Pentax may have been lucky as Nikon and Canon have left the DSLR behind


Pentax K3 Mark III
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Pentax may now find itself in the odd and favorable position of being the main beneficiary of the demise of the DSLR as both Canon and Nikon prepare to retire from space.

First a little history

Pentax is a famous name with a history dating back to 1919. It became a global brand, producing all major types of cameras, and became one of the largest optical companies in the world until its sale to Ricoh in 2011.

The camera brand has a long and proud heritage in the camera industry, with manufacturing optics from its inception (for glasses) to its eventual purchase by Hoya. It made military optics during World War II, was dissolved, then reformed in 1948 when it continued to manufacture lenses, mainly for (what became) Konica and Minolta.

With the rise in popularity of the 35mm roll film camera in Leica 1 form, the interwar years were spent trying to fix the viewfinder problem. Leica opted for a rangefinder, while Rollieflex pursued the target with a double reflex lens. The single-lens reflex camera (SLR) appeared in 1936, and it was in the post-war years that rapid development took place.

Pentax introduced the first Japanese SLR and then the first SLR with instant return mirror. His technical accomplishments are many, including Spotmatic (TTL metering) producing one million SLRs by 1966, TTL auto exposure and TTL autofocus among a number of firsts. However, Pentax’s breadth of coverage is impressive, including the medium format range (120 6×7 cameras) as well as the popular 110 Auto.

While Pentax was successful in film production, it was slow to release a digital camera, and *istD did not appear until 2003, well after Nikon and Canon.

The company forged a strategic partnership with Samsung during what is arguably its most prolific digital era. In fact, the low-cost and innovative APS-C models, along with the medium format 645D, have attracted attention. The latter received critical acclaim for both its quality and modest price. The APS-C/medium format dual format strategy outpaced Fujifilm by about six years and offered photographers a real choice.

Pentax K-3 Mark III | Photo by David Crew for petapixel

Pentax also quickly released mirrorless models; it was actually a novelty in the release of not one, but two mirrorless models. The miniature Q was fitted with a 1/2.3″ IBIS probe, while the later K-01 (with a case designed by Marc Newson) had an APS-C IBIS probe but with the traditional K mount. Unfortunately, both were unsuccessful and the Pentax is larger never visited her mirrorless graveyard.

Pentax’s Hoya purchase was primarily for the optical side of the business, and it didn’t take long for it to turn over Ricoh’s unwanted camera division. The 2000s expansion turned into a contraction as the “no mirrorless cameras” policy was adopted and the medium format remained in decline. The only highlight was the release of the first full-frame Pentax in K-1 form in 2016, ironically probably at the same time that Nikon and Canon decided to start contemplating exiting the SLR market. The 2021 K-3 Mark III had a number of innovations that showed that Pentax is still capable of producing high quality cameras, it just wasn’t much in terms of the size of that business.

What’s next for Pentax?

With “irrefutable” non-announcement of Nikon DSLR discontinuation development last week, Nikkei Asia (as reported CanonRumors) also reports that Canon will stop making SLR cameras in the coming years.

Review Pentax 21mm f2.4
Pentax K-1 Mark II with 21mm f/2.4 lens. | Photo by David Crew for petapixel

This revelation about Nikon shouldn’t have come as a surprise as earlier this year the company had already outlined its plan to retire its DSLR lineup by announcing its medium-term strategy with a projected 30% drop in DSLR revenue in 2021 to only 4%. % in 2025.

Nikon and Canon face an interesting dilemma about the future development of their cameras, but perhaps the least controversial is the end of all DSLR development; it’s pretty clear from the supply side that all the money that can be made from camera sales comes from mirrorless cameras. Simply put, technical development funding goes where it can deliver the greatest—and long-term—benefit.

What is less clear is what must happen to the production of existing models, as there are inherent costs that must be offset by any sales. However, as mirrorless cameras become mainstream, DSLR sales and, more importantly, profit margins will decrease. Nikon has already taken a decisive part in the destruction of the 1 System, KeyMission’s failed attempt, and it looks like the DSLR is next in line. However, F6 production continued for 16 years until 2020, so it’s entirely possible that D6 (and D850 or D780?) production could continue for some time.

However, this brings us back to the number of DSLR shipments: in 2021 there were about 2.3 million, while in 2020 there were only 2.4 million. That figure is likely to drop again this year, but that’s still a lot of cameras. Just how shipments translate into sales remains to be seen, and by switching production to mirrorless cameras, Nikon and Canon are pushing consumers in that direction. But the question remains: what is the current market for DSLRs?

One of the staunch supporters of digital SLR cameras, of course, was Pentax. It doesn’t have a mirrorless model and, in fact, its vision for the brand boldly states that “Pentax believes in the future of SLR photography.” In 2020, the CEO of Ricoh Imaging boldly stated that Pentax “can’t” do without mirrors.

The company ranks third in sales of BCN DSLRs thanks to the fact that none other than Nikon and Canon sell them; even then it only managed 5.8% in 2021, which could be 130,000 units worldwide. Pentax currently only lists three DSLRs (excluding the 645Z medium format) as the K-1 Mark II (2018), K-3 Mark III (2021) and K70 (2016), meaning that its commitment to production is limited. while publicly supporting the idea of ​​limited edition personalization rather than mass production, perhaps similar to how Leica sells on the market.

Pentax K-3 Mark III | Photo by David Crew for petapixel

What’s notable about Nikon’s (and Canon’s) increasingly rapid exit from the DSLR market is that it potentially leaves Pentax as the “last man standing” in the DSLR industry. On the face of it, the market for DSLRs could be viable, but small, in much the same way that Leica has been making rangefinders. The key to getting this group involved is to continue developing cameras and lenses.

Pentax would seem ideally placed to take advantage of the situation given its experience and current position. The question is whether it can lure existing DSLR users to the Pentax brand, perhaps at a premium, though not in the same league as mirrorless. Now would be the perfect moment for the charm to kick in and perhaps propose a future development plan to attract potential customers to what could be a permanent market of 0.5 million cameras a year.

The path is clear, and now that Pentax has a “Get Out of Jail” card due to the fact that its competitors quickly decided to stop competing, what will it do next?

Image credits: Photos by David Crew for PetaPixel.

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