Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Idea of a K1000D

Having seen the ultra success of the ASUS Eee PC (or called the EPC), this let me think about smart marketing decision is always the key way to success for a company.

Even for a weaker company like Pentax, which is actually always lagging behind in the competition, should and could think more about how to determine and create a new marketing segment by making new innovative product which is not present in the current market. The key element to success here is simply product idea but not technology advantages.

So, let's look at the EPC again, it does have smart marketing idea, slogan and promotion by ASUS. It it told that it is Easy to Learn, Easy to Work and Easy to Play (which the 3 Es represent and what its name is formed) but actually it is also very easy to carry with the clear fact that it is very portable and most importantly it is sold very cheap.

The ultra portability and the lowest price tag plus its high practicality for suiting for quite a number of basic daily applications including multi-media ones such as common compressed format movie playback and photo viewing, etc. Despite that the technical specifications of the EPC is not particularly strong, its bundle of advantages have almost overcome all its shortcomings and the lack of high performance by today's standards for sub-notes. It has more innovative unique feature, too, i.e., its static flash memory "hard-drive" which has the advantage of fast read/write speed and lowest possible power consumption to save battery juice and extend operation time.

Well, let's look at the past "recent" successful products of Pentax then. First, we can look at the K10D. The K10D is taking the approach of the more is better in which Pentax gave us many features in a package and on paper we could get a lot in a moderately priced body. However, I don't buy the idea of this as I never think that the K10D is a camera that has the real performance inside, when it is compared the nearly priced products in the competition of the same period. IMHO I must say it is just a re-packaged *ist D which has nearly the same old performance and technologies inside, e.g., the AF and metering parts. In 2003, such low performance and inaccuracy could still be tolerated to a certain extent, but in 2007 I think Pentax should really do much more if they really wished to market the K10D as a mid-level product as it was promoted and priced.

However, I don't think the K10D is a true success for Pentax actually, despite it suddenly gained attentions and some more sales. It is just because quite a lot of the attracted buyers / new users did not find it to be satisfactory as reported quite widely for its sub-par field performance and reliability, nor, there is anything in the Pentax land for those unsatisfied buyers to upgrade. So, Pentax simply could not retain those new customers and the new user base afterall, as those people switched and went away. The worst effect is that it left a really bad impression to them (and other non-users as well, for what it was told by those users) after they switched.

So, let's look back to the earlier previous Pentax successful model then. I think it is the MZ-5 in 1995, which was a true success IMO. The MZ-5 actually had saved Pentax from being dismissed from the SLR market in the mid-90s after the prolonged market loss since the SF series to the Z-series of Pentax SLRs from late 80s to mid-90s. I think the MZ-5 shares very much the successful elements of the EPC. It is very simple to use, not expensive to buy and has all the most basic functions and features but not yet too outdated. It is very clear that the MZ-5 has none of the leading edge technologies which the market leaders had, nor it could compete with any of the Canon and Nikon mid-range counterparts in its era as long as highest system performance aspects were concerned. But why so many people still choose about the MZ-5, including those new comers? .. which eventually suddenly saved the sales of Pentax SLRs and lenses. Just think about it.. It should be noted that the MZ legend lived for many years, until the *ist D came.

If we are to look at another very old truly successful story of Pentax SLR body, it should then be the K-1000 film SLR, I must say. It is of crude specs but it did sell well and for years - nearly two decades! Again, it is just because it is simple and basic *and* sold at a low price. For decades, the K-1000 has been a very good camera for beginners who had limited budgets on *both* body and lenses. The K-1000 can use any of the damn cheap but widely available old original Pentax and 3rd party K-mount lenses in huge number. Owing to its great simplicity, the K-1000 is also ideal for those who like to learn the basics of photography and exposure / metering control (just because it has nothing automatic and the users needed to do all by themselves). Finally, the K-1000 does have a rigid construction and is mechanically very reliable despite its low cost. It does even work and can take pictures without any battery installed.

After all the talks above, I think NOW it's time for Pentax to think about and introduce a K1000D in order to help themselves in getting back some market shares and to get a new beginner customer/user base which can help the company to survive/grow, too. In fact, I bet the K200D and the K20D in fact won't help Pentax much, as both offers are not attractive enough as they are easily replaced by Canon's and Nikon's similar or better offers near the same price that most of the new buyers will choose. Even assuming that the new Pentax products are the same in performance and price, why people would choose a small name instead of the big names (of the big boys)? As for the old K100D and K10D users, I really can't think out a reason why the existing users have any good reason and strong initiatives to "upgrade" to a K200D or K20D respectively.

