How was the PENTAX K-1 born? The starting point for its development was unique. In an ordinary product development process, RICOH IMAGING’s product planning team initiates a project. Only when this project is officially approved, actual development takes place.
“This wasn’t the case with the PENTAX K-1. In the spring a few years ago, I was invited to a meeting organized by our engineers. At the meeting, I was joined by a group of more than 10 engineers from various engineering fields — mechanical, electrical, firmware designing, and optical,” recalls one of the product development team members. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the core technologies that would be essential for the development of a 35mm full-frame digital SLR camera. It wasn’t even an official project yet, and no concrete plans had been made regarding the product’s concept or outline. The meeting happened completely because of the engineering designers’ desire and determination to succeed in the project.
Some 10 years earlier, this team member had stressed the necessity of developing lenses that would be compatible with 35mm full-frame models, which he could see lay ahead in the future. At the time, though, PENTAX concentrated on the development of compact, lightweight and high-performance APS-C-size models — a PENTAX specialty—and in optimizing the advantages they had over their competitors. In the following years, the subject of a full-frame model was never mentioned again as a potential for development, even by the product planning team.
Ten years later at this meeting, all the participating engineers were actually facing the planning for a full-frame model. The meeting was named the “Full-Frame Committee,” and was held regularly afterwards.
The answer is always found in the user’s voice
Since this was the first full-frame model for PENTAX, the product planning team was initially unsure about which system to pursue. They could opt for a mirrorless system, which would allow them to design a compact, lightweight model because of the shorter fringe back made possible by the elimination of the mirror box. If this were their choice, it would be more logical and productive to develop a completely new lens mount.
However, our users responded to this issue differently. When the team members traveled to Germany to attend the Photokina event, they were approached by a Pentaxian — an affectionate name given to PENTAX enthusiasts. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of a full-frame model in PENTAX’s SLR lineup. “Thanks to my PENTAX camera, I found the fun of photography, and I want to step up to the next level. However, all PENTAX now offers is the choice of an APS-C-size model or a much larger 645-series model, and nothing in between.”
The team member recalls the event: “At that moment, all of us were reminded that we must do everything to serve our existing PENTAX users. And we were convinced that a new lens mount is out of the question. We would have to develop an SLR camera which would let our users use their K-mount lenses, and would feature the optical viewfinder that has been so highly praised by them.”
We believe in PENTAX’s proud tradition
A full-frame SLR camera equipped with a K mount and an optical viewfinder: In reality, this was the toughest choice to make, because it was extremely difficult to downsize an SLR camera with a mirror box. Besides, if its viewfinder demanded an approximately 100-percent field of view, it would impose considerable restrictions on the optical design.
“We were uncomfortable with existing full-frame models because they were too bulky to handle and lacked operability and maneuverability in the field,” the team member says. “To PENTAX, a leading field camera manufacturer, the natural conclusion was to make the body smaller. But even before we had mentioned this issue to our engineers, they had already started research on how to downsize it.”
With these objectives in mind, the real task of the product development team had begun. They had to speak for users and deliver difficult assignments to the engineers. They knew that two dials, one in the front and another in the rear, wouldn't be enough. At the least, they felt that they had to add an exposure compensation dial to the camera body. The engineers responded to this request. “It doesn’t add any enough value,” they said, and suggested designing a multi-function dial instead. In the end, this exchange led us to the prototype of Smart Function.
Another extremely difficult request made of the engineers was for tilting the LCD monitor horizontally and vertically. The engineers, however, immediately showed a drawing, and asked, “How about this mechanism?” The entire product planning team was amazed. When we requested the addition of a light to assist lens changes and camera operations in the dark, they were ready with an innovative idea: “Let’s place a light behind the flexible tilt-type LCD monitor, and light it up for ease of operation!” We wondered how they could come up with such a fantastic idea.
PENTAX engineers are all craftsmen by nature. If they are convinced that a certain need actually exists, they do their best to make it happen for users. Because we believe in this PENTAX tradition, the product planning team can always consult the engineers about new ideas.
By the time an in-house presentation finally took place, all of us were fully prepared for it. The result was the official launch of the PENTAX K-1 development project.