August 6, 2010

Photokina 2010, Pentax and the full frame mystery

Only a few days left until Photokina 2010

Big Pentax

Or why at this year's 2010 Photokina exhibition, Pentax may not get
away with ignoring the full frame conumdrum.

Many users of digital SLR cameras may not be aware that the sensor in their
camera is smaller than it used to be in the era of 35mm film. Most dSLR cameras
use an APS-C sized sensor which does only have about 40% of the surface of
a "full
35mm film frame
", or "full frame" in short.
Of course, this is expressed by the crop factor and users actually do know
about this. They simply ignore this. And they have reason to do so: the image
quality exceeds that of full frame film cameras and therefore, there seems
to be no reason to care about the detail of sensor size for a dSLR camera.

But as always, there is a school of photograhers who do not agree. It can
be shown that a larger sensor -- when combined with lenses which fully exploit
the design options offered by a larger sensor -- delivers superior image quality.
Independent on how great it was in the first place. After all, it's the reason
of digital medium format cameras to exist. Moreover, the lens mount of all dSLRs
with an APS-C sized sensor is desgned for full frame lenses (lenses with an
image circle large enough to use the entire surface of a full frame sized sensor).
Simply because those mounts are from the 35mm film era. And because it is the
mount (diameter and registration distance) which determines the majority of
the size of an SLR camera, a full frame dSLR wouldn't need to be (significantly)
an APS-C
Four-Third sized SLR cameras are an exception as their mount isn't full frame
capable. But we can savely ignore it after the impact of this sensor size on
the SLR market has almost vanished after the introduction of Micro Four-Third.

The opening photo is that of a Pentax APS-C dSLR certainly bulkier
than any full frame Pentax film SLR has ever been. Actually, the famous 30+
year old Pentax MX full frame film SLR is smaller than any digital SLR on the
market today, whatever small be its sensor. A full frame dSLR could certainly
be made more compact than the APS-C dSLR shown on the photo above.

So after dismissing the size disadvantage, we are left with only three arguments against a full frame camera which
all disappear on closer inspection, too:

  1. Full frame sensors are too expensive and only pros
    can afford it. Right?

    Well, from public cost models I computed upper bounds
    2010 manufacturing costs for APS-C and full frame sensrs and the difference is
    less than $100 (*) ! Of course, semiconductor vendors will
    add significantly different margins as long as this
    market doesn't heat up.

    (*) Note: for all claims made in this article, look up the "Furter reading" section at the end of the article for further reference.

  2. The lenses are too expensive, bulky and heavy. Right?

    Well, equivalent lenses (different lenses but such that
    they provide equivalent image quality for different
    sized sensors) have the same size and weight for APS-C
    and full frame. And are a bit less expensive
    for full frame! Which is easy to explain by looking
    at lp/mm resolution requirements.

  3. One needs longer, heavier, more expensive tele lenses
    because one looses the crop factor. Right?

    Well, about heavier and more expensive, read above. About
    longer, that's actually a function of the pixel pitch,
    not the crop factor. There is no reason why a full frame
    camera should have a larger pixel pitch than an APS-C
    camera. Currently and for cost reasons only, most actually
    do indeed. Although the difference is already as small as 5µm vs. 6µm. And it is going away. Read about the cost factor above.

So, we are left with a situation where a full frame SLR
should be a no brainer. But as always, things aren't as
simple as they appear.


Market segmentation

Because full frame cameras can deliver better image quality
they appeal to a higher segment of the market. The so-called
enthusiast and professional photographer markets. There
is a hidden consensus between Japanese camera makers (with
maybe the exception of Sony) to draw excessive margins
from the full frame market. Therefore, full frame dSLRs
are either prohibitively expensive (Nikon D3X, Canon 1DsMkIII) or crippled
in one way or another. Sometimes not voluntariliy (Sony).
And they are all bulky and ugly because they have to show
"full frame inside", right? ;)

But despite all the artificial barriers to keep the
markets segmented, more popular models like Canon 5DmkII
or Nikon D700 have risen to 2-3% unit market share each
(estimated from BCN figures). Adding the many professional models from
and Nikon and the very affordable Sony A850 we have
a unit market share of full frame dSLRs of 5-10%.
Of couse, each new model sends shock waves thru this segmentation
and an upgrade to the D700 is expected
later this year. The figures do also mean that full frame
dSLRs create a significant portion of the vendor's overall
possibly in excess of 30%.

Overall, the dSLR market is in a state like a supercooled
fluid: the right perturbation and the segmentation will
implode and all but the entry-level SLRs go full frame
(the entry-level SLRs go mirrorless Single Lens Digital
(SLD) anyway...). Think of a full frame Canon 7D or Pentax
K-7 in terms of ergonomics and speed, for well below $1800
settled street price ...


Pentax and the Full Frame mystery

Pentax is an interesting special case. They have not offered
a full frame dSLR yet and always denied any plans to launch
such a camera. On the other hand, Pentax is the brand of
the image quality perfectionist and landscape photographers.
Pentax was the first trying to launch an enthusiast full
frame dSLR, back in the year 2000 (the famous 6MP Pentax
MZ-D), three years before they launched their APS-C dSLR.
They were the first to promote weather sealed bodies and
for outdoor photography, the first to offer a 15MP APS-C
dSLR (the Pentax K20D) and they are even first to offer
an enthusiast digital medium format SLR below $10,000
(the Pentax 645D). So, they shoud be predestined to offer
outdoor 20MP+ full frame dSLR in the enthusiast market
segment (~$1200 to ~$1800). This could make
their market share explode.

