Is the Pentax Full Frame Just Around the Corner?

What's in store for 2015

By PF Staff in Photokina 2014 on Sep 23, 2014
Is the Pentax Full Frame Just Around the Corner?

The two big prototype lenses that were on display at Photokina as well as various interviews and discussions with Ricoh Imaging representatives have reignited a considerable amount of Internet buzz about the possibility of a Pentax full frame DSLR.  In fact, some discussions in our Pentax News & Rumors and Pentax Full Frame forums cite rumors claiming we might see a FF as early as CP+ 2015— in just 5 months.

To be clear, it seems that the majority of these claims are based on overzealous or erroneous interpretations of things that various official sources have stated.  History repeats itself and this is no exception; if you look back to our CP+ 2013 interview, you'll notice that Pentax/Ricoh representatives had "confirmed" the development of a full frame just as they did in our Photokina 2014 interview.  These statements say just as little about the actual state of affairs as a recent Facebook post by Ricoh Imaging France claiming that a Pentax full frame is development at this moment.

The same goes for the "wide aperture telephoto lens" prototype pictured above.  The physical size of the lens as well as the zoom range suggested by the K-mount lens roadmap (70-200mm) do hint at the fact that it's a full-frame lens.  But this is mere speculation.  The lens is just a prototype, after all, and its appearance is subject to change.  Pentax could just be using a 645 lens barrel they had lying around as a mock-up.  The large size could also be attributed to an aperture faster than F2.8 (unlikely) or built-in stabilization, but again, that's pure speculation.  We won't know until the lenses are actually announced, which could be at CP+ 2015 or later.

Back in 2012, we were all thinking that the full frame would be out by Photokina 2014, but it isn't! This rumor cycle is bound to continue until the full frame is either actually released, or officially abandoned.  In other words, trying to draw conclusions based on word of mouth and misinterpretations isn't going to get us anywhere.

With that said, there are three reasons why we think that a Pentax full frame camera is just around the corner.  None of these reasons are related to the rumors that have been circulating over the course of the past week.  Read on to learn more!

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1. The full frame market is growing

You don't have to wait until question 19 of our Photokina interview to see that this is evident.  Full-frame sensors deliver the best available still image quality without forcing camera bodies to grow beyond form factors friendly for (or tolerable by) consumers.  In the past, production costs for full frame sensors have made them nothing short of a luxury, but that production overhead is getting smaller and smaller, and a larger variety of sensor resolutions is becoming available.  Thus, the average price of full-frame cameras has been dropping steadily and more and more "enthusiast" models are hitting the market.  The increased availability and lower price of such cameras will inevitably meet the demand set forth by users who want nothing short of the best picture quality that money can buy, within reason.  Some of those users could even be people with nothing more than a smartphone who are considering buying their first "real" camera.

We can look at this from another angle: when full frame DSLRs first hit the market, they were exclusively targeted at professional users and thus priced accordingly.  Today, you can pick up a new FF DSLR for just a few hundred dollars more than a high-end APS-C DSLR.  Thus, it wouldn't be crazy to predict that sooner rather than later, FF cameras will find a place within upper entry-level camera lineups, whether it be in a DSLR form factor or otherwise.  As improving technology makes larger formats more manageable, smaller formats might then be shifted to focus only on compactness or cosmetic appeal.

In any case, we diverge.  Many arguments can be made both for and against full frame cameras, and that's beside the point.  The point is that the FF market is growing, and this is a market that Pentax could capitalize on if the company were to enter it with the right kind of product.  Other camera manufacturers (Nikon and especially Sony) are also taking advantage of the current state of the FF market.

2. Pentax (now Ricoh Imaging) is finally recovering from Hoya's mess

When Ricoh bought Pentax Imaging back in 2011, the state of Pentax as a company was rather miserable.  As consumers, we might not be able to fully appreciate the positive changes that the Ricoh acquisition (and later merger) have brought, but it's fairly evident if you look closely.  Not only has the company's product lineup matured, but based on publicly-available data as well as conversations with company representatives, we now also know that Ricoh Imaging has turned things around and has been making money two years in a row.  This is rather impressive given the declining state of the camera market as a whole, and the positive attitude was echoed by many of the people we talked to at Photokina.  By the end Hoya's ownership of Pentax, camera development had slowed and profits were tumbling.  This led to few new announcements from Q4 2010 until Q3 2012.  Things have sinced changed for the better!

In any case, the healthier state of the company means that more resources can be allocated toward R&D, production, and openings in the market.  Thus, it is now more likely than ever that the launch of a Pentax full frame camera is seriously being considered by Ricoh.

3. There's plenty of interest

Again, you don't have to be a camera market expect to observe that many current Pentax users would buy a Pentax full frame in a heartbeat.  Did you know that the words "full frame" have made it into the comments section of every major Pentax product announcement (645Z, K-3 Prestige, K-S1, Q-S1) that we've posted so far this year? Check out the news section and our Facebook page if you don't believe us!

When the Pentax K-3 was launched, the response to it was tremendous, and the cameras sold like hotcakes.  Similarly, the demand for the 645Z by enthusiasts is currently exceeding the initial supply.  What if Pentax launched something considerably better than the K-3 but also considerably cheaper than the 645Z?  It would sell out too.  If Pentax's full frame offering could enjoy the same advantages as current K-mount lineup, it would probably attract even more new customers, as well as customers who have used Pentax in the past.

The Bottom Line

If a Pentax (or Ricoh) full frame digital camera were to be launched, it won't be because somebody at Ricoh Imaging said we'll see one, and it certainly won't be revealed ahead of time.  Such a camera will be launched if and when it makes sense for the company, and once sufficient demand is gauged.

The recent rumors have brought about a considerable amount of excitement, and we think that is great.  But the real excitement should stem from the fact that the future looks very bright for Ricoh Imaging.

We welcome your thoughts, comments, predictions, and rants below as well as in our Full Frame forum.

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