I think Pentax has been running and heading a wrong way for years since the digital era for their DSLRs. I can bet they could never compete with Canon and Nikon etc. for keeping up the latest technologies in R&D nor they have comparable R&D budget nor they have the same production capabilities as other big boys. So, what they needed to do is to re-introduce a basic, simple and cheap DSLR which is highly preferable to be a small, compact and lightweight one which can be easily carried everywhere (like the EPC). Again, this camera must be very cheap (than ever) and this would attract many beginners who like to try and learn DSLR photography. To make it cheap, it must be very simple in features and specs. And, only to have simple features and specs, the cost of the new DSLR can be lower significantly - just a chicken and egg problem afterall. Of course, to trim down the unnecessary features is the proper way to cut cost, but not to scarify reliability and accuracy.

Nevertheless, even it is made basic, small and cheap, it must have some unique feature(s). I think Pentax had discarded a very valuable thing of theirs since the *ist D, it is the old K lens user and owner base, since they decided to cripple the new body K-mount forever (it is true up till now, at least). By summarising all the above criteria, I think a K1000D has an outlined specs below should sell very well and can attract many new comers:-

1. Weight less than 500g, preferably close to 400g. Size should be smallest or at least it should not be larger than a D60 and a 450D;

2. Keep the full K-mount specifications and compatibility and let the user to use the aperture ring of the K lenses to meter and expose too. I believe that it will be more accurate than the current Pentax digital lens design for the exposure control - the mechanical f-stop positions are individually calibrated, mechanically, for each aperture ring when each K-mount lens was designed whereas the body driven digital lenses' automatic aperture mechanical coupling is just totally outdated and it could just introduce more exposure inaccuracy and errors.

With the re-introduction of the full K-mount, it is possible for Pentax to make a retro-designed DSLR that will surely look cool and unique in the market, like the MZ-5, but just an updated digital version, say. However, since DA lenses are now not having an aperture ring, Pentax can provide a mean for Av selection in electronic form just in case if a DA lens is mounted. On all other cases, the aperture ring should be enabled whenever it is existent on the lens mounted, including the latest DFA digital macro lenses;

3. Keep only Spot and Centre-weighted average metering to save cost and make the camera simpler. The current 16-segment multi-pattern metering is not needed for those who really want to learn the basics nor it is really much useful owing to its low IQ, poor reliability and low consistency;

4. Keep only the AI predictive Single AF mode which is the only AF mode of the MZ-5 (no Pentax DSLR has been told to have any predictive AF capability now - I just puzzle why). I think only one single crossed AF sensor in the middle is more than enough for such a camera. The crossed sensor is preferably to make with higher pixel density, calibrated more precisely but in a smaller area in the finder for pinpointing focusing so that the highest possible AF accuracy and reliability can be attained. I also suggest that Pentax could make a f/5.6 sensor for the horizontal line and a f/2.8 sensor for the vertical line so as to further enhance the AF accuracy. Furthermore, by concentrating in building only the central sensor, the AF system should be re-built to have better overall responsiveness and good sensitivity in low light;

5. To re-build a focusing screen with more visible matte texture, so as to facilitate better Manual Focusing. Also, the plain very old Minolta/Pentax/Nikon focus indication system should be added to indicate front or back focus - well, just a pair of triangles indication in the finder (to indicate the focusing ring turning directions) is required -> nearly no additional cost to re-introduce but a very useful and unique feature nowadays as all camera makers followed what Canon did with their EOS to delete such useful focus indication;

6. It should support both the old Pentax TTL Auto and newer P-TTL flash guns for the unique compatibility again, so as to attract more old users (or even new ones who just want to get used gear cheap and easily). The K1000D can remove the built-in flash in order to further minimise its size and save weight (and manufacturing cost as well - but not to cut the TTL sensor to save the cost but scarify much compatibility - it is not that expensive to include such a TTL flash sensor afterall);

7. Of course the megapixel should be at least 10MP by today minimum standard. The K10D Sony CCD sensor, which is damn cheap right now, can be used;

8. Only P, A, S and M modes are needed;

9. No other bells and whistles are needed then and of course no Live View. I think even different picture modes/styles are not needed, as these could be included in the RAW convertor instead. I think the "Natural" mode is what most users need if the best colour accuracy is desired;

