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There is sad news from the digital camera world today, Reuters reports:

Japanese optical glass-maker Hoya said on Friday it would sell its Pentax camera business to copier and printer maker Ricoh

That statement says it all, a company specializing in optical glass (which is what lenses are mostly made of) is selling to a company who makes copiers and printers. Hoya is retaining the medical imaging division, which is supposedly what it was after when it bought Pentax several years ago.

Ricoh is no stranger to cameras and has developed its own terribly unsuccessful products for years. Its cameras are known for quirky designs packed into tiny bodies with unusable image quality. Worst then its digital camera performance, is its complete inability to market those cameras. Very few people have heard of Ricoh cameras, even far fewer than those who known Pentax.

Before we speculate what can and will happen next, Pentax deserves a minute of silence.

The end of Pentax as we know it is scheduled for October 2011. Several things could start happening at that point which depend on what Ricoh wants from Pentax:

  • Ricoh starts selling Pentax cameras and stops producing its own lineup. They save money by closing their production facilities and get rid all all redundancies. In a moment of clarity, they keep the Pentax name for their digital cameras which has far more reputation than Ricoh. All Pentax users are happy because Ricoh is actually a bigger company than Hoya. This is similar to the Konica-Minolta merger, where all Minolta cameras continued under the new name and most Konica ones thankfully disappeared.
  • Ricoh continues with its own cameras, discontinuing all competing Pentax products. Non-competing products, such as all DSLRs, the Pentax Q and the presumably soon-to-be-available Ricoh NC-1, are added to the Ricoh lineup under one name or the other. This outcome should keep most Pentax loyals happy but with a touch sentimental loss should the name change. After all, Pentax’s strength comes from its incredibly efficient DSLRs with superb ergonomics and unique features. The lens line-up remains unchanged but Ricoh’s deeper pocket and interest should provide more funding for expansion. This is more or less what happened when Sony acquired Konica-Minolta for its DSLRs, destroying all hopes for a Dimage A3.
  • Ricoh discontinues the Pentax lineup and redesigns its future cameras using the Pentax technologies they like, hopefully some with the historical K-mount, sensor-shift image-stabilization and horizon correction, but losing Pentax ergonomics and photographer-oriented features. No one is happy except for Ricoh  share-holders as the company gets a cash influx by selling all redundant assets.

Clearly, Ricoh is buying Pentax because it sees something of value there. This can be expertize, factories or products. After a 2nd update, Reuters reports that DSLRs are the main Ricoh interest, so we could see a variation of the second option above. It is very important to realize that Pentax’s highest-leverage asset is actually owners of Pentax K-mount lenses who have vested interest on a Pentax system. As such, likely solutions should include Pentax DSLRs and lenses.  New lenses could be added to the lineup to increase the attractiveness of the Pentax system while buying optical glass from former-adoptive-parent-company Hoya. Perhaps Ricoh can also afford to buy the design of the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens which is one missing from the Pentax lineup.

So, which one of these outcome is most likely? I’m betting that most people want to see the first but there could be an unknown factor leading to a fourth option. What could it be? Only time will tell, but we can have fun guessing already, at least to alleviate our fears!

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