The Upcoming Pentax Film Camera Project

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Dave Etchells, the former head honcho at Imaging-Resource, which was a major source of information online during the Digital Transition (DT), published, not long ago, an excellent group interview with a number of engineers from Ricoh who are involved in the new Pentax film camera project. I admit I haven’t read the whole thing yet. It’s called “Ricoh’s big bet on a film renaissance: We interview the team behind the upcoming Pentax film camera.” Dave was always great at those roundtable interviews. The interview is at DPReview, another major player back in the days of the DT.

My own interest in the new camera went into a steep dive (not to say tailspin) when I found out it was to be a half-frame camera. For some reason the Japanese like these, but I’ve never seen the point. As a user I have the same problem with them that I have with smartphone cameras (and with a Minox B “spy camera” I shot with once), at least up to the iPhone 13 I currently own: they’re great fun to shoot with but don’t yield very pleasing prints. History presents us with no masterful body of work in half-frame. I’ll bet you can’t name one great photographer who is known for working with one. Its only tradition is a commercial one, with a fitful stream of clever but essentially lackluster products going back all the way to when 35mm was a movie film. If Olympus were doing such a project, then maybe, given Maitani’s Pen F. But Pentax?


Yoshihisa Maitani’s 1963 Pen F half-frame

camera, a hit in Japan. Photo by Hiyotada.

I’ve tended to skew the opposite direction: accept a bit of struggle out in the field for the sake of better prints. I fully expected the new Pentax to be a 35mm (24x36mm) camera. Pentax made cameras in multiple formats, but its strongest tradition is surely in 35mm. If Pentax had to depart from its magnificent, sprawling heritage in 35mm, I wish it had been in the other direction.

I’m sure Ricoh/Pentax know exactly what they’re doing, though—they’ve put a lot of work and an awful lot of thought and care into this project. And they know their home market, which is the primary target of this project, no doubt.

I haven’t read the whole article yet, but I will. It’s on my list of things to do.


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Featured Comments from:

Sal Santamaura: “The point of Ricoh going with half frame? This entire project is targeted to young people who are driving the ‘film renaissance.’ Film has become extremely expensive. Young people don’t have a lot of money. Half frame gets them twice as many images per roll. Any other questions?”

Chris Feola: “Pentax’s plan has been for four film cameras. This one isn’t for old guys like me; it is specifically designed to hook young people who have never used a film camera. So it’s not only half frame, it’s a vertical image—just like a smartphone. Assuming this thing sells—interest is high—Pentax is planning three more film cameras: a high-end compact; an entry-level interchangeable lens camera (ILC); and then an advanced ILC. I’ll buy one of the half-frames because…well, I pretty much have every other significant Pentax since 1980 in my cabinet, and I’ve never shot half-frame somehow. And I want to help the Pentax Film Project succeed!

“But now I’m headed out for a walk with my Pentax Monochrome. Thanks!”

Tim McGowan: “There may be a bit of a market for half frame. I’m not sure how pervasive this is, but—there’s a business in Ocean City Maryland—Telescope Pictures. On the beach during the Summer, photographers, working on commission, roam the beach talking people into having their pictures taken. Families and children are the prime target. The pictures are half-frame transparencies mounted into little plastic telescope viewers. It’s big business. Ocean City puts a license up for bid. The top bidder gets exclusive rights to the beach. I just looked up an article from 2010; old, I know. The cost of the license then was around $ 200,000. Down from $ 710,000. Unbelievable. The business then was beginning to struggle because they couldn’t find half-frame cameras and had to switch to digital. The switch added extra cost and time to produce the product. Virginia Beach also has a franchise. Overall the tradition seems to be in decline. Matthew availability of new half frames could be a shot in the arm. Have to keep an eye on it.”

Jonathan Hal: “While I am withholding judgement until the camera is actually released, I am much more interested in the similar project to make a new Rollei 35, with flash and autofocus.”

Peter, in Boulder: “I wonder if they settled on the half-frame format because so many people now use their phone cameras in the vertical orientation.”


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