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Tweedledee, Tweedledum – and Pentax

First of all, this is not a paid ad for Pentax or its distributors. Nor is it written by a PR company or influenced by any freebies. It is a genuine review of one of the great SLRs of the current design cycle from a neutral  industry insider.

PentaxKII In the hurly-burly of today’s ‘win-at-any-price’ marketing onslaught, many fine poducts are overlooked, from the quality niche hamburger store a block from McDonalds, to many fine 4WDs competing with the machine gun tactics of Toyota, to the innovative and yet conservative efforts of one of the world’s great SLR brands, Pentax.

It is not well-known that Pentax built its’ first SLR in 1951 when it was known as the Asahiflex by the Asahi Optical company. It was Japan’s first ever SLR camera. By 1954 Pentax had designed and patented the instant return mirror and by 1957 the company had engineered the ubiquitous eye-level pentaprism that we all take for granted today – hence the Pentax name.

Since then Pentax has been one of the leaders in SLR design and quiet innovation without ever receiving the recognition – or indeed the sales – the company deserved, and still deserves today.

Without giving a potted history of Pentax, 1964 saw the release of the history-making TTL (Through–The-Lens light metering) ‘Spotmatic’ model, which simply changed the world as it related to photography; no longer did the photographer have to reach into the pocket for a lightmeter or trust a clip-on meter, or worse still, simply guess the settings.

The quiet innovation and high quality engineering continued into such landmark cameras as the medium-format Pentax 67 and Pentax 645, (where many other designs had failed) and the amazing and underestimated Pentax LX of 1980. The innovation still continues today, no longer under the once family-based management. Following Hoya’s buy-out of Pentax in 2007 the company was later onsold to the Ricoh Corporation of Japan.

In recent years, Pentax has reprised its once-famous ‘K-series’ cameras in digital form.  Interestingly, reviews of these cameras have always praised their quality, dynamic range, unique features, durability, and most importantly, picture quality.

This is very much the case with the Pentax K-5 series, current represented by the K-5II and the K-5IIs – which has no anti-aliasing filter.

No other SLR on the market, at the price, offers the engineering integrity (magnesium and stainless steel), the dust and weather sealing, the dynamic range, the quietness of operation, and an amazing sophistication of menu settings as the K-5 series of cameras. Nothing. Not within hundreds of dollars.

This is especially so in Australia where feature for feature, Pentax cameras easily represent a 20 percent discount on their Canon and Nikon equivalents.

So the questions arises: Why don’t these high grade cameras sell their backsides off?

Simple! We are all victims of in-your-face advertising and multi-million dollar PR campaigns. Consumers know so little about what they are buying, they fall back on brand familiarity to make good their absence of product knowledge. In everything, not just in camera brands.

Repeat information often and long enough and it will become a fact, and then many consumers who know nothing of the real facts or who don’t know how to exercise their own judgements, will simply fall into line. The ‘me-too’ factor, or tribal influence. Simple and safe. They never realise that the additional fat on the margins of many brands is there to sell them the product in the first place.

The hard facts are, that many of the me-too brigade trudging around with bulging bags and big, bulky, full-frame SLRs resting on their ample stomachs, couldn’t make a quality picture if you flogged them. For the industry’s sake, thank God they’re there! Their investment in equipment contributes to the lifeblood of the photo industry.

But the point is, why don’t the photo dealers, who presumably do kbnow a thing or two, direct some of these dollars towards the Pentax K5s for example, and provide an alternative beyond the the Coles-Woolworths, Holden-Ford rivalry, the two–airline duopoly that once was, and inject some real competition in an industry whose brands are becoming tighter-knit than the banking segment.

Pentax is a brand that is worth fighting for, if for no other reasons than maintaining some important diversity in the photo industry and perhaps more importantly for some people, injecting some extra margins into hard-pressed retailers tills.

(Pentax distributor CR Kennedy is a long-standing Photo Counter advertiser. However the article above was unsolicited and in no way connected to that support – except it wasn’t hard to decide to give it a run!)


  1. Chris Chris July 25, 2013

    We brag that we stock the largest range of Pentax cameras in town. Customers do want to keep up with the Joneses & want brand name over quality of product. The latest catch cry is “oh it’s only 16 meg. Such & such a camera is 24 meg” Really? I say. Unless you’re doing heavy cropping & blowing up to large sizes 24 meg does not give you a better image.

    If they give that look that virtually calls you a liar I dare them to prove me wrong & point to a 20″X48″ canvas shot with an Optio W80 & a 20″X30″ shot with a K-M & ask which was shot with a 12meg camera & which was shot with the 10 meg camera.

    I’m in the army reserve & at the start of the year the company commander asked me to take my DSLR (a K-x) on exercises. As part of my sales pitch I show customers some of these pics taken under arduous conditions. These photos help boost sales. Anyone can take a photo out bush, but running & taking photos at the same time while under battle simulation? It shows the true versatility of Pentax cameras.

    I used to shoot Nikon, switched to Pentax & haven’t looked back. I know of other photographers who have switched from Canon to Pentax & haven’t looked back either. Pentax has a reputation for reliability & as far as I’m concerned only those who want a status symbol won’t switch.

  2. Ron Frank Ron Frank September 27, 2013

    Dear Keith, I have been saying this for nearly 42 years and have had to bow to market demand which despite my reputation and now the reputation of my company dictates the strong Canon, Nikon following with Leica held out as the much desired but out of reach for many of our clients. Yes we are a major Leica reseller and our Pentax users are not where they should be.
    A good retailer stocks and sells what his client base requests start and finish so I will say what I told the man form BEREC batteries in the late sixties when I was a wholesale rep.
    Sir we need the end user to go to the store and ask by name your product as our clients only stock what they are asked for.
    Manufactures must promote their Marque and forget asking the retailers to do that task. Take heed importers and manufactures.
    Yes even in retirement I still have an opinion
    Ron Frank founder Camera Electronic western australia

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