Speaking to Pentax at PhotoPlus Expo in New York
This past Friday, October 29th 2010, I attended the PhotoPlus Expo, held in the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. It ran Thursday through Friday and brought together a huge number of vendors, all related in one way or other to Photography. There were companies selling cameras, lenses, printers, straps, bags, photopaper, film, albums…even massage machines (hey, you try carrying around a Canon 1D mkIV with a 24-70mm f/2.8 all day and not get neck pain!).
As a Pentax user, it was clear what booth I’d stop by first. Pentax didn’t have a booth as such, but rather a large display table with a glass top; inside were all the current lenses in the line-up (and some discontinued ones too) and all the current cameras, both DSLR and P&S. Outside the glass there were some cameras available for fondling, which Andrew and I indulged in at length.
The big star was the 645D, Pentax’s medium format offering, which will be available for sale in the US and other markets outside Japan shortly. With 40MP (in a 44x33mm CCD sensor) and coming in at $11,000 with the new 55mm f/2.8 standard lens, it’s the first affordable medium format DSLR…at least in comparison to other cameras in its class. It feels lighter than it looks, and very easy to hand-hold and shoot with. The viewfinder is huge, lovely, and bright. The 55mm lens features weather sealing and SDM, and I found the focusing quick and accurate, not to mention silent.
On hand to answer questions were most of (all?) the Pentax crew from Golden, Colorado. What a nice bunch of people! I hung around for maybe an hour talking to a few of them and they were all friendly and informative. Because I didn’t take notes, I’m not sure who said what, but below I’ll condense all the answers I got from them. After that I spoke to Ned Bunnell, President of Pentax Imaging USA, and I’m also transcribing that for you.
Something Like an Interview with Pentax Staff
I got to speak with the following lovely people from Pentax Imaging USA:
- Michelle Martin: Marketing, PR & Events Manager.
- John Carlson: Sr. Manager of Sales & Marketing.
- Chris Pound: Product Manager.
- Joe Virgil: Customer Service.
And these are the things I learnt from them:
- DC is a new type of in-lens focusing motor that’s intended for consumer lenses. DA* lenses will incorporate the higher grade SDM focusing.
- Going forward, all DA lenses will have DC focusing only, losing the screwdrive option. The exception will be the DA Limited lenses, which will stick with screwdrive focusing.
- The new DC 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 is DC focus only and will be available within a few weeks (the display unit I tried out is a preproduction model). It is “weather resistant” and has a metal mount. Price will be $530 in the US.
- Still no official statement from Pentax about the SDM failures. I was told Pentax USA was aware of the issues people were reporting, but that it was Pentax Japan who had to acknowledge a problem (if there is one). Pentax USA doesn’t know if the alleged issue is being addressed, but I was told the engineers are continually working on improving their designs so it could be new SDM lenses would be more resilient. As of now, Pentax Japan have not informed them of an SDM II being developed.
- There are currently only four 645D cameras in the USA, and 3 were at the Pentax booth: one under glass, one to fondle, one as a backup fondle body. The 4th camera was with B&H.
- Pentax are limiting the number of vendors for the 645D to 4; only their most trusted vendors will get a shot at selling the 645D.
- The price for the body will remain at $10,000 indefinitely. This is a contractual obligation which the vendors must adhere to because it’s the lowest price Pentax USA could ask for while still making a reasonable profit.
- Interest in the K-r and K-5 is so high there is a loooong waiting list to receive units for review. I’m still hoping I’ll be able to get one of either cameras but it will take a while. Needless to say, they will not be shipping out 645Ds to reviewers willy nilly; in fact, they still haven’t decided whether anyone will be able to review this camera in the USA.
- No word on any possible new lenses.
Something Like an Interview with Ned Bunnell
Ned Bunnell, El Jefe of Pentax Imaging USA was kind enough to chat with me for some 20 minutes. Most of us have heard about how gregarious he is, and it’s true! He did not hesitate to reply to my questions and was so easy to speak to. Before I approached him I observed how he spoke to people viewing the Pentax stand; you’d think he was just an enthusiastic temp hired for the expo, not the president. It’s rare to have such an approachable person at the helm of a major company, and I think we’re fortunate to have Ned heading Pentax.
I told Ned I’d be publishing excerpts from our conversation, but I didn’t use a recording device, so what follows are bullet points with me paraphrasing Ned’s replies.
- I’m not sick, dead or afraid; I’ve simply been travelling and working a lot lately and have not had time to blog. I will return to writing on my blog within a few weeks now that the new releases are starting to roll out.
- Pentax will return to brick and mortar stores in the USA, but we’re not going to rush it—we need to make sure we can turn a profit and that’s why we’re being cautious. It will take time, but it will happen. Changing a sales strategy doesn’t happen overnight and I’m asking US Pentaxians to be patient. The reason we are in a position to return to stores, both small and large, is that Pentax now have a competitive offering spanning cameras at all user levels and in different segments, from entry-level, fun P&Ss and DSLRs to serious weather-sealed P&Ss and DSLRs, not forgetting the bridge camera X70. For example, Pentax is again available at Samy’s in the LA area and Hunt’s in the Boston area; we’ve also set up new accounts such as Fry’s and Ultimate Electronics.
- We were very careful about pricing the K-5 and we believe it is worth $1,600. When the camera website and user reviews come out we are confident they will show the K-5 to be superior to the Nikon D7000, and we believe it beats the Canon 7D too. We don’t think reviewers will complain that such a great camera costs $1,600—they’ll agree with us that it’s worth it. Pentax used to be perceived as an “economy” brand, but we’re moving away from that image.
- Preorders for the K-5 have been strong, so early adopters certainly thought it was worth the asking price.
- The K-5 will not be dropping in price any time soon, but like all Pentax cameras, it will do so eventually.
- The engineers at Pentax Japan realised the K-5 couldn’t take shots at 7fps for more than about 1s due to the buffer not flushing quick enough but they took steps to correct the problem. It has now been fixed and a firmware update will be issued shortly (mid November).
- The sensor in the K-r is new. Yes, it’s 12MP like K-x’s, but it is a new design and photographers will see an improvement in IQ because of this.
- Ned and I spoke about the mirrorless segment and I told him how much I liked the Samsung NX10, and how much I’d like for Pentax to bring out something similar. When I asked him if this would happen, he laughed and exclaimed no comment!
- If Pentax enter the EVIL market it will be with a unique offering that sets them apart from the rest of manufacturers. There’s not point in producing a me-too EVIL.
- I love the ergonomics of the K-5. The K-7 was the first DSLR I was able to just carry around in my hand without needing a strap and without calling attention to it; it made sense for the K-5 to follow in this tradition and an APS-C sensor allows us to keep the body so compact.
I’d like to thank the Pentax staff for being so pleasant and accommodating. While everyone at the Expo was nice, I felt a certain extra warmth radiating from the Pentax booth. Or maybe it was just my desire to own a K-5 making me giddy…
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Tags: New York, Pentax, Photography, PhotoPlus Expo