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03-28-2020, 10:41 PM - 11 Likes   #1
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Pentax 100 - Relentless Commitment to Image Quality

Last November Ricoh held a series of 100 year events at their Tokyo showroom location focused on Pentax history and giving some insight into how they work. I wrote some reports, but there was one I wrote and didn’t upload due to a kind of quality control mentality. I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in it because it was largely focused on JPEG presets and image processing - quite geeky.

Since a lot of people are stuck at home, I figured I might as well post it now. The title was . . .

Relentless Commitment to Image Quality

The talk was given by Terauchi-san of Smart Vision’s product development department (I didn’t catch his given name). He works on image processing, white balance, noise reduction and pixel shift technology. Interestingly, he was wearing his Pentax workwear while speaking. It seems that they don’t make these anymore and the older staff who have been working there for years hold on to them and wear them daily, while the newer staff don’t wear a uniform. So if you went to their office, you’d be able to see who the Pentax old-timers are.

The first camera he worked on was the K20D and he has had a hand in every camera since. This talk was mainly focused on the custom image presets - how they were developed and what each one is suited to. He was accompanied by another person from sales called Ando-san. He was mainly there to pose the questions and make some comments about his personal use of the cameras.

I do think there is a cultural difference in how users in other countries (at least the ones active on the internet) and Japan think of RAW and JPEG. Of course it is a generalisation, by my sense is that Japanese users are more likely to use the in-camera features and the Pentax provided software to get the results they want. In any case, Ricoh/Pentax clearly sees it as an important part of their job to ensure that the JPEG output from their cameras is as good and configurable as possible. Also, it's worth noting that the Japanese press tends to focus on JPEG when evaluating cameras.

The importance of the K20D

There were some interesting comments about the K10D and the K20D. They realize that the K10D is seen as the more significant camera by the outside world. However, it’s clear that the K20D is seen internally as an immensely important model. It’s just that the changes were on the inside rather than the outside. In particular, this was the camera that introduced the sophisticated Custom Image function for JPEG shooters.

The K20D was the first Pentax DSLR I had, so I was not aware that the cameras before that lacked Custom Image. Looking back, the catalogue did make quite a big deal of it on p.13-14.
http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/japan/products/catalog/pdf/k20d.pdf

The development cycle
Terauchi-san shared some of the process that they use to develop the colour profiles for each of their cameras. They use a process of setting adjusting the parameters, shooting samples, evaluating images and going back to tweak the parameters. This cycle repeats until they get it right. What counts as ‘right’ is an image description that matches the Pentax identity. He didn't say how long this takes for a model. It would seem to be at least several months, but usually less than a year.

I say “usually” because he mentioned the K-1 was an exceptional case. Delays in development gave them a chance to do the testing process over the period of a whole year, taking in all seasons. He seemed to be especially proud of that.

Characteristics of the different profiles
The main part of the presentation was an explanation of the different presets and how to use them. It was nicely illustrated with his own examples. Incidentally, all of the engineers and even sales people I have met at Ricoh/Pentax are keen photographers themselves and often show their own photos.

I won’t go through all of this, but there were some interesting cases he showed when custom image setting can produce great results, such as using cooler temperature to make running water look more fresh, and using the “miyabi” custom image setting to bring out colours in a sunset.

I had always wondered about the difference between the natural and flat profile. He explained that natural is designed to still contain the Pentax signature image character, whereas flat does not. He likened it to lightly seasoned or completely unseasoned food.

Regarding the settings, a lot of the content is explained on this page.
Give further expression with PENTAX "Custom Image" | RICOH IMAGING

Some more advice about using settings (including JPEG parameters) is on this page, which seems to be new.
When you are lost, the answer might be there on your camera screen | PENTAX official

Usability
He didn’t talk at length about this, but it seems that the engineers and designers are constantly struggling with the issue of how much to expose the parameters for quick setting. It's a balance of allowing maximum customization and not slowing down or confusing users with too much complexity. This results in some of the functions being quite well hidden in the menus. They talked about settings I didn’t know existed because I had not gone that deep into the menus. I got the impression the interface for JPEG image settings is being worked on for future cameras, but it was just a passing comment.

