Viewpoint New blood
Pentax is one of the most iconic brands in photography. Indeed for anyone who started out in the latter part of the last century, it belongs alongside Canon, Nikon, and Olympus as one of the finest makers of 35mm SLRs. It was responsible for classics such as the inexpensive K1000 on which many photographers first cut their teeth, or at the other end of the scale, the pro-grade LX that remained in production for more than two decades.
Sadly, though, there’s another group of contemporaries I could also mention, including Konica, Minolta and Yashica. All were companies that once upon a time made excellent products but who, for one reason or another, ended up leaving the camera business. It’s this group that I fear Pentax seems destined to join.
Pentax isn’t even a company in its own right any more. It was acquired by Ricoh in 2011, and since July 2013 has been nothing more than a brand name, used mainly for the firm’s DSLRs. And while Ricoh has attempted to keep the line alive, in recent years the rate of product releases has slowed to a trickle. In 2017 we saw just one new camera, the KP, and the announcement of two new lenses (a full-frame 50mm f/1.4 and an APS- C 11-18mm f/2.8) that have yet to see the light of day. For Pentax fans, seeing just one single new product in a calendar year doesn’t bode well for the future.
This week I review the top- end Pentax K-1 Mark II (page 40), which replaces the two-year- old K-1. Like its predecessor it’s a fantastic camera, but doesn’t add much new: just a couple of higher ISO settings and a handheld version of its Pixel Shift Resolution mode. It doesn’t gain either Bluetooth or a touchscreen, for example, which were last year’s must-have features on other new cameras. This contrasts sharply with the sheer pace of development of competing mirrorless systems, particularly from Sony (which acquired Konica Minolta in 2005). Sadly, it feels like Ricoh has run out of steam. The problem facing Ricoh is that for cameras like the K-1 Mark II to sell well, it needs a healthy user-base of enthusiasts who are committed to the brand and prepared to spend £1,800 on stepping up to a full-frame body. But Canon and Nikon have had a stranglehold on the entry-level DSLR market for most of the last decade, while the likes of Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony have siphoned off many other budding enthusiasts to their mirrorless systems. Pentax still has a very loyal following, but it seems not enough new blood.
It would be a real shame to see Pentax disappear altogether. I’ve really enjoyed using its DSLRs over the past decade, and they’ve traditionally offered excellent value for money. Unfortunately, though, sometimes making attractive, wellfeatured, value-for-money products isn’t in itself enough. But if the K-1 Mark II were to be the end of the line, it would be a fitting last hurrah.
With the number of new releases from Pentax few and far between, is it reaching the end of the road?
Might the K-1 Mark II be the last camera to bear the famous Pentax name?