But there are problems: Pentax burned fingers when trying
to be full frame in 2000. And they burned bridges when
later launching their APS-C only line of dSLRs. Because
for 5 years, they developped APS-C lenses
only and assured the market that their lens investments
are safe because full frame cameras won't come back. In
mid 2008 though, they seem to have changed direction again
and almost no new lenses have been introduced. Two new
lenses, introduced in 2008/2009, the DA*300 and the
DA*60-250/4, are patented as full
frame lenses, actually. So, who knows ... But at least
officially, Pentax is now short in full frame lenses. And
because they never left the decision between APS-C and
full frame to their customers, any announcement about a
forthcoming full frame camera could stall their on-going
business. Well, Pentax may even fear to cannibalize their
new digital medium format business which seems to have
a bright future.

Most importantly though and because they burned fingers
once, Pentax may be convinced that their share of the full
frame market is simply too small, like 5% of 5% or 0.25%

And if deciding to divert development resources, they
may as well decide to invest into the SLD market to protect
their cash cow.

So, when looking at the current or past situation, there
is no reason for Pentax to launch a full frame dSLR camera.
But what about when looking into the future?

This is were the community of Pentax photographers (called
Pentaxians by Pentax) comes into play.


Pentax and the year 2011

2011 will be the year where everybody sells SLD cameras,
Pentax included. Everybody. Pentax will have a genuine
SLD camera. As will Canon and Nikon. But where are buyers
coming from? Well, mostly upgraders from the dying point
& shoot market (in majority shifting to cell phones) and
migraters from equally priced (i.e., entry-level) dSLR.
So, to launch an SLD camera is vital to preserve a market
share in the $400 - $800 segment. Exactly where the Pentax
K-x attracted new buyers to Pentax in the year 2009. But
of this doesn't help to preserve the enthusiast (Pentaxian)
market which is the $900 - $1800 segment.

One may argue that the enthusiast market isn't that important
for Pentax from a point of view of turnover. But according
to my own analysis, K-x, K-7 and 645D each create about
the same amount of earnings. Simply because
the mass markets are always small in margin. But most importantly,
blogging Pentaxians are the most influential group: they
are opinion leaders in forums where magazine authors and
store managers draw their opinion from and recommend some
products or not. Unlike in previous years, this group
of opinion leaders has expressed very clearly that they
either expect to see Pentax going full frame in the enthusiast
segment, or leave the brand. I refer to bloggers like LanceB,
once selected "Pentaxian of the year" and who now test
drives a D700 before taking final action.

Pentax is already seeing that Pentaxians put themselves
onto "hold and wait": The sale of expensive DA lenses has
declined while the market for used (full frame) FA and
A lenses is still healthy. This isn't only due to a lack
of new DA* lenses. It is mostly due to the fact that the
enthusiast market drives lens sales and Pentaxians now
assume that the "never be full frame" claim of Pentax lost
credibility (due to technical arguments as outlined above).
After all, purchasing a lens is much more kind of an investment
than purchasing a camera which is known to deprecate
fast. The full frame conundrum is already destroying half
of Pentax' business.

So, what would be the right actions to be taken by Pentax
in 2011? Well, first, join the P&S and part of the SLR
team into a new SLD department, delivering the world's
first water-proof SLD and making sure a K-mount adapter
with AF support exists. Drop the P&S division. Pentax'
SLD mount should look as close as possible to Sony's E-mount,
35mm SLD cameras. Possibly allowing to sell Pentax lenses
for the E-mount too. I assume the E-mount uses an encrypted
communication protocol. But at least mechanically, there
should be fit.

Second though, form a team from remaining SLR and
645D developers for enthusiast cameras. Their first product
shall be a 24-35MP full frame SLR with Exmor HD
sensor in a K-5* body. Third, release new full frame lenses,
like the DFA 100/Macro relaunched earlier this year.

One may argue that this is infeasible. At least for the
second "enthusiast" team, I don't think so. Assuming Sony
would share their full frame Exmor sensor with Pentax,
all the rest is routine work for Pentax engineers. Moreover,
in June 2008, a Pentax manager said in an interview
that the development of a full frame camera is in its planning
stage. So, if that project wasn't cancelled, it should
be ready to deliver by 2011. Even taking into account that
K-7 and 645D diverted valuable resources in the first 2
years of the 3 year period. Surprisingly, the "leaked"
full frame project coincides with a rush of completed APS-C
DA lenses (2008) and a complete halt to new APS-C
only lens releases from then on and until now (with the
exception of the DA15 lens). Therefore, I guess that Pentax
would have enough full frame lenses to accompany the release
of the camera: FA31, FA43, FA77, DA*55, DA*60-250, DFA100,
DA*200, DA*300. With only 4 additional lenses (DFA28-80
kit zoom, a DFA~18 wideangle prime and two f/2.8 DFA* zooms
70-200)), the lens line up would be fairly complete. Four
lenses developped or optimized in 3 years, why not?