10. Aggressively priced under (US)$400 for such a greatly simplified design.

Having said that such a K1000D may help Pentax, Pentax should still try to make a true flagship later on which it has the real performance for major camera performance aspects. This would let Pentax to upkeep their outdated technologies in line with the latest in the competition. This flagship is preferably to be a 135 Full Frame DSLR, too, which is just the current trend for flagship DSLRs (at least Canon, Nikon and Sony have been or are now doing the same). The flagship serves as a symbol for marketing as well as practically an ultimate upgrade destination for the current Pentax DSLR users - but then this flagship can be made at a later stage after the success of such a K1000D (if it can be, but I do believe it can) and gaining of a considerably number of new users whom probably are mostly students, beginners as well as those very old Pentax users who just want to have ultimate simplicity and portability (and full compatibility as well). By then, Pentax would have more money and bucks to put back for doing better R&D jobs. All in all, I don't think Pentax is really wise to drop the compatibility and support for many of their older excellent lenses and flashes, which those compatibilities are just the true valuable asset of Pentax and compatibility is actually the true product feature differentiator for Pentax, especially for the full and true K-mount support! (40 millions of EOS lenses have now been produced since 1987, as Canon announced. How many Pentax AF lenses have been made up till now (since 1987 also)? If not all the K-mount lenses are counted, how could Pentax compete?)

17 Comments:

Boz said...

I've been dying for Pentax to build the camera you describe. I learned photography on a K1000 and absolutely loved it. When I had the means to buy a camera of my own many years later I ended up getting the ZX-5 (MZ-5) because it mirrored the sensabilities of the K1000. Since I've gone digital I've been using Canon products, but I still long for the days of the simple Pentax. If Pentax built such a camera and kept it affordable I would definitely jump on board. Hey Pentax, if you build it, they will come. :-)

Julian said...

Why would the average consumer of today buy the hypothetical K1000d, as you describe it, when a Canon XTi, Nikon D40/D60, or Olympus E-420 does so much more at a similar small size and low cost? There are not so many photography students out in the world who want to learn how to use a simple manual camera. The main market for a cheap camera is those people who just want to point and shoot, but with better image quality than their pocket camera.

RiceHigh said...

I think my proposed K1000D is not a camera that is as lame as you supposed.

What I am proposing is a highly *efficient* DSLR design with basic and essential automatic and manual feature set with high quality, i.e. good performance and accuracy.

The key selling point for such a DSLR is the ever lowest price, compactness and lightweight, full compatibility and high performance, without any reluctant or useless (or just not frequently needed) features.

nlx said...

I'm with you because Less is more.

John said...

I would be interested in such a camera but I fear that I'd be in a minority. I also doubt that the the feature reductions that you describe would really save enough cost, compared to the customers that they would drive away. In the K1000 days, adding automation was expensive. These days it is almost free. The real cost is in the precision mechanical parts, such as the shutter and the body/lens mount that you cannot eliminate, as well as the lenses of course. I think that the only way to get low costs is to achieve huge volume. I recently had occasion to use a Nikon D40 and I have to say that I am impressed. For a price that is far lower than any Pentax it has very good image quality, nice handling, and the supplied lens is good enough that it could replace several of my treasured old ones. Add in the light weight and the fact that that it can be used as a point and shoot by less experienced photographers, and I fear that Pentax would have a problem to again capture the low end.

Anonymous said...

I just love how you manage to stick the boot into Pentax whenever you can. Do you get paid some sort of commision? Why would anyone take you seriously when you start your article with "Even for a weaker company like Pentax...".

RiceHigh said...

It is just a fact. Whilst you could still imagine by yourself that Pentax is a big boy, the fact will not be changed regardless of your pure imagination and stupid brand loyalty.

Pentax was strong in the past but surely it is not now - late 50s to 70s were the days of Pentax SLRs and late 80s to 90s were the days of Pentax compact zooms. How about now? What and where does Pentax dominate in the camera industry and market?

Max said...

That camera would be a failure. Nikon did the right thing with the D40, it's simple but its automatic features are not matched by any Pentax.

Pentax is good for advanced amateurs that are not afraid of using exposure compensation when metering goes down for example, but I don't think they are as sophisticated as Nikon when it comes to features you don't see but makes your experience seamless.

To gain market share you have to create a good P&S DSLR, the success of the D40 line proves this.

Don't get me wrong I love my K10D and I get so wonderful pictures with it. But it's not a P&S, using it like this will only get you poor results. Pentax cameras are not as refined as Canon/Nikon but the good news is that you don't really need all these bell & whistle to take great pictures. The basics of photography are still the same as they were 100 years ago: an aperture, a shutter speed, film sensitivity and that's it. In digital world it means the sensor is much more important than anything else. The K20D is doing well in that regard and Pentax didn't lost the right priorities.

