Cameras Pentax

The Future of the PENTAX Brand: Go Niche With the SLR Optical Viewfinder

In a presentation titled “What PENTAX Values Most in Future Cameras” to discuss the future of the PENTAX brand, Ricoh Imaging president Shinobu Takahashi informed us of his new vision for the PENTAX brand. The new vision for PENTAX cameras, somewhat akin to what Leica has done, is to go niche. In a nutshell, following Leica’s example of producing optical rangefinder cameras that appeal only to a niche market, PENTAX is going to make the SLR (Single Lens Reflex) optical viewfinder (OVF) its saving grace and major differentiator in future PENTAX-branded cameras.

Though the video mentions that the first Japanese-built 35mm SLR was made by PENTAX (the Asahiflex), the first commercially successful SLR with an OVF that gained a large following and set the standard for every other SLR to follow was the Nikon F film SLR, with interchangeable prisms and focusing screens, and a complete system of interchangeable lenses and accessories.

Optical Viewfinder (OVF) vs. Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
The OVF allows the photographer to see exactly what is coming through the lens and exposing the film (or image sensor). Before the SLR OVF, every 35mm full-frame camera pretty much used the optical rangefinder. The optical rangefinder (still in use in the recently announced Leica M10-R) suffers from parallax problems when lenses of different focal lengths are atached and the use of telephoto lenses means unsatisfactory reliance on a small image delimited by frame lines in the separate viewfinder. The SLR’s OVF (with mirror box and prism viewfinder) was a technological breakthrough at the time.

The EVF had a more difficult adoption, first suffering from low resolution and low refresh rate. But succeeding iterations and technology improvements mean that the best EVF today (with high magnification, fast refresh rate, adjustable screen brightness, overlay info, focus peaking, etc.) ranks equal or even superior to the OVF. Where the OVF allows the photographer to see what is going through the lens, the EVF today allows the photographer to see not only what is going through the lens, but also what will be/is being actually recorded on the image sensor.

That being said, there are always those who prefer the SLR OVF to using an EVF. PENTAX is targeting those photographers.

PENTAX Spotmatic

PENTAX Spotmatic

I have to admit to feeling a bit sad over this announcement. I absolutely love the beautifully-designed PENTAX Spotmatic film SLR. But staying with the SLR OVF means that future PENTAX cameras will have to continue to have a mirror box as well as a prism. So PENTAX will not be seriously going mirrorless (discounting the K-01 and other half-hearted attempts), perhaps leaving this category to the Ricoh brand.