Pentax and Photokina 2010

Photokina 2010 starts September 21 in Cologne, Germany.
It is the event and everybody is watching
Pentax there (if at all). The internet's rumor mill has
a pretty detailed prediction about what Pentax is going
to reveal: A K-x successor (with focus indicators) and
a new camera positioned above the K-7 but not replacing
it. The first camera named K-r, the second K-5. The K-5
would be APS-C but with a 16MP Sony Exmor sensor, faster
fps (7?) and faster AF system in a body similiar or identical
to that of the K-7. At a price spot at the lower end of
the enthusiast market segment. No full frame. No SLD.

But I sincerely fear that this doesn't suffice. Starting
at Photokina 2010, Pentaxians need a roadmap to full frame
and corresponding lenses in order to be able continue to
invest into their system. They have harvested enough money
now to either invest or migrate elsewhere. And Photokina
2010 will be the checkpoint for many to take action.

To stay silent at Photokina on the full frame front may
imply suicide for Pentax in the mid term.

Pentax can wait until 2011 to say anything about SLD.
People waiting for SLD aren't the opinion leaders so letting
them wait doesn't hurt. Moreover, they can buy any other
SLD w/o leaving the Pentax system. But to disappoint the
enthusiasts now is more dangerous than it ever has been
before. Up to the point that a K-5 would only sell if the
roadmap to full frame is sufficiently clear. Which sounds
paradox but isn't. It's all about psychology and the comfort
zone for what appears to be a hobby for most Pentaxians.
Pentax has to make Pentaxians believe into the brand. That's
part of their job, actually!

So, these are my recommended action items for Pentax at
Photokina 2010:

  • Announce K-5

  • Launch K-r

  • Publish a road-map to full frame, with a first delivery
    in 2011.

  • Launch new lenses, maybe one for APS-C and two for
    full frame.

  • Keep the SLD project a secret.

This article may be read as an open letter to Pentax.
Pentax has no plan to say anything about full frame. Which
is a severe mistake. Seize your chance. If you're too late
to the party, there may
be nobody
to become
So, keep
people dancing ...


Further reading:

You may use the commenting section to express your endorsement.
Thanks for reading!



  1. Thanks for detailed and insightful information. I really wish this would make it to some of Hoya / Pentax decision makers.

    Right now I`m going to crosspost a link to this post on to the Ned Bunnell blog.

  2. Excuse me, I don't speak English.
    I hope you appreciate this list of patents.

  3. I agree, Pentax should give consumers a road map for plans for a full-frame camera offering. This would be especially helpful for all photogs, whether Pentaxian or potential Pentax users.

    Personally, I just graduated from college with a degree in Photography. I purchased Pentax while in college over the other brands primarily because,
    1.) Image Quality = Outstanding (The majority of my work was with strobes)
    2.) Pentax's ability to shoot in DNG (Sometimes due to Photoshop upgrading to the newest CS, my classmates had difficulties opening and converting their RAW's. I never had problems.)
    3.) Affordability (The Pentax K20D was the only camera brand in ’08 that offered the image quality and weather sealing that fit within my meager college student budget)
    4.) Lens compatibility from my old 35mm K1000
    5.) **Brand loyalty…maybe. The K20D was my first DSLR. Everyone in my degree program had to switch to digital from film. Therefore, why switch to a different brand if my lenses were backwards compatible? The K20D could also sync with studio equipment.

    -- But since graduating and now working in the real world, I'm definitely due for an upgrade. In March, while doing freelance work, I had the opportunity to shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II. I know comparing my K20D to the 5D is practically like comparing apples with oranges. But using the 5D and seeing it's bokeh with L series lenses as well as it's image quality in low light situations at high ISOs has tempted me to switch to Canon -- all of this due to the camera's full-frame sensor!!! (Except for the L series lenses of course) Hence, I'm one of those Pentaxians awaiting a big announcement at Photokina 2010 by Pentax. If Pentax combined a full-framed sensor with the already established weather sealing, DFA available lenses, and affordable price point -- all built into spiffy Pentax body, I likely will be an early adopter. =)

    --Pentax Photog 0005

  4. Just my 2cents:

    Better ISO - yes
    better AF - yes
    More megapixels - no.

    FF is a nice to have, but not that importan from my point of view.

  5. A thought'provoking article. Personally, I am interested in a full-frame upgrade (I still treasure my Pentax A Macro 200mm lens) and also a waterproof camera with better image resolution. I use an Optio W30 and have not upgraded because I am not convinced about improved image quality with the newer models. I hope the Pentax engineers and planners take notice. Thanks for a most interesting article.
    John Michael

  6. Interesting reflecxion…

    My point of view, and s that the quality and magic of a photography goes beyond the type of used camera, if it is of the high low range or.

    But it is certain that PENTAX like company, must watch after their future and technology, and have references of the competition Canon, Nikon if wants to matnener quota of market….

    A body Full Frame would be very interesting and good to give to force to its market and image of mark.



