This is where Ian Burley, DPNow's editor and founder, shares his unique thoughts and impressions on subjects that he hopes will be of interest to others on the subjects of digital photography and other related or loosely related topics! You can follow DPNow Editor's blog on Facebook and Twitter, too.
Pentax - what is its enduring appeal?
Posted 10-07-12 at 12:27 PM by Ian
The dust and splash-proof Pentax K-30
Pentax UK was our guest at DPNow HQ yesterday and I had an opportunity to look at the new K-30 DSLR that should go on sale over the next few days here in the UK.
On the face of it, Pentax is a brand that has really struggled, not just in recent times but since I can remember. When I was a teenager back in the early 70s my neighbour was a proud owner of one of the last 42mm thread lens mount Pentax Spotmatics. I liked the camera, but was swayed by the attraction of bayonet lens mounts featured by many of its rivals at the time. Pentax was the one of the last SLR makers to switch to a bayonet mount, with the introduction of the K-mount with the K1000 SLR in 1975. I have read that the K-mount was originally design in partnership with the German optics company, Zeiss, although eventually only Pentax developed the mount into a product.
The K1000 was an old camera design with a big and heavy body but with a new lens mount. That said, it was built like a tank. A year later, in response to Olympus's diminutive OM-1, Pentax introduced the arguably smaller and lighter MX. Later in 1977 came the Pentax ME, followed by the ME-Super. Certainly in the late 70s and early 80s Pentax enjoyed a period of prosperity despite hot competition as camera evolution once again accelerated as electronic shutters and auto exposure became more prevalent.
Of course the K-mount was not exclusive to Pentax. It was regarded as the bayonet version of the old universal 42mm thread mount. Other manufacturers were encouraged to adopt it and many did, including Cosina, Chinon, the Russian manufacturer - Zenit, etc.
Certainly, the basic K-mount is one of the most enduring, with only Nikon's F-mount claiming an earlier inception (1959) and still being used in current SLR camera models. This means you can fit 37 year old K-mount lenses to your 2012 Pentax K-30 or K-5 DSLR (Pentax Kr models are now discontinued, by the way).
I regard this as both good and bad. Naturally the ability to use such a huge range of glass going back such a long time, and from such a wide range of lens manufacturers, is appealing. But with the obligation to both maintain compatibility and to embrace new developments, the system has, over the years, become a compromise. This criticism doesn't only relate to Pentax, but - naturally - Nikon, and Sony (who use the Minolta Alpha mount introduced in 1985). Even Canon's much more advanced EOS lens mount, introduced in 1987, is not ideal for digital sensors because of its relatively narrow diameter in relation to sensor size. But at least Canon was visionary in making a fully electronic system, meaning no mechanical linkages between the camera and lens.
Nikon, Pentax, and Minolta/Sony started their support for autofocus by incorporating the focusing motor in the camera body, operating the focus motion in the lens via a mechanical drive that engaged with the lens once the lens is mounted. However, Canon has proven that by incorporating the AF motor in the lens you can optimise the choice of motor for specific lens designs. Canon also produced very quiet and fast ultrasonic motors (USM). The other brands were left with slower and audibly noisier and relatively unrefined mechanically linked AF systems. It's not surprising that all three later developed in-lens AF motor systems and Nikon has even abandoned compatibility with mechanically driven lenses in some of its entry-level DSLRs.
Sony and Pentax still doggedly support the mechanical AF drive, and all its baggage. If you want a quieter and faster AF performance you have to pay a premium for higher-end lenses.
Since the 1980s Pentax has rarely enjoyed sales success to rival Canon and Nikon, and even Minolta in its heyday. Its attempt to break into the professional market with the LX was a failure, even though the cameras were up to the job at the time.
In recent years it could be argued that Pentax was too late to get a DSLR onto the market. And when it did with the bizarrely named *istD in 2003 it wasn't radical enough make a big impact. Since then, Pentax has produced some quirky DSLR models, and included a brief spell as a partner of Samsung, who provided Pentax with an advanced and higher resolution than average sensor while Samsung sold mildly reworked and rebranded Pentax bodies and lenses. Since then, Samsung has thrown its efforts behind the NX compact system camera platform. This was arguably a good thing because Pentax has recently switched from good Samsung sensors to outstanding Sony ones.
But Pentax continued to endure problematical times when it was acquired by Hoya, whose main interest was the profitable Pentax medical imaging portfolio. Last year Pentax's camera business was sold to Ricoh, another quirky company. The K-30 was almost certainly under development before the Ricoh deal was struck so we haven't yet seen a pedigree Pentax/Ricoh design, but I can only hope it's nothing like the ridiculous 'designer' K-01 mirror-less K-mount camera unveiled last February.
One last thing - I should not overlook the Pentax medium format DSLR camera system, the 645D, developed from Pentax's film-based medium format cameras, and featuring a 40 megapixel sensor almost twice the area of 'full frame' sensors found in the top DSLRs from Sony, Nikon, and Canon.
So there we have it; Pentax is an enduring brand. I have described it as quirky and lacking in big time success in recent times, but it has an enduring appeal and several of our DPNow forum luminaries are Pentax devotees. Are you one also? What drives your faith in Pentax? Is it because you like an underdog? Is it a practical thing because of all the K-mount glassware you have collected over the years. Is it just to be different? Let us know!
Total Comments 1
Posted 11-07-12 at 06:13 PM by Ian