Pentax: Sensors or Lenses?
May 30, 2010
On Pentaxian discussion boards, one dispute that absolutely refuses to die is whether Pentax will (or should) introduce a “full frame,” 24x36mm sensor DSLR.
The pleading for 24×36 often comes from those who might have already invested heavily in earlier FA lenses—meaning, ones originally designed to cover the old 135 film format.
I understand the emotion here—it’s quite true that an APS-C sensor wastes some of the capabilities of those lenses. And let’s take it as given that Pentax’s engineers would be fully capable of producing an excellent 24×36 camera.
But does Pentax “owe” its existing customers such a model?
Remember that Pentax had a serious near-death experience over the past couple of years. And its new corporate owner, Hoya, has taken a tough line in pushing them back to profitability.
From a business point of view, it’s hard to see an argument for selling a niche, low-volume body that might reduce the number of lenses Pentax could sell.
Entry-level DSLRs are the industry’s volume, brand-awareness, and profit leaders; and APS-C sensors will always serve well in those models.
Now, functionally, the main advantage of 24×36 over APS-C is in high-ISO performance. All other things being equal, the larger sensor area potentially yields about one f/stop’s gain over APS-C.
But the current Pentax K-x already gives quite decent performance at ISO 1600. And rather than fetishize a particular sensor size, our question is really “what do I need to get the shot?”
An equally valid route is to use APS-C lenses that are one f/stop brighter. (Depth of field stays comparable, if you use the correspondingly shorter focal lengths.)
So Pentax could also expand its choices of “DA” (APS-C) lenses—offering brighter apertures—even if it meant duplicating some existing focal lengths. (People may forget that two-tier lens lineups were standard practice for most manufacturers’ film SLRs.)
It has often been noted that Pentax has several glaring holes in its DA lens lineup:
- Any lens f/2.0 or brighter (aside from the unimaginative and problematic 55/1.4 SDM)
- A “normal” lens for APS-C, meaning 28–33mm (no, the FA Limited 31mm costing $1000 does not count)
- Any prime costing less than $340
Pentax has no answer to Nikon’s hugely popular 35/1.8, which sells for $200. Pentax does not compete with Sigma’s 30/1.4, which costs $440.
Yet new lenses in this range would do much to negate the perceived “full-frame advantage.” These might be an appealing, reasonably-priced purchase for any Pentax DSLR owner. Would not this offer Pentax more sales potential than a new, costly 24x36mm body?
Quirky focal lengths are something of a Pentax tradition; so to start things out, I’ll suggest one:
How about a 29mm f/1.7?