Noise reduction
The main point discussed here was their policy of not cleaning up the image so much that detail is lost. The new part for me was how much they focus on the impact of noise reduction on bokeh. He showed samples of what aggressive noise reduction does to bokeh in an image of a plant and they go to great lengths to ensure that the noise reduction built into the cameras does not do that. He commented on how ridiculous it is to invest in lenses with great bokeh and then destroy it with crude noise reduction, showing us an example of an image retaining some noise but nice bokeh. Then he brought the image back out to remind us how pointless it is to fuss about residual pixel-level noise in such large files.

Pixel shift
Not much was said about this, but he explained how it works. This was nothing you can’t see from existing material. He explained that they refused to call it a “high resolution” mode, because they felt it was misleading, and that led them to the term “Real Resolution”. He showed a very convincing image comparison showing the effectiveness of motion correction working on running water.

In conclusion
So that was what I got from the event. One thought that occurred to me was what they said about the K-1. It’s clear that when a product is delayed, they don’t just sit there waiting for the delay to be solved, but their perfectionist mentality kicks in and they work on refining the details to make it as good as possible. It’s worth remembering as we wait for the new APS-C camera to be released. What we eventually get will probably be better as a result of waiting.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned some other events that I covered before. Here are the links to those threads if you’re interested.

About the FA Limiteds
The FA Limited Development Story (also a little DA Limited) - PentaxForums.com

About Pentax history in the 80s-90s
Pentax 100 - Little-known information about brand history - PentaxForums.com

Talk by the designer TKO
Pentax 100 - Talk by the designer TKO - PentaxForums.com

I hope everyone stuck at hope stays safe and finds some ways to not to fixate on the public health situation all the time.

03-28-2020, 11:00 PM   #2
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thanks for sharing
03-28-2020, 11:10 PM   #3
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Interesting observation about the cultural differences. I would never give jpeg a second thought; I doubt I've ever shot a jpeg with my K1. So it is very interesting to hear just how seriously they take it at Pentax. Maybe I should regard it with more respect, ... though that doesn't make me actually want to use it.
03-28-2020, 11:23 PM   #4
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Thanks ag asin, JPT, for being our valued war correspondent!

03-29-2020, 02:42 AM   #5
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Would have been a shame if you hadn't shared it. This was quite insightful.

Loved that bit about the K-1 engineers using delays for actually tweaking the details and aiming for perfection. If work on the K-new is similar, then the current delays - despite all the suffering and damage - could have a positive side effect. Bet that new model will be a real kicker.
03-29-2020, 02:57 AM   #6
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A fair bit of the recent content on the Ricoh website emphasize the custom image functions. Takumichi Seo features in a lot of different places on the website, always mentioning in camera colour tweaking. They also make sure to specify the custom image settings in most of their image galleries. It seems almost none are developed by third party raw software.

About noise reduction and bokeh. I find that sharpening is also a very difficult task when wanting to preserve the feel of the bokeh.
03-29-2020, 06:09 AM   #7
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Interesting write up. I seldom use jpeg recording, but good to know more about it.Thanks for posting.
03-29-2020, 06:21 AM - 2 Likes   #8
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This reminds me of a thread I posted comparing JPEG and raw files in a sunset. It took me 45 minutes of PP to exceed the jpeg. There were some surprises. The Pentax jpeg engine does some things my PP software, Pixelmator and Aperture don't do. Custom white balances and shadow detail reproduction in small areas of the photograph but not globally applied. There was detail that was just really hard to match while maintaining the high end of the sunset. So it doesn't surprise me to hear this at all. It would appear that the internal jpeg engine probably out performs my own work on 90% of the images taken.


Last edited by normhead; 03-29-2020 at 09:27 AM.
03-29-2020, 07:08 AM   #9
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I am the proud owner of both the K10D and the K20D. Although as a rule I shoot RAW with each, in a situation where I want to record a sequence of images as rapidly as possible, I switch to JPEG, and lower the number of pixels and the quality slightly, in order to get as many images as the buffer can process, working on the principle that a bad photo may be salvageable, as opposed to one that never got taken !
03-29-2020, 12:35 PM   #10
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Thank you, JPT. This has been insightful and helpful.
03-29-2020, 12:50 PM   #11
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@ JPT Thank you for this post. I shoot jpeg and process in camera much much more often than I shoot
RAW and PP, so I‘m motivated to dig deeper into the processing engine.

This concluding thought, “It’s worth remembering as we wait for the new APS-C camera to be released. What we eventually get will probably be better as a result of waiting, is particularly insightful.
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