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2011.10.04

On October 1st, Ricoh made Pentax into a subsidiary called PENTAX RICOH IMAGING COMPANY. How unoriginal! some may say, but the importance is that branding is preserved and that people looking for the Pentax name can still find it. The same for Ricoh, I suppose, but in the camera world this is not a name that has attracted much attention. One hopes this is about to change!

Currently Pentax

If Pentax  was a small company, than Pentax Imaging was even smaller. Yet, they have been releasing exceptional products with well thought-out designs, superb ergonomics and impressive feature set.  With their flagship DSLR and Digital Medium-Format camera, they achieved class-leading performance too.

Unfortunately success is not about only about quality products which is why Pentax Imaging has been struggling. It takes a large investment to create digital cameras. Such investment is normally recovered either by volume or by premium pricing.  Premium pricing, like Leica does, has never been Pentax’s approach until the 645D and volume has been eluding Pentax for a while.

The issue with Pentax selling at high volume mostly comes from its limited offerings. Indeed, Pentax has only 2 current DSLRs with one of the smallest lens-lineups in the industry, a handful of low-end fixed-lens cameras and the all-new Pentax Q SLD. As a small company, it is difficult to find resources to create lots of products which is what one hopes the Ricoh acquisition will address.

Pentax Ricoh Imaging Company Future

With higher budgets and resources, including those of the former Ricoh imaging product division, the new company needs a systematic approach to complete its lineup so that they have something to offer to most levels of photographers and so that its system products are complete.

DSLRs, the strongest Pentax products, should be completed. Two current models are not enough and a third one should be welcome, probably between the K-5 and K-r. More importantly, they need to complete the lens lineup.

Currently, all their lenses together cover focal-lengths from 10mm (fisheye) to 300mm.  This is the shortest range of DSLR lenses. Not only should this be completed on both ends but it needs to be this way for at least three grades of lenses:

  • Entry-level DA: This level is reasonably complete but something longer is expected.
  • Medium-range DA and WR: An ultra-wide angle WR lens, like the rumored 12-35mm F/3.5-4.5 WR, as are lenses reaching above 200mm, maybe a 75-300mm F4-5.6 WR, are needed.
  • Premium DA*: A serious ultra-wide is clearly missing, at least for an 11-16mm F/2.8 based on the Tokina design or something more ambitious like a DA* 8-16mm F/4 to match the field-of-view possible in other systems. A DA* 400mm F/4, DA* 500mm F/5.6 and heavy zoom like a DA* 200-400mm F/4 could complete the set.
  • Limited: A 50mm F/1 would be very welcome but, more realistically, lenses like a 12mm F/2, 16mm & 24mm F/1.8 and 135mm F/2 are the ones needed. Currently, the awesome FA 31mm F/1.8 and FA 77mm F/1.8 are legendary but remaining Limited offerings are not ambitious enough. A Tilt-Shift lens is absolutely needed since Pentax has NONE. It would probably be a Limited offering because this is a high-end item.

Mirrorless cameras are the highest growth area among digital cameras. Pentax already launched the Q which promises to be the smallest and lightest ILC system of all. This potentially lets Pentax Ricoh Imaging Company undercut all its competitors in terms of price. The only need to keep the lens lineup growing.

Critics are worried about lower image quality of the Q system but most digital cameras shoppers are not critical about image quality. They have been accepting lower image quality year after year to get more megapixels! There is a risk here though because part of the mirrorless market comprises of those looking for higher image quality without the bulk associated with DSLRs.

There was a rumored second mirrorless system from Pentax designed for that market. This is most likely the motivator for the Ricoh acquisition since they lacked a mirrorless system as well. It is doubtful that the former Pentax would have been able to produce and fill-out 3 entire lineups of lenses, so the combined company stands a much better chance.

Finally, compact cameras have to be addressed by ensuring that one model fits each level of requirements:

  • The minimal P&S: Pentax Option S1.
  • The AA-powered P&S: The Optio E90 is too out of date.
  • The travel zoom: The just-released Pentax RZ18.
  • The advanced compact Currently missing.
  • The automatic ultra-zoom: Currently missing.
  • The full-featured ultra-zoom: The aging Optio X90 barely counts.
  • The waterproof: The WG-1 GPS is only missing stabilization.
  • The ultra-slim: Currently missing even though Pentax pioneered small digital cameras.

In theory, future Pentax Q models could replace all types of ultra-zooms and even the advanced compact, although the fixed sensor-size makes it easy for competitors to one-up them in this area.

There is a lot of upcoming work for Pentax Ricoh Imaging, but they are probably in a better position than before. Best of luck to them!

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