Some great news to help round out the year! Pentax (now a division of Ricoh Imaging) is starting the development of new film cameras. Announced through a collection of videos, a mini-site and a press release today, the company states the project involves the “research and development of new PENTAX-brand film camera products” and is split into two main parts: (1) the development of a new film camera and (2) collaboration with what they’re calling “camera enthusiasts”.
Here’s the first ~40-second video to get you started:
The why of “why now?”
In the press release supplemented by a message from by Noboru Akahane, President and CEO of Ricoh Imaging, and companion video featuring Takeo Suzuki (TKO), product designer at PENTAX, we’re told that the reason behind developing new film cameras today is in part due to the increasing popularity of film photography (both in terms of actual use and celebrity influence), as well as the immersive nature of the medium.
They point out that many younger film users skip the wet/darkroom printing aspect, favouring the use of digitalized images on social media sites instead — something that is probably how 95% of my own photography ends up, to be fair 🙂
They go on to talk about the pleasure of an intricate, time-consuming process — essentially saying that activities involving time and effort are a satisfying experience worth savouring, once you get past the marketing language.
It sounds like they’re very much focused on the frontend side of things at the moment (image capture) but it’s not a huge leap to see how directly that can also be applied to digitisation of negatives, especially given the diversity of their parent company.
Check out Takeo Suzuki’s video below — if the name sounds familiar, he was credited with a 2013 Red Dot Design award for his work on the Pentax MX-1:
Starting is the only promise, but that’s a good start
I really want to get carried away with this, but the reality is that starting film camera production from scratch is hard — even for a company with such a vast legacy.
Ricoh Imaging announced its “rebirth” in only January of this year, promising to listen more closely to the voices of (initially) Japanese photographers and to use more non-traditional mediums to research, market, and sell their products. One of example of listening was a survey of 3,000 Japanese customers, of whom they discovered that “approximately 20 percent … owned film cameras, not including disposable or instant cameras.”
That’s a pretty high mark for a dead technology, and although the capitalist in me is imagining Yen symbols flashing across the eyes of Ricoh Imaging execs, I’m glad they recognise the opportunity to make money.
Some additional context on the project by Noboru Akahane:
One of the new challenges we have taken on is the development of PENTAX-brand film cameras. We feel this will provide camera fans with a joy of photography totally different from what they experience in the digital format.
I want to stress that this announcement does not mean we will release new film cameras. Instead, it’s an ongoing project based on the assumption that, as long as photographers remain obsessed with the ambiance of light and environment, there will also be some who will want to use film cameras as their tool of choice in capturing unique images.
But we also know how difficult it will be to restart the production of film cameras long after production was terminated. In fact, we’re only at the starting line right now.
Bold emphasis above is mine.
I’m not trying to be a downer here, but I also want to be realistic that there is a long way to go and that we might be waiting a few years before we see whatever their currently intended flagship film camera is in production.
What does that mean?
Spitballing a few ideas, I suspect that we’ll first see smaller, more compact-ish cameras manufactured by OEMs from the brand. Given the company’s past statements, these may well be wholly or partially crowdfunded, which is not a bad thing, in my opinion.
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Following that, I suspect we’ll see an in-house/OEM exclusive 35mm SLR, possibly some form of resurrected medium format SLR in the vein of the Pentax 67/67 II. Unlikely but very welcome would be an updated Pentax 645 variant.
Unlike similar offerings from Hasselblad, etc., the Pentax 645 never had interchangeable film magazines (just inserts), and I expect this will be a considerably larger investment than going with a full or partial OEM approach (as nice as it would be.)
Is their future also supporting the past?
Some of the language used in the materials released so far also hint at a service and support element somewhere along the line:
At the same time, few manufacturers today build and sell new film cameras. Some of film camera users expressed concerns about the aftercare service for used film cameras.
Ricoh Imaging is prioritizing supporting film camera fans so they can enjoy film photography without worries, from film camera development, production, and sales to aftercare.
Does that mean I’ll be able to get my growing stash of 35mm compact GR-series film cameras repaired? Will we finally be able to resurrect the mass graves of Pentax 67 metered prisms?
Who knows, but if the marketing speak rings true, and if I know a bit about making the most of corporate people investment, Ricoh Imaging and Pentax are not only hoping to get new film cameras and products into the hands of consumers, they’re also hoping to ensure the transfer of knowledge from “veteran” engineers with awareness and expertise around “technologies created and retained by Ricoh Imaging/PENTAX”.
(Note: This is a supposition based on experience outside of Japan and zaibatsus but makes a lot of sense given the potential for making money from investments started nearly 100 years ago.)
Film/digital hybrid gear?
I’ll end with a complete long-shot idea: Takeo Suzuki’s history and a single line in the press release have me thinking: “…incorporating the latest technologies and concepts…“
Could Ricoh Imaging/PENTAX were to release a hybrid film/digital camera?
Fuji has made their fair share of hybrid Instax cameras in recent years, so it is technically possible, although implementation would be quite different on film vs integral instant film. Also, while technically “one medium at a time”, Hasselblad and other medium format manufacturers have made it incredibly easy to switch between film and digital on a single system “mid shoot”.
File this under 🤔 for now, but I for one am hoping for more of this kind of news.
Maybe Cosina will finally decide to start openly making more cameras for more people? Perhaps Fuji will dust off the old production lines? Shock of all shocks, Nikon might even give me a Nikon F7 that has no reason for existing in the world other than, “I am here. Buy me.” Who knows.
Thanks for reading, and please check out the dedicated Film Project Start website. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Ps. It’s been a fair while since I posted news or a thought piece, and I’m sorry for that. I’m slowly edging back from an interesting few years. Thanks for sticking with me 🙏
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I know this will create a ton of pitchforks and torches, but to me it seems like they should look into restarting production of a previous design. I’d nominate the ZX-5n/MZ-5n/MZ-3 series. It’s my opinion that, despite the ever constant broken mirror drive gear problem (I have 3 bodies that died from this that I plan on fixing myself, and 2 others currently still working. maybe they could fix that!) it was still one of their best last film cameras, giving you the option of point-and-shoot automation, all the way back to full manual with familiar and proper controls.
That would allow them to “cut their teeth” on the pains of (re)production of parts not made in a long time, while avoiding the “teething” problems of an all new design.
Really nice to see you back!
Here’s hoping for a bright film photography future! Cheers~
I saw the first video with great interest. I think the most people with specialized knowledge should be availabale at Cosina even if they concentrate on the lens business right now. A Nikon F7 would be out of reach for my purse. Those simple plastic cams are nice for what they are and in a way they are just how film photography started. (You click the button we do the rest).
Anyway, I thank PENTAX for outing themselves may they be successful in their efforts.
Cosina must be the dark horse here, something like the Bessa L would surely be a gentler way back into film camera manufacture rather than a complex mechanicalical SLR?
The Nikon F7 will be a prototype so they can concentrate on building the F8, because…do I have to spell it out? 😉 All joking aside, and while I am a Nikon user, I really do hope Pentax are able to do this. Let Pentax lead the way and see what happens. I’d love it for more people to get into film photography as there is something special about it.