What happened to Pentax? A look at one of photography’s most legendary manufacturers

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Pentax is one of the legendary names in cameras. But what happened, and is there still a place in the hearts of users today for this once popular brand?

It’s easy to think that the early phases of digital video SLRs mainly involved Canon and Nikon, although both Fujifilm and Panasonic have made particularly compelling contributions in the field in recent years. Of course, Canon’s involvement has grown considerably beyond video-capable digital SLRs, and even specialists – the big names in large film formats – have started to incorporate video capabilities into medium format digital backs. .

One of the names we hear less of is Pentax, which is slightly surprising, because in the film era the company was still a solid third option along with Canon and Nikon. DSLRs such as Pentax’s 2016 version, the K-1, performed well in comparisons, especially on the basis that it is or was a very affordable full-frame camera, highly regarded for landscape work and packed with features, such as weatherproofing, which are only found on the higher end members of competing ranges. More recently, the K-3 III offered the company’s first on-board 4K recording – although in 2021 that may be a bit late.

A mirrorless area (sort of)

We could take this as a sign of the company’s dedication to its traditional clientele of stills. That’s certainly the impression given by a recently published interview with Pentax (or rather Ricoh Imaging) CEO Shinobu Takahashi, who made much of the current enthusiasm for retro tech and linked it to his intention to maintain the business in the manufacturing of cameras with optical viewfinders. Of course, Pentax has already made interchangeable-lens mirrorless cameras in the form of the Pentax Q line, which emerged in 2011 and may have been last updated in 2014, even before the release of the K-1; the idea apparently is to continue making DSLRs alongside mirrorless options, instead of switching entirely to mirrorless one, as seems to be Canon’s intention.

This is a decision of both technical and historical importance. Probably the most likely piece of (sort of) Pentax gear on a movie set in 2021 is an older set of Asahi Takumar lenses, which come in three broad categories – the original Takumar (which even predates the camera). Asahiflex from the 1950s), the Super Takumar from the 1960s, then Super Takumars multi-layered in the 1970s. In rough date order, they produce images ranging from very, very, interesting to interesting, and eventually come close to normal. in the most modern designs. Naturally, they are all full frame, reasonably fast and quite affordable, and as such they are of great interest in 2021. The Asahi name has remained from the founding of the company in 1919 as the Asahi Optical Company more or less until 2002, when it officially became Pentax. Society.

Pentax’s revolutionary digital SLR, the K10D, a very affordable “budget” camera with IBIS and rugged weatherproofing in 2006.

As we’ve seen, Pentax’s fortunes haven’t been so rosy lately. It has always been a maker of optical equipment other than cameras, including medical devices, binoculars and the like, and a deal was struck – after navigating a few corporate dead ends – with a another optical company, Hoya, in the middle of the year. 2000s. Hoya closed the Pentax plant in Tokyo in what must have been a blow to a company that had kept Japanese manufacturing facilities in continuous operation since the 1930s. Ricoh bought out the camera division of Pentax to Hoya in 2011 and changed the name in 2013 to Ricoh Imaging Company Ltd. Although Ricoh seems to want to continue using the Pentax brand on certain products, losing the name of the company’s official title seems a bit of a shame. .

Cameras for a retro age?

Still, Takahashi is nothing if he doesn’t know the story. The enthusiasm for technology of the past that exists right now may be a fad, and as such it can pass, but the idea of ​​not trying to compete with China on price and build systems for the dedicated hobbyist – people who really love optical sights – is far from unreasonable. Many people were very cautious of electronic viewfinders when they first appeared, and even Canon delayed using the mirror until the technology came of age. It’s pretty hard, now, to say that there is a serious problem with the LCD or OLED view, but Takahashi isn’t the only one who likes the optical option. Energy consumption is hard to beat.

It remains to be seen whether Pentax customers will agree and follow Takahashi’s thinking enough to make the initiative a commercial success. Regardless, the respect for the history of the company is such that it is possible to buy t-shirts with the Asahi Optical AOCo logo, and lens caps bearing the historical badge. are valuable enough to be worth selling on eBay. In some circles, the M42 threaded lens mount, which was actually developed in Jena by Carl Zeiss in the 1930s, is referred to as the Pentax mount.

Takahashi ends his discussion by talking about the importance of sharpness, and if somewhere, this is where he stumbles. People like classic approaches more than sharpness, quite often. The original 85mm Takumar is now making a pretty dime, and it’s definitely not a paragon of high contrast detail.

But let’s see the bright side of it. Pentax may be looking for ways to express its story, remember that Cooke made a lot of money by remaking Speed ​​Panchros.


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