- Pentax has committed to investigating making new brand film cameras.
- Pentax might be the only camera manufacturer that could pull this off.
- Before long, there will be no expert film camera technicians left.
Stop the history clocks! Pentax has announced plans to make not one, not two, but an entire range of brand-new film cameras.
Film photography continues to grow in popularity, with Kodak even looking to hire more film technicians to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the only newly-built film cameras you can buy are Leicas for $5K+, and junky plastic-lensed toy cameras from your local store. Fans are stuck with buying up used models, while qualified repairpersons enter retirement age. But now, thanks to Ricoh Pentax, there’s hope.
“To produce a quality film camera requires an intricate understanding of both analog and digital components; something which many companies lack due to their previously exclusive focus on developing digital products,” Jacob Richard, founder of Camera Prism, told Lifewire via email.
Pentax Goes All-In
Let’s get two things straight. First, this isn’t some rumor based on a drunken comment from a Ricoh Pentax executive at a party. This is a long, informed, and very official announcement from Ricoh CEO Noboru Akabane (Ricoh bought Pentax a while back). There’s a press release and even a few videos.
Second, don't expect a new Pentax SLR anytime soon. Noboru Akabane made clear that this is the beginning of a journey involving investigation, dusting off the old technicians to train the youngsters, and input from film photographers vis social media.
In his statement, Noboru Akabane said that Pentax plans to make a range of film cameras, starting with a compact point-and-shoot for "young people" and building from there. Pentax's heritage is largely built on its SLRs and, to a lesser extent, its medium-format cameras, so if we can expect anything, we should expect a manual film SLR at some point.
Of all the surviving camera makers, Pentax seems the most suited to pull this off. While Nikon focused on quality above all else, and Canon pushed the technological envelope, nobody seemed to get the photography-for-the-masses concept like Pentax.
When I was a photography student many years ago, Pentax was the brand of choice, thanks to being reliable, of good quality, and affordable. Its iconic K1000 all-manual SLR was the starter camera for countless beginners and was helped by having a lens mount that was open to any other manufacturer to use, leading to a healthy choice of cheap-o lenses.
“The idea that a company like Ricoh/Pentax would launch into making new film cameras with such enthusiasm is a really big deal. I’m very excited about the possibility of a new Pentax camera, and there’s no doubt that Pentax has almost instantly become a special brand in my heart and mind,” writes James Tocchio on his Casual Photophile blog.
The Hard Part
The problem with resurrecting an industry is that all the parts are so interconnected. You don't just sit a bunch of skilled people in a factory with a pile of metal, machine tools, and a filing cabinet full of blueprints.
Take the supply-chain problems of the past few years. The slightest disruption—a glue factory burning down, for example, or a shortage of basic-but-essential commodity chips has a domino effect that ends with iPhones not being made, cars shipping without features, and so on.
And that's a disruption to a full-operational worldwide industry. Pentax faces an effort not just to design a camera but to source parts and expertise that make accurate manual shutters possible and reliable, and all the rest of the parts that go into largely mechanical devices. If you ever opened up and tried to fix a film SLR, you will be aware of the complexity involved, none of which can be solved by hiring software developers.
"Sourcing quality parts for movie cameras can be difficult given that most suppliers these days only cater to digital users. The reliance on third-party vendors also adds another layer of complexity when it comes to product development as each component has its own level of compatibility issues that need to be addressed before final assembly," says Richard.
Despite all this, Ricoh/Pentax seems to think it can manage it. At the very least, it's going to try, which is amazing news for photographers. And who knows—if it does work out, maybe the likes of Nikon and Canon might have another crack at it.