More than just a shot in the darkroom
(Image credit: Zigmar Stein / Shutterstock)
Pentax has made some of the best film cameras ever – and now the classic brand could be making a comeback thanks to a new film camera project launched by its parent company, Ricoh.
Ricoh has launched a new ‘Film Camera Project’ that will involve the “research and development of new Pentax-brand film camera products”. If you spent your formative photography years with a Pentax K1000 (above), or just fancy experimenting with the tactile joys of 35mm film, that’s potentially very exciting news indeed.
Before you start building a darkroom in your shed, there are a couple of caveats. First, the project is currently at the toe-dipping stage and Ricoh’s statements are a little contradictory. For example, Ricoh President and CEO Noboru Akahane says, “I want to stress that this announcement does not mean we will release new film cameras”.
Fortunately, that appears to be more a note of caution about the project’s difficulty than an absence of ambition. In a launch video (opens in new tab) (below), Ricoh Product Planner Takeo Suzuki has laid out a roadmap for the film camera project. “We plan to market not one but a series of film cameras,” he says.
“First, we’ll develop a compact film camera. Then while reviewing a range of technologies, we’ll move on to develop a high-end compact model, an SLR model, and finally and hopefully, a fully-mechanical SLR camera”, Suzuki adds. While the latter could be a while off, the aim for the first camera will be to produce a film model with a “solid warranty” that “comes at an affordable price for younger users”.
That earlier note of caution, then, is simply because the company is still in the early stages of discovering how viable new film cameras actually are. As Akahane explains: “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”.
Still, the intention is very clear – Ricoh and Pentax will “begin research into developing new Pentax-brand film camera products”. And that could potentially result in a new film camera and aftercare services. But why? The project is more than a misguided exercise in nostalgia – given the recent resurgence in film photography, it makes sense for a few reasons.
On a roll
First, film cameras have seen a resurgence in recent years. The evidence for this is more anecdotal and cultural than it is statistical, as there’s very little data on global film camera sales today. But the effect can be seen in the sky-rocketing cost of buying film itself – a pack of Kodak Portra 400 (opens in new tab), for example, now costs over twice as much as it did three years ago, and it’s a similar story with Fujifilm’s color film.
This is partly a result of Kodak and Fujifilm both underestimating future demand, leading to shortages that have been exacerbated by supply chain issues. But independent factories are now rising up to fill the gaps, and when the ‘Pentax Film Project’ is further down the road the picture should (hopefully) be a lot healthier.
Film cameras themselves are also increasingly popular, as Ricoh and Pentax have noted in their project. According to Ricoh, this is true “especially among younger generations, who are “taking photos with film cameras, developing the film, and then uploading images in digitalized form to social media sites without making final prints”.
But the problem with old film cameras is that they’re, well, old. This means mechanical parts like the shutter can break, or they need servicing from a dwindling number of specialist technicians. While it’s very early days, this new project promises to make owning film cameras a smoother experience, including after-sales service.
The final reason why Ricoh and Pentax project makes sense is that there’s no real competition, particularly from any brands with Pentax’s heritage. The company was at the heart of Japanese film camera innovation from the 1950s, introducing trailblazers like the Pentax Spotmatic in 1960, which offered TTL (through-the-lens) metering for the first time so you didn’t have to carry around a separate light meter.
While it’s unclear whether we could ultimately see a reborn version of the much-loved Pentax K1000 SLR, the ‘Film Camera Project’ is definitely one to watch if you’re keen to join the resurgence of 35mm film cameras.
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Mark is the Cameras Editor at TechRadar. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he’s contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph’s Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London’s Square Mile.