Pentax Product Updates for CP+ 2020

Three new lenses and a flagship APS-C DSLR coming soon

By PF Staff in Trade Shows on May 15, 2020
Pentax Product Updates for CP+ 2020

Today, Ricoh Imaging premiered a Youtube video showcasing three new Pentax lenses as well as the upcoming APS-C flagship DSLR— products that would likely have appeared at the CP+ 2020 trade show two months ago had it not been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Two of the lenses were introduced for the very first time in this video and presented by members of the Pentax marketing/planning teams whom we had met in prior years during our CP+ and Photokina Pentax interviews (Hiraku Kawauchi, Tetsuya Iwasaki, and Shigeru Wakashiro).

The video, formatted as a web conference, struck a highly positive tone with great enthusiasm from the presenters.  Moreover, details such as product specifications and anticipated delivery dates were communicated with a far greater degree of transparency than in traditional press releases or interviews.  Despite the coronavirus and troubles within the broader camera market, Pentax appeared committed to delivering high-quality DSLR products and is focusing on enhancing the photographer's traditional shooting experience.  In fact, the pandemic seems to have had a minimal impact on Pentax's product planning and release schedules.

The Products at a Glance

Below is a summary of the products discussed in the video.  The 21mm and 16-50mm lenses, which made their debut today, had long been requested by the PF community through feedback over the past several years.

  • D FA 21mm Limited ED DC WR (tentative name)
    A premium, compact wide-angle lens for full-frame, slated for launch in 2021
  • DA* 16-50mm 16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW (tentative name)
    An overhauled, high-performance walkaround lens for APS-C, slated for launch in early 2021
  • D FA* 85mm F1.4 ED SDM AW
    An ultra-high-performance full-frame portrait lens, slated for launch in 2020
  • New K-mount flagship DSLR
    A new APS-C camera with the latest tech and viewfinder design, slated for launch in late 2020

Now, let's take a deep dive into each product by reviewing and analyzing what we learned from the video.

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D FA 21mm Limited ED DC WR

Pentax's premium Limited lens series has attained an almost legendary status: through compact lenses with non-traditional focal lengths, compact all-metal barrels, and distinctive image rendering, these lenses deliver something truly unique to Pentax.

Like other Limited lenses, the new D FA 21mm Limited will be available in both black and silver.  Despite being a ultra-wide-angle full-frame lens, it remains compact and will be about the same size as the existing FA 31mm F1.8 Limited.  What we like about this lens is that it bolsters the existing lineup of FA Limiteds rather than serving as a replacement.

Moreover, this will be the first Limited prime lens to include weather sealing as well as a silent DC motor.  To see both of these features in a compact lens is no small feat!

When asked about the optical characteristics of the lens, Iwasaki said that it would deliver a true-to-life sense of depth (typical of Limited lenses) and that it has been designed with the quality of the final image in mind.  The goal of these lenses is to deliver years, or even decades, of enjoyment.

The maximum aperture has not yet been announced, but based on the markings on the lens, it appears to be at or below F4.  In traditional Limited fashion, we suspect that the final number may be a non-standard value, such as F3.6 for example.

The new 21mm Limited is slated for launch in 2021.  We expect to see it late in the year, after the DA* 16-50mm.

HD Pentax-DA * 16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW

When it was first launched in 2007, the SMC Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 propelled the Pentax K-mount into the modern era, with features such as dust and moisture resistance, quick-shift, silent focusing, and the Super Protect front element coating replacing aging film-era designs.  The DA* 16-50mm quickly became the go-to everyday lens for users of Pentax flagship DSLRs.

As it aged, however, the 16-50mm lens showed some flaws: unlike later autofocus motors, the first-generation SDM motors were prone to failure.  Many users therefore remained unconvinced that this technology was a proper replacement for the traditional screwdrive.  The 16-50mm lens also struggled to definitively pull ahead of its Sigma and Tamron rivals when it came to image quality.

After more than a decade, calls for a replacement started growing louder and louder— especially from users of the latest 24-megapixel Pentax APS-C bodies, such as the KP.  The time has finally come: with the HD Pentax-DA* 16-50mm, Pentax looks to be giving this walkaround lens a much needed overhaul.  Rather than just updating the old optical formula with a new focus motor, however, the lens has been completely redesigned.

