View­point New blood

Amateur Photographer - - 7days - Andy West­lake Andy West­lake is cur­rently the Tech­ni­cal Ed­i­tor of Am­a­teur Pho­tog­ra­pher. For six and a half years he wrote for Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy Re­view, writ­ing nu­mer­ous lens and cam­era re­views.

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?

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