  7. Do we really need FullFrame?
    It is just a marketing foul!
    Remeber the arguments of Nikon bevor the d3s (end 2007).
    They where right. Aps-C is even better, wenn u use ff-lenses.

  8. @Anonymous,

    your list of patents is impressive. Thanks for sharing. I mentioned 300 and 60-250 in particular because this is recent (Hoya era) work and it isn't APS-C.


    We only need a good beer, right? But it's no marketing foul, trust me.

  9. If Pentax is to not be an also-ran in the mirrorless market they would have to do something distinctly if not radically different from other companies. I have wondered if it would be possible from an engineering perspective to retain full compatibility with the K-mount in their mirrorless camera whilst still supporting a new type of more compact lens specifically for their mirrorless line.

    Jerryrigged systems of expensive and semi-functional adaptors don't enthuse photographers. A mirrorless camera with full native access to a dSLR lens system would.

    It'd be nice to see the new quasi phase detection SuperCCD in such a camera (so long as it's without the quality-killing EXR gimmick).

  10. Frankly, I doubt that Pentax has an interest in a FF camera. I was a part-time pro working with Pentax film equipment and tried unsuccessfully to find support within the Pentax corporation for their professionals. Nikon and Canon at least support their pros. I've tried the Pentax digital cameras and they don't compare to the full frame or the better APS-C in terms of image quality. They aren't bad, but they don't have the edge they need and there is still no support for pros. Move to Canon or Nikon if you aspire to achieve your full potential.

  11. "to achieve your full potential"

    I'm sure that Pentax will try to deliver a product or innovation which will allow you to achieve your full potential at Photokina 2010. But what shape or form this product is going to have I dont know.

  12. There is one other market segment that has a need for an affordable FF: the panoramic photography market. The current method of choice for most professional panographers (those making their income from it) is a full frame DSLR and a 10-17 Zoom Fisheye DA (Tokina or Nikkor) with the lens hood shaved off. This gives a > 180 degree field of view and has excellent quality outside the APC sensor boundaries as well as adequate resolution for output with only 3 images needed for a stitch. Pentax has that lens already-it is the same lens as the Tokina and Nikkor. An affordable FF would allow pentax into the Pro-Pano market without any lens production needed.

  13. @everybody ... please, leave a name or avatar when posting anonymously. It's a question of netiquette.

    Interesting comments. BTW, I *know* Pentax has an interest in FF when affordable enough. The comment about mirrorless: I didn't touch on that. But my recommendation to Pentax would be to make the mirrorless mount such that the FF image circle fits (like for Sony's E-mount) and to provide a K-mount adapter with good AF support (the early mirrorless cameras all would be APS-C of course). Contrast AF can be as fast as phase AF, even with legacy glass, provided a good algorithm and CPU are deployed (and a sensor with support for region of interest readout). Full support for legacy glass in a mirrorless is a technical problem which can be solved. If Pentax wants that or can invest enough research is another question.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Sorry, just re-posting this comment because of a few stupid mistakes in the original version.

    Once more, you've hit the nail right on the head.

    Here's a point or two I'd like to add.

    First and foremost the viewfinder. I'm sick of APS-C viewfinders, never mind if they're 0.85 or 0.89 and 100 % or not. They're rotten. The lot of of them.

    Oh, and once we're at it - please Pentax give us a decent high-eyepoint VF. The proportion of people wearing eyeglasses rises by the day and we've had enough of the eyeball gymnastics required to see the complete frame *and* the exposure info below it. It worked with 35 mm, so let's have it back.

    In my view, we wouldn't even need that much more MPix. Make it 18 or so and then use the remaining real estate to make bigger photosites for more dynamic range and less noise. Far more useful than driving the pixel count to extremes which are more of a burden in postprocessing instead of doing much to improve actual image quality.

    Lastly, there's a lot of people who've built up a heap of Pentax lenses and accessories over more than a decade and they're feeling left out in the cold and rain of APS-C. I'm one of them. I'd hate to lose a lot of money by selling all my glassware and buying into another system. But the K-7 has been my last APS-C purchase. Ever.

  16. Just to prove your point a bit more. I love Pentax and never thought I would outgrow it but recently I have found that when trying to sell my services as a model photographer that an APS-C does not cut the mustard. I am at the point of now selling all 25 of my lenses and 3 DSLR bodies to invest in a FF canon.

    If Pentax do not announce a FF camera this year I will cut my losses and run...

    Ive got my fingers crossed!!!

  17. Falk,

    Thanks for your recommendations to Pentax and the thorough reasoning behind them. I agree with some, but not others (and that's just fine) but I do wish you'd expand on one particular point: You say that Pentax should announce/release the K-5 (an upgrade of the K-7) and announce their FF plans at the upcoming Photokina.

    Here's my question: If FF really is that important to current Pentaxians, don't you think that its announcement would kill sales of the K-5? If all the advanced amateur Pentaxians are so desperate for a FF camera, then what's the point of the K-5? If they know a FF DSLR is coming in 2011 then they'll stick with their K-7's until then, or if they're K10/20D users then just buy a K-7 for $800 now to tide them over while they wait. Why would any of these desperate FF Pentaxians purchase a K-5? And if they don't purchase a K-5, who will? And if the K-5 is a flop, then how does Pentax make a profit?

