Pictured is Mr. Takashi Arai, one of several Ricoh executives we sat down with. Mr. Arai represents the Product Planning Department, within the Product Development Center of Ricoh's Smart Vision Business Group.

Recently we visited the 2018 CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan and booked an in-depth interview with several executives from Ricoh. Among the topics covered were the company's new K-1 Mark II, as well as the future of both the GR series and 360 imaging with the Theta line.

The following interview has been edited slightly for clarity and flow.


What is your ILC strategy for your next generation of products?

We have lots of requests for lenses, especially from K-1 users. They want more lenses that match the higher resolution of the K-1, so that’s one objective which we would like to implement.

The K-1 Mark II, pictured here with the not-yet-released D FA* 50mm F1.4.

As you may know, we will be releasing the 50mm F1.4 SDM AW this Spring, although we cannot specify the exact date. We also have the new 11-18mm F2.8 lens for APS-C, so we’re not only focusing on full-frame. We want to enlarge [the lens selection for] both formats.

What kind of customers are buying the K1/II and KP?

Especially for the K-1, customers who are looking for higher resolution in the field of landscape photography and [appreciate] our tough body construction and weather and dust resistance. Lots of customers who really use this camera in the field are very fond of the new K-1 series.

Will we ever see another Ricoh / Pentax mirrorless camera, such as the K-01?

The Pentax K-01 was a mirrorless camera that used the full-depth Pentax K-mount, allowing full compatibility with existing Pentax lenses. While image quality was great, the camera was bulky, and there were some performance and autofocus shortcomings.

Our resources for research and development are limited and we are more focused on the development of K-series bodies and lenses. That is our first priority, and why we are currently not too involved in the development of other smaller cameras.

Speaking of smaller cameras, our readers really want a GR III – is this something you’re working on?

Good question. Although we don’t know whether it will be called ‘GR III’ or not, the study for the development of the next GR is already ongoing. We cannot say when, and how exactly it will be, but the next GR will come someday.

What is your strategy for medium-format? How has the market changed since Hasselblad and Fujifilm entered at the consumer end?

Our strategy has not really changed. The 645Z is a DSLR, a reflex camera, and the advantage of a reflex camera is that what you see is what you get [through the optical viewfinder]. On top of that, the 645Z can use Live View, so it has the advantage of having both options. We think that it’s a strong point that our competitors don’t have, and we’ll continue to develop the possibilities of what we can do with reflex cameras.

We welcome competitors like Fujifilm and Hasselblad. Together with competitors, we can expand the total medium-format market

We actually welcome competitors like Fujifilm and Hasselblad. Together with competitors, we can expand the total medium-format market. People can be made more aware of medium-format’s advantages, and we believe in the superiority of medium-format compared to full-frame.

How do you think 360-degree imaging will evolve in the coming years?

In terms of resolution, we think that it’s not yet enough and should be better. The market is expanding, but still, the current user of the Theta 360 camera is more of a ‘gadget lover.’ We want to expand the customer profile from that specific type of user to more generic users.

Do you see any development in, say, the Theta’s form factor as a way to reach other users?

Ricoh's Theta V uses the same sensors and lenses as the older Theta S, but offers improved image quality thanks to an updated processor.

This form factor is iconic for the Theta. We think it’s important. On the other hand, if there is demand, we would like flexibly to think about any other possibilities, even for other form factors.

What else are Theta users asking for?

They’re asking for better quality of stitching, and since the camera has internal memory, there have been requests to have expandable memory. In order to respond to that kind of request, we have just released a firmware that allows the Theta V to connect to external memory using the USB port.

Photographers are interested in creating pictures [using techniques] such as composition, and [with the total 360-degree image], there is no creativity from this perspective.

From a marketing point of view, I don’t think many photo enthusiasts who are reading your articles have much interest in 360 cameras like the Theta, unfortunately. That’s because with this camera, we can take an image of all 360 degrees. But photographers are interested in creating pictures [using techniques] such as composition, and [with the total 360-degree image], there is no creativity from this perspective.

But if we capture whole [360-degree] images, we can edit those images with photo applications such as Theta+. And with that application software, photo enthusiasts can [selectively] create their own images and reflect their own sensibility. So we have to do more promotion to photo enthusiasts that use various types of editing applications.

Will we see an updated APS-C flagship camera in the future?

For the flagship APS-C model, we have just started to develop that. It’ll be the successor of the K-3 II and will be an evolution of the K-3 series.

The Pentax K-3 II was released in 2015, and now that Pentax has brought the full-frame K-1 II to market, they are beginning development on the next APS-C flagship.

How did feedback from K-1 owners feed into the planning for the K-1 II?

Feedback, especially from K-1 owners, is more focused on the upgrade services.

Existing K-1 users will be able to update their cameras for a fee - will there be any functional differences remaining between the two models after this service?

Once a user upgrades the K-1 to K-1 II, there will be no difference. Perhaps some K-1 users think it’s more prestigious to have the ‘II’ on the front.


Editor's Note:

Pentax has a reputation for building affordable, capable and rugged DSLRs, and judging from our conversation with Mr. Arai and his colleagues, it appears as though parent company Ricoh is planning on staying the course in this regard. And while the renewed focus on updating their K-Mount lens lineup is encouraging, it must be said that the continued evolution of competitors' mirrorless camera offerings has Pentax's DSLR-only lineup looking a little staid.

But perhaps that's just to be expected. After all, Ricoh is a smaller camera company, and must be highly strategic in where it invests its R&D money. This prioritization is clear in the discussion of the 645Z compared to newer mirrorless options. Since the 645Z has an optical viewfinder while still offering competitive image quality, it remains appreciably distinct from Fujifilm's and Hasselblad's offerings. Therefore the company is choosing to narrow its development focus to a new flagship APS-C DSLR, which is likely what more users are asking for anyway.

The confirmation that a new Ricoh GR is coming is downright exciting

Thankfully though, lenses and DSLRs aren't all that's in the works at Ricoh-Pentax. The confirmation that a new Ricoh GR is coming – even if all we know is that it's coming someday – is exciting. In the age of ever-more-capable smartphones whose lenses are of a similar focal length, Ricoh's continued development of the photographer-focused GR series shows an admirable commitment to their users and fans.

Last but not least is the Theta series. Ricoh's newest Theta V is an impressive evolution of the previous 'S' model, improving image quality and features through better processing and software. The company still feels it has room to grow, not only in terms of image quality, but also mass-market appeal. It's interesting hearing the executives' take on the creativity (or lack thereof) of using 360 cameras, and it'll be even more interesting to see how they continue to evolve the platform and editing software to get more Thetas into the hands of more photographers, and not just 'gadget lovers.'