Tag Archives: Ricoh

Pentax’ PLM and DC lenses explained

2 Mar

DC (“direct current”) is a kind of focus motor that has been used in Pentax lenses for some time. While it is quiet, it’s not entirely silent. Pentax’ most recent 55-300mm lens features a new type of motor branded as PLM. Here is what Pentax representatives had to say about it in an interview:

The PLM design can quickly activate and allow for faster focusing, but the lens element must be low weight due to limited power (torque).

The DC motor can generate high power (torque) with deceleration mechanisms, which is better for lenses with larger focusing elements. A DC motor can be driven at high speed, but there is an issue that a little sound is generated.

Generally, we use the what we feel is the best focusing mechanism for each specific lens design.

It would be reasonable to suspect that the 55-300mm’s new optical formula and narrower aperture were needed to allow the faster, silent motor to be used, although it should be noted that, like the recent 18-50mm kit and non-kit zoom lenses, the new 55-300mm lens is collapsible to a somewhat smaller size, with the difference between collapsed and uncollapsed size being more pronounced in the 18-50mm.

In the interview, the representatives went on to explain that they do not expect to see PLM in a large aperture lens any time soon, instead putting their money on researching other kinds of motors as well as algorithms to improve autofocus.

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Pentax KP, affordable DSLR for low light

28 Jan

Ricoh just took the wraps off the Pentax KP, a rather compact magnesium alloy body DSLR with a 5-stop, 5 axis stabilisation system and ISO 819,200. The body is not particularly beautiful, but inside it waits a noise reduction co-processor that, by first appearances, rivals DxO’s PRIME software, but acts instantaneously. (If you’ve used DxO’s engine, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

05_kp_black_2040

The Pentax KP
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

Technical expose:High ISO images are noisier on average than low ISO ones. The noise cannot be neatly compressed, increases file size and slows down the process of writing files to storage (SD card in most cases). This can affect frame rates. In order to keep the frame rate up, Pentax used to apply noise reduction in RAW from ISO 3200 (several models including at least the K-5, K-5 II, K-5 IIs, K-30 and K-50). This was not configurable and led to mushy images that did not respond well to further noise reduction using other methods. So the way to work with these cameras was to underexpose ISO 1600 by up to three stops, depending on your need – not the best idea if you want to maximise colour tonality, but it got the job done.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-12-32-51

Where the magic happens:
the accelerator unit.
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

But from samples I’ve seen, the new co-processor, dubbed in the latest press release a “state-of-the-art accelerator unit”, renders such concerns obsolete. In the samples, ISO 6400 looks rather clean, and I’m curious to take a closer look at ISO 12,800. Several in the Pentax community have commented that they might delay their entry into full frame based on this camera’s performance, so the pressure is on for Pentax to bring the accelerator unit and high ISO performance to an updated K-1 full frame camera.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-12-37-31

Pure edge detection
in Live View
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

Launch price for the Pentax KP is going to be 1100 Euros/Dollars; the Pentax K-70 with similar performance up to ISO 102,400 (also has accelerator unit) is about 400 Euros/Dollars cheaper.

08_kp_silver_2040

Display articulation
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

Conclusion: The Pentax KP’s combination of five stops of stabilisation with state-of-the-art in-camera noise reduction will save you money on bodies, lenses, and software, as Pentax leapfrogs the competition. Bring on the night!

PS: Check out the separately posted ISO 819,200 sample image to see what it can do!

PPS: Also check out this comparison of ISO 102,400 after noise reduction in the KP and K-70.

Low light photography? Affordable? Look no further!