Iwasaki states that a hallmark of this lens is the fact that the whole optical construction has been redesigned to support the pulse motor (PLM)—Pentax fastest type of AF—which only works with lightweight optical groups.  This is no small feat in a wide-aperture lens, and we are eager to experience not only the blazing AF speed, but also the improved image quality promised by this lens (the only other lens with PLM technology is the DA 55-300mm F4.5-6.3, which focuses almost instantly, but is quite a bit lighter).

The HD DA* 16-50mm is packed with the latest lens technologies, including the HD coating and fully-electronic KAF4 mount.  This makes it an excellent companion to the recently-released DA* 11-18mm ultra-wide zoom.

Kawauchi pointed out that it would make a lot of sense for this lens to debut together with the new Pentax APS-C DSLR. Iwasaki replied by saying that efforts would be made to have this lens out a close to the DSLR's launch as possible: ideally in the first half of 2021, just after the camera makes its debut.

D FA* 85mm F1.4 ED SDM AW

An updated full-frame 85mm has been roadmapped ever since the launch of the Pentax K-1.  Pentax finally officially announced most of the specifications of this lens back in March 2020.

During today's video, Iwasaki talked about just how much effort went into making sure that this lens delivered the absolute highest level of image quality so that it would enable consistent results not only with today's DSLRs, but also with cameras of tomorrow.  This design goal is similar to that of the DA* 50mm F1.4 and D FA* 70-200mm F2.8 new-generation star lenses.

Three super extra-low dispersion (ED) glass elements are used to reduce purple fringing similar to what would be possible with fluorite.  When combined with the rest of the new optical design, which makes the lens quite a bit larger than it film-era counterparts, the lens promises to deliver incredible sharpness, but without compromising on bokeh.

As the prototype appears to have been finalized, the coronavirus will not delay the launch of this lens, which remains scheduled for summer 2020.  We were told to expect an official announcement very soon.

New Pentax Flagship APS-C DSLR

Rumors about a successor to the Pentax K-3 II have now been circulating for years, and are second only to the rumors of a Pentax full-frame prior to the launch of the K-1.

Finally, last September, Ricoh unveiled the new (and still unnamed) Pentax APS-C flagship. Today, we got to learn more about it.

As with the K-7, K-5, and K-3 before it, this camera is designed to deliver top-grade performance in a small body.  Yet, Pentax remains committed to the DSLR shooting experience rather than mirrorless: to that end, this camera has gotten something truly unique when it comes to its viewfinder. 

The new flagship's viewfinder magnification will be a whopping 1.05x, which will make the viewfinder image appear just as large as that of the full-frame K-1, which has a 0.70x magnification (this is an increase from 0.95x on the K-3).  Wakashiro said that tremendous engineering effort when into making this possible, as the entire viewfinder design had to be re-done. In addition, an eye sensor will dim the rear LCD, and the viewfinder eyepiece now protrudes by an extra 3mm to make using it more comfortable.

While these viewfinder improvements may not be the high-tech hybrid viewfinder or eye-tracking AF features that have been the subject of speculation, they allow Pentax to deliver a traditional shooting experience that no other manufacturer is currently focusing on.

Speaking of technology, although Wakashiro did not elaborate on the exact specifications, he did state the the camera would bring enhanced burst shooting and tracking performance, and that users should have "high expectations".

We speculate that considerable attention was given to improving autofocus, not only because of extensive user feedback, but because the new camera now has a dedicated focus point selection joystick (rather than relying on the 4-way controller to double for this role).

In the video, a significant amount of time was spent discussing the prism design of the new camera, which pays tribute to legacy film SLRs while sporting a slightly more streamlined look than the K-1 (the first DSLR to feature this design).

Finally, we learned that the new camera will have an available battery grip, with the corresponding new control layout and a custom-tailored ergonomic design.

The camera is still scheduled for a 2020 launch, although Pentax admits that there are some coronavirus-related risk factors in the supply chain that could affect the timeline.  However, all efforts will be made to stick to the 2020 launch.

Conclusion

In a very welcome move, many of the new design concepts and products are very much in line with recent requests and concerns of Pentax fans.  The presenters stated that Pentax's efforts will primary focus on the full-frame lineup, though given these upcoming premium lenses, the next product releases may be lighter or more affordable lens options. 

Prior to the launch of the new APS-C flagship and the new lenses, more details will be posted on the Pentax website and through social media, so please stay tuned!

Watch the Video Presentation

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