Why Pentax Has Failed at Mirrorless Cameras

Over the past decade, mirrorless camera technology has evolved to the point that it is now a welcome technology for many photographers and filmmakers. Although, along the way, it hasn’t been an easy task for major mirrorless camera brands. User sentiment, earthquakes in Japan, the pandemic, and the adoption of new technologies have all taken their toll, leading to spot fires in the manufacturing process and adoption of cameras.

Picture from Pentax

Learning from past mistakes in the transition from film to early digital cameras, many manufacturers have moved to avoid the same innovation mistakes. Over the past decade, building loyalty with a social presence and building products based on user feedback has been key to the success of large mirrorless companies. Others, including Pentax, stayed away, awaiting market adoption.

So you must be wondering: why haven’t we seen an amazing mirrorless interchangeable lens camera from Pentax in the last nineteen years?

The short answer is there was, but chances are you missed engaging with the brand or product. To better understand this, we need to dig deeper into Pentakkusu, the legacy brand, history, and some of the major wins and mistakes it has made along the way.

19 Year History of Pentax Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras

Pentax has been at the forefront of SLR cameras since its debut in 1952. Rolling out of the factory the same year, the “Asahiflex I” was Japan’s first single-lens reflex camera. Automatic exposure and TTL metering technology followed and found its way into the “SPOTMATIC” in 1960. And it wasn’t until 1975 that the world saw the introduction of the iconic K-mount (mount bayonet), which follows today’s full frame. mirrorless system.

A Pentax K1000 SE 35mm SLR. Photo by weston m.

Fast forward 28 years to 2003, and the switch from film to digital would become a reality for users of interchangeable lenses. Since 2013, nearly two decades have passed, and that’s where we turn our attention to Pentax’s range of interchangeable-lens mirrorless cameras.

There were a total of 37 different interchangeable lens camera models built during this period; they include:

  • From 2003 to 2017: 28 APS-C interchangeable lens cameras were manufactured
  • From 2011 to 2014: 4 compact sensor interchangeable lens cameras were manufactured
  • From 2016 to 2021: 3 interchangeable lens cameras with full frame sensor were manufactured
  • From 2010 to 2014: 2 medium format cameras were manufactured

APS-C sensor cameras have been at the heart of Pentax for 14 years. There was a year-long overlap period during the more recent transition to full-frame cameras. Throw a little dab into medium and smaller format sensor cameras, and you’ll quickly realize there’s not much left in the end, but three sequential replacement full-frame models scattered over five years (two of those years with no version).

Photo by Jincheol Kim.

So how did Pentax get to this stage of declining development and a silent user base? It depends on its target audience and its marketing approach.

Understanding Pentax’s Target Audience

The first thing to note about why the brand is not following the rest stems from the main audience of Pentax users and their age demographic. From the 1970s to the 1980s, Pentax SLR users inherited many of their cameras. Photographic knowledge was transmitted with the cameras of their parents or grandparents.

The idea of ​​releasing a new model every six months with film SLRs did not exist, so there was a mindset of tradition from the start, which led to some of the most loyal consumers in the industry. . Pentax was their brand, based on their family history.

Photo by Elliot R. Andrews.

Pentax knew it had cornered the market with strong SLR sales. His take on mirrorless cameras followed, but there was a lot of backlash from purists. Many complained early on that a new electronic viewfinder would cause lag or that the designs didn’t look good compared to the brand’s traditional cameras.

The brand never reached a new audience beyond its target audience, so marketing became a missed opportunity.

Marketing missed the mark

When selling products to consumers, marketing plays an important role in the overall appeal of the product. Social media has had the greatest impact on attention grabbing consumers over the past decade. Through social engineering, brands were able to digest data to find new audiences, while listening to feedback.

Pentax, unfortunately, did not pivot in time. His embrace of social media and listening to what a new generation of consumers wanted fell on deaf ears. Much of this is the result of its change in ownership – the company merged with Hoya in 2006, then was sold to Ricoh in 2011.

Consistency is key in online marketing, and when teams and ownership migrate, it can have detrimental effects on a brand.

Photo by Nathan Anderson

If you compare Pentax to other brands, there has been a major adoption of social media influencer marketing by others. Many brands could speak directly to photographers to find out what they needed in a camera. Mirrorless systems were then built from scratch. By leveraging a controlled collective group of grassroots contributors/professionals, the masses would follow.

Today, we can look back and see that the legacy brand went further into obscurity because of its lack of commitment. His embrace of innovation by understanding the next generation had unfortunately failed.

To look forward

Pentax is not new to pioneering camera technology. Take a look at its history and you will discover many firsts. For example, in 2016 it was the first to integrate a five-axis stabilization system into a full-frame camera. Technology like this is great, but if the company doesn’t have the voice behind the product, how can anyone know about the product?

As we look to the future, Pentax must pivot quickly. The company’s R&D must go beyond its core product heritage and instead focus on a new generation by listening. The focus should be on raising awareness rather than building from within. Its products are excellent but lack input from a new generation.

Can Pentax build a better mirrorless camera?

To succeed, Pentax would have to build a new high-end camera that stands out from the crowd by focusing on a target demographic and shooting genre. The camera should speak to Pentax heritage, but focus 90% of its features on what a new generation needs in an imaging product. The brand should focus on building a community, listening and working with them to develop the product.

Pentax needs to look beyond its internal cohort and the users of their competitors’ smartphones and cameras. If done well, the company can succeed in the mirrorless market in 5 years.

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