27 Jan

Ricoh just took the wraps off the Pentax KP, a rather compact magnesium alloy body DSLR with a 5-stop, 5 axis stabilisation system and ISO 819,200. The body is not particularly beautiful, but inside it waits a noise reduction co-processor that, by first appearances, rivals DxO’s PRIME software, but acts instantaneously. (If you’ve used DxO’s engine, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

05_kp_black_2040

The Pentax KP
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

Technical expose:High ISO images are noisier on average than low ISO ones. The noise cannot be neatly compressed, increases file size and slows down the process of writing files to storage (SD card in most cases). This can affect frame rates. In order to keep the frame rate up, Pentax used to apply noise reduction in RAW from ISO 3200 (several models including at least the K-5, K-5 II, K-5 IIs, K-30 and K-50). This was not configurable and led to mushy images that did not respond well to further noise reduction using other methods. So the way to work with these cameras was to underexpose ISO 1600 by up to three stops, depending on your need – not the best idea if you want to maximise colour tonality, but it got the job done.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-12-32-51

Where the magic happens:
the accelerator unit.
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

But from samples I’ve seen, the new co-processor, dubbed in the latest press release a “state-of-the-art accelerator unit”, renders such concerns obsolete. In the samples, ISO 6400 looks rather clean, and I’m curious to take a closer look at ISO 12,800. Several in the Pentax community have commented that they might delay their entry into full frame based on this camera’s performance, so the pressure is on for Pentax to bring the accelerator unit and high ISO performance to an updated K-1 full frame camera.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-12-37-31

Pure edge detection
in Live View
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

Launch price for the Pentax KP is going to be 1100 Euros/Dollars; the Pentax K-70 with similar performance up to ISO 102,400 (also has accelerator unit) is about 400 Euros/Dollars cheaper.

08_kp_silver_2040

Display articulation
(Source: Ricoh promotional materials)

Conclusion: The Pentax KP’s combination of five stops of stabilisation with state-of-the-art in-camera noise reduction will save you money on bodies, lenses, and software, as Pentax leapfrogs the competition. Bring on the night!

PS: Check out the separately posted ISO 819,200 sample image to see what it can do!

What’s the deal with the Pentax K-70?

9 Jun
SLR camera with grey top plate, otherwise black and with a lens and lens hood, facing front.

Pentax K-70 in “silky silver” finish.

Ricoh have gone all-out with the introduction of the Pentax K-70, which includes not only weather sealing, a 24 megapixel sensor, 14 bit RAW and new noise suppression, but also pixel-shift resolution. So what distinguishes it from the 24 megapixel, 14 bit, pixel-shift K-3 II?

SLR camera with grey top plate and lens without hood, photographed facing the camera. Green LED illumination around shutter button indicates camera is switched on.

Pentax K-70 in “silky silver” finish.

The 1/6000s top shutter speed suggests that the K-70 retains the noisier shutter unit from the K-r lineage, and doesn’t have ultrasonic dust removal, which has been consistently reserved for the K-5 and K-3 product lines. The flip-side is that the K-70 should easily achieve the advertised 4.5 stops of stabilisation if the K-3 II can do so with its extra baggage.

If you don’t need GPS and AstroTracer, this camera will be an easy purchase to make for its advertised US $650 price tag.

Pentax full-frame with AstroTracer built in

28 Jan

Ricoh just updated its full-frame camera information. Of particular interest is the phrase, “using the camera’s ASTROTRACER function” under one of the new images (from the D-FA 24-70mm lens). I understand this to mean that the camera itself will provide the AstroTracer, so that no O-GPS1 accessory is needed. Note, however, that one reviewer of the K-3 II has commented that the inbuilt AstroTracer function in that camera was not as reliable as using the O-GPS1 on the K-3. Hopefully, Ricoh will have made improvements in this area.

Samsung and Ricoh: Different responses to a shrinking market

3 Dec

This week saw the announcement that Samsung would be slowly backing out not only of the German market for “digital cameras, camcorders and accessories”, but the UK as well. As of this writing, it seems that all products are still available, but this may narrow to a trickle and eventually cease. It’s certainly clear that Samsung will not be investing in advertising and promotions in this market any more.

