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11-24-2009, 03:39 AM   #1

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Those were the days - when Pentax had a comprehensive lens lineup

Just browsing old Pentaxia, found this page in an old Pentax brochure:

Why couldn't Pentax keep that kind of line-up alive into the digital era?

Sigh. Just look at all those yummy telephotos and zooms...


11-24-2009, 05:04 AM   #2
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I'm guessing it's because Pentax was a major player back in the old days (big revenue) and not living in a niche like it does now (surfing the red line until taken over by Hoya).
11-24-2009, 05:38 AM   #3
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Youll also notice that primes outnumbered the zooms (and rightfully so!). Today zooms outnumber primes, mainly because their quality has improved greatly across the board and the have a larger appeal (more users). Many zooms today approach 'prime' quality, making it attractive to have one lens for wide angle to normal. I personally appreciate and use primes, but I am not the majority.
11-24-2009, 10:38 AM   #4
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One thing to keep in mind is that they were neither a new company nor released all of these lenses within a year or two of each other, when this list was created. Things seem to be a little more "turn and burn" these days.


11-24-2009, 11:13 AM   #5
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I would guess this brochure is from about 1980 which means it pre-dates the advent of the decent quality point-and-shoot AF rangefinder pocket camera. Camera choices in 1980 consisted of nice SLR kits, Polaroids, Instamatic type pocket cameras, medium to high end rangefinders, and various oddly sized cameras such as 110's. SLR's were the best way to go (other than Leicas), margins were much better, and Pentax could carry this group of lenses.

Don't overlook that fact that since many of us are still shooting lenses from this list Pentax hasn't sold us many new ones.
11-24-2009, 11:26 AM   #6
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You had to have a ton of primes available back then, because no serious photographer used zooms. And therefore, primes also *sold* a ton better than they do now, making it easier to justify keeping them in production.
11-24-2009, 11:28 AM   #7
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Why not use these lenses on your DSLR?
11-24-2009, 03:33 PM   #8
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Back then Pentax also had multiple lenses for sale in the same/similar focal length.
This gave the consumer a choice of a “budget” lens with a slower maximum aperture, a “middle” lens with average speed and a more expensive “professional” fast lens with better optics.

More options, more sales.


11-24-2009, 04:13 PM   #9
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There are similar lists in some of the camera manuals from the era, I've always looked at them and wondered how many of the more unusual lenses were sold. Say the 50mm f4 Macro or the tilt and shift?

Sadly, it just isn't economic for a company to make niche lenses any more.
11-24-2009, 05:02 PM   #10
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The ad is from the early 1980s (notice the single auto-focus zoom made for the ME F body), but before the P and A series cameras.

Yes, there was an incredible lens lineup back then. Even more remarkable is the fact that this extensive bunch was developed over a fairly short of time period (about five years). The interesting thing is that this sort of lineup was typical for all the major players (Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Konica, Contax/Yashica, and Minolta). Even the tier two brands (Ricoh, Mamiya, and such) had more lenses than in the current Pentax line. Note too that all of the 3rd-party labels (Tamron, Vivitar, etc.) also had a ton of models.

Why the huge bounty then and the relative famine now?

I was alive and shopping for camera gear in 1982 and remember the situation well. A few things come to mind:
  • In 1980 a lot of lenses, even major camera brands, were actually made by a small number of makers (Komine, Kino, Tamron, and others) and rebranded to the major player's cosmetics. This was a known practice and often commented on by the photo press at the time. The huge lens lineups actually represented a more limited amount of design and development work.
  • Both the market and the competition were incredibly hot in the early 1980's. It truly was the glory day of the 35mm film SLR. There was a lot of quality product and the prices were quite reasonable. I remember fall of 1982, standing in a line 10 deep at Kits Camera just for a chance to spend a few minutes with a Pentax MX or ME Super followed by another long wait to see the Ricoh XR7 or a nice Minolta. (Bought the Ricoh...wanted the MX) As a result, there was strong incentive to present a comprehensive lineup. Even the smaller players had a full range of accessories and lenses including motorized winders, bellows, data backs, and other nice stuff.
  • Auto focus was still in the future. Lenses are complicated enough as it is. Adding a precision auto focus mechanism into the mix presents a huge challenge from design, development, manufacturing and quality perspectives.
  • Market dominance by moderately-priced super zooms was still in the future. In 1980, zooms had a mixed reputation. Conventional wisdom was that they were expensive and heavy with so-so optical performance. While this was obviously changing (think Vivitar Series 1 and Tamron SP zooms), most buyers were still going for primes as value leaders for price and performance. A strong lineup of high quality prime lenses was essential for a camera maker to look competitive.

This message is much longer than I originally intended. Time to shut up now!


Last edited by stevebrot; 11-24-2009 at 05:16 PM.
11-24-2009, 05:12 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Dangermouse Quote
There are similar lists in some of the camera manuals from the era, I've always looked at them and wondered how many of the more unusual lenses were sold. Say the 50mm f4 Macro or the tilt and shift?

Sadly, it just isn't economic for a company to make niche lenses any more.
Pentax sold a lot of the 50/4 and 100/4 macros for the hobbyist and medical/dental/forensics/scientific market. There are several used at KEH right now. There was also a ready market for bellows and slide copiers. Other items, like the T/S lenses were incredibly expensive and only purchased by a very limited number of professional shooters.

You have a very good point though. Even though high quality cameras seem to be in everybody's hands these days, the relative number of serious shooters seems to be a much smaller proportion of the user base. The two zoom kit with close focus has become the standard and meets the needs (sadly) of 99% of camera purchasers. Why spend a lot of development dollars for a few thousand users worldwide? (Unless, of course, the marketing value of seeing all those white/gray super-teles on the sidelines of major sports events is factored in.)

11-24-2009, 05:34 PM   #12
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For the majority of users the DA zooms are more than capable. I think there are definitely people buying DSLRs as a high quality point and shoot, who might well go on to use more of the capabilities of the camera later. It's always been that way though - look at the MV/MV1/MG.

Shake Reduction means that you can get away with slower shutter speeds than film could handle, so the fact that the zooms can't match the aperture of a prime doesn't matter too much now. I know when I was first testing my Km I took a hand-held shot in near darkness and was amazed when it came out not only recognisable but with almost no blur.

I buy older manual primes as I have specific uses lined up for them, and because I like the fact that they're sharper at wider apertures than the kit lens can manage. They're often physically smaller than the zooms too, which makes the camera less of a handful in crowded locations.

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