Pentax Considers Going Backwards

bythom 0196

Yes, I know I haven’t posted much on this site recently. Priorities ;~). 

However, Ricoh’s recent press release and short videos warrants some discussion. 

Why such an announcement?

Ricoh is trolling. 

The Pentax camera team that has been working on this project has been trying to figure out their relevance once they realized that they weren’t likely to be a player in interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras. Corporate still backs the lifelong employment idea, so the engineers still have jobs, but corporate also is now trying to solve a financial issue within the company: all products need to bring an appropriate ROI, or else they’re not going to see the light of day.

Here’s the dilemma with producing a film camera. Ricoh themselves point out that 20% of camera owners have a film camera (I believe this was a Japan-only, or at least Japan-centric survey). The question is whether there’s enough interest in film cameras that a new one could be sold profitably today. 

That’s what Ricoh is really trying to figure out by going public with the project. Building a modern film camera from current parts and manufacturing isn’t a big deal, though I suspect you’d want to minimize the mechanical assemblies as much as possible. The questions they have to answer are: (1) what would our costs be? and (2) how many would buy it? It’s the intersection of those two things that determine likely ROI. 

In essence, the team has been working on question #1 and now needs to better understand #2. The problem with that is this: what’s the likely price and capability? Without that information, you can’t get to an answer. This is where focus groups, run properly, can often help sort through the issues and likelihood of success. Press releases? Not so much.

Consider, a Nikon F100 in excellent condition sells for less than US$400 these days. That is a pretty incredible camera in terms of what it can do (autofocus and much more). So the price bar for someone who understands film cameras in any way at all is probably pretty low. 

To me, a modern film camera is most likely going to be faddish, at best, in terms of potential success. While it’s true that a like new Nikon F6 is still selling for between US$1500 and US$2000 much of the time, that also was a product made until very recently, is arguably the best film SLR ever made, and is still (mostly) compatible with current DSLR tech (it’s design was derived from a Nikon D2h). Pentax doesn’t quite have the same base from which to build sales of that kind of product profitably, and the fact that Nikon stopped making it means that Nikon doesn’t, either.

I’d guess that you’d need to do what was mostly done with record players in recent years: make a capable one at modest price and try to play off of fad. That likely means that US$500-1000 would have to be the target price, and that the product really just has to be about the basics. Make Analog Fun Again (MAFA). I can just see the hat ;~). The question I have is who would be leading this fad? Because it would need leadership to make it over the noise hump on the Internet to make it a reliable fad. You can’t exactly Tik-Tok from a film camera, after all.  

I wish Ricoh/Pentax luck. But they haven’t made me feel warm and fuzzy about this yet, let alone nostalgic. 

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