The long, difficult road to Pentax full-frame
Pentax’s road to full-frame has been long, winding and not without a few wrong turns. But it could all have been so different.
Way back in 2000, when the 21st Century was just beginning to find its feet and photography journalists were starting to get used to putting a ‘D’ into ‘SLR’, Pentax announced that it was making a full-frame (D)SLR. Had it shipped, that camera - which was developed out of the company's then-flagship film model the MZ-S - would have predated anything from Canon, Nikon, Kodak or (unthinkable at the time) Sony. And Contax, too, but the less said about that, the better.
Ambitious, powerful, innovative and ultimately doomed, the original Pentax full-frame DSLR was in some ways the Spruce Goose of cameras, but tragically it never even achieved the short, thrilling first and final flight of Howard Hughes’ most famous creation.
Instead, like Hughes himself the camera withdrew from public view amid a swirl of rumors. Whispers around the glass case at PMA in 2001 hinted at problems with the troubled 6MP Philips CCD sensor (later confirmed in the woeful Contax N1). The camera would be too costly to produce, became the official line. The brash confidence behind its announcement at Photokina the previous autumn faded into memory. Meanwhile, Pentax’s projected ship date of spring 2001 came and went, and other full-frame cameras stole the headlines. A nurse was called for, the screens were drawn, and they remained drawn for almost 15 years.
And we never even knew its name.
Over time, people forgot about the Pentax full-frame DSLR. Pentax representatives (and later, representatives from Hoya and Ricoh) didn’t seem to like talking about it, when they admitted to remembering it at all. A whole generation of tech journalists emerged whose only experience of full-frame photography with a Pentax camera was that one roll of film they tried to put through that old K1000 they found in a junk shop that time.
And Pentax moved on.
In 2003, Pentax created the *ist D, its first APS-C DSLR and in 2005, the company announced that it was leapfrogging full-frame altogether in favor of developing a medium-format DSLR. A couple of years later and with no shipping MF camera in sight, the company was acquired by Hoya. Shortly after the takeover we heard that actually, medium format digital was no longer a priority, but two years after that, in 2010, the 645D - with updated specs in the five years since its development was first announced - was officially unveiled.
In 2011, a full ten years after the original Pentax full-frame DSLR should have shipped, the company was bought again, this time by Ricoh.
|The original 645 model, the 645D, saw Pentax branching out into the medium format digital market. The 645Z, which succeeded the original 645D, has proven very popular.|
And all the while, through the course of two buyouts, Pentax was doing what it did best - creating a string of capable, solid, workman-like DSLRs and compact cameras that attracted a small and loyal customer base but which didn’t do much to bother the fortunes of the bigger players in the camera market. The company's one and (so far) only large-sensor mirrorless camera, the K-01, was not a success, but the medium format 645D did well and was followed by the excellent 645Z. It seemed for a while that with some solid differentiators in the APS-C and medium format spaces, Pentax didn’t really need to create a full-frame camera.
But now, almost 16 years after that fated Photokina announcement, that’s exactly what Pentax (or rather Ricoh) has done.
'So why now, and who is the K-1 for?'
So why now? Ricoh claims that the timing is very deliberate. The company seems to recognize that after the late-2000s its chances of making a meaningful dent in the full-frame market were very slim. After leaving the full-frame space to its competitors for more than a decade, it made more sense for Ricoh to attack the much less competitive medium format digital market, and position the Pentax brand as a serious but affordable player in a marketplace that for years has been dominated by stupendously expensive systems from Hasselblad, Phase One and others.
Meanwhile, although Ricoh / Pentax never managed to wrest a particularly big share of the APS-C market from its competitors, cameras like the K-3 II quietly introduced a host of impressively innovative features. These days we take image stabilization for granted, but Pentax deserves credit for iterating on the basic principle of in-body stabilization over several generations of DSLRs, ultimately leading to the various imaginative and effective sensor-shift features that grace the K-3/II and, now, the new K-1.
So after all this time, who is the K-1 for? In conversations with DPReview, Ricoh representatives have never tried to deny the fact that after 15 years of inactivity in the full-frame space, a lot of their customers (especially semi-professional and professional photographers) have defected to Canon, Nikon and Sony. But some of these professionals have rediscovered Pentax - and others have discovered it for the first time - thanks to the 645D and 645Z.
