Pentax hasn't been idle in 2012, and just before the opening of Photokina, it refreshed its popular K-5 DSLR, releasing two new models, the K-5 II and the K-5 IIS, which lacks an anti-aliasing filter, for greater detail resolution. Barnaby Britton caught up with John Carlson, Sr. Manager of Sales & Marketing at Pentax Imaging USA, and asked him about the new DSLRs, the K-01, and the evolution of the Q. 


John, Pentax has just released new new models, why should someone choose Pentax over other brands?

The weather sealing, the image quality, they're the obvious ones, but then there's the heritage of the K-mount, which has been around for almost 30 years. So there's a huge legacy of lenses, whether people own them already or whether they pick them up on Ebay, they can use the lenses on any of our current DSLR bodies, and even the K-01. Or on the Q, with the new adapter. This is a huge advantage that most companies don't have. 

What are your biggest challenges in the enthusiast DSLR space, at the moment?

It's really that Pentax has a smaller market share, so we have a smaller voice and while we do have great products it's not as well-known. We've got to depend more on the fact that we have great products rather than just having a well-known name. So that's a big challenge, but overall, you look at the feature set [of the K5 II/S] and it's a very good offering.

What are your DSLR customers asking for?

They are asking for more lenses, I think also one thing that we've addressed in the K5 II/S compared to the K5 is we've added an improved autofocus system, which people have been asking for for years, saying that it's not good enough in certain situations. We made an effort with the K-5 II to make it perform in those conditions, especially focus in low light.

The K-5 IIs and the K-5 II are the two major new models at the stand this year. Both offer an upgraded AF-system (SAFOX X) that works in very low light levels. The 's' version comes without an anti-aliasing filter.

How will you be addressing the demands of your customers in the future?

I think Ricoh will probably invest a lot in the imaging side of Pentax and Ricoh as we work together, and I think they have a lot of important knowledge that they can bring to Pentax, whether that's in lenses, the cameras themselves, or the output, or connectivity. Ricoh brings a lot to Pentax.

How is the relationship with Ricoh working at the moment?

Pretty great. I think we're still in the phase of integrating the two companies, and we haven't yet seen the impact of what they have to offer yet, so I think we'll start to see that in the coming months.

Did Ricoh have much influence in the new cameras?

No, those cameras were already on the drawing board, and underway [when Ricoh and Pentax merged]

Is there room for a higher-end Pentax K-mount DSLR?

We have the 645D, and Pentax is dedicated to that system, but whether there's room between the K-5 cameras and the 645, I can't say.

Will there be a full-frame K-mount model in the future?

All I can say is that we're studying the market. 

What's the reaction been like to the K-01?

It's been very good in certain communities. In the design community, it is very well-accepted. You look at the name Mark Newsom, and in that community, among designers, people realize it's probably the least expensive Mark Newsom-designed product that you can buy! And it's got a lot of the technology of the K-5 in it, it's a great video tool, it's just not traditional in its layout, size and shape. The traditional photo community maybe doesn't quite understand it, but for the right customer it's a great offer, because it does shoot great stills, it does shoot great video, and it's got the style and the design…

The Pentax K-01 is one of two mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras in the company's lineup (the other being the tiny Q10) and features a lot of the same technology as the K-5 DSLR.

How are you planning on developing mirrorless in the future? Or is the K-01 a one-off?

I haven't seen any future roadmaps for that type of product.

Samsung told us that in the future the a non-'connected' camera will be meaningless. What do you think?

I think there's room for non-connected cameras but I won't deny the fact that connectivity is very important, whether it's via Eye-Fi cards, or natively in-camera, there are more and more solutions coming out every day. I think it's very important but I think also there are opportunities for non-connected cameras as well.

What is Pentax doing to meet the demand for connectivity in its cameras?

Right now we don't have anything other than Eye-Fi compatibility. But we're researching the technology.

Let's talk about the Pentax Q. What has the reaction to the Q been like in the market as a whole?

It's been interesting because a lot of Pentax's sales are online. And it's difficult in that kind of environment to really show the camera and the size of the camera, and the size of the system. Because that's the reaction we get when we show the Q at trade shows and retailers. When we show the Q people are really blown away by the size. So the way I like to see it, it's less a replacement for an SLR as a complement to an SLR. It's better than a compact, better than a cellphone, and you get DSLR-like features and functions.

The Q10 is Pentax Ricoh's newest addition to the Q-line of interchangeable lens compact cameras. It features an upgraded 12MP CMOS sensor and there's even an adapter to attach K-mount lenses (if you can live with the 5.5X crop factor)

A lot of the feedback that we got about the Pentax Q was about its price.

Yes, I think we recognized that rather too late. Once the camera started going on sale for $350-400, that's when we started to see sales, the new Q, the Q10 is $599 with a zoom lens, and that's probably what the original model should have been.

Will Pentax users start seeing more of your cameras in store shelves in future?

Yes. We're very actively going after the traditional photo specialty dealers. We had great success [in the US] with Target this year, with our waterproof compact camera, and that really helped, people seeing our name and our brand out there, but we're actively pursuing the photo specialty market.