My Case for Pentax Full Frame

In July I had written a forum posting where I was taking a guess at what Pentax was planning to release toward the end of 2010 in the USA:
– K-x with a soft replacement on the way
– K-7 replacement that comes out at $1100 MSRP. Pretty much exactly the same body wise to keep costs down, but has a few soft improvements like the sensor. I can’t see this not working as they can sell the K-7 around $800 or less right now.
– A more advanced model that comes out between $1600 and $2400 depending on what is in it. It could be full frame, or something like an APS-C “machine gun” camera ala. 7D.
– The 645D taking up the super high-end.

I think that was reasonable close to the mark in 3 out of 4.
– The K-r is generally a soft upgrade replacement for the K-x.
– The 645D is now going to be sold in the USA.
– I was wrong and right about the K-7 replacement…
– The K-5 as we see now is a merging of my two ideas above. It turned out to be a faster K-7 and stayed APS-C with the same body. It hit my guess of $1600 MSRP, which was what I expected a machine gun APS-C to cost.

So where does that leave us with full frame?

First, let’s examine reasons Pentax has not and doesn’t really seem to have much interest in selling a full frame body:
Sales rankings in Japan lean toward mid-range DSLRs around the $1000 – $1300 price point at present. In July it was more toward the $1000 mark or lower. We don’t see a full frame camera in the ranking until around 30th place.
– With current FF cameras, they are sold at a premium and are generally bulky giving them less appeal to casual users.
– From a business standpoint, Pentax probably doesn’t see much room to fit their FF solution in considering existing offerings from other companies.
– The K-5 is extra evidence given it’s strong performance in dynamic range. Also look at the MSRP in the USA, which is a bold move considering options like the D7000, 7D, and others available. Pentax knows they have a strong offering on their hands.

So not considering those business related issues, what do I feel a 35mm full frame Pentax body would be like?

– Much smaller in comparison to existing full frame camera bodies from other companies.
– Weather resistant
– Use of a Kodak CCD sensor (I’ll get more into that later).
– Nice large viewfinder
– Uses aspects of the K-7/K-5 and 645D.

The K-7, K-5 and even the 645D show that Pentax is serious about providing a tool for photographers who like to get out into nature or other activities outside. These people like small and light cameras that they can hand hold in many situations, but want professional level features like weather resistance. The K-7 was a design shift to focus even further on the ability to hand hold compared to the K10D and K20D.

Considering the button layout and features of my K10D, I would call that more of a studio or tripod camera. It has dedicated shake reduction and bracketing buttons, it’s larger in physical size, and supports PC tethering. The K-7 design on the other hand is more geared toward photography where the user is in movement and action. If we quickly look at the 645D, it fills both roles as it is obviously for use with a tripod, but well within the realm of being usable hand held (video 1, video 2).

The issue is that the 645D isn’t within the realm of many photography enthusiasts that want things a larger format camera can provide, but can’t afford such a large purchase. For a photographer that currently shoots with 35mm cameras and lenses, they would need to buy new glass to go along with the considerably more expensive body. I think that a Pentax styled 35mm full frame could dig out a nice market for itself.

I for one want the benefits of Pentax’s ability to make small yet powerful tools in the full frame realm and not for the magical improvement in image quality a lot of users thing they will gain with it.

– I like 35mm Pentax glass. I want to do more with it.
– Having two tools to use with my existing lenses. I prefer using prime lenses, but if I go to events or something similar, having two bodies is actually a pretty convenient way to get two nice focal lengths which can cover most situations. Having an APS-C and FF body would mean the majority of my lenses would be more versatile. The K-7 is small and powerful. I would assume a Pentax FF would be similar. Two small bodies and two primes lenses is quite manageable when needed. Saves a lot of hassle too. The crop factor differences would mean the two lenses I have can be useful in different ways depending on which body I mount them to.
– Better viewfinder. I use glasses, but the K-7 (which is said to be one of the top APS-C) still feels a bit small and is still difficult to “take everything in” before pressing the shutter. Full frame Pentax would help.
– There are still quite a few capable lenses in the Pentax lineup that would be adequate if not good or excellent on a full frame digital camera (I actually like some vignetting in photos too). Actually, the majority of my lenses would work with a full frame camera and I’ve even made sure (thanks to users on PentaxForums for doing tests) that my last few purchases will work okay with full frame. The last three were DA 40mm LTD, D-FA 100mm WR Macro, and the DA* 300mm F4.
– Manual focus would be easier with the larger viewfinder.
– There is a big gap in cost between Pentax 35mm and 645D.

As for Pentax’s ability to produce a full frame camera, in this case with a Kodak CCD:
– Pentax must have a relationship with Kodak due to the 645D, so I don’t see any technical reasons Pentax could not use a full frame CCD from Kodak in such a body.
– Look at the K-7, K-5, and 645D… They all share a lot of the same properties. Given Pentax has recent experience with implementing and coding for Kodak sensors and would most likely be able to apply their existing PRIME electronics to process 4fps out of a FF sensor… I don’t see any massive technical issues. Not to mention they could probably take other existing engineering aspects like viewfinder prism designs from their newer film cameras. I think it all comes down to the desire of Pentax to get into FF or not.
– The cost of entry should be a lot lower than a 645D due to lenses and sheer cost scale differences, but will still reap the physical benefits, to a degree, like a larger frame camera does (bigger viewfinder, no crop, probably ISO benefits). Although I wonder how a current or near future Kodak FF sensor would rank compared to the K-5’s high DR Sony sensor at this point…
– We already know the new 35mm f2.4 is more than adequate at full frame and it will be interesting to see if the new super zoom yet to be sold is capable of full frame. I think it all comes down to business and not technical issues.

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