When I spoke to Kazunobu Saiki, general manager of Ricoh’s Marketing and Communication department last year in Japan, he told me that the company’s forthcoming full-frame DSLR was aimed at ‘our existing customers’. I.e. those new 645D/Z fans and a whole generation of DSLR photographers (especially in Asia) who love Pentax cameras for their features, pricing, and custom color options. Plus of course the ultra loyalists around the world who have stuck with the Pentax brand over the years and refused to switch systems in the hope that one day, a camera like the K-1 would eventually be produced. I know they're out there. They send me emails.
'The K-1 is primarily a camera for Pentax fans, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.'
At this point in time, Mr Saiki's strategy makes perfect sense. The K-1 is primarily a camera for Pentax fans, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. It seems highly unlikely that anyone who’s been happily using a full-frame camera from another manufacturer for the past few years will suddenly throw it all away and buy a K-1. The K-1 looks like a pretty good camera, and $1800 is a pretty good price, but it’s still a considerable chunk of change, and that’s not including lenses.
And lenses, it seems to me, is where Ricoh has a real battle on its hands, not only in terms of attracting potential system switchers but (probably more importantly) also catering to its existing user base.
It has been 13 years since the last full-frame Pentax camera, and understandably, neither Pentax nor third-parties have had much incentive to release full-frame K-mount lenses in the intervening time.
The existing audience of digital Pentax users may very well have a collection of autofocus lenses for their DSLRs, but most are designed for the APS-C format (and many contain the notoriously troublesome SDM focus motor). They’ve got modern coatings, they'll fit on the K-1, and some will offer almost a full-frame imaging circle. But like training wheels on a bicycle, I suspect that most self-respecting photographers will be keen to stop using them as soon as possible in favor of a more authentic, grownup experience. Why rumble along at 15MP when you could be enjoying 36?
But what about the legacy manual focus lenses? Ah yes. With decades of compatible K-mount lenses, Pentax users are very well-served. In theory. I have a collection of 70s and 80s-vintage Pentax primes, and I can’t wait to try them out on the K-1. Unfortunately, while putting old glass on high-resolution cameras is a lot of fun, it does tend to show up the defects in that glass pretty glaringly. There are some excellent lenses in Pentax’s historical lineup, but there is a very real risk that a zoom or even a prime that always delivered lovely 6x4 inch prints on film might not quite live up to customer expectations when paired with a 36MP sensor.
And unfortunately for the proud new K-1 owner, Pentax K-mount lenses are their only option. Like Nikon F, the Pentax K mount is old, and cursed with a particularly long flange-back distance. What this boils down to its that lenses from other mounts cannot be adapted to work on the K-1 (not without the addition of extra corrective elements, at any rate). So unlike the Sony a7R II, for instance, which will accept pretty much any lens you can think of, made by anyone, ever, with the correct adapter, that’s just not possible with the K-1.
'Once you’ve bought a couple of lenses to go with your new K-1, that fairly reasonably $1800 has turned into a much, much bigger investment.'
Which for a quality-focused enthusiast K-1 owner arguably leaves only one genuinely safe option. Buy a set of new Pentax full-frame zoom lenses. The new 15-30mm and 24-70mm seem to perform well (they should do, since they’re most likely based on proven Tamron lenses with the stabilization mechanics removed and some proprietary coatings) and we enjoyed using the 70-200mm when we shot with the K-1 recently. But once you’ve bought a couple of lenses to go with your new K-1, that fairly reasonably $1800 has turned into a much, much bigger investment.
All that being said, I want the K-1 to succeed, and I think it deserves to. It’s truly innovative, bold, and represents a brave move by Ricoh (and one that I suspect was motivated by a certain amount of justifiable pride on the part of the engineers). To an extent, my investment in the K-1 is emotional. My first proper camera was a Pentax MX, and along the way I’ve owned various other Pentax cameras (including for a few brief, glorious weeks, an LX) all of which I have enjoyed. I was genuinely excited when Ricoh told us, some time ago now, that a full-frame Pentax DSLR was once more being prepared for launch. Hopefully this time it will get a little higher off the ground - and hey - at least this time it has a name.
Oct 10, 2017
Oct 6, 2017
Oct 11, 2017
Oct 10, 2017
|Hook Head Lighthouse by kroker|
from Best Photo of the Week
|Green turtle in the shallows by gcachon|
Canon went and put an APS-C sensor in a G series compact. The result is a mighty tempting camera for travel.
Google Photos is adding a few pet-friendly features that will make it easier to find photos of your favorite pooch. Now, you can organize your pet photos by facial recognition, and you can even search your library by breed.
Colorful tripod maker MeFOTO has launched a new tripod... and a whole new brand name. Meet the GlobeTrotter travel video tripod, the first product to be released under the MeVIDEO brand.