Interestingly, this occurred only weeks after the latest Ditch the DSLR event stateside in Seattle, where interested parties could exchange their ageing Canon DSLRs (let’s be honest, that’s the bulk of them) for an entry level Samsung NX500 MILC (earlier events offered the perhaps more attractive, certainly higher priced NX30). I interpret that promotion as having the dual purpose of getting people talking about Samsung MILCs as well as creating a userbase for lens sales.

Ricoh has been following a similar fahrplan for the last 18 months or so, selling their K-50 and K-S1 camera models extremely affordably with a basic lens included, all at 200-300 USD – recently there was an offer at Samy’s for a K-S1 and lens at $179. A basic DSLR system is therefore now cheaper than most compacts. How is that possible?

Well, all camera companies are currently operating in a rapidly shrinking market – that much industry observers have known for years, and comes at no surprise to anyone. What’s interesting is that different makers have responded very differently to this change. Samsung is apparently deciding that in spite of being one of the electronics giants of the world, like Toshiba they don’t need to have a horse in this race, contrary to Sony and Panasonic. Sony and Panasonic meanwhile have sought to minimise R&D effort and instead keep old models afloat with firmware updates – lossless RAW in Sony’s case and the post-focus feature in Panasonic’s. An interesting model to watch for the future.

Ricoh, on the other hand, is putting the razorblade model into overdrive and capturing the last on-the-fence stragglers that felt they couldn’t afford a DSLR, thereby broadening its base for future lens sales. Because that userbase is now fresh, it will probably yield higher per capita follow-up sales than the more established user bases of Canon or Nikon (although those are considerably larger overall). It may have also put the hook in some people for Ricoh’s upcoming full frame camera, and may have lightened the load on current Pentax users so that they might be able to actually afford the full frame when it comes around. For those customers, this may almost feel like delayed bundling – get your replacement/second body now, pay your full frame later.

Ricoh has for the past few years consistently followed a pricing strategy that sees them entering new products at a price that’s almost unachievably high, to then gradually reduce the price over the next 12 to 18 monhs, to about half or less in the case of camera bodies, but more modestly for lenses. Samsung, on the other hand, has left its blockbuster NX1 camera at the same high price as when introduced over a year ago, at least in some localities – a price that some say is too high when one can get a full frame camera for the same money. On the other hand, the Samsung offers a slightly higher pixel count than those full frame cameras, allows for more compact and lighter lenses for the same effective magnification, is weather-sealed, shoots full resolution at 15fps (buffer of 1.3s RAW or 3.5s JPEG) and does 4k video. Nonetheless, offering rebates in price-conscious markets such as Germany could have driven more sales. On the other hand, the buying of extra lenses down the road are an unproven hypothesis in this unprecedentedly saturated market. Perhaps Samsung did not expect its customers to invest in macros, teles and superzooms – the 16-50/2-2.8 certainly offers a lot, but also sells for a premium.

Overall, one feels that Samsung is quitting just as they were starting to win. It’s sad to see them leave with such a well-specified product. On the other hand, that same test is still ahead for Ricoh when they make a late but much-anticipated entry to digital full frame in spring.

One project at a time – Ricoh’s apparent strategy for 2015

3 Aug

Watching Ricoh’s take-over of Pentax for the past few years, and especially this past year, has made one thing obvious: the company is extremely good at focusing business activity where it’s needed. As I’ve written before, Ricoh has gone on the record as the company who helped Pentax complete much-needed products like the long prime lens, the 1.4x autofocusing teleconverter, and an entry-level DSLR with a fully articulated display.

The selfie-proof K-S2 with its fully articulating display. (Yes, weather-sealed!)

The selfie-proof K-S2 with its fully articulating display. (Yes, weather-sealed!)

Having – in the shape of the K-S2 and K-3 II – delivered two major new DSLRs in the first half of 2015, it seems the imaging division is now working 100% on getting the full frame camera and lenses delivered. Two kit lenses are expected to be launched alongside the camera and already announced 70-200/2.8 and 150-450mm tele zooms. The only other camera to have recently had any refresh in the Pentax/Ricoh line-up is the Ricoh GR, and it was a rather minor update.

