As the majority of camera manufacturers move away from the SLR type cameras and start producing mirrorless systems, one company continues to hold on to the past. Pentax has now in multiple statements confirmed that it will not be producing a mirrorless camera and will continue to develop SLR cameras.
My knee jerk reaction was to scoff at this stance. However, now that I’ve had some time to think on this properly, I think it makes complete sense for the company.
There’s No Advantage
If Pentax produces a mirrorless camera, what difference would it make for the company? Will it start to become a viable alternative to the major manufacturers, and could it increase its market share?
The answer to the second question, probably not. The likelihood of Pentax suddenly becoming a major alternative to the three big manufacturers is extremely unlikely — I don’t see vast swathes of Sony, Canon, and Nikon shooters suddenly jumping on board with Pentax.
Moving to mirrorless will have little to no effect on Pentax’s current market share, so for that reason, there is no advantage.
Why would a company want to spend time and money on something to gain little or nothing? It wouldn’t make sense.
Even when you consider it from a technological perspective and the benefits afforded by having a mirrorless system, it’s simply not worth it for Pentax. The time and money it would put into a whole new system would mean very little to the company and potentially even its existing customer base.
This is obviously not to say that Pentax would not benefit from having a shorter flange distance or that an EVF would not be beneficial. This is instead a point about how it would impact the bottom line for Pentax.
Pentax as a company has quite the loyal fanbase, and to disrupt this in any way would be extremely foolish. I find it difficult to see how Pentax shooters would be happy to migrate to a whole new mount. One of the things Pentax shooters seem to love is the compatibility and lens selection available for the K mount.
This mount is compatible with lenses all the way from 1975, and new lenses are still being produced for it. There are literally hundreds of lenses available for this mount — there are so many that I doubt anyone has an exact number of lenses that are compatible.
This is one of the major benefits and reasons why people continue to shoot with Pentax cameras. There are lenses that have been handed down to photographers by their grandparents, which of course, instills a deep sense of loyalty. Moving to a mirrorless camera system would pretty much betray most Pentax customers.
For this reason, it’s essential that Pentax continue with the current mount.
The DLSR Niche
The benefit (or novelty) of being able to see through a DLSR viewfinder will become popular again. Once the majority of manufacturers move away from DSLR type cameras and mirrorless cameras become the norm, the quirks and benefits of a “proper” viewfinder will draw a large number of customers.
Arguments about how the DSLR viewfinder being natural or more realistic will probably be used, and at that point, Pentax might be able to say that they never left.
Even now, there are still many customers that dislike mirrorless cameras. It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are — what matters is the fact that these customers exist.
As most manufacturers move away and eventually stop supporting DLSR cameras, either by discontinuing them or stopping the production of new lenses, there’s a good chance that a strong base of customers will still want a DSLR instead. Pentax could comfortably be the company that takes that spot, and with its vast number of compatible lenses, it does have quite an advantage.
The only problem is that this is an incredibly long-term plan because current DSLR cameras won’t be discontinued anytime soon.
Pentax Film Cameras?
In a recent article on Fstoppers, photographer James Madison discussed why he thought Pentax should go back to producing film cameras. I completely agree with this.
The film industry never died and the demand for it has been growing. Film production rates for Kodak have more than doubled over the last few years. More and more customers are becoming interested in film for a number of reasons.
Many film types were significantly larger than any current digital sensor available from any of the major manufacturers. Even Phase One with its 150MP sensor doesn’t offer anything remotely close to a 4×5 large format camera. Even a 6×9 film back is significantly larger and this extra surface area affords some remarkably interesting benefits.
The unfortunate thing is that there are no major manufacturers currently producing high-quality, professional-grade cameras for film shooters. The second-hand market has been thriving in recent years; however, I think Pentax could do well by producing a modern version of a film camera.
Several companies are already doing extremely well on the back of film. For example, the most profitable segment for Fujifilm is Instax, and this is with an incredibly huge margin.
Intrepid is another example of a company that has grown its business by producing inexpensive and accessible large format cameras. It recently released the 5×7 large format camera, which was highly requested.
There is clearly a market available and this market is growing. More and more people are interested in film and this includes a large number of young people too.
Being able to purchase a brand new Pentax film camera with an up to date autofocus system and proper after-sales support would be brilliant. Personally, I’d love to have a modern interchangeable-lens instant camera.
In some sense, the fact that Pentax has resigned itself to the DSLR could be described as the company admitting defeat. I think there may be some element of truth to that, as Pentax may know that it simply cannot compete on the same level.
Despite this, I think this is a great idea by Pentax because not only is it looking more long term, it also shows a great deal of self-awareness and foresight.
The one major positive note we could take from this is the fact that, if Pentax (Ricoh) is planning long term, it probably doesn’t have any plans to exit the camera market.