If you own a Moto Z, you'll soon be able to attach a Polaroid instant printer to it. Check out the unreleased Moto Mod, which was leaked earlier today.
DJI has developed a technology called AeroScope that allows law enforcement to identify and track airborne drones that are breaking UAV regulations, while simultaneously addressing privacy concerns.
The Nikon D850 is a 45.7MP full-frame DSLR with an autofocus system lifted wholesale from the pro-sports focused D5. 4K capture, continuous shooting at 7 or 9 frames per second make it sound like the ultimate all rounder. Is it all that these specs suggest?
The Mate 10's Kirin 970 chipset with integrated AI processing allows for object recognition, motion detection and automatic scene selection in the camera app.
DxO has announced version 3.0 of the iOS app for its 'One' connected camera. It adds support for multi-camera Facebook Live broadcasting and both time-lapse still and video capture. Android users will be pleased to hear that a One for their platform is on the way, as well. Several new accessories are available, including a battery pack.
Canon has introduced the PowerShot G1 X Mark III, which borrows the 24MP APS-C sensor and Dual Pixel AF system from the company's recent mirrorless and DSLR cameras, adds a 24-72mm equiv., F2.8-5.6 lens and puts them into a lightweight body – but it'll cost you quite a bit.
It's not often that we see a genuinely interesting compact camera, and the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III is one such beast. We've pulled out the top features of the camera and tell you why they matter – and put the Mark III up against the competition.
Apple's HDR effect in the iPhone 8 Plus is on by default and more aggressive than in previous generations. It's also good enough to convince DPR contributor Jeff Carlson to leave it on all the time.
Canon's 28mm F2.8 IS USM may be small in size, but it's big on fun. We wrote about our experience using it as our only lens in Big Sur, California, but in case you missed out on our full gallery, take a look to see what this little lens can do.
Travel photographer Elia Locardi tells the story behind this gorgeous (and rare) panorama of the Dubai cityscape draped in fog.
Bison, drift cars, horseback riders, antelope – from the beach to the race track, the Sony 100-400mm G Master is one versatile piece of kit.
"Wildlife photography in Yellowstone National Park is an incredible opportunity, yet some bad photographers are giving all photographers a bad name by not following the rules."
Casio's bionic-looking new action camera, the GZE-1, is built with extreme sports in mind. The little camera is drop-proof, freeze-proof, dust-proof, and waterproof to 50 meters.
Yashica recently released the digiFilm Y35: a camera that tries to simulate the "experience" of shooting film... and it's just the worst.
Western Digital has revealed some interesting new technology that, it claims, will allow them to develop 40TB hard drives by the year 2025.
Photographer Micael Widell wanted to see just how affordable it could possibly be to get into digital photography—so he bought a full DSLR kit with battery grip and 50mm lens on eBay for just $80.
Confused about DxOMark's scoring system? This straightforward video by Marques Brownlee breaks down how DxO gets its scores, and why you should always look beyond that "overall" number.
It's not exactly a revolutionary device, but the iPhone 8 Plus does promise some evolutionary updates in the camera department. DPR contributor Jeff Carlson has been putting the 8 Plus to the test in some everyday shooting situations – take a look at how it fared.
This week in Hollywood, DJI introduced its new Zenmuse X7 camera, a Super 35 format cinema camera of its own design that can also capture 24MP still images in APS-C format. Is it time to start thinking of DJI as a camera company?
Landscape and astrophotographer Asif Islam shot a series of timelapses starting in Los Angeles and getting farther and farther away, showing how the Milky Way emerges as the light pollution fades.
Ultraviolet photography is something that relatively few photographers explore, but it’s a fascinating realm to explore with less of an investment in equipment than most people think.
After almost fifteen years of nearly buying one, Barney recently found a working Canon PowerShot G5 in his local thrift shop. It must be Throwback Thursday.
DJI has launched the Zenmuse X7, a Raw video capable Super 35 camera module. The camera/gimbal system which mounts to the company's drones features a new, proprietary lens mount.
Windowed is a free app that lets you upload photos to Instagram straight from your Mac or PC—no tablet, smartphone, or complicated workaround required.
Nikon has published a list lenses that it deems worthy of its newest DSLR: the 45.7MP Nikon D850.
The Nikon D850 isn't the first camera to hit triple digits on DxOMark; in fact, the Pentax 645Z was listed at 101 all the way back in 2015. So why was the full review never published? DxOMark explained earlier today.
Due to 'slower-than-expected development of the VR market,' Nokia has decided to pull the plug on its $25K Ozo VR camera while it restructures the company and sheds as many as 310 jobs.