    Pentax is neither Canikon, nor Sony; they can't afford to have their flagship camera be a flop. Or any of their cameras, for that matter.

  18. Hi Falk Lumo,

    Thanks for this documented article. I hope pentax mind are listening to your analyse...

    May I ask you what is the DSLR in the picture ?

    Picture says it's a K20D, but I do not recognize the handle :P

    PS : hope the name works, I do not know this system :/

  19. @Miserere,

    you make a very valid point and I avoided discussing it in the (already long) article.

    You're right, normally to stay silent about forthcoming products which aren't for sale yet is the best strategy. And it is certainly the reason why Pentax has sealed lips on the matter.

    There is one exception though and this is when the product is a system actually and any purchase is a decision beyond the single product.

    Examples are an operating system (Mac or Windows...), a camera system, anything with a steep learning curve (like 3D modelling software) etc. Products which make you invest into an ecosystem.

    In such a case, the vendor must assure that its ecosystem is healthy and make certain assertions about future developments. Otherwise, I go for another ecosystem with a clearer development path. Uncertainty is like poison in this situation.

    Back to your example. Assuring that Pentax has a healthy full frame roadmap and starting to release full frame lenses would actually make more people buy the K-5 than in the opposite case. Because K-5 is a good means to invest in a future-proof system again. Full frame lenses would work on the K-5 like a charm (think about the great DFA 100 Macro) and buying the K-5 may be a wise step to skip the firest full frame and jump onto the second next when full frame is more affordable. A strategy I would recommend and many would consider. K-5 would be a good purchase for K10D and K20D owners. If full frame is coming and the ecosystem has a bright future.

    My fear actually is that K-5 won't sell because nobody wants to buy more APS-C lenses or further invest into an ecosystem with uncertain roadmap.

    Nobody really wants to end up in a situation like that of Olympus FourThird SLR owners with a selection of expensive glass now. Pentax has to make clear it won't happen with them.

  20. @paracetamol,

    it is a K20D with the "fat" grip which was available as a custom-built option or after-sale modification in Germany and Japan.

  21. Thanks for your quick reply, Falk.

    I suppose we'll find out which way it's going to be in a few weeks. But if a FF is announced, I would demand that everyone begging for it on the forums purchase it. I don't think it's in Pentax's best interest for you to recommend that people skip the firest full frame and jump onto the second next when full frame is more affordable.

    One thing I've proposed in the past is that Pentax set up a pay-up-front ordering system: Via an official Pentax page you place a pre-order for a FF Pentax for, say, US$2,000. There is a list of specs for the camera, and the money is charged to your card upon checkout. This amount is non-refundable as long as Pentax makes, say, 5,000 sales. Pentax's part of the deal is to guarantee a FF camera will be released within 1 year of them reaching the 5,000th sale.

    Of course, once the camera is released, the first 5,000 units will go to those who preordered it.

    This sale method would make everyone on the Pentax fora put their money where their mouth is, and would also guarantee Pentax the minimum number of buyers they would need to break even on the FF project (as such, this number might be above or below the 5,000 units I pulled out of thin air).

  22. In my opinion, if Pentax were to make a full frame DSLR, the size of a K7 and implement a fast LV focusing system, without the flip flop mirror action, there were would be no need for them to even bother with SLD type cameras. I have been waiting since the 1990's for a "coat pocket sized" full frame DSLR, like the K1000, FM2, OM1 etc., to keep a small prime on and I think a lot of others have been waiting as well. If the price was kept under 2K dollars, I think it would sell very well.

    The SLD fad is going to wain when people get tired of no viewfinder as I did with the GF1 and moved to a GH1. However, I would just as soon use a small DSLR with an optical viewfinder, if it had a similar Live view implementation. Live view is great for a lot of different things, but an optical viewfinder is great for times when I need critical focus.

  23. @Misere, in my article, I write that pentax will not release a FF camera and doesn't even plan to talk about their agenda.

    About putting your money where your mouth is ... If a camera is exciting, it will succeed. There will always be an even better one in 12-24 months time ...

  24. Pentax has said recently that it is working hard to fill out its product line or plug the gaps in its product line. Not in these exact words of course. To me, it is Pentax finally seeing the writing on the wall. It now knows that unless it works night and day on a full frame model, it is going to retreat into the mirrorless camera body business just like Olympus. In fact, I predicted it years ago. APS-C only is an insane strategy. The APS-C format promises but never delivers smaller bodies or lenses. Nor are the APS-C only lenses any cheaper or smaller. The mirrorless cameras finally deliver what the APS-C format promises, so it is do or die for Pentax. Release a full frame and mirrorless models or see its APS-C only camera business wither away.

  25. I was a very strong supporter of Pentax ever since I began shooting with my 1970s K1000. But their inability to keep up with Nikon, specifically, has persuaded me to sell my mountains of Pentax gear and switch to the d700 - which is full frame and much better using available light.....

  26. I have been waiting since the 1990's for a "coat pocket sized" full frame DSLR, like the K1000, FM2, OM1 etc., to keep a small prime on and I think a lot of others have been waiting as well. If the price was kept under 2K dollars, I think it would sell very well.