An apparent ever-green: the Ricoh GR, now in its second iteration.

An apparent evergreen: the Ricoh GR, now in its second iteration.

What you should read between the lines is that the company has dropped almost the entire former Optio segment of compact cameras. The most recent entrant was the premium compact Pentax MX-1, which is still available new in a few places, but at 150% of its original launch price. Used copies have appreciated about 10% beyond the original launch price – a rare example of a non-antique photography investment that works out profitable without much user input.

Ricoh has also held on to the X (superzoom) and WG (weather-proof) lines, adding to the latter a true action-cam, the WG-M1. Everything else was clearly unprofitable and is gone.

Making a splash: Ricoh's action hero cam, the WG-M1.

Making a splash: Ricoh’s entrance into the action cam market, the WG-M1.

Out of the many camera companies still vying for a spot in the shrinking market, Ricoh is the one to have most clearly made a decision to only be associated with premium products. Pentax DSLR bodies for years have been known for being a great package for the money, and Ricoh is continuing to push for that sky. Ricoh has been wise to keep the Pentax 645D in the line-up, and to recently lower the price of that medium format camera to just under 4k, meaning it can now eat away at the Canon 5DS and 5DS R as well as similarly priced Nikon and Sony offerings.

The very professional Pentax 645D medium format camera

The very professional Pentax 645D medium format camera

The Pentax Q series hasn’t had, or needed, a substantial upgrade in years, and Ricoh is wise not to pursue one at this time, instead apparently pouring those resources into development of what at this point is almost certain to be one of the top five cameras of the year.

A camera universally described as "fun": the tiny Pentax Q10.

A camera universally described as “fun”: the tiny Pentax Q10.

There have been no new lens releases for any system other than the full frame camera in 2015 (although those same lenses will work on all APS-C DSLR bodies as well), and yet customers are happy because the lens line-up is finally very nearly complete again, with no obvious, serious gaps, and those same customers, whether actually looking to buy into full frame at this point or not, will be happy yet again when the full frame camera is finally released. In hindsight, some of Pentax’ previous mis-steps are obvious, and Ricoh’s mission was easy: Listen to customer feedback and provide the products customers are asking for. So far, sales of new products seem to be progressing well in spite of their cost (Pentax’ 150-450mm was launched at 2-2.5x the price of comparable entry level Sigma and Tamron products, but may be superior in image quality terms), and the overall impression is that attachment rate (a measure of whether a business can be run on the razorblade model) is high for Pentax.

The MX-1, a premium compact that now retails at 150% of its original list price.

The MX-1, a premium compact that now retails at 150% of its original list price.

The Ricoh take-over has also allowed the new division to abandon any notion of consistent product styling. In the new Ricoh line-up, each camera is targeted in its design to its specific purpose and clearly does not need to adhere to design guidelines. This has cemented Pentax’ reputation as an engineering-driven company, and allowed the Ricoh Theta, K-S2 and WG-M1 to happen, at the small cost of the occasional less successful camera such as the K-S1. It is this increase of variance in commercial success, the ability to produce – and Ricoh have used this exact word – some truly innovative new cameras that go on to become surprise hits, at the cost of a few duds, that will allow some camera companies to survive in today’s markets over those producing minor iterations of existing, only moderately successful models.

Not made in California: the Ricoh Theta.

Not made in California: the Ricoh Theta.

What Ricoh apparently brought to Pentax beyond a willingness to put money into customers’ wishlists is a new management focus and, I suspect, the ability to rejuvenate relationships with third party manufacturers who play an undeniable role in the growth of the Pentax ecosystems – none more so, historically, than the K-mount! It will be interesting to see if other camera manufacturers can be similarly successful in realigning their strategy to these rapidly changing conditions, and continue to supply an array of choices to the customer.

All images used are promotional images courtesy of Ricoh Imaging.