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Ilse Jurriën : March 10th 2008 - 17:00 CET

Pentax interview

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PentaxPentax interview at PMA : January of this year Pentax introduced two new digital SLR cameras. One of the models, the Pentax K20D has been equipped with a 14 Megapixel image sensor. This is quite surprising and Pentax together with Samsung (GX20) are now delivering a digital SLR camera for the amateur with the highest resolution ever. Bas de Meijer had an appointment with John Carlson, Product Manager Imaging Systems, Pentax USA, on the last day of the PMA 2008 to go through a few subjects with him. Besides the interesting offer of DSLR cameras, Pentax also offer a line of compact cameras (Optio) but it seems that this segment gets less attention lately. Time to get some answers as to Pentax's plans for 2008; an interview with John Carlson.
Pentax interview John Carlson

Question : Pentax work in close cooperation with Samsung on DSLRs. The differences are merely visible and the cameras are almost equal to the Samsung models which is an understatement. Why would a photographer want to go for Pentax?

Answer : Everything in relation to image editing and how images are made is what Pentax does. That's our only business. We know how to make lenses, how to make cameras, we have developed everything. That is where we come from; it is Pentax's true origin. And Samsung is doing this for 2 years now, 3 years? They are using a lot of our technology and know-how. And not only what's inside the camera, the technique. If you have a question you can call Pentax and for sure you get a good answer. They know what they are talking about, they know photography. I don't know if Samsung can do the same.

Question : What you are saying is that Pentax is mainly a camera manufacturer and Samsung an electronics manufacturer. But if you say you are a true camera manufacturer does it mean we can expect a top model, the one that Sony, an electronics manufacturer, is announcing at present?

Answer : I can only speak for the USA market. Top models only own a small market segment, I think around 5% of the professional area. And besides a middle format Pentax, it was never an area Pentax aimed at. We have always remained on the consumer level, which is where the volume is. A more advanced camera is likely to show up in the future but I don't know anything about a specific plan. I am certain we are checking it out but for it to really happen, is as clear as mud. We have done some research with the Pentax digital 645 but we have decided it is not the right product at this moment.

Question : That is quite a pity.

Answer : Well, not really. When I spoke with the American dealers they were not at all enthusiastic. And mainly because of the lack of a large market for it, that's what it comes down to. How many can they buy? If you look at how many photographers are able of buying those kinds of cameras you'd see it's not that many. The price is considerably high. If the Pentax 645 is put on the market, it could be a very expensive camera. I don't think many people would understand that. They thought the Pentax would be sold very cheap, less than 5000 US dollar. But the camera would be significantly more expensive. I read a lot of forums and the general assumption of the average user was that the camera would not cost more than a professional SLR.

Pentax K20D

Question : The Pentax K20D offers a frame speed of 21 pictures per second. How does it work?

Answer : It is comparable with Live View. Thanks to the CMOS you have less energy consumption. The sensor of the Pentax K20D is capable of transferring the received information very quickly. What they did is decrease the picture to 1.6 Megapixels so it can be transferred from the buffer to the memory card speedily. This is how you reach 21 pictures per second. It is suitable for websites and small prints because of the low resolution. It is not the perfect solution but it is quite excellent. Someone even told me that he uses Photoshop CS3 Extended and he attached 150 pictures sequentially as a QuickTime movie and it looks like a real movie recording.

Question : So there is a target group for it?

Answer : While talking with a professional, he saw an application for it immediately. He makes action sequences and in a skiing magazine they showed such a sequence (I am a skier). They just showed all the pictures on a page and the function is perfect for this application. Or you can use it to analyse a golf swing and more of these kinds of things. So there are certainly applications for it.

Question : Every brand now offers Live View. A rather strange development. Many people don't want to take pictures anymore with the camera sticking out front; they prefer a DSLR because of its viewfinder. Why is Live View still being introduced everywhere?

Answer : First of all simply because we can. The CMOS sensor lets us do it. However I saw an application when attending the CES. We went to the Mandalay bay and there was safety glass higher than eyelevel. We were unable to frame correctly due to the glass. So we placed the cameras on tripods and used Live View for framing. There are more situations in which it is ideal to use Live View. Also because you have a 100% coverage you can make the perfect composition without having to worry about eventual crops.

Question : However; Live View and focussing don't go well together, apart from the second sensor Sony is offering. The mirror has to be folded up for the auto focus and then come back out. There should be room for improvement I suppose.

Answer : Of course there is room for improvement. But with the techniques we have at this moment, we can obtain what we can obtain now. It surely is a good implementation of the technique at this time. And certainly useful. Also for photographers swapping from a compact to a DSLR. It is incredible to see people pick up a camera at a show. They pick up a compact and put it down again. Next they pick up a DSLR and expect the LCD to turn on which doesn't happen. I think Live View will also satisfy those people.