As for Pentax to survive in this competitive market, they have to tick all the boxes on feature lists people use when shopping. Even if the feature is not correctly implemented, the box IS ticked and that's what counts. They have to stuff as much features as possible for as low price as possible. The success of the K series proves this.

Anonymous said...

We don't give a flying fuck of what you think. Why don't you get a life.

kadajawi said...

And I don't give a fuck of what some anonymous coward thinks.

I have a *istDs, and the shutter/aperture/everything else dial is failing on me. It more or less does whatever it wants to do. That would not happen with the controls where they should be. Pentax can not really compete with the big ones with both high end and entry level models, so they have to find a niece. A body, focused at photography students and traditionalists, would be a great niece. There are enough people who want that, and it's probably not very expensive to develop. Most of the technologies that are needed exist already and are well proven.

Today I'm getting a new split prism etc. focusing screen, and then I need to get the dial fixed.

Panasonic tried a similar thing with the L1, and yes, they failed, but I think it's because, well, it's Panasonic, not really a name known for good SLRs, and it uses the four thirds standard (among other drawbacks, it was too much middle of the road, too many compromises). But I think Pentax could pull it off, and they should.

Anonymous said...

In retrospect, nice job!! You asked for the K2000 and got it.

RiceHigh said...

:-) Thx!

Robert Sadler said...

Mmmm ... I'd make two changes to the proposed K1000D.

One, make it a "full-frame" camera and it will be a success. Otherwise, as an APS-C it is competing with Canon and Nikon entry-level DSLR cameras. People will buy it because the K1000D is then a cheap full-frame camera.

Two, make a Spotmatic-D version for all us who never traded our S1a's and SP's for K-mount cameras.

RiceHigh said...

A Full Frame camera will NOT be cheap, at least in the foreseeable near future!

Robert Sadler said...

Sorry to differ, but I can never understand that logic. It might have been so five years ago, but looking at sensors today ... how can a 12MP full-frame sensor be more expensive than an 18MP APS-C sensor?

I agree with your design specifications for a K1000D, especially regarding the use of existing technology. This camera might be regarding as purely an enthusiast's and very niche product, and so sales won't be on the same level as the latest (entry-level) camera of Canon and Nikon, but Ricoh - in my opinion - bought a dead product line and need a "killer product" to save their investment. Full-frame is the only logical solution - along with the full K-mount specification, including complete support for PENTAX-M lenses.

I also do not think that Ricoh has the time to develop a full-frame camera from scratch that'll be on par with the D700, 5DII or their respective replacements (hopefully early next year). They need to think out-of-the-box and look at the success of the (over-priced) Olympus PEN and the Fuji X100, both against-the-current-trend cameras. A featureless, sans bells & whistles, back-to-basics full-frame camera is the answer, in my opinion.

Maybe we should send Ricoh an MZ-M and tell them to duplicate it with just a full-frame digital sensor added (plus a metal mount)? How expensive can that be to produce?

RiceHigh said...

Maybe you're right to be more aggressive to simply do it FF with an old 12M sensor straight away. But the problem is could Pentax get the sensor (from Sony)? Would the sensor has already been planned to discontinue (with the discontinuation of the D700) and most importantly, could it be cheap enough?? (Note that the D700 is yet by no means a cheap camera - I think its sensor contributes much to its high price).

Robert Sadler said...

I think there is a lot of "marketing dept." price loading with full frame cameras. The 5DII with a 21MP sensor is a tad cheaper than the D700 with its 12MP sensor (at least here in South Africa). So the conclusion, for me at least, is that megapixels of the sensor is not the expensive component.

What is a factor is the quality of the sensor, in terms of ISO-to-noise ratio. The question this leads us to, is whether such an enthusiast K1000D actually needs a "zero-noise-at-ISO-6400" sensor? I don't.

As for a source of sensors, Ricoh can buy Kodak.

It will be interesting to see what Ricoh does with the Pentax brand. The Q is a fashion camera and I doubt it will be a big money-maker for them. I really think Ricoh should start simple, build the K1000D/MZ-MD in full frame and 100% K-mount, and then start expanding that range slowly with successive models - all based on existing technology and designs which they already own. Zero R&D cost.

I would just like add, should anybody from Ricoh be reading this, that I would also design the camera with an interchangeable mount: either K or M42. One camera, two mounts. Or design the camera with a completely new mount and sell fully functional, 100% compatible adapters for K and M42 lenses. (And Canon FD, please.)

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