Is Pentax even still around? Yes? Who would have known? They need to go back to making the cameras that made them great in the first place: the K1000, 645, and 67 models.
Pentax has, perhaps more than any brand of camera manufactures, fallen from their standing as a major player in the camera industry. Their first camera, the Asahiflex, made its debut in 1952. The model following it, the Asahi Pentax, was the first to use the “Pentax” name. In the decades following, Pentax developed the first through-the-lens camera with the Spotmatic — a camera I hold near and dear to my heart. When my father was in the service, stationed in Guam in the late 60s, he bought an Asahi Spotmatic, which still works (sans metering) to this day. In 1976, Pentax started selling the K1000 and continued selling it until 1997. Why fix what isn’t broken, right? Had they kept the same mount between those two cameras (shifting from a screw mount M42 to a bayonet-style mount, the K-mount), I think the Spotmatic would be a more popular camera choice for those looking to get into film today.
In the early 2000s, however, Pentax started their shift away from their film camera dominance and started designing and manufacturing digital cameras. They would continue to make a few models of film cameras, but ultimately, they were all discontinued somewhat early into the 2000s. As laid out in a relatively recent article on Fstoppers, it was then that Pentax started making their way towards irrelevance. At the time of writing, there are only four camera models available new for purchase at B&H: the K-1 Mark II, K-70, KP, and the 645 Z medium format camera. Further, B&H lists 59 full-frame lenses available propped up heavily by Rokinon/Samyang and Tamron to supplement Pentax’s own lens lineup. What’s more, the Sigma Art lineup does not offer any of its lenses in the Pentax mount.
Despite being seemingly irrelevant into today’s photography world, they maintain third place among manufacturers of DSLR cameras in Japan with about 3.1% of the market share. That being said, they are not even close to holding third place in total camera sales. Once mirrorless cameras are introduced into the conversation, Fuji and Sony trounce Pentax in annual camera sales. At the bottom of the recent article, Mike asked readers what they believe should be the next step for Pentax. With more than 1,300 responses, the most common response was to offer a compelling DSLR strategy with 41.6% of responses. Surprisingly to me, only 28.3% thought the best step forward would be to develop a mirrorless camera to compete with Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and even Leica. How does Pentax not feel left out? Perhaps as expected, 30.1% thought it was Pentax close up shop, either through slowly running down business (17.0%) or immediately closing (13.1%).
Moving Forward: The Path Less Traveled
So what, if anything, could possibly resuscitate Pentax from its current status of being on life support? I would argue film cameras. In a previous article, I wrote on the slow march of film photography towards extinction, I proposed that the only thing that would truly provide new life to film photography would be the new manufacturing of reliable and affordable film cameras. An Fstoppers reader named Owain chimed in and floated the idea of Pentax returning to manufacturing film cameras, namely the Pentax 67. It is a genius idea.
Think about it. It would be a mutually beneficial relationship for film manufacturers and Pentax. I stand by what I wrote in my previous article. Without some signs of new life in film camera manufacturing, the current supply of film cameras, which is getting older and older by the day, will eventually break with fewer and fewer people and businesses to reliably fix them. In just the last couple of years, the increased popularity of the film has led to a decreased supply of cameras, resulting in higher prices and fewer options. Truth be told, I don’t know that I would own the cameras on my shelf if I had to pay today’s prices for them. I feel bad for those just now getting into it who didn’t even have the chance to get a camera at last year’s pricing much less the pricing of 2018 or before.
Should Pentax consider resurrecting their film cameras from their graves, I hope they consider keeping them affordable. Speaking specifically to the K1000, when I say affordable, I don’t mean quite the level that you could buy a used K1000 now — that would be crazy. I do think they should remake the K1000, keep it well built, all manual (except for the meter), and at or below $300. Otherwise, it would defeat the point. There needs to be an option for photographers just looking to get into film that would like/prefer a new camera but don’t want to drop the thousands required to buy any other decent new camera on the market.
As for a 645, I would hope they would allow for a removable back. That way it could be outfit with different film backs and, for those that are interested, a digital back could be used. Should they keep the same amount, one could use Pentax’s previous autofocus lenses in addition to their manual lenses. When it comes to a possible 67 camera, offering a digital option would obviously be out of reach. As such, an exclusive film option would be necessary but still incredibly useful. The Pentax 67 system is widely regarded as one of the best 67 systems — at least in an SLR format — and the 67II is an amazing camera. I would hope that they would either go straight for a 67III, stepping up the quality of the 67II or at the very least offer something more manual and less expensive.
Is There a Market for These Cameras?
I would argue yes. Of the very limited options for newly manufactured film cameras offered by the major manufacturers, none are affordable and of a similar quality to the vintage cameras most associate with film cameras. What’s more, the only newly manufactured medium format options that can be made and sold to scale are not serious photographic tools. Should Pentax decide to remake any film camera again, I could see myself buying one. What’s more, almost all of the film photographers I know would happily buy one if they were affordable. Even if the 645 or 67 options were closer to a couple thousand, I could still see a lot of film photographers jumping at the chance to buy one.
All images in this article were supplied by Taylor Cubbie and used with permission.