K20D Pentax

Question : What are the main disadvantages of Live View, apart from the auto focus?

Answer : The auto focus is absolutely one of the main disadvantages, but Live View also slurps up your battery power. And besides that I don't see many disadvantages.

Question : So if you're able to sort out the AF and to lower the energy consumption we might even get an SLR without optical viewfinder?

Answer : Well, we don’t want to get rid of it completely. I surely hope we don't get to that stage because there are many users that understand how a viewfinder works and prefer working with it. And I am one of them. I have been taking pictures for a long time and I am really used to the viewfinder. It gives you a feeling of intimacy. You look through the viewfinder and block out everything else around you. You only focus on what you see through the camera.

Question : You also have an entirely new line of lenses, such as the light sensitive version. Will this line continue?

Answer : Yes, you can count on that. We are now showing three SLR lenses that will get introduced later, hopefully this year. We have a 17-70 mm one that is considered as a replacement for the 16-45 mm but offering an SDM engine (the built-in silent auto focus engine, BDM). And we have the extreme light sensitive 55mm and the 60-250 mm. Certainly if you read the forums, people are very excited about that lens and users wanted to have it sooner. But we wanted to spend more time on the two zoom lenses we have launched recently.

Question : They do look like professional lenses. It actually makes me expect a top model too.

Answer : Yes they are professional lenses. We have done this in the past too for analogue cameras. Neither then was it our core business. The lenses we have announced recently do meet the demand of the user. The advanced photographer and a few professional ones will start using these lenses. However, in combination with the K20D.

Question : Can I compare the Pentax K20D with a Nikon D80 or more so with a Nikon D300?

Answer : I'd say more with the Nikon D300.

Pentax K200D

Question : And the Pentax K200D finds itself one step down on the ladder right?

Answer : Yes but we don't want to sell the Pentax K200D as an entry-level model. It offers many more features than other entry-level models from other brands. And yes, it does have auto modes. But it has more possibilities, more personal settings. It has sensitivity priority found also on the Pentax K10D and the dust detection feature.

Question : You don't offer a real entry-level model or a professional one. You claim there is not enough market demand on the top level. So may we expect an introduction on the entry-level market? A Pentax K2000D or something like that?

Answer : I don't know. At present we are absolutely satisfied with the line we are offering. It is hard to say what's in the pipeline. It's likely to happen but you could also place the cameras too close in the same segment, something we'd like to avoid.

Question : Let's go back to the lenses again. Pentax has these beautiful Limited Edition lenses, the pancakes. They are nicely small and perfect. I would like to see that line extend. May we expect that?

Answer : Not that I know of. We have some sort of route for lenses and I haven't noticed an enhancement of the Limited lenses. I find them great too. But I think after these four, the most logical step would be to introduce more telephoto. And again; I haven't seen any plans on the roadmap.

Pentax Compact Cameras

Question : It seems that a lot of development is going on at Pentax as far as compact cameras are concerned.

Answer : You are right, mainly smaller updates like the E-series are happening. They are almost similar to their predecessors. Their performance has been improved which is the most important matter. We have leaped forward with the M-series. We have a 5x optical zoom and that is a significant improvement. And smile recognition and a considerably improved LCD screen. I have taken the cameras outdoors and in bright sunlight I was still able to see everything on the monitor. That is a true improvement too, as you will understand.

Question : A top compact is not on its way as I take it? Why not?

Answer : Correct. There is only limited demand for it. I would like to see it though, they are perfect cameras. I am a real photo enthusiast, I take my Pentax K20D everywhere I go, and before that I did the same with my Pentax K10D. I would really love to own a compact that is able to reach that quality. I never stop pushing our designers for it.

Question : You are a camera manufacturer; wouldn't a top compact improve your image? When I talk with people nowadays the brand name Pentax doesn't actually mean that much anymore. Not as much as it used to do. It's all about Canon and Nikon these days.

Answer : I think it would help. I really hope the Japanese engineers are working on it. Because it really would become an awesome camera!

Pentax PMA Booth

Question : In the Pentax booth here at the PMA we noticed the expression Pentaxian everywhere. It sounds familiar because of Canonian and Nikonian. This is done on purpose I guess? What is the philosophy behind it?

Answer : For sure that this is on purpose. It is based on the Pentax photo enthusiast. We like to compare ourselves with brands like Apple and Subaru. Brands that don't own the largest market share but still have many passionate enthusiasts. Users loving their products and telling the whole world how much they love their product. We wanted to acknowledge that group. That is where Pentaxian stems from. And of course we have the Pentaxian website that shows four photographers that we consider being real Pentaxians. They are excellent photographers, some of them professionals. We appreciate people who are passionate about what they are doing, just as we are of what we are doing.

Question : It really adds to the brand's involvement with the user.

Answer : Yes, it sure does. Users can become part of a group, part of the club. People really enjoy that.

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