-any-climate device. Note that weather sealing is not the same as waterproofing. But when it rains or snows, a Pentax user with a WR rig can keep shooting. Few other manufacturers have budget-friendly WR lenses, let alone kit lenses.
- Bright pentaprism optical viewfinders – In keeping wits its namesake, all current and future Pentax DSLR cameras offer bright pentaprism with 100% field coverage. Many entry-level offerings from other manufacturers have smaller pentamirror viewfinders with less coverage.
- The APS-C lens lineup is extensive. In particular, the DA limited range are regarded with some awe for its image quality, compactness, and classic metal build quality. Classic prime lenses from the film era supplement this growing range. Browse current Pentax lenses
- The ergonomics of a Pentax, its body layout feels intuitive in ways that are less apparent with other cameras. Dual control wheels incorporated in many models can get users up and running faster than other brands. Hyper Program allows you to lock-in shutter speed and aperture settings without having to change shooting modes.
- Superb image quality and advanced functionality is a given, even with entry-level Pentax models. Once you try out ability to automatically vary ISO without changing the shutter and aperture combination (the TAv mode), you'll see what makes a Pentax device smarter and friendlier. The functionality of advanced bracketing and custom user modes are the gateways to growing with a Pentax camera.
- More bang for buck – One upside for Pentax’s being less popular is that it needs to price its offerings more aggressively than the Canon/Nikon brands. Pentax lens prices (at least in the US and Japan) are extremely competitive. The entry-level K-50 has been selling for under $299 for half a year, while the advanced Pentax K-3 is only about twice that.
- Build quality – One downside with the dearth of Pentax devices in retail outlets is that users can’t feel the sheer weight and substance of holding a Pentax device. Many other cameras at a similar price range can feel toy-light and plastic in comparison. No other manufacturer currently offers a weather-sealed entry-level DSLR body such as the Pentax K-50.
- Backward K-mount lens compatibility – A fundamental design strategy has seen Pentax lenses increase in value because they will usually be supported in the next body revision. This has spawned a strong second-hand market in K-mount and even M42 lenses. Lenses last longer than their camera bodies. Pentax's iconic “green button” supports pre-A series k-mounts as well.
- Soul – Pentax devices dare to be different from mainstream brands. In not following the pack Pentax devices can be tarred as eccentric by non-Pentax users. But thay also can establish a quiet leadership in areas that many enthusiasts have come to love.
Five reasons to demur
However to maintain your relationship with colleagues and friends, it’s wise to concede that Pentax is less capable in the following areas:
- Auto-Focus is good rather than great. For many sports or news photographers, Pentax’s support for fast auto-focusing can be a let-down. It is something most Pentax users get accustomed to, even as the auto-focus technology continues to improve in both bodies and lenses.
- 3rd-party lens and accessory support can be challenging. While the Pentax system and environment is extensive, it is not as deep or as competitive in the third party field as that servicing Canon and Nikon. If your colleague has special accessory or lens requirements, it’s wise to check there are no deal-breakers from the outset.
- Flash support is good but may not be as easy to set-up as the leading brands. Most Pentax users can adapt their setup but many users complain it can still be tough to get started. Flash sync speed is limited to 1/180s.
- Video support is improving, but if your colleagues are looking for professional documentary results, they may find Pentax’s approach limiting in areas such as file compression and focusing.
- Fewer places to try a Pentax locally. The dearth of Pentax devices at your local camera store can ring alarm bells for users used to checking and handling the latest Nikon, Canon or Sony. A broader concern is whether Ricoh is adequately marketing Pentax and how adequate is its after-sales support. But there is a premium to be paid by the user for stocking camera devices and your colleague will have to content himself with online reviews on its reliability and features or playing with your kit instead.
At the end of the day, there's a camera out there for everyone. Pentax products have many unique strengths which are oftentimes overlooked or simply ignored due to lack of popularity. We hope that this article helped you discover some of those hidden strengths!