Pentax: New digital SLR in the works?|
(Wednesday, October 16, 2002 - 19:20 EDT)
A news item from the Japan Industrial Journal (JIJ) website (a publication of Japanese newspaper Nihon Kogyo Shimbun) predicts that Pentax will again attempt to enter the digital SLR marketplace with a new design next spring.
According to the JIJ article (available in Japanese only, but translated by your humble news editor), Pentax are planning to announce the new digital SLR, and at the same time cut the number of film-based SLR product lines in half from the current six. JIJ notes that Pentax's strategy is to use the move into the fast-growing digital camera field to increase its status in the camera marketplace.
The article goes on to note that currently only Canon, Nikon and Kyocera (under their Contax brandname) have brought their own digital SLR designs to market. Fuji and Kodak have used bodies and lens-mounts from Nikon for their current digital SLR designs. In the case of Kodak, they've also cooperated with Canon in the past - although the article doesn't actually mention this. Finally, Olympus' plans for a new digital SLR format are mentioned, and predicted by JIJ to debut next spring. The article notes that it is inevitable with these new forays that competition will increase.
Now for the real meat of the item - and note that no source for the information is given, so as you'd expect this remains solidly in rumor territory for the time being. JIJ predicts that Pentax's new digital SLR will feature an APS-sized (24 x 16mm) imager and a price-tag of just ¥200,000. That translates to almost exactly US$1600 / €1640 / £1035 ignoring currency fluctuations, taxes and duties.
A price of $1600 would put the camera about $200 below the current price leader, Sigma's SD9 - which has yet to begin shipping - and about $400 below Nikon's D100. There's no guarantee as to what prices will be by next spring, though, and if the design won't be announce until spring it will likely be summer or fall 2003 at the earliest when it reaches market. Hence we'd not be surprised to see prices from competitors to reach this level by the time Pentax reach the market, and there's always the potential for a surprise that could push prices even lower.
The article continues to note that Pentax has adopted its plans for an APS-sized sensor rather than a full 35mm-frame sized sensor because of the high cost of designs based on the larger sensors (¥700,000 is the figure quoted, about US$5600), and also because of increased body size. By using a smaller sensor, Pentax hopes to keep costs and camera size down.
Apparently simultaneously with the announcement, Pentax will offer several interchangeable lenses aimed at wide-angle capabilities, according to JIJ. Finally, the article notes that Pentax's current film market share in Japan for compact cameras is 25%, for SLRs 12%, and for medium format cameras it is 40%.
Interestingly, one point that bears mentioning is completely ignored by the JIJ article - Pentax's past efforts at a digital SLR, which were officially abandoned a year ago. That model, which was never given a name, would have featured a 6 megapixel full-frame image sensor. No price point was ever suggested on the record by Pentax, but it seems likely it was intended to have been in the region of US$7000 - 9000, rather than the US$6000 figure that was repeated around the internet.
If the JIJ article turns out to be accurate, then Pentax has presumably learned the hard way that the high end of the digital SLR market is hard-fought, and it is difficult to make a profit using a full-frame sensor. Hence, it seems logical to expect the company to regroup and try a new strategy, aiming at bringing the cost of digital SLRs within reach of the average enthusiast photographer, and designing new lenses to offer wide-angle capabilities rather than increasing sensor size.