    I'm with you on this. I've written a number of times about my desire for an LX-D; not "in essence", but an actual camera with an LX body and a digital sensor inside. I would even be happy with APS-C, but if it had a FF sensor with great low-light performance (like a D700 or D3s) I'd be happy too.

  27. I agree with the above. Whether APS or FF, it would be nice to see Pentax release a "coat pocket" SLR. Pentax primes are generally slower than the competition, but users get smaller sizes and better build quality in return. The pancake lineup would fit perfectly with a small, hip-looking SLR. The metal and pleather look of the old film SLRs would be a great starting point for the design of such a camera.

    An interesting idea I think would be to get the price point down on the 40mm pancake and bundle it with the "pocket camera" as the kit lens. Even if it is not a huge seller, the combination would be unique and generate a lot of positive publicity for the brand in general.

    Ultimately I do think that Pentax needs a full frame camera. Whether or not FF makes for better pictures, the bottom line is that enthusiasts are not going to keep shelling out $1300-$1500 every few years for APS cameras when FFs are priced only slightly higher. If Pentax does not address this, they will be left out in the cold.

    A good lineup from my point of view would be a mirrorless entry-level camera, an "lx-d" APS SLR, a more full featured APS SLR, and a FF SLR in the same space as the D700 or 5D. Throughout this lineup Pentax can emphasize their uniqueness with smaller sizes, better build quality, weather-proof bodies/lenses, backwards compatibility, and in-camera shake reduction. They can position the brand as the antidote to the giant camera/giant zoom-lens space that Canon and Nikon comfortably occupy.

  28. Thank you. A very well-thought-out, well-written and balanced presentation.

    I won't waste a lot of bandwidth on this comment, because I acknowledge at the outset that I speak for a very small percentage of what is already a small segment. But I want to own a Pentax FF DSLR for a very simple reason: so that my vintage/legacy lenses will revert to their "real" focal lengths. I want my 15/3.5 SMC to be a 15mm, not a 22.5mm. I want the experience of using a 35mm or a 40mm as a "wide normal" rather than a slightly-long normal. I want my 85mm portrait lenses to be portrait lenses again. (You get the point.)

    You may say, and with some justice, that this is a matter of concern only for the old-lens "fringe" group. Maybe so. But Pentax can't have its cake and eat it too. By that I mean: of all surviving consumer-level photo brands, Pentax has arguably been the most meaningfully dedicated to backwards compatibility. It remains a point of pride for Pentax that its latest DSLRs, with the addition of an inexpensive adapter, can still produce compelling images through the company's 40-year-old M42 lenses. Not only that: the adapter in question isn't some third-party kludge; it's Pentax-branded and Pentax-supported. And those lenses - without the headache of "chipping" individual adapters - will have the benefit of focus confirmation and image stabilization. That tells me that there's still a very real, deep commitment at Pentax to its legacy lenses. A FF DLSR would allow those lenses to be used as they were intended to be used. (And I'd be willing to bet that a FF Pentax DSLR wouldn't require a running list of legacy lenses that interfere with the mirror, as the 5DMkII does!)

    As I said at the outset, this is an insignificant concern compared with the demand for better high-ISO performance and video capabilities. But if Pentax doesn't offer some assurance that a FF camera is in the pipeline, it will be the reason this longtime Pentax loyalist ultimately abandons the brand in favor of Canon.

  29. @Jon, yes, legacy glass Pentaxians would like to see a full frame Pentax. They typically ask for uncrippling the K mount too, a feature known as "blesator" in the German Pentax community. However, "blesator" is synonymous to a running joke now. And Pentax is not happy that legacy glass sells well while some newer DA glass does not. So, one must be cautious here or the argument turns against you.

    Therefore, I agree with you but for a slightly different reason:

    Pentax can have a unique selling point with respect to Olympus, Canon, Sony, even (to a lesser degree) Nikon: That Pentax acknowledges the investment done by any Pentaxian into glass, be it in the past or (and that's the important bit here!!) be it in the future. That Pentax will provide for the best possible protection of investment. As you say, such claim would be credible. But with just a couple of minor mistakes now, the credibility may be lost forever. Currently, the most credible player when it comes to protection of investment is Leica. And they are doing better than ever.

    A pro user has no problem to invest into expensive glass. It will pay off by the next couple projects. An enthusiast though can only invest into (expensive) glass if the future of the system is known. I am sure Pentax sees this simple logic at work already today!

    We are seeing a moment of change in digital photography: SLD mounts emerge and FF returns. Most refrain from expensive lens purchases in such a climate. Pentax can make a big splash by committing to preserve the value of investments into their lenses. However, this cannot work without committing to full frame in the long term.

  30. Thank you so much for your comments - they're most insightful.

    You're absolutely right, of course: the legacy-glass argument for FF could be counterproductive, if it suggests to Pentax that people may buy a FF body without making a commitment to purchasing new lenses for it.

    From my perspective, I see the release of a FF body as a way to make both old-lens and new-lens users happy. Look at it this way: old-lens users are also new-lens buyers. If I've migrated to Canon principally because the FF format allows me to use my old Pentax lenses without dealing with the crop factor, then the overwhelming likelihood is that any new lens purchases I make will be investments in the Canon system. So if Pentax's silence on the FF question induces me to take my old lenses elsewhere, then it loses not only a FF body purchase, but also any future new-lens purchases.

    So in this case, acting in a way that honors the brand's past would also help to protect the brand's future.

    (Honestly, the whole FF controversy sometimes strikes me as silly. If FF sensors had been technologically and financially viable when the first DSLRs were introduced, does anyone seriously believe there ever would have been an APS-C format? Now that the technology has evolved and the costs have dropped, it's time to move past what should always have been seen as a compromised stopgap system.)

  31. Jon brings up a good point regarding legacy glass. If there is one thing that would sway me towards a FF Pentax purchase (apart from better low light performance) it would be a camera with an uncrippled mount. The Nikon D700 has such a mount and allows its users to use rather old Nikkors with full automation (except AF in some cases).

    Pentax probably thinks that giving users with K and M lenses full automation (barring AF) is counterproductive to new lens sales, but on the other hand it encourages body sales. Like Jon said, if you're someone with a lot of high quality K and M lenses in the closet, you'd be much more inclined to purchase a FF Pentax if you got correct metering and access to all shooting modes, just like with an A lens. Once you have the camera and have used it with your old lenses, you'll start to think "I use this lens a lot and I'd like AF for the convenience, so I'm going to buy the DFA version." For example, if I purchased a FF Pentax I would buy it with the 43 Ltd, because that's my preferred "normal" lens. And if Pentax released a DFA 135mm f/2.8 I'd buy it too because I like it as a portrait lens. For other less used focal lengths I'd stick with my old M and A lenses, but Pentax would have retained me as a Pentaxian, which should be worth something :-)

    Jon wrote: That tells me that there's still a very real, deep commitment at Pentax to its legacy lenses.

    Yes and no. I want to point out that A-like use of K and M lenses can be achieved via firmware, without need to physically change and decripple the current mount. If Pentax hasn't implemented this it's because they don't want to. This tells me their commitment is not deep, but shallow. Yes, it's better than most other brands (e.g. Sony users don't get image stabilisation with older 3rd party lenses while Pentaxians do) but it could be a lot better.

    If Pentax released a FF that allowed me to use P, Av, Tv and TAv with my old Vivitar lenses, I would buy it without hesitation. Does Pentax want to sell me a FF camera? We'll see...

  32. Pentax has a strong "support legacy Pentax gear" and "don't support 3rd party legacy gear" policy.

  33. Well Falk, if you support K and M lenses fully, then you're supporting old 3rd party lenses too :-)

    There are plenty of optically great M lenses that I have not bought because I don't want to deal with the Green Button. I know me buying M lenses doesn't make Pentax any money, but having mountains of M lenses out there that can be bought at decent prices might very well entice people to buy an uncrippled body. And once they have the body they might (will!) be enticed into buying some nice new lenses for it.

  34. This is a pretty poor article that sounds more like reasons why the author wants a full frame body from Pentax rather than any real, solid reasons why it should be of any benefit to everyone else. I could easily sit here and discount most of the arguments made in favour of a full frame sensor, and most of the "facts" are dead wrong too. As someone who would be interested in a full frame body, I think this article actually hurts our cause more than anything else.

  35. Thanks for this article. I totally agree with the need of having a FF roadmap for Pentax to not loose experimented photographers as clients.
    Even if DSLR provide great images, if you want to turn pro, you will face two common reaction from your client :
    - first, you don't have Nikon or Canon, the client is surprised and shows reluctance because Pentax is not any more seen as a pro brand for most of the people
    -two, if the client is a little bit interested in photo, he will quickly see (know) that your camera is not FF and so imagine (in a wrong way) that you will not provide photos as good as if you were shooting with FF!

    It is hard to say, but here is the reality!
    Working with a Pentax, it is like driving a Volkswagen with full option instead of a Basic Options Mercedes or BMW.
    Better price vs options, same engine but do not have the same impact on the general public!

    I still love my Pentax Lenses but will have to move on if no FF is announced for 2011!
    Plus the K-5* will not be a good point to resell my K-7 with a good price :o(

    See you and we cross the fingers

    Stephane from Paris

  36. It's really pitty that Pentax didn't come with an ff every year there are the same rumors and there is still none.
    I was very happy with my K20D, but now i need to go working as profesional and need an ff pity that Pentax looses so many customers...
    I totaly agree with Stephane!

  37. I do not want an FF camera from Pentax (for me). I do not need one. I am interested in capabilities, not in technical specs. If the low-light capability (high ISO) is considerably improved by whatever means, I am satisfied (and have invested in APS-C lenses from Pentax).

    But I *do* want Pentax to bring out one, as so many people seem to need it. And I'd like to see Pentax to be successful in the market, with a much larger market share.

  38. New Hoya patents:

    Wide-angle zoom lens:

    High zoom-ratio lens:

    New AF DSLR system?

  39. I got a notification that I received the following blog comment but it doesn't show up here. So, I forward it here because I'd like to comment:
    New Hoya patents:

    Wide-angle zoom lens:

    High zoom-ratio lens:

    New AF DSLR system?

    Posted by Kolding to Falk Lumo at August 31, 2010 3:27 PM

  40. Well, the second patent is about the super zoom and old news.

    The first patent is strange. It describes a
    DA 16-20mm f/4 APS-C zoom lens it I doubt it would be produced.

    The third patent is interesting. It describes an SR apparatus for the AF sensors in order to improve autofocus in low light. Did we just leak the new K-5 AF system? :)

  41. How I can know the format of the lens? (APS/FF)

  42. @Kolding, that's easy. Just read the tables in the patent. They list the focal length 'f' and image half angle 'W'. 2f tan(W) is the image circle and it is APSC.

    The difficult part is how you managed to post a comment here such that I received the notification but not the comment itself :)

  43. Thanks for your time Falk.

    More patents: ;-)

    New SDM?

    Anti-shake apparatus:
    The present invention relates to an anti-shake apparatus for a photographing apparatus, and in particular to the movement of the movable unit to a position so that the shock caused by the impact between the movable unit and the point of contact which stops its movement is mitigated.

  44. Falk Lumo,
    Speaking not as a Pentaxian - I'm not one - I think Pentax might do something a little different. (Don't they always?) They may have a final user size target in mind of a Pentax MX, with a full frame sensor, but no mirror.
    I think they are going to try a squeeze play against Nikon/Canon, and avoid competing with Sony. The top half is in place: the 645D is available for little enough that any pro shooting landscapes (for instance) is going to consider buying one instead of spending 5-7k on a DSLR. The bottom half is, as you said, selling a full frame camera for $1800. Nikon/Canon dare not drop the price of one of their flagship models that low - nor are they prepared to release a mirrorless full frame camera of that size at all. Nikon is quite likely to release a smaller-than-micro 4/3rds camera, and nobody knows what Canon has up it's sleeves. If Pentax went mirrorless _only_ with full frame, all kinds of pros who've added a micro 4/3rds camera to their bag now could have an almost as compact FF camera to work with along side. Pentax could use FF mirrorless to prevent people from buying anything else but Pentax lenses to use on their "other" mirrorless system. This would dry up the supply of used lenses, and drive the sales of new lenses immediately. Plus, people's lens collections would gain value immediately. A win for everyone.

    In any case, they could still sell their mirrored APS-C cameras, particularly the candy-colored ones, to new users. The "new" users today are in many cases moms wanting good low-light pictures of their kids at home, and fast-frame-rate pictures at their kid's sporting events. This pool of users may grow to become interested in the mirrorless FF cameras, particularly when they compare the "classic" smaller size with their "full size" APS-C cameras. Thus they don't have to solve the problem of fast framerates combined with fast autofocus immediately. Besides mirrored APS-C cameras have a big advantage for some kinds of reportage work, so there's no reason for those users to move away from it.

  45. Will Frostmill, your plan is so cunning, you could stick a tail on it and call it a fox.

  46. Kinda off topic, but I saw you mention contrast based AF in a comment here.

    What do you think about the Fujifilm sensor that has phase detect AF built into it? A DSLR (or SLD) with that would be great IMO, AF for video and Live View as fast as for photography. Or being able to choose a slightly slower speed and not have such nervous AF action while filming.

  47. @Alexander, offtopic yes. I am pretty confident (from a physics point of view) that contrast AF (CAF) will beat phase AF (PAF) in the foreseeable future. PAF simply can use more light. Eventually, it is a question of algorithms and sensor read-out speed. IMHO, PAF is last century and more mature. But not the better approach. Yes, I know about the direction argument ...

  48. Which ever is better, I hope it comes to video recording in a functional way for DSLR or SLD cameras. I want to record action at wide open aperture! :P

  49. If Pentax does not release a FF DSLR in 2011, they will become yet another failed Olympus. Wanting to be in the Pro-segement, but failing in seeing that BIG SENSORS IN SMALL CAMERAS IS THE FUTURE, not small sensors in big cameras.

  50. For me the biggest or maybe the only reason for FF is better low light performance. I believe with future generation imaging sensors the need for FF will always decrease and maybe will not be reasonable anymore. I feel this aspect was not considered in previous discussions. Some month ago it was announced promising sensor technology "Quantum film" from InVisage. It got also Wall Street Journal 2010 Technology Innovation Award in the semiconductors category.

    Yes it is not production- ready technology, but also FF to be avialable for wider enthusiast segment is probably far away, because of its price.

  51. @Anonymous: Yes, that's the generally mentioned reason for FF. However and I must have missed to explain in my article, it is NOT the relevant reason for FF. btw, technological progress in this domain would affect all sensors alike.

    No, the real reason for FF is that high resolution imaging becomes feasible which it isn't with APSC (due to lack of various accuracies like focus, anti shake, lens defect etc.). See what digital MF can deliver and you see what I mean. And digital MF has no low light advantage (yet).

  52. I've been waiting for a full frame from Pentax since I caught the bug for photography. I don't see enough reason to upgrade my Kx to another apsc if I still lose viewing degrees on my wide lenses. Iso and noise is an issue but sensor realestate is vital. Pentax please pull the trigger on this one, you won't regret it! I think there are many people ready to jump ship from other manufacturers, but they won't do it if they have to settle for a crop factor.


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