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Pentax: Film cameras are not dead

Pentax is working on a compact and user-friendly fixed-lens film camera, the first of a new 35mm film camera series that the brand hopes will ‘breath new life into old technology’.

Source: Pentax Film Project.

The camera is in the early stages of development however Pentax parent company, Ricoh, has published two videos outlining the plans to release new film cameras. It’s worth highlighting that this new camera is not a cheap plastic disposable camera.

The videos both feature Takeo Suzuki, Ricoh Imaging product planner, who speaks honestly about why Pentax is taking on this new ‘challenge’.

‘Film cameras have been growing in popularity recently, especially among young users,’ he said. ‘The distinctive, tasteful colours; the grainy images; the excitement of not knowing the results until the film is developed; and the pleasure of handling old equipment. In today’s society where everything seems to be digital, it seems like these factors are exciting for them.’

Although Suzuki notes that ‘the film camera environment isn’t totally positive’. No reputable camera still manufactures film cameras, meaning it’s almost entirely a secondhand market of used gear.

‘This means repair professionals and spare parts are needed, but I’ve heard both are hard to come by,’ Suzuki said. ‘Because of this, film camera prices have been rising. For the film, too, raw material prices have increased, so film prices have risen and the types of film available has decreased. Many of these situations are out of our control, but they have made the situation tougher for photographers.’

He’s not wrong. Over a decade ago op shops across Australia had a broad selection of working point-and-shoot and SLR film cameras. This was a golden era for collecting ‘retro’ products, that have since become sought after, for cheap. But those days are long gone, with few quality second-hand cameras collecting dust at op shops (thrift stores for US readers). They now sell for anywhere between $50 to several hundred dollars.

In some instances the pricing has gone out of control. Particularly for niche cameras, such as the Nikon Nikonos underwater camera, as well as medium format cameras. Even user-friendly point-and-shoot film cameras have become far more expensive due to their popularity. And as Suzuki points out, this legacy technology will only become more scarce and rare with fewer expert technicians and spare parts.

So Pentax is firstly building an affordable camera that everyone can use, which like any new product comes with a warranty.

Although designing old technology is not a simple process. even with all the existing design plans. Crucial knowledge is held in the minds of the now-elderly staff, who Pentax is working with so they may pass their expertise onto young engineers. The goal is to ‘reclaim film camera knowledge and expertise’ to ‘breath new life into old technology’, and prevent it to fading into obscurity. In the video Suzuki comes across as open for other companies to join in.

The team decided the first camera must have a hand-wound lever mechanism, as hearing the lever gears click is a crucial part of the film shooting experience. But it’s complicated as the system includes several gears to rachet the film onto the spool

Source: Pentax Film Project

‘We don’t know how it’s going to end,’ Suzuki said. ‘In fact, we might even give up on the way.’

The project roadmap begins with the user-friendly compact camera to test the waters, and if successful it will be followed by an SLR and then a full